Oh to be Old Again

by Minalkra

First published

What happens when a middle age brony wakes up in the body of a foal? And when no one believes him?

Have you ever woken up somewhere you don't recognize? I have, once before. This time was not all that different. Headache? Check. Dry mouth? Check. Upset stomach? Check. Hooves? Uhm, that one is new.

Hi, I'm Bruce and I'm 32. Currently, I'm in a light blue Earth Pony foal's body no one has ever seen before. The rest of Equestria thinks I'm 9 and something really traumatic happened to me. It doesn't help I swear like a sailor and I could really go for a smoke right about now. I just hope that the Everfree Forest, rampaging monstrosities, evil dark abominations against God and the Cutie Mark Crusaders don't kill me before I have just one last drag.

Oh, and ponies are hella creepy when you really think about it. Geez.

A little comedy side project. EDIT: HAHA Main project. More characters to be added if I get that far. Categories might be refined as I write. Entire thing is unplanned except vaguely. Don't Expect excessive cursing to be written out, just hinted at. Oh, and as the character is a 30-ish year old in the body of a 9 year old, sexual jokes might exists but sex itself will not occur.

Special thanks to user Momomojito for the awesome-tastic picture! First fanart, I'm so HAPPY. I've gotten more since then! I should collect it all here. Collected!

1 - Anyone Get the Number of that Bus?

View Online

Have you ever woken up somewhere you don't recognize? I have, once before. There was a very strange party thrown together by my aunt, you see, and … actually, in the interest of not making half of my audience run away screaming, let's just say I woke up with a massive headache and a rather upset wife. And the sheep, oh god the sheep. This time was not all that different, discounting the screaming. And that blasted sheep. Headache? Check. Dry mouth? Check. Upset stomach? Check. Beeping? Uhm, that one is new.

"That musta been one hell of a party," I groaned, trying to open my caked-shut eyes. With a wince, I managed to open them only to slam them shut again with a strangely high pitched cry. Light, ever the bane of the hungover. Still rubbing my eyes, I heard a distinct clop-clop-clopping sound of something hard striking the floor.

"Oh good, he's awake." Squinting against the light, I could see a white blur approaching wherever I was laying. As it got closer, it became more defined and I couldn't help but feel my jaw almost dislocate from the shock. Now, I have to say right here and now: I am a Brony. I'm a bit on the 'old' side as Bronies go though not the oldest. Still, I hit the triple decade mark a bit ago so I guess that makes me one of the older ones of that fandom. And, as all old farts will tell you, I've seen a bit in my time. Never something that could prepare me for this though.

"Pony?" The white-coated and pink-maned mare in front of me nodded at my squeak with an ever present smile on her face. As I stared at her, I noticed things that - at the time - seemed so odd. Their pelts, for example, are like real pelts. Each hair is separate and real. And they're not all one color, the fur itself has shade. Depth. Each hair of the mane flowed like a human hair would, though my present example had her hair in a bun under her nurses hat. It was so real. She was alive. Yet, something was definitely 'off' about her. Her head was large. Yes that was what they were in the show but to see it in reality threw every pony right into the Uncanny Valley. Her eyes. Massive didn't even begin to describe them. 'Ginormous' fit I guess. I couldn't even think of them as orbs in any sense of the word. Man, ponies are hella creepy when you think about it.

I must have been staring at her with the most confused expression ever because she seemed to have noticed. She gave me a big, warm smile - at least it would have been warm had it not been given by some Lovecraftian horror. I rapidly shifted my eyes away from her face, taking in my spartan surroundings. A hospital room painted a very light shade of blue, curtains drawn open to let in the full blast of that most hated of objects, the sun. The heart monitor beeping its little mechanical heart out next to me explained the noise that woke me up, at least. An IV seemed to be stuck in one of my … legs. Other than that, a way-too-human chair and a small tray filled with medical detritus the room was pretty dang empty. And it smelled of 'sanitation.'

"Yup, you're safe here now, little one. Do you know where you are?" It, er, she was still giving me that creepy smile. I'm going to call it warm for now. Yeah, we'll go with warm. At my way-too-energetic head shake, her smile just grew wider. Shudder. "Well, you're in Ponyville General Hospital after a group of foals found you at the edge of Whitetail Woods. Can you tell me what happened?" Suddenly, something clicked in my head.

"Little one?" I knew for a fact my voice sounded really squeaky and I probably sounded like an absolute idiot but at the time I was a bit preoccupied. I looked down at my hands WHERE DID MY HANDS GO?! Why no hands? Why is the hands gone? Instead of hands, two stumpy light blue things stared back at me. Metaphorically, of course. Having eyes down there would be weird. I think I was beginning to hyperventilate and I looked back up at the nurse with the tears forming in my eyes. I think it was shock. I started to mouth the word 'hands' over and over again in some vain hope that I could summon them by the power of repetition and hope. The nurse - whose 'cutie mark' seemed to be a Swiss Cross for some reason - blinked slightly at me. I didn't even want to try to imagine the mathematics behind that particular physical feat. Seriously, where are their eyelids?!

"Well, I'm sorry. I, well, yes. You're a little colt. Do, do you remember your name?" Her concerned look did not dissuade me from responding as I feel any sane man would at that particular bit of news.

I don't think she expected the torrent of filthy language that left my very small muzzle at that point in time.

"Now then, Mr. Dirtymouth, what do we say?"

"Ach, ptew. Stuff it! Oh no GHGHGBLGUBLGLUBGLUB ptew, ptew!" Soap has never been my favored flavor but whatever they put in hospital soap sure as hell makes it taste nastier than regular stuff. Also, Earth Ponies are STRONG. I was currently being lifted by the scruff of my neck and held over a hospital bathroom sink as this pony nurse tried to 'scrub out all those nasty dirty words,' as she put it. She was also holding my bag of IV fluid above her head and had been pumping soap into my forced open muzzle with her own mouth for a good five minutes. Seriously, who knew ponies had the same curse words as humans? Or the same language, for that matter. Regardless, with me having swallowed a metric ton of that foul stuff (on an empty stomach and with a very dry throat), I figured it was time to play nice with the twice-my-size-could-probably-cave-my-head-in mare that I had inadvertently - and after this had begun, purposefully - royally pissed off.

"Ok, uncle! Uncle! I give!" Thrashing about in her biologically improbable strong grip seemed to get my point across more than the foaming and spitting attempt at language and I was dropped on my rump with absolutely no dignity. It's the little things, ya know? I'm guessing she didn't want me yanking out the needle burrowed into the crook of my, uh, leg. Her managing three things at once while yelling at me and keeping me under some semblance of control was just another quirk of biology that I just did not want to try to wrap my head around. Hey biologists? You think a fly flying is something really hard to figure out? Try figuring out how to hold things with HOOVES.

"What do we say?" The angry eyeball she was giving me caused me to shiver slightly. The horror … In response to the monstrosity before me, I laid my ears back and hiccoughed a bubble. Yeah, I was really heaping on the sad puppy dog eyes as best I could. As long as they thought I was a foal, I'd resort to foal tricks. Though, let's be honest, I was probably just reacting to the Unnamable Thing in front of me.

"I, I don't know miss. I'm sorry?" I must have had a bigger effect on her than I thought because the next thing I knew, I was being hugged very hard. Did I mention Earth Ponies are strong? Yeah. That earned her a few bubbles in the mane. She didn't seem to mind. With a gasping breath, I caught a wiff of her scent … she smelled like a clean horse. They do not smell like vanilla, lavender, or any of that other crazy stuff. Just horse. Clean, but horse.

"I'm so sorry, little one. But we can't have a young colt like you growing up thinking it's ok to use that language." After a minute of me trying very hard to breathe properly, she set me down - gently this time - and smiled at me. "Let's get back to what we were doing before, hmm?"

I nodded, looking purposefully down at the ground. That face. And hey, you gotta use the tools you're given, though, am I right? I thought that if I looked dejected enough, she'd go easy on me. Guilt, one of the few things a kid can do really well.

She led me back into the hospital room and helped me up onto the bed again. I stumbled a bit, of course. Having suddenly double the legs and the coordination of a child would have done that. Not that she knew any of that as she was looking very concerned by that point. Where was that concern when she was pumping my poor aching stomach full of antibacterial soap? I had half a mind to vomit but I don't think that would help with the taste.

Having settled into the bed as best I could, I then lost all faith in the pony race. Poked, prodded, PROBED. Do they really not know of oral thermometers or was this some sort of revenge of hers? And, of course, we were both nude. Yeah, the last of my dignity was lost that day. I had a fetish, at one point in time. It's gone now. Thanks creepy Nurse! And all through this, she was peppering me with questions.

"Do you remember your name?" Evidently, Bruce is not a very 'pony' name. "Who are your parents?" Neither are 'Edward' nor 'Clarice.' "Your school?" 'Polytechnic' anything just got a chuckle. Obviously missing was 'profession,' 'address,' and 'I hoped you liked dinner before I violated you.' Again, thanks Nurse.

"Well, you rest up a bit, uhm, 'Bruce.' I'll go get the doctor." She patted my head, though I tried to keep her at a good arm's, er, leg's length away. Besides, I had just been stuffed full of semi-poisonous soap water, poked with half a dozen needles and had the last shred of my male dignity destroyed in front of my eyes all perpetrated by an Elder One of aeons past. And to think I once thought ponies potentially 'hot.' I was not in a touchy mood.

"Can I have a glass of water at least?" With my fresh glass of clean, pure, un-suddsy water in my hooves, somehow, I awaited the doctor with bated and bubbly breath.

2 - A Funny Way of Coming to Grips with the Horror of Existence

View Online

I sat there - toying with that empty glass - for a good ten minutes. Man, I was still plenty dehydrated if my dry lips were any indication. That one little glass did nothing but remind me how much my body craved water. Soap-torture and a hangover sure do work up a thirst. To pass the time, I tried to figure out what exactly I looked like. Even though I was lacking a mirror - or any reflective surface for that matter - I still managed to get a decent idea of my new look in that amount of time. Light blue coat, dark blue mane and tail. No cutie mark. No surprise. And, yes, my eyes were creepy-huge too.

I had been getting bored and was wondering if I should re-enact that scene from Marvel's Thor flick where that Norse God of Olde threw his coffee cup to the floor like it was a mug. I heard it gets you noticed pretty dang quick. Thrown out usually but, hey, at least they noticed! About the time I was tossing the cup in my improbable grip to get a feel for the weight of it was when the doctor finally showed up.

"So, the little mystery colt is awake, hmm?" Doctors. I hate them. Not them personally, that's a profession you have to WANT to do. Nice people. But my god, can you get any more obtuse? Hey, I didn't go to medical school for a decade. I have no idea what a lipid is or why it would be bad. Oh, you're just going to ignore my question? Ok, thanks doc. Sorry, little rant there.

"Uhm, I guess? You mean me, right?" This doctor was straight from a Doctor's Convention where he gave a presentation on How To Look Doctor-like. Lab coat (WHY?! It's not like you can use pockets or it was covering anything. I could see his cutie mark plain as day!), stethoscope, glasses. Even his coat was a boring-old brown. The only thing really un-doctor like was his hair. Wow. That hair. I've heard of 'muffin tops' but only in relation to fat people in far-too-small clothing. I couldn't help but stare. At least it kept my eyes away from his weird mug. And it was so orange.

"Ahem, yes, well. 'Bruce' was it? That sounds Asinus to me." I don't think I was supposed to hear what he was saying as he flipped through what I could only assume were my medical OH MY GOD HIS FACE! And I thought the mares were creepy-tastic. His snout was more square and that lent his whole head this almost mechanical shape that upped the weirdness to a level far above normal bounds. The fact all his mane was piled in a muffin shape on top of his skull did not help. Nightmare fuel. Distracted as I was by the sheer strange that was presented to me, I sorta stopped paying attention to where I was. Well, without my mind watching it, my mouth has a tendency to run off into places that turn out hard for me to wiggle out of. This time was no different.

"What'd you call my mom?" It's a defense mechanism! Every time something hard to deal with comes up, I start trying to be funny and sarcastic. Failing miserably but trying nonetheless. That way I don't have to deal with whatever it is that's making me nervous and I can pretend it's all a gigantic joke. Like life only less horrible. Unfortunately, I don't think the doctor was in on this one.

"Huh? I didn't ... is there something wrong with donkeys?" The way he looked at me made me feel half my size. And I was already half my original size if my estimations were right, so that was even worse.

"Uhm, that - that was supposed to be funny," I managed to squeak out. His huge eyes bore into me, seared straight into my soul. I distantly heard a sound, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Or maybe that was my child-like whimpering. Whatever it was, the doctor's glare slowly melted into one of concern. At least, I think it was concern. Maybe he had a big lunch.

"We don't joke like that around here, dear. Every sapient under Celestia's sun is worthy of life and respect. Specists make poor friends." … really? Specist? Well that proved one theory wrong: ponies are not all loving and all embracing. Well, maybe they are now. They weren't at some point in time and long enough to have a word for that. He reached out to pat my head but, so horrified at everything, I shrank away. Those eyes, those terrible monstrous eyes. "Hey now, nopony's going to hurt you."

"Uh huh." I was still a bit shocked, if you couldn't tell. From cracking whip-quick wit one second to facing down the Elder Ones. Or reciting jokes older than my grandma and cowering for my life. Either/or. With a frown, he placed his little clipboard aside and leveraged himself up on the side of my bed. His face leering over me, consuming my soul … ok, I'll stop with the creepy face comments. I was still fairly shocked at this whole turn of events so any weirdness was probably being blown out of proportion, right?


… right?


As the doctor mumbled things to himself, 'amnesia' and 'mental trauma' being the two of note, I slowly gathered my wits; all two of them. It was time to come clean, it was time to tell them the truth. It was time to out myself as what amounts to a gray alien to the ponies of Equestria. I took a deep breath and -

"Lunch time!" - immediately snapped my jaw shut as a pink and oh-so-bubbly mare nurse pranced in with a steaming tray precariously balanced on her back. If my stomach's complaints were of any indication, it was far past time for some food. The doctor, still mumbling things to himself, heaved his bulk off the bedside and stepped to the sidelines. I noticed that he grabbed his clipboard with one hoof and was three-legging it all the way. Ponies may be friggin' weird but man I was starving. While bacon was out of the question, I wondered if they ate eggs regularly or if that was just - wait, ponies. Food. Oh no. No. Please don't let it be -

"Voila! Hayfries, a nice thick hayshake and some haycakes!" - a steaming pile of dried grass. The nurse, balanced on her hind hooves, scooted the tray under my confused and, admittedly, rather aghast eyes. "I know how you young foals love your yum yummy hayfries! Just don't eat too fast, you'll get a tummy ache."

She rustled my hai - er mane with one of her hooves, gave me the biggest and, strangely, least creepy smile I'd gotten that day and sat back with a smug self-satisfied look that wouldn't seem out of place on a cat staring at a cornered mouse. Or maybe that was just how it seemed at the time.

"I really need a smoke." Their horrified looks confused me for all of half a second before I remembered where I was and what I looked like. Oh no. No. "Noooooo!" My scream of horror and craving echoed off the bleak, uncaring walls. I think I heard a dog howling in response in the far distance. Or maybe it was that crazy barking mare.

3 - What do You do with a Drugged Up Colt?

View Online

I begged, I pleaded, I whined. Nothing matter. Their answer was always 'no.' And that was, as they say, that.

It really hadn't hit me before I realized how hungry I was. It wasn't really on my mind that much. You see, smoking comes with 'triggers.' Average, normal, everyday things that set off a desire to smoke. Eating is one of mine. I have to have a smoke before I dig in to anything. Have to. It's not a physical urge, that issue seems to have disappeared with my hunky (fat), Adonis-like (Hephestus-like) body of pure virility (little blue pill). But the mental part of the addiction was there and man was that thing throwing a temper tantrum.

Then again, so was I.

"Fu-er, buck you! I need a damn cigarette!" To hell with adulthood, I needed a smoke! Two nurses, one of whom I was rather acquainted with due to an unfortunate 'soap based' incident and the other who had delivered food in the form of thatch, were holding my thrashing hooves as still as they could. I had lost the IV at some point in time. Must have fallen out of my arm. No, wait, there it was - jabbing me in the side. I didn't care. I think one of the two now holding me had grabbed the tray and put it aside but I couldn't be sure. I wasn't too worried, how hard is hay to clean up anyway? The doctor had run out of the room yelling something about a 'sedative' soon after I started to plead for a smoke.

He must know his nic-fits.

"Don't think you can hide your dirty mouth from me, 'Bruce.' Once the doctor has come back with something to calm you down, we are going to have a long conversation about appropriate responses." The white nurse had leaned in close and whispered into my ear. I snapped at her, both figuratively and literally. Horse bites are nasty, man.

"I am already calm and this is an appropriate response!" I managed to kick one hoof out from their grasp and started to flail it about. I was trying to drag myself out of the bed in my rather silly quest to 'find cigarette, kill lungs' but it was a back hoof and was not very keen on the whole 'gripping things' scene. Why can I grab things with my front hooves but not the back ones anyway? "I need some semblance of normality!"

The nurses traded looks, though they seemed a might preoccupied to ask. Probably something about what a 'proper young colt' would do. Screw that, I was about as proper a young colt as Nicole Kidman ... bad example. You get what I meant. Despite my heroic attempts to free myself, it wasn't long until the doctor returned with a syringe in - ew - his mouth? You're going to stick me with that after where it's been? That's nasty. But the two burly looking stallions he entered with seemed to not care very much about my rather vocal protests and the two mares that followed at a discreet distance seemed just as unfazed. As the needle pierced my flank, I let loose with something I had been wanting to get out all morning.

"Oh fuck all of you."

The thing about sedatives is that they make you calm, sure. They also remove a huge chunk of inhibitions. I've been knocked loopy a few times before. Generally, I find my attitude to be embarrassing to a high degree once whatever drug I'm on wears off. I was now demonstrating this. Looking back at it, it's almost like you're watching someone very similar to yourself but with a rather different set of values driving your body for a while. I didn't think I was any different any of those time either.

I never said I was smart.

"Man, you guys. You guys. You're like, great." With a gigantic dopey smile, I waved at the room in a rather vague manner. The earth pony doctor, a pegasus counselor that was a way-too-bright shade of green and some off-white unicorn that I think was an administrator of the hospital blinked at me after that outburst. I had been grumbling and mumbling to myself for a good long while as they held an impromptu meeting at the foot of my bed but I was bored and wanted to let them all know how much I really loved them.

Yes, I am also an extreme lightweight when it comes to drugs. It was a horse tranquilizer. True I was a horse, but ... stop ruining my story with your logic.

"You g- you guys are! You're all concerned and stuff, it's fuckin' gorgeous. If the rest of the world cared, I don't think I'd have half the problems I have now." The counselor (I could tell she was a counselor because of all her worried-yet-trying-to-be-reassuring looks she was throwing toward me. That and they called her 'Counselor Meadows'), her face contorted in a frown, walked over to my bedside. That made me slightly sad. Seeing a frowny pony is not a good thing. I'd have to brighten her day.

"What problems are you having, Bruce?" The way she said my name, it made me smile. She didn't stumble or hesitate, she just said it. Not like someponies I could name that put it in verbal quotes. Here, here was somepony that could understand. I just wanted to reach out and kiss her.

Wanted, WANTE- oh, bugger. I kissed her. Full on. With tongue, what the hell?! Creepy eyes, creepy frown, creepy creepy creepy.

Hindsight is 20/20. I need a shower.

"Bills, sweet cheeks. Bills, bills, bills," I rambled a bit after disengaging myself from her lips. She tasted like cherries, which was really nice. Distantly, I wondered if ponies really looked as bad as I thought. Sure, slightly off but a man could get used to it. Or maybe that was the sodium pentothal they pricked me with. "Bills and traffic and crazy fucknuts trying to kill me. They say I'm paranoid but it's not paranoia if they really ARE trying to get me, ya know?" I winked at her. She stared at me with her mouth partly open, as she had since I grabbed her head and kissed her. For some reason, her shocked face made me giggle. I don't think I remembered kissing her by that point. I don't think I want to remember kissing her now. "They want mah SECRIT NAT-SI GOLD! Ha ha!"

"Wow. Uhm, Doctor Horse, how much sedative did you give him?" The off-white pony did not take her pretty blue eyes off of me. I blew her a kiss in response, causing her to jerk back.

"Probably a bit too much." Doctor Horse turned back to his conversation, drawing the off-white unicorn with him. "But see, this is not normal for a colt that age. Kissing the nurses? At you? Cursing, smoking. To be honest, his vitals suggested he was extremely hungover but I rejected that due to his age. Now, now I'm not so sure."

"We've ran his appearance through City Hall." The unicorn magicked (Magicked? Is that even a word?) a folder up from something outside my line of sight. As she spoke, she idly flipped through a few pages. I could make out a couple of pictures but there couldn't be more than three or four. "No colts of his apparent age or appearance are missing. We sent some inquiries to Hoofington, Filldelphia and Canterlot but I doubt they'll have much luck. Missing foals are extremely serious business and only in places near dangerous locales such as the Ever-"

"Hey, fuck you!" Why was I getting angry? The counselor, who had been staring at me dumbfounded for a good two minutes, snapped out of her state with a slight gasp. "I'm thirty two years old, bitch. Suck it." Oh, that'd be why I was angry. They kept getting everything wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong. I waved my forehooves at them before looking at my limbs confused.

"I'm trying to flip you off but it's not very effective without fingers."

4 - I Hope They Have Indoor Plumbing

View Online

"What do we say?" The lilting voice sing-songed gently into my ear. Or at least as close as it could get.

"Please?" My own voice was horse - I mean, hoarse and I coughed as the air scratched at my parched throat.


"I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever take drugs again as long as I live." My mumbled words came out muffled from the pillow I was pressing against my aching and groggy head. It tasted like sweat but I was in far too much pain to care. It felt like a jackhammer was being positioned behind my eyes and cranked up to eleven. I heard shuffling around me. They sounded like they were getting closer. The Things That Should Not Be. One of whom I frenched. Ew.

"Well, that's ... that's good, but not where I was going." Confusion was evident all around me. I think I realized by this point I was the only sane one in the room.

"I'm sorry beyond belief that I kissed you, Ms. Meadows, as well as my behavior and language thus far. I am appalled that I acted so grotesquely and childishly and promise that I will never. Ever. Ever. EVER. EVER. Try to escape from illegal detainment. Can I have my water now?" I'm guessing that 'cruel and unusual punishments' were the norm around here. Seriously, I was so thirsty it hurt.

"If you come out from under that pillow so we can talk." Her voice rose a few octaves higher than it probably should have. I'm guessing it was meant to inspire confidence but really all it meant to me at that point in time was that I could finally fix one of the hundreds of aches and pains I was undergoing.

With a sigh that would have put Dracula out of a job, I shifted the pillow from my face. And screamed as her face was only an inch away from my own. At least, I would have screamed had the very attempt not caused me to start coughing and gasping for air. She backed up rapidly and, with a startled expression, quickly thrust a glass of crystal clear water at me. I took the glass offered by the concerned and yet still smiling bright-green mare and greedily gulped it down. I only choked once or twice, too. Astounding success! My god, it tasted like ambrosia.

"Good! Now that -" I waved my hoof at her, interrupting her and motioning for more water while I was still chugging the first one down. With a roll of her eyes, she obliged with a smirk, turning to a pitcher nearby. "Fine, we can talk in a bit."

Five glasses. Five glasses of water. That's a lot. Doctors everywhere gave me a standing ovation for breaking my record setting 'fifteen years on Pepsi and Red Bull' streak. But what happens when you just wake up, drink a ton of water and you're getting over a massive hangover?

"Now then, what - " Again, I held my hoof up. She flipped her ears back in irritation and I could almost see her ever-present smile turn downward. It was about that time I realized we were alone.

I was alone in a bed - naked remember - near a creepy pony that I had frenched in a drug induced haze. Good times. I winced at what had to come out of my tiny little muzzle.

"Uhm, I have to use the little colts room."

Ever since I saw that one episode where Pinkie was trying to hold it on the train, I wondered what the inside of a pony bathroom looked like. Just idle curiosity, really. Were they massively different because of the morphology or would the artists go for something more 'normal' just so the kids could understand what the hell was going on? I'm sure you have too and if not, well, tough. I'm going to describe it anyway. This ruined so many things about ponies for me that I can only hope it does for you too.

The toilets. The toilets are not toilets. They're pits in the floor. Have you ever seen an 'Eastern' style toilet? Yeah, think that only a bit longer and more ... actually, the best way I could describe it is to compare it to a certain part of the male anatomy. If, for example, that certain part was drawn by an idiot. Or a child. Or an idiot child. It even had a little ridge down the center for some reason I cannot and refuse to even try to fathom.

And guys? No benefit. None. Male, female, doesn't matter. You HAVE to wipe. This little experience gave me a great deal of respect for what ladies have to go through on a daily basis just to pee. Except I was nude going in and nude coming out so there was that.

Wiping was ... not pleasant. In the process of trying to figure that mystery of the universe out, I almost called Ms. Way-Too-Happy in for assistance. And I'm sure she would have obliged regardless of our little tongue wrestling session. God, I feel another shower coming on. That would have been awkward for everyone, er, everypony involved and even those not involved. The universe would have opened a black hole of awkward and swallowed Equestria, Earth and any neighboring inhabited planets just to be less embarrassed that such a thing had occurred.

Do you know why it was something I almost needed some assistance with? Hooves might be great for gripping round objects. Even pretty good at gripping flat ones. But you try maneuvering this giant, bulky ... stump with a small wad of tissue into position while standing on three hooves when your body really, really really wants to stand on four for stability. And this was just peeing! Doing anything else would require a masters degree in 'elimination of waste!'

With my little adventure in body functions out of the way - and a fresh glass of water just in case - I finally sat across from my future nemesis. I didn't know it at the time but this mare, this mare would soon become the bane of my every waking living breath. Her very existence would test every limit of my mental ability to its utmost. She was to become - My Counselor.

5 - Tempting Fate is Always a Winning Plan

View Online

"A thirty year old 'human man' named 'Bruce Bannon' who works in 'data entry' in the assets payable section of Acme Corporations Headquarters Administration."

"Yup." I lightly sipped at my water.

"And you live in the city of 'Nashville' in the 'state of Tennessee' with your wife 'Lisa Bannon.' And this is part of the country the 'United States of A-mare-ica' on Earth, specifically the continent 'North A-mare-ica' which was discovered five hundred years ago. And named after some cartographer."

"Spot on."

"And you need to get home because your boss is going to be really upset that you didn't make it in to work today."

"Actually, I said she'll be super pissed but, yeah, in a nutshell."

The silence was so thick, you could cut it with a sock. I was sitting across from this poor mare who had plopped herself down on the bed in what I could only assume to be utter confusion. Now I really was IN bed with a weird alien. Captain Kirk, eat your heart out. Her face, though always smiling, grew more and more panicked as we had spoke. With the vain and optimistic hope that somehow the false-ism 'honesty was the best policy' would work here, I told her about my life. I told her about my job. I told her a bit about the history of my country. What I remembered anyway. And what I remembered the history of the rest of the world was.

I may have skipped a few parts, in the interest of her not thinking I was completely insane. 'cause seriously, some things that seemed like great ideas at the time - when you look back at it - tend to not shine a favorable light on humanity. Like the World Wars. Or the Cold War. Or spandex. You know, really bad ideas that just seemed like good ones when they first came out. I cleared my throat, feeling a bit nervous from all the silence. She just kept staring at me. Or toward me, as the case happened to be. Her eyes, a rather nice golden color, seemed to be focusing on something over my shoulder to the left. I checked but there was nothing there.

There were two distinct ways I saw this conversation turning out. Option 'Good' was she thought I was crazy. Whenever you're in a situation that an option like that seemed the best, you know you're in deep trouble. But despite my apparent insanity, she at least accepted the possibility that, with all the other insanity that happened around here, maybe -just maaaaaybe - I wasn't completely nuts.

Option 'Bad' was, well, she just thought I was nuts and tried to get me out of her hai-, eh mane as quickly as possible. Man, remembering to put these terms in pony-talk was harder than I thought. Even then, I figured I could convince somepony that I wasn't completely gone and then I could work from there. At least, those were the two options I could see at the time. The reality would turn out to be far, far worse.

"Yes, well, you just sit right there. I've, uhm, got to go file some papers and will be right back." She kept looking at that spot slightly shifted to the left of me while she talked, giving the whole conversation an already creepier vibe than it had. She laughed, a hollow and joyless sound. "You know us adults, we love our paperwork!"

With that, she scrambled off the bed, grabbed the few papers she had been making notes on and bolted out the door. My stomach rumbled in response, as lunch/breakfast had been taken away never to be seen again after my little 'episode.' I sighed.

"Option 'Bad,' eh? Can it get any worse?"

Past self, I want to hit you SO HARD right now.

If I was going to have to live among the ponies, I may as well start getting used to what they looked like, right? Since there was no quick fix - adapt. I was slowly coming to grips with the hideous reality that I may have to spend a lot longer here than I had hoped. Stuck in this foal's body. Not to say there weren't any benefits, I guess. I - I still have no idea what those could be though and if anyone has any thoughts, please oh god please share them.


I was shaken from my reverie by the oh-so sing-song voice of Ms. Meadows. She hadn't been gone but five minutes this time and I was only a little shocked to see her again so soon. That translated into rapid blinking and gasping fish sounds as my brain shifted out of sixth gear and into first again.

"I've got somepony here to see-eee you-uuuu." She tilted her head and scrunched her face up. I can only compare it to a wolf snarling. I have no idea what it's supposed to mean or why anyone would find it cute. It scared the bejezus out of me and if I hadn't already peed, I would have been doing it right then and there. "A very special somepony who's going to make you feel tons better."

Mental alarm bells were going off all over the place. Either she believed me entirely and had - somehow - managed to get Twilight to whip up a 'go home freak' spell or gotten the Princess involved quickly or something (and was just naturally crazy). Oooor this whole situation was going to get really ugly, really damn fast. Guess which one my money was on.

"Uhm, I hope whoever it is brings food, I kinda missed lunch." My priorities were a tad out of whack I admit. First thing out of my mouth should have been 'oh god please spare me' but I can't grovel properly on an empty stomach turns out.

"Oh yes!" She nodded rapidly and I don't mean human-norm rapidly. Her head was a blur! How do they do that? As quickly as she started she stopped and motioned at the door, waving somepony in. "She knows just how to fill empty tummies of all the foals in Ponyville!"


Oh god no.

Suddenly, a pink mass of hair and face filled my vision. Blue eyes, pink everything else ever.

"HI! I'm Pinkie Pie! You must be new in town because I don't remember seeing you before and I know everypony in Ponyville!"

Pinkie pressed her muzzle into mine, forcing my face into the same rictus the counselor had. I could only see two colors; pink and blue. I somehow knew she was smiling. Like how a dying man would know when his last breath would be. I think I might have peed a bit then. As my brain tried to come to grips with the pink existence that was forced on it, other parts of my brain were kicked into high gear. I couldn't help but notice that she smelled like frosting. Vanilla, it was. A hint of cinnamon. My hearing expanded and I found myself in a sea of sounds. Of course, all of them came forth from the pink that had become everything. With a gigantic smile, Pinkie disengaged herself from my face and hopped joyfully off the bed.

As she ... I hesitate to use the word spoke. It was more like opening the floodgates into her inner mind and letting this stream of consciousness pour forth into the world. We'll call it 'speaking' until science can find a way to classify what Pinkie does. Actually, science has a restraining order against Pinkie so, yeah, we'll call it 'speaking.' Let's try it again.

As she 'spoke', she bounced merrily around the room, pulling things out of her mane - somehow - and setting up what appeared to be a very small party. Streamers were pinned, full balloons tied to the hospital bed I had spent way too much time inhabiting and confetti liberally sprinkled around the entire room. All the while, my head tracked her progress while my jaw hung slack. I swear, this is exactly what she said. In ten seconds. In one breath.

"I knew I would be needed at the hospital because my right hoof was itchy and my tail was twitchy but not in a twitchy-twitchy way when something falls though that's always nice to know but instead it was kinda just sorta twitchy which meant that there was a foal here who was going to need a big, emergency dose of 'smile' and stat but then I tried to come in and the doctor was just 'no no no' but then Spring here whispered something into his ears and he got all serious and walked out and she said 'yes yes yes' and so I was glad I got my cupcakes out of the oven super early today because being in the hospital usually means you're hurt or sick and that's never fun and so I thought I'd cheer you up and so I brought you a cupcake but then I ated it because I was waiting for a super long time so I had to go back to Sugarcube Corner to get another one and so here's a cupcake!"

With that frightening and fateful final phrase, she fished a finely formed and frosted fairy cake from ... dang it, alliteration has failed me. Anyway, she produced a cupcake from somewhere and shoved the entire thing into my still open mouth. Along with a good deal of her hoof.

I tasted vanilla. Vanilla, cinnamon and dirt. Ponies walk on those things!

6 - Bye, Bye Missus Pinkie Pie

View Online


"... and then we'll play pin the tail on the pony, OOH, maybe we can eat the cake after that instead of ..."


"... but then I said that he was being silly and having an emergency party cannon in the hospital was a great idea ..."


"... riot control anyway? I mean, why would somepony even try to start a riot at a party? One time, though, Rainbow Dash had ..."


"... but I just thought to myself, 'Self, what would a super-ie smartie pony like Twilight do?' and the answer was so super-duper obvious ..."


"... but then he told me I had to get my hooves wet first and I told him 'no way Jose' which is a funny saying, if you think about it ..."

"RUNAWAY CHOCOLATE," I yelled as I randomly pointed my hoof at the wall.

"Where?!" Pinkie, her random bouncing and mind-numbing rambling interrupted by the thought of uneaten sweets, drop to the floor regardless of her momentum and stood stock still. Only her head moved, swiveling about in confusion. If I hadn't been just subjected to fifteen minutes of trying to get her attention, I would have thought it rather humorous.

There are times in a person's life where immediate decisions need to be made under stressful situations. Some people, like generals and elementary school teachers, can make snap decisions when lives are at stake. Other people, like me, tend to panic when presented with such choices. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have realized it was a very bad idea to try to run away from a pony that can catch up to Rainbow Dash.

I was out the door before Pinkie had realized what was going on, blowing past startled and confused hospital workers without a glance behind me. It was odd but just that morning I was stumbling about like a drunken idiot - well, more of a drunken idiot - while trying to just calmly walk and now here I was, going at least twenty miles an hour down some very tight and crowded hallways. I felt ... alive. A rush of pure joy as my body did what it seemed to be built for. I gave a happy 'whoop' as I rounded the stairwell's last corner and saw the light of day filtering through a pair of double glass doors. The grass was a bright, succulent green; the sky a pure shining blue. I put on a burst of speed ...

... and ran right into Pinkie Pie's happy arms.

"Oh you silly colt, it's not time to play yet!" With a vice-like grip, Pinkie Pie bounced up the stairs I had just shot down on her three legs, carrying a thrashing 'me' over her shoulder like a sack of flour. Each jump jabbed her strangely boney shoulder into my gut. "At least, not outside of your hospital room. I brought lots of fun games we can play! Like Chutes and Step-Ladders and even Cumulus! That's Rainbow Dash's favorite game. Did I ever tell you ..."

She continued bouncing along all the while keeping a constant stream of 'talking' and either oblivious to or ignoring the confused stares of all the staff as well as my colorful language the entire way. Though I do think I got her attention once or twice with 'crotch-sniffer' and something that rhymes really well with 'punt.' But maybe that was my imagination.

"Ohh, you rained on my cumulus!" With a gasp, Pinkie Pie put hoof-to-head and collapsed into the bed. Her face contorted into a parody of dismay. I waited. I was not going to be reacting to any of this and I hoped, through some sheer bullheaded stubbornness, that she would wise up to that fact. After a good five minutes, I gave up with a sigh. She was not going to be getting up if I just waited and instead I gently moved the board game out of the way. This was going to be painful and uncomfortable and not at all fun in the slightest.

"Pinkie, we need to talk." Immediately, she bounced back up, a huge smile on her face.

"Sure!" I had her rapt attention ... which was really weird coming from Pinkie.

"Ok, look, I don't know if you were told much about my ... unique case, but I am not a little colt."

"You're not?" She tilted her head to the side. Wow, she looked just like my dog. Except pink. And a pony. Still, makes her a bitc- ok, yeah. Bad joke.

"No, I'm a 32 year old human male. I don't - " Pinkie gasped, interrupting my well-crafted little speech.

"OH! Those things Lyra's always going on about!" Chalk another fact up to fanon. Before I could ask, Pinkie crouched forward, her tail sticking up in the air. I was really trying hard not to think about what that looked like. It was difficult. It was not working in the slightest either. "She's always going on about how humans are so awesome and nice and stuff! And something about hands, but that's not for young colt's ears to hear."

Que awkward blush. I don't think Pinkie noticed but it felt like it was getting a tad warm in the room.

"And this one time, Lyra and Twilight got into this HUGE argument about if humans existed and Lyra was all like 'Why do we have doorknobs?' and then Twilight was all 'Earth Ponies don't have magic!' and -" A wet hoof was preferable to letting that continue. Though it was really kinda weird because I don't think Pinkie even noticed at first. Her mouth trying to work around what was stuck -OH GOD! Pinkie, stop licking my hoof! Stop, please!

After a few seconds of my face growing more and more horrified and red, Pinkie finally realized something was interfering with her ability to talk. Finding it was not a cupcake but a hoof, she looked at me questioningly. With my hoof still in her mouth.

"Uhh, this is awkward." The wet popping noise was unneeded universe. "Yes, well, I'm not from, uh, here."

Pausing, I suddenly realized how bad my knowledge of the show could be in this situation. Too much information and no one would believe me. Pinkie's silence and curious, concentrating look did not help. As much as they might be creepy, these ponies were still the ponies I knew and loved. It took a visible effort on my part to not 'd'aw' at her and give her a giant hug for kinda creeping me out the least thus far.

Or maybe my mind was so broken that they were starting to look 'normal.'

"Yeah, I'm not from around here. I'm from Earth, a different Earth, with humans and hands and all that jazz. I really, really, really need to talk to someone that might be able to get me home. Do, uh, you know of anyone that has that kind of magical knowledge?" I looked at her with the biggest puppy dog eyes I could muster. She rolled her eyes around in deep thought.

"We-ell, my friend Twilight Sparkle is a good magic-y unicorn. There's also Princess Celestia or Luna. Maybe one of the Professors at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns might be able to help."

YES! FUCKING YES! I was in, I had someone that believed me! I gave her the biggest grin possible. And it was weird. Yes, their mouths can stretch beyond the confines of their face. How? I couldn't tell you. And at the time, I didn't care. I had someone that could help me get home, someone to open the right doors for me! Actually, open any doors for me. A bit high off the ground most of them. And, sure, it was Pinkie Pie and she was a bit unstable anyway but beggars can't be choosers, as my mother never said. She usually just told me to do my homework and get off the couch.

"Oh yes! Yes, if you could help me get in touch with one of those ... ponies, I would be so very thankful!" I waggled my eyebrows at her. I couldn't help it, I was just so happy!

"Yeah, oka-wait." Uh-oh. She squinted her eyes at me, staring intently. A drop of sweat dripped down my face. Pinkie can be very ... intense in pers-pony? In pony-son? Whatever. Suddenly she brightened up and I let out a sigh of relief. That's a good sign, right? "Oh I get it! You want me to be the evil changeling Queen, uh, Chrystalids and you'll be the good human Prince Bruce that I foalnapped and dragged to my evil alien volcano lair!"

Too soon, sigh. Too soon.

"What? No, I really am a human!" Desperation crept into my voice like, uh, something that creeps. I'm not good with similes. Pinkie rolled her eyes and patted my head. That was a bit condescending, Pinkie. Just so you know.

"Silly colt, humans don't have magic! How would you know about that if you were really human?" That smile was also condescending.

"..." I stared at her with my mouth wide open for a solid two minutes before I could gather the strength to say anything. And what I said, well, she didn't seem too happy about my word choice.

Interlude 1: Intake Report/Initial Assessment

View Online

Equestria Ministry of Families, Foals and Mental Health

Intake Report/Initial Assessment

Client Demographic Information

Client: Bruce Bannon, report by client
Age: UNK, apparent physical 8-10
Race: Pony/Earth
Gender: M
Nationality: UNK

Parental Demographic Information

No parents or guardians known at present time.

Physical Description and History

Client is a blue Earth Pony with a blue mane and golden-yelllow eyes. Height recorded at 2 ft 3 in, length 1 ft 6 in. Weight 59 lbs. No obvious signs of physical distress or abnormality noted by counselor.

Client was made known to the ministry by Doctor Horse of Ponyville General Hospital. Apparently found on the edge of Whitetail Woods by a separate group of foals and taken in for potential physical trauma. Medical report att. Counselor made contact with client at approx. 7 AM local time. Client was in a intoxicated state due to sedation. Client presents a 'rough' appearance and a lack of co-ordination was noted even after intoxication well out of system.

Family History

No family history of validity given by foal. Current searches are being conducted. Client self-reports good relationship with family of non-pony type. Client states that last contact was 'years' ago. Client reports presently married, good relationship with spouse.

Psychological History

No known psychological history. Client self-reports 'problems' but refuses to elaborate. Counselor observes lacks proper self-other boundaries while intoxicated, extreme distaste of contact otherwise. Client is fearful and aggressive. Client showing common signs of sexual trauma/abuse, abandonment and drug/alcohol exposure. See att. Client Contact Report for more information.

Social History

No valid information given. Client self-reports as alien, mythological creature 'human.' Client states social and cultural norms far outside of Equestrian normal. Client acts contrary to said norms, displaying aggression when reported to 'come in peace.' Client probable Diamond Dog escapee due to dislike of physical contact/aggressiveness outside norm for age and gender. Client disregards redirection/correction.

Of note is mythological society differing from common archetypical 'human' fantasy; notable 'utopic' ideal vis a vis technology outside of current known bounds of science, lack of major conflict despite client self-reported predatory habits. Client reports societal norm in regards to clothing consistent with body-fear and racial self-loathing. Client reports psychosexual norms consistent with abuse and rape as 'normal' and states dislike of natural covering.

Equestria Ministry of Families, Foals and Mental Health

Client Contact Notes

Bruce is an Earth Pony colt of average size for age and slightly under-weight. First contact made while Bruce was intoxicated with sedation after violent tantrum for being denied tobacco products. While under the effects of sedation, Bruce deep-kissed this Counselor and made overtly-sexual motions toward hospital staff. He was a bit too 'lovey' and this Counselor noted behaviors consistent with sexual trauma/sexualization.

After sedation wore off, Bruce hid from sight until bribed out with water. Shows aversion to contact, lack of eye contact, lack of trust, lack of everything normal about a colt his age of proper behavior for age group, control issues, confusion of boundaries, confusion of self, delusion/fantasy. Bruce tries to act like a mare three times apparent age and even self-reports as same but that is obviously untrue. Proper full Psychosocial and Behavioral Assessment requested.

Bruce's hospitalization was due to extreme drunkenness. See medical report for more details. He also reports being addicted to cigarettes and shows poor impulse control in regards to obtaining items of value to himself. He is strong willed and hard to redirect. Bruce also has extremely foul language when angered or frustrated and attempts to redirect by hospital staff were insufficient and far too severe for this partic. Full report included in file; 'EMoFFMH Caretaker Abuse Report.'

Bruce is deluded to a high degree. He reports believing himself a 32 year old 'human man.' He claims no memory of how his 'transformation' occurred and that he is married to a female 'human' named 'Lisa Bannon' with the explanation that last names are passed from colt to mare. He has a job in 'data entry' which, from what this Counselor could gather, is essentially scribe or clerk type work. He has a good knowledge of basic economics, though the currency he reports is 'dollars' instead of bits but impulse control indicates rote memorization rather than 'true practice.'

His delusional world is an extensively created science fiction-fantasy world of high technology and what appears to be inverse gender roles. Despite humans reportedly being predatory or omnivorous, Bruce did not relay information regarding militaristic behavior consistent with aggressive hunter species (lacking in common fantasy involving humans as well, see 'Human Myth: Why it Appeals' as well as several other reports by this Counselor and others on human obsession). Regardless of the purported high-technology, Bruce claims to have no knowledge of how such items function or are produced except in some place called 'China.' Refuses to elaborate, attempting to redirect conversation to other topics such as clothing and 'human rights.' Technology inconsistent with normal human obsessive fantasy/delusion, perhaps instead showing personal past history of patient? Not the place for notes, Spring.

Counselor Notes

This is beyond anything I have ever seen. The only possible explanation I can come up with that makes any logical sense is that this colt has been sexually abused and traumatized to a degree that I can barely comprehend. Diamond Dog enslavement is most likely cause but I cannot rule out family abuse, especially with the sexualization aspect. He is going to need a loving family that is disciplined yet caring and supportive to help him break out of this fantastical world of talking hairless monkeys and into reality. He is obviously extremely smart, creative, and funny. This world of his has depth that few authors can hope to achieve in their lifetimes. We need to nurture those aspects while diminishing the angry, destructive and cruel. This is a complex case and I don't know if I can handle it alone. I may have to request additional help from the Ministry.

AUTHORS NOTES: For some reason, this came out all kinds of messed up formatting-wise. But I did the best I could with it. Sorry for the size, I was trying to make it look like an official type document.

7 - Pony SOAP Opera

View Online

"What do we say?"

"Ugh, that stuff tastes horrible!"

Pinkie forced my head around, staring very hard into my eyes. I think I've mentioned this but she can get really intense when she wants to. Except this time, she had a definitely crazed look. While her very, very angry eyes filled my vision, I noticed something out of the corner of my own that caused a lump of ice to hit my stomach.

Her hair was straight.

I know what happened last time this occurred and I did not want to end up in any cupcakes, brownies or other baked goods. As creepy as the ponies are, I could laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. It was all so surreal that, despite my attempts at going home, I wasn't treating it all as something that was really happening to me. Like a dream. This, though, this was terrifying and oh-so-very real. It had gone into 'wet pants' time a good while ago but I had done all that already and was feeling really parched. I instinctively swallowed, gagging at the taste. It was so thick going down my sore throat.

... get your damn mind out of the gutter, what is wrong with you?

"That's not what we say." Her voice, despite the anger in her eyes and the slight shivering I felt in her hoof as she held my head still by a very sore ear, was calm and level. I don't think it was a good sign. No, no it was not a good sign. "What. Do. We. Say?"

"I, I'm sorry I called you a bitch and a cunt and - ow," I stammered out the beginnings of an apology only to have it cut off by Pinkie's hoof slipping down to grasp an ear. Pony ears are very sensitive turns out. It felt like someone was grabbing my, er, something else except without the stomach-turning that such a pain usually produced.

"You don't have to repeat the words, young stallion. What." Yank. "Do." Yank yank. "We say?" Hard pull.

Coughing weakly through the soap foam, I tried to curl up into a ball. Her hoof on my ear kept me from getting very far. The door to the rest of the hospital was closed and I had been a jerk thus far, so I really don't think my screams would gain much attention. Especially since I had been screaming and ranting every couple hours and no one had checked up on me yet. I was alone with a very irate and unstable Pinkie Pie.

"I don't want to die," I whispered, my own eyes probably pin-pricks to hers. Absently, I felt kinda sad I'd never gotten the chance to see the colors of my new eyes. I bet it was something boring, like blue - ice blue eyes staring at me - but I'd still like to know. At my mumble, Pinkie's brow furrowed as if she hadn't heard me quite right.

"What?" Her voice was still very level, though I could hear the confusion in it. Some small part of my mind golf-clapped. I managed to confuse Pinkie Pie. I did two impossible things today, good enough day to die during I suppose. I was very tired, I realized. Tired, hungry, scared and a bit chilly from sitting on the bland pea-green tiles of the bathroom. To hell with masculinity!

"I don't wanna die!" I blubbered like a 9 year old through the foam ... I really hope that was just the situation and I wasn't somehow regressing in age. That would be weird. Of course, 'weird' barely described everything I had gone through that day. Something more like 'torturous' or 'monstrous' would fit better. "Please don't kill me or put me in cupcakes or try to make a stuffed animal out of my skin or anything! I don't even have a cutie mark for your dre-e-e-ess!"

As soon as those words left my li-muzzle, the grip on my ear vanished. Through my tears (and hooves because, let's face it, I didn't really want to see anything coming by that point in time), I could see Pinkie looking at me with a horrified expression on her face.

"Wha-hey, I'm not gonna kill you. I'm not even gonna hurt you!" I found myself being cradled in her forehooves as I let loose with a wailing that would put banshees everywhere out of a job. I had a really, really stressful day up to that point and I was only in Equestria for a few hours at most. Well, a few hours while conscious anyway. Crying helps, or so I've heard.

And that was when Counselor Meadows showed back up.

After a few minutes of me blubbering and Pinkie's stammering explanation as to why she was cradling a soap-faced youngster on the bathroom floor - with me trying to help through the crying and the sniffling - I was taken to the bed that had become a damned fixture in my life. Two nurses, a doctor and that white unicorn were all called in along with the downcast Pinkie Pie and I got to see a side of Ms. Meadows that I don't think was her best.

"The hay is wrong with you ponies?! " She paced furiously in front of the five pairs of downcast eyes. "This poor colt is obviously disturbed and probably has been lashing out in sheer terror and you idiots go and make things worse trying to treat him like some kind of delinquent!"

This was going to end very badly for everypony involved. And I felt fucking terrible about it. If I hadn't been a huge idiot and a jerk, none of this would have happened. What the hell me, I tantrumed over a smoke?! Tried to escape? Yelled out curses words willy nilly? This would not do at all.

"Uhm, Ms. Meadows?" I squeaked. Yes, I squeaked. Though I felt queasy from the soap-based discipline I had to do something! It's not their fault they were treating an adult like a child. I looked like a child! My mistakes are my own and I am not going to have four ponies chewed out over my own stupidity.

The universe had other plans.

"In a minute dear." I was waved at absentmindedly by the still fuming Meadows. "While I would agree that his language is foul and unnecessary, he's probably just trying to be an adult as he saw them from whatever hellhole he had to go through. The actions of the staff and visitors here has been deplorable!"

"Ms. Meadows!" A few of the currently-being-chewed-out ponies risked a glance my way, including the still distraught and obviously very unhappy Pinkie Pie. I - me, a guy that couldn't even stomach his asshole of a boss being upset at him - made Pinkie Pie upset. I am officially the worst pony. The only thing worse would be to make Fluttershy cry and, ya know what, I think I saw that happening if I didn't get my act together.

"I said in a minute." I noted a rising tone of annoyance in her voice. Good sign, I think. "There will be no more soap-based punishments, regardless of how bad his language gets, am I clear? No 'whoopings,' paddling or any physical punishments of any kind will be tolerated. This young colt has been through enough and we do not need to be adding to his distress through-"

Yeah, you know what universe? Go fuck yourself.

"Ms. Meadows!" I tried to bellow. It came out more of a wail complete with voice cracks and whines. I didn't think I would ever get used to this body. But, hey, at least it got their attention right? With an exasperated sigh, she finally turned to look at me with a forced grin.

"YES, Bruce?" Turns out some ponies have slightly pronounced canines.

"Uh, uhm, I don't want anybo-anypony to get in trouble, Ms. Meadows. It's my fault, uhm, about everything." Wow. Trying to confess to wrong doing while being stared at (hungrily) was hard. After a moment of blank blinking, the mare shook her head.

"Yes and no, Bruce. You have been a naughty colt but I can't really blame you. After ... what you've been through, I don't think any foal would be, uhm, nicer. But these ponies are adults. They should be more respectful," she cast a hard glare at the four who suddenly took an extreme interest in the floor and walls, "and gentle. Especially with a dama-er, confused colt like you."

"But Ms. Meadows, I -" she cut me off. Rude much? Also, thanks for your high opinion of my lifestyle, Meadows. Really.

"Ba, ba, ba, ba! I wont hear anymore of this. These ponies have been very mean to somepony of your delicate nature and it will not stand." With a semi-sweet smile, she turned back to the four other 'adults' in the room. "I think I've made myself abundantly clear. Dr. Horse, is the patient fit?"

The muffin-maned doctor opened his mouth to say something, thought better given his audience, and just gave a sad little nod. Meadows nodded enthusiastically.

"Good! Come on Bruce. it's time to get you into a more settled environment." I tumbled off the bed and, with a gaggle of suddenly very concerned ponies tagging along behind me, followed Counselor Meadows. As I passed through the door, I had a sudden chill.

Foreshadowing and I never really got along.

8 - Family Matters

View Online

"So, Bruce. This is what's going to happen." Spring Meadows and I were sitting in what she called her 'talking room' on the ground floor of the hospital. Painted to look like a warm spring meadow (yes, Meadows, I see what you did there) with a glorious and gaudy bright green carpet, it was fairly large with pillows scattered across the floor for seating and a few bookcases with titles like 'Dealing with Grief' and 'Mom Mare's Monthly.' A single filing cabinet overstuffed with paper was the only thing that separated this room from a hippy drug den. That and it smelled clean.

Man, I could go for a smoke. NO! Bad brain, we're trying to be good. We're ... still thinking about it, shut up. The mare is talking.

Spring was sitting on one of the smaller pillows, having dragged it over to where I had plopped myself down. Confused as the dickens. I wasn't one for floor pillows - my mother's house had been filled to the brim with them (and drugs and other unmentionables but I got out alive right?) - but I didn't feel right just standing in the middle of the room while this mare talked AT me. Yes, at me. I never realized this but kids get talked AT a lot. Very rarely with. I guess you just don't expect much conversation with someone who still has trouble tying their shoes or something.

Uhm, I think I missed something important.

"Wait, what?" I blinked at her smiling face as she spread a few folders in front of me. "I spaced out a bit, what'd you say?"

"Well, these are the three families currently available as fosters for you. Until we find your parents, I'm afraid we'll have to choose the best fit for now." I don't think my horrified expression was what she was hoping for. "Is, is something wrong Bruce?"

Be nice, be nice, be nice, be ni-

"YES! I'm not a kid, damn it!" I hopped to my feet, my face flushed. "I keep trying to tell you, I'm not a child. I look like one, sure, but I'm really not!" Spring quirked an eyebrow at me.

"You're a very big pony, Bruce, but not big enough to deal with the issues adults have to. A family is supposed to help keep you safe, help you make good decisions, and help you learn how to be a nice pony." Ouch, right in the 'how I've been acting.' I sighed and facehooved.

"I know I've been acting like a jerk, Ms. Meadows. I know my behavior has been really bad. I know it's a really, really, really hard thing to grasp-slash-believe but I assure you, I am an adult human." I did not have to remove my hoof from my face to know she was smiling sweetly, understandingly and - above all else - condescendingly at me. I've been feeling that a lot lately.

"Bruce, that's a really hard pill to swallow. Not only in how you look or how you behave but everything you've been doing points to you not being what you say you are." I removed my hoof and gave Spring a confused look. She sighed, dropping her smile. "The 'humans' are a fantasy creature that have been getting more and more media attention ever since that book series came out. We've actually been dealing with a few cases of ponies really wanting to be human. Or even really thinking they are human 'trapped' in a pony body."

"Wait, what? You've heard of humans too? Wait, books? What books?" Confusion reigned supreme. I think she broke something. Probably my mind. My 'will to live' was also under severe assault.

"Oh, you know. Those 'human' books that are popping up everywhere, the 'Glorious Adventures of the Knights Supreme' or something. We've had an increase in ponies seeking help dealing with their feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy." She smiled knowingly at me. In return, I stood in stunned silence staring at her. Books on humans? Oh bugger. "Mostly those affected are Earth Ponies, Bruce. I think it has to do with how hard it is to be an Earth Pony compared to other types of ponies and that there are really only one type of human with their 'magic hands.' Do you feel that you have it 'rougher' or less 'cool' than other ponies your age?"

"Wha-what?" Oh bugger, she's trying to talk at 'my level.' This is going downhill fast. Brain, we need something to head this problem off at the pass and now! "Uhm, huh?"

Come on brain, you can do better than that. She took my inability to form coherent words as a sign that she was getting to the 'root' of my 'problem.' I think.

"I know it's tough being an Earth Pony but that doesn't make you any less special or wanted. Your parents loved you, even if they didn't know how to show you that. And if they had to move out of Cloudsdale or any of the other Pegasi cities to help you, that was a decision they made very proudly. I know you might feel 'different' or just plain 'less' but you're not, ok?" She reached across the ... floor and put a hoof on my shoulder in what I think was supposed to be a reassuring gesture. I was just too completely weirded out to notice.

"...eep." Oh bugger! As the vocal center of my brain shut down, I realized I made a terrible error somewhere, somehow. I also got the feeling that the growing expression of fear on my face was not lessening her desire to 'get through to me' or some psycho-mumbo-jumbo.

"Now, because of your situation, I think placing you with some other Earth Ponies would be the best idea. The only option we have right now are the, well, the Cakes." She pushed a folder toward me and flipped it open, showing the Cakes holding two slightly older than I remembered twins. Pinkie Pie was waving at the camera in the background, covered in flour. There were various forms and sheets filled out, foster parent paperwork I guess. I felt the ground go out underneath me and sat down rather heavily. Meadows continued as if it was perfectly natural for a pony to drop down from shock in front of her.

"They're a good Earth Pony couple with a multi-tribal family. Twins, actually! They're a bit younger than you but it's a very loving and nice household." Her brow furrowed as she continued, a slight down turn of her ever-present smile showing deep thought. Or gas. I'm pretty sure it was thought though. "Pinkie Pie, uhm, boards with and works for them but I will make sure she doesn't cause you any issues, ok?"

We can salvage this, brain! We need something smart and witty and really, really, really effective but we can do this! Are you with me?


Yeah, fuck you too brain.

In Equestria, the grass really was greener on the other side. I took a deep breath, crystal clear air filled my lungs to bursting. The air was fresher than I've ever smelled it. Of course, I lived in Nashville for years so there is that. Birds were flitting about in the trees, squirrels were bouncing along the ground, and I was still in shocked silence as I was led along a dirt road into Ponyille proper by two mares. At least I had stopped hyperventilating in the atrium.

On my right, Pinkie Pie was bouncing along at a merry pace. Her hair had returned to its usual 'cotton candy' style after Counselor Meadows had taken her aside and explained something to her. I guess it had to do with her beliefs about who and what I was. The only bit about that conversation I caught was Pinkie Pinkie-Pie-Promising to never do something or other. I was too busy at the time trying hard not to pass out to listen in very closely. On my left, Counselor Spring Meadows herself, humming a merry little tune and trotting along at a not-very-brisk pace. Probably used to walking little colts and fillies home.

And in front of me was the object of every bronies dream, Ponyville. A dusty dirt road led down to the fairly spread out town of thatched roof cottages and smokey chimneys. Though my mind was still trying to come to grips with the comedy of errors my life had become, I still found myself drinking in details. I could see in the distance the city of Canterlot sitting precariously on the side of white-topped purple mountains, a duo of snaking lines showing roads leading to the heart of Equestria. It was a great deal bigger than the show ever tried to depict. I could see a huge hill of trees beyond the town itself, red dots showing it to be Sweet Apple Acres. The distant whistle of a steam engine made my ears flick. No cars. No air conditioning units buzzing loudly. No airplanes distantly taking off.

Ponyville. It exuded an air of peace and slow life. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, I thought.

And then I remembered we were going to visit my new 'family.'

"Oh joy," I mumbled under my breath. Not only am I stuck in a child pony's body but I was going to be living with two little hellions. Three, if you counted Pinkie. The 'fun' has been tripled. Suddenly, Pinkie Pie in my face.

"So, Bruce! Are you happy to be getting a new family, huh? Huh?" Yeek, personal space wo-mare. I jerked my head back, one foreleg lifting in instinctual surprise. "And it's so super-duper awesome-tastic you're coming to live with the Cakes! They're so nice-erific and bubbly, they're helpful and nice and fun! They live in a bakery - I'm right above it - so it's always full of yummy goodies. OH! That means we'll be like roommates, almost!" As Pinkie continued to babble on, I glanced nervously at Spring.

"Uhm, is this -" She cut me off with a nod.

"It's fine, we discussed appropriate boundaries while you were sitting excitedly in the waiting room. Everything is fine." 'Excited' is not panting in fear. Spring began to walk again toward Ponyville, motioning me to follow. I skirted the pink party mare and caught up to the counselor. Pinkie, after a moment, began to follow, still letting her mind empty through her mouth. "Pinkie's really a responsible mare, she's just not used to ... unique cases like yours, Bruce."

"-and then we'll make brownies together and maybe you could show me some recipes from where you're from and -"

"One question." Spring's ears perked up in response. "Does she stop talking? Ever?"

9 - Wherein Bruce Becomes a Complete Dick

View Online

I spent the next ten minutes - ten minutes - plodding through the streets of Ponyville with a randomly rambling Pinkie Pie and a way-too-happy Counselor Meadows. From Hospital to about the center of town. This place was monstrous, more-so than that damnable show had ever depicted! House upon house, all of them firetraps. Thatch roofed cottages with only the occasional tiled 'rich residence.'

And, of course, we had Pinkie to describe every. Single. Last. Resident. From the Riches - who live really close to the center of town - to the Punches - turns out more of an edge case. Pinkie knew each of them and would start a story only to stop midway through the 'One time, me and' to ramble on about another house we passed. And the ponies. THE PONIES. A technicolor stream of bright, hard-on-the-eyes rainbow-colored equines all smiling faces and waving hooves. Pinkie added them to her listing and - as we got closer to the center of town and the crowds became thicker - her voice became this whining shrieking thing that drowned out everything else around us.

Oh, wait, no. That was the sound of my teeth grinding.

Anyway, Spring evidently had given up on trying to engage me in conversation after I pointedly ignored everything out of her mouth for half the walk (I heard her mumble something about 'nerves' and 'excited.' That pony cannot read body language very well.) until I suddenly rammed her ass with my face. Chalk up another reason why clothing needs to be more common in Equestria. Despite the unintended probing my muzzle gave her, she barely spared a glance backwards before leaping on her hindhooves and spreading her ... ya know what? I'm going to call them arms. Hindhooves and forehooves are damned annoying and confusing. 'Arms' and 'legs.' Her arms out wide with a fairly large smile.

"Well, here's your new home!"

"Why am I not surprised?" Before me stood Sugarcube Corner, th-

"Sugarcube Corner! Premier pastry and party palace in Ponyville!" Pinkie interrupted (somehow) and tried to mimic Spring's stance, only with more arch in her back. After a bare moment she over arched and tumbled backwards. I blinked at her smiling face nonplussed before turning my attention back to the building. As I was saying before I was interrupted, Sugarcube Corner, the most famous (to humans) Equestrian eatery! A gingerbread house made of ... is that actual gingerbread? It looked like it but I'm sure ... really realistic, almost weirdly so. Some kind of air-blown stucco? The rain gutters were frosting-shaped! Do they even MAKE rain gutters frosting-shaped?! Is that something that has a demand here in Equestria?

And candles! Well, not really. They look electric. But still! Electric candles on the top of the whole she-bang as if it was a hazard to low-flying pegasi. Even the chimneys were decked out in frosting-styled ridges, though they didn't hide the gray stone itself. What, paint too expensive compared to all the other crap stuck on the outside? Yeah, this was a 'dream' come 'true.' And by that I mean it was a new and more interesting layer of hell so bizarre that Dante felt the need to keep it out of his tour book lest he really freak people out.

"Yeah, okay, I'm done. See ya'll when I see ya." I turned around and began to walk away. I'm sure I could find a bridge to sleep under or something. This, this was too much. I could maybe handle ponies - creepy - I could handle being a pony myself - creepier - but living in Hansel and Gretel's nightmare come to life? Not something I could ever see myself doing. As strange as my imagination may be, living in a rat-trap shaped like a house of cookies was not something I could have come up with. A sudden yank on my torso sent me high into the air, landing with a cough on Pinkie's back and ending my brief dream of actually managing to find somepony sane enough to help me get home.

"You've gotta meet the Cakes, they're the bestest and most super-ific couple in all of Ponyville!" With me struggling to get down - and Pinkie's surprisingly deft maneuvers to prevent that - we followed a still-smiling-Spring into the open door of the gingerbread house of DOOM! Or, pastries. And probably rats. I know I'm smarter than a rat and if I can't tell the difference between the walls and a sugary treat, I know the mice are going to have issues.

The door jangled cheerily as we all pranced in the room. Or rather, the two mares pranced. I was more grunting and struggling to get off of Pinkie's back. As the tinkling died in our wake, a blue head with pink frosting - no, that's her mane - a pink mane-do popped from around a corner.

"Oh be with you in a min-oh, Pinkie Pie dearie! Is that you? Oh, and you've brought a guest, how lovely!" Mrs. Cake. Proprietress of the house and store and probably the one that wore the pants in the family. Ponies are creepy - have I mentioned that? - but FAT PONIES ARE FUCKING WEIRD! You can see the fat slide around on their forms. It's like watching a really fat dog try desperately to waddle to the food bowl. I'm not a lean beefy guy myself. I'm actually a bit fat, in human form anyway. And by 'a bit' I mean I'm grossly fat and need to stop eating so damn much junk food. But damn! Get a treadmill. My mental conversation with myself unnoticed, Mrs. Cake waddled out from behind the counter and gave Pinkie a hug. I hope it was a hug. Otherwise, her fat has become sentient and is trying to devour ponies. Will no one be safe from - no, it was a hug. "And Spring Meadows, dearie! I hardly ever see you around here anymore, not since you and Pinkie worked those issues out."

And really? Are mental issues so common that peo-ponies can talk about them so openly? From the lack of blushing or awkwardness from the two mares I was sandwiched between (not in a good way either) I take it that, yes, everypony in this town was some type of crazy. I think it was rubbing off on me. Or maybe it was just bringing my attention to things that I didn't know about.

"And who is this handsome young colt?" Oh god, the fat wants to eat me! By my panic stricken eyes, I think Mrs. Cake knew not to try to envelop me. I want to pretend that it was my manly sneer that drove the foul monster into the depths from which it came, hissing and snarling, but no. It was the huge terrified eyes. Spring rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof, blushing slightly. Yet still smiling.

"Yeah, uhm, can we talk alone Cup? There's a ... situation." She glanced to her side, catching Pinkie's attention. "Can you, uhm, watch him a bit?" Lowering her voice, she leaned over my head. "But remember what we talked about Pinkemena Diane Pie." Ohhhhh, true-name use! That witch.

At the mention of her full name, Pinkie's eyes dilated slightly and she gave a way-too vigorous nod.

"Yes ma'am! Pinkie Pie, premier ponysitter is on the case!" She gave a slight salute and Spring, after a slightly squinted look, nodded brightly and trotted out into the kitchen - I guess - after Mrs. Cake.

"Well, now that that's out of the wa-" I never got a chance to finish my sentence. Something terrible, horrible happened that scarred me for life. Something I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever forget no matter how mad I go. I heard a pair of voices, high pitched and squealing. Like the sounds of Satan's talons on a chalkboard, it was. A shiver followed those sounds and I knew then that my life was changed, irrevocably and in such a terrible way.

Two forms shot by me as that screech echoed in the depths of my soul. A horn'ed demon and a wing'ed one, the Harbingers of Terror and Strife. They latched onto Pinkie Pie and bore her to the floor, their slight forms overpowering her despite their miniscule size. Cavorting like jackals over a fresh kill, I could only watch as they ravaged the poor mare. In her madness, Pinkie laughed along with them though their cries were ones of victory. Their names were Misery and Anguish though they stole the forms and names of those they replaced.

"Aunt Pinkie! You're back! YAY!"

"Oh god, Dante was wrong. Hell is candy-colored pony children."

9.5 - Another View: Cup Cake, Sugar and Spice

View Online

"What is the problem, dearie?" Mrs. Cake ambled across the spacious and well stocked kitchen. By necessity, it was very modern with the newest in chromed ovens, refrigerators and work surfaces. Electricity was becoming more and more a fact of life for Equestria and Cupcake was very glad Ponyville had voted yes to the new hydro-electric dam. Otherwise, Sugarcube Corner would still be using the old fire-stoked ovens and hoof-powered utensils. True, it had taken some work to get herself, Carrot and Pinkie up to speed on the new technology but it was worth it for the increase in production.

With a shake of her head to clear her thoughts, Cup turned and regarded the strangely nervous green pegasus. Something seemed amiss. She always liked Spring Meadows. Such a helpful young mare even if she tended to worry. Still, that's what it took to be a Counselor in Her Majesties service and Ponyville couldn't ask for a better mare for the job.

"Well, the foal that came in with us, uhm, his name is Bruce and he needs a place to stay while we look for his parents." Cup raised an eyebrow as Spring scratched the back of her head. It was almost unheard of for a lost foal to need help. To be lost without knowing where the parents were, that was even more rare. A stallion that let his foals out of his sight was hardly a stallion in her opinion. "And, uh, maybe beyond that even if what I'm thinking is true."

"Oh my, is the poor dear alright?" Cup had finally settled into an over-sized chair at her family's private dinner area, tucked away behind a half-sized wall. Spring sat across from her, rubbing her forehooves together nervously. The weathered old chairs were carefully obscured from public view. In a shop/home like most Ponyville businesses were, the owners and families needed private spaces that could be reached yet were not clearly in the public eye.

"Well, no." Spring sighed, leaning back in her bench. It creaked under her weight. "He, eugh ... he's a complicated case. He shows signs of abuse, neglect, possible sexual abuse, behavioral problems ... he's, he needs a stable environment."

"Oh the poor dear. And a colt, no less." Cup shook her head, a frown gracing her usually joyful face. This was unheard of, abusing a poor little thing like that! Cup felt a twinge of anger begin to rise but fought it down as quickly. She wasn't that mare anymore. She blew out a long breath to calm herself and focused on the questions at hoof. "Do you know where his parents are?"

"That's another thing," Spring said, grimacing. "He seems delusional, probably retreated to his fantasy to escape from the bad things that happened to him. He, he thinks he's in his thirties and a human." Cup's jaw dropped and it was a few moments before she could respond.

"...oh. Oh my."

"Yeah. I wanted to talk to you about potentially fostering him and, if I have my way, adopting him." Spring looked into Cup's eyes sadly and a little hopefully.

"Oh, I don't know." Cup scratched her head, almost dislodging her careful styled mane. "We have our hooves full with Pound and Pumpkin. Pinkie's a help but she can't be around all the time."

"Yes, about that ... Bruce's language is coarse. Very, very - well, just foul." Spring sighed again, putting her head into her hooves and giving it a little shake. Cup had seen the poor mare nervous before and even a little panicky but this was something entirely different. "He's hard to get along with, he can be very irritating and with all the other complications it'll be very hard to retrain him to be a proper young colt. Uhm, soap was used. At the hospital. And his reaction was not normal in any way. Pinkie was one of the ones to use it and I don't know if they should be left completely unsupervised."

"Pinkie would never hurt a fly," Cup gasped, her eyes wide with shock and surprise.

"...he was sobbing into her arms on the bathroom floor."

The steady look Spring gave her was enough to assure her of the truth of that statement. Cup's mind reeled. The fact that Pinkie - Pinkie of all ponies - might have hurt that poor, damaged little colt went against everything Cup knew of the mare. But, but maybe it was just inexperience. It had to be that. Times changed and the ways of redirecting foals that age changed with them. Cup herself remembered the way her mother would try to discipline her whenever she was bad. Spring continued unabated, reacting to Cup's expression if not her thoughts.

"Yes. I've always thought of Pinkie as ... strange but harmless. And - as a friend - I'd love to say I trust her completely but I have to think of Bruce in this situation and with all his other trauma, I just can't be certain there wouldn't be issues." Spring sighed a third time, letting it draw itself into a groan. With a loud thump, Spring's head hit the table. "This case is just a damn mess."

Suddenly, there was a shout from the other room and both mares jumped. They shared a slightly terrified glance with each other before bolting out of their chairs and trotting quickly for the door. Spring reached the archway first and stuck her head around the corner.

"Is everything alright right in here, Pinkie?" Cup winced at the tone. Spring and Pinkie were friends - everypony was friends with Pinkie Pie - but in this case, work had to come first. Cup herself still couldn't imagine Pinkie ever doing anything harmful to any little foal but ... she was still a bit young. It had to be that, it just had to be.

Cup heard Pinkie respond, muddled through the door. A high-pitched colt's voice followed and, after a second or two, Spring pulled herself back into the kitchen. Spring leaned against the wall next to the door and lowered her voice until Cup could barely understand her words.

"Cup, I can't tell you to take him." Spring purposefully did not look at her as she spoke but Cup could see tears forming in her eyes. "But please. Please, he needs normality. He needs to be cared for and about and the only other choices are, well, they're not the best." Spring looked at Cup's face, her eyes pleading. "He needs a solid, loving Earth Pony family."

Cup felt as if the weight of all of Equus rested on her shoulders. Spring's eyes began to quiver and a tear fell from one.


With a sigh, Cup sat down on the cold tile floor. This was not how it was supposed to be. A sad orphan with nothing left, a filly runaway that thought she was more mare than she was, a little colt so full of life whose parents were still fighting it out. These were the children Equestria produced. Not that ... that poor hurt dear probably not even in his double digits sitting there trying to speak over her twins far-too-energetic voices.

"Spring, we'll foster the dearie. I'll, I'll talk to Carrot about maybe adoption." Cup looked away from Spring's bright and happy eyes, her own closing in sadness. "But I can't promise that. We'll need help regardless. Our bakery is successful but if he's as hurt as you say he is ..." She left the sentence unfinished. As she finished, Cup felt herself grabbed and her eyes popped open in shock.

"Yes, yes, yes!" Spring hugged her firmly but gently, her voice returning to normal. "Anything you need, the Ministry is here for you. Bits, supplies, training if you need it." Cup looked at her friend with a gentle smile. Spring looked back, her own eyes now wet with tears of happiness. "Even if adoption isn't right for you, the fact you'll help is enough."

"Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me!" The two mares spun their heads to the doorway to see a surprised and rather aghast Bruce staring at them in absolute horror.

10 - Emotional Log Ride

View Online

"What's your name?"


"Oh cool, an earth pony!"

"Yeah bu-"

"Are you in school?"

"Not ye-"

"Where do you live?"


"Where's your parents?"


"You don't have a cutie mark?"


"Your eyes are pretty."


"Hey, do you know Pinkie Pie?"

My neck was sore from trying to keep whichever was talking in view long enough to answer a question. The twins were circling like sharks, eager to pry whatever secrets they could from me. The golden brown colt would flap his wings and lift up a few inches every so often but that was the extent of his flight. I didn't see a twinkle from the yellow unicorn filly. I'm guessing that the prowess they showed prior was a child-like burst of energy. Something that fades in time and requires training to regain.

I can be insightful if I try, shut up!

A glance at Pinkie Pie told me she would be of absolutely no help to me, sitting there. With that dumb smile on her face. Isn't that cute, she thinks we're bonding. On the one hand - hoof, thing, whatever - I didn't want to make her sad because that would solidify my label as 'worst pony.' On the other, I really wanted to disabuse her of the notion that I was getting along here.

Self destruction was always my weakness.

"GUYS," I shouted, bringing blessed silence to the room. I noticed Pinkie's smile faltering and her hair slowly uncurling. The children looked at me with big almost scared eyes. Tears had formed in the corners and threatened to fall. With a sigh, I sealed my fate. "One question at a time, please. I can't keep up with them all."

Oh come on, I'm not THAT much of a monster! Also, crying children are always a mess.

Before any verbal assault could commence, however, a pony I never thought I'd be grateful to see popped her head into the room.

"Is everything alright in here, Pinkie?" Spring glanced suspiciously at Pinkie who shrank a bit under the gaze.

"Yup, Bruce here is just talking with the twins Ms. Meadows!" Pinkie's nod was energetic. Too energetic. Obviously suspicious. Come on, girl, you're making this hard for me.

"Yeah, they were just a bit too ... vocal. Everything is fine Ms. Meadows." I can be diplomatic! When I try. When I remember to try, anyway. After eying us both for way too long, Spring ducked back around the corner, letting both me and Pinkie breathe a sigh of relief.

"Hey Pinkie, can you, uh, converse with the twins here? I gotta go talk to Meadows for a second." Not even waiting for a response, I headed over to the archway. This was my future they were dealing with and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to have my say.

As I rounded the corner, I heard faint conversation. Talking about me behind my back. Or behind a wall, as the case may be. I couldn't hear very much, their voices were too low. I pushed open the swinging doors to catch the tail end of my Doom.

"Even if adoption isn't right for you, the fact you'll help is enough." I started in surprise. I guess it never really hit me that they thought I was a kid. I mean, I knew it conceptually but to hear that word ... it finally hit home. I really was HERE and they really were planning to stick me with some poor unsuspecting family.

Remember when I said that if I didn't watch my mouth, it would go off on its own? Yeah.

"Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me!" The two mares spun their heads to the doorway with looks of shock on their faces. They were hugging each other, sitting near the door to the common area. The kitchen was more modern than I had first guessed it would be but that wasn't the focus of my attention. Can you blame me?

"No, no, no, no!" Spring pushed herself away from Mrs. Cake - who fell gracelessly to the floor - as I backpedaled. I honestly don't remember who was saying 'no' louder, me or her. My heart was racing as fast as my legs were. I bolted through the common area past two very confused twins and a slightly less confused Pinkie Pie.

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no!" Out the door and into the street, random turn and away we go!

Ponyville is a pretty dang large town and there obviously wasn't a whole lot of that pesky 'civic planning' going on when it grew. The main streets meandered in a way that would make introducing automobiles here 'interesting' and don't get me started on the alleys. Entire neighborhoods built up around snaking and twisting mazes of alleys. And by 'alley' I mean 'path that could barely fit a single line of ponies.'

Ugh, and the smell. Ponyville was clean for a dirt-road farming community but now I know why. Alleys were where the citizens kept all those nasty odors that would look bad on the brochure. 'Come see Ponyville's famous three-mare-tall garbage pile, located behind the Quills and Sofa Shop! Just take the first alley entrance, get lost and you'll find it eventually.'

Not that great for tourism.

I found out some interesting things hiding beneath an upturned garbage pail as I waited for the shouts of Ms. Meadows to die in the distance. You can tell a lot about a civilization by the trash they toss. Old food seemed to be the primary refuse but in this particular trash can there were also broken quills, a torn saddle (WHY DO PONIES WEAR SADDLES?!), some used prophylactics, a half-burned book called 'How to Keep Your Stallion,' a broken record, a broken record, a broken rec- sorry. Anyway, electronic devices? Not a one. Very little in the way of packaging either. Unless the heap of brown and coarse papers currently trying to explore interesting new body orifices was packaging.

As Spring's voice finally died in the distance, I breathed a sigh of relief. Ok, so one crisis converted into an even bigger crisis. Yay me. Carefully, I lifted the edge of the pail ...

And there's Pinkie Pie. Of course. Smart girl not calling out my name. And she sees me.

"Bruce?" Pinkie took a cautious step towards me. Yeah, you're not fooling anyone.

"Go away." I dropped the can back on top of me with a clang. I could probably get used to the smell. She can't sit out there for hours right?


...bugger. It was getting hot under there.

"Bruce, Spring and Cup are really worried about you." Her voice was right outside the can - which, incidentally, gave her a kinda cool 'metallic' sound. I'm sure she'd appreciate that at a later date. Subjecting her to sitting in this filth pile trying to talk me out from under a garbage can probably wouldn't win me any favors though. Seeing as how we'd been sitting in silence for at least an hour by that point. I was beginning to suspect Pinkie wasn't leaving anytime soon.

"Good for them, I'm glad they've made that life choice." Ewww, one of the used 'marital aids' was leaking under me. That's lovely. Still wasn't leaving though.

"Bruce, I know that you're scared. And I know that you really don't think you need the help. But this, this is not normal." Pinkie Pie telling me something isn't normal?! Holy hells.

"Yeah, well, it's been a weird day. I didn't think such a quick transition into normalcy was quite appropriate." My stomach rumbled. Hmm, old bread. I need old bread. Preferably without 'essence of stallion' soaked into it.

"Bruce, I'm sorry."


"What?" I peeked out from under the can, my face a wonderful mixture of really grossed out and really confused. Pinkie was sitting about two steps away on an old rusted bucket, her hooves dragging in the unmentionables. Her hair was completely flat and her eyes filled with tears. Oh no! No, don't cry!

"I'm sorry about the hospital. I'm sorry that you don't like me. I'm sorry. Please, I'll leave you alone. I'll even move if that'll help, don't run away because of me." She lowered her head and I could see her shoul - withers? Withers. Her withers shaking gently.


"No! No, no, no! Pinkie, no!" Been saying that a lot recently. I scrambled out from my hiding spot to stand in front of the depressed mare. Shaking my head emphatically, I suddenly realized I had no idea what to do. So, words? Words. "Pinkie it's not you, it's me."

...am I stupid? All signs point to 'yes.'

"Huh?" Pinkie looked at me, her face confused. Using that old 'ending the relationship line' seemed to have at least stopped the tears. Her eyes were awful red though. The blue was really striking once you got over the whole 'too big for their heads' thing. Wait, not like that! NOT LIKE THAT! Uh, soldiering on.

"Pinkie, I heard 'adoption.' Adoption!" I pounded the ground with a hoof, causing just a little splatter. Looking at the bottom of my hoof with a grimace, I decided I didn't want to know what that had once been. "I know you don't believe me, I get it, but really? Adoption?! That's terrifying enough to a kid that knows it's coming but me? I'm used to paying bills, working for a living, being married and now I have to do it all over again? With some family I barely know about, much less know!"

I was sounding panicked. I was panicked. This was panic time. I looked at the dirty ground breathing hard.

"Even if I'm delusional, this is still not something I needed when I woke up today." I felt an 'arm' circle my withers but I didn't register it at first. "My life, my whole life is gone. My family, my frien - co-workers. My wife. My wife! My wife ... will I ever see her again?" I looked up at Pinkie, her eyes concerned but much less red than before. I felt something fall down my face, a drop. "It wasn't a great life Pinkie but it was mine and it was stolen from me. Why?"

There we sat, in a dirty alleyway filled with the discarded castoffs of society, a pink mare holding a shaking little blue colt.

11 - I Fought the Law and You Know the Rest

View Online

We walked - or in Pinkie's case bounced - back to Sugarcube Corner in silence. Pinkie seemed chipper since I assured her that it wasn't her I was running from but the situation itself. And yeah, that's not a good way of dealing with any situation but I had an excuse! Uhm, let me think of one.

Crap. I ... am a ... coward? I guess that works. ANYWAY.

As we moved into the main streets of Ponyville, I began to notice how deserted everything seemed. Where before the streets were full of ponies, now it seemed as though the entire town were deserted. I almost asked my guide if something was happening but a quick glance up shattered my question. With a high-pitched 'eep' I stopped and sat heavily down. Pinkie bounced to a stop a few hops away.

"Bruce?" She turned to look at me, tilting her head quizzically.

"Oh my god, it's gorgeous," I whispered, my eyes caught in the glory everything. I usually try to avoid waxing poetic but bear with me on this one. It was an almost religious experience.

The sky was lit with the colors of a rainbow, the baby blue darkening to the east to the deepest of purples and lightening to the burnt red of a mid-summers sunset to the west. The orange light of the setting sun shining on the thatch of the buildings around us, themselves almost a burnished gold. The warm stones of one of the straight cobble streets cooled in the evening air as I sat, the gray of the road contrasting so wonderfully with the bright and almost pristine shine of the buildings.

Doors still opened, to let the fresh and cool evening air blow away the hot day, emitted sounds of laughter or soft conversation. Flickering candle light dimly glowed in windows and spilled out of doorways as ponies settled into what must seem to them an average night. A few street lamps - lit by gas or through some more arcane means - created pools of yellow leading down the street towards the distant yet still cherry Town Hall. The filth and darkness of the alley was forgotten. Here, there was only the soft glow of sunset and silence.

Silence! There were almost no sounds. That, that was so magical! I've lived in large cities my whole life, places where nothing ever just stops, where there is always the sound of traffic or construction or something! Here ... here there was peace. There was the sound of a light breeze, of my own breathing. Laughter from an opened doorway, muted with distance and almost musical in tone. The distant sound of someone calling a foal in for supper. A clattering of hooves as Pinkie walked over to me. Peace, blessed peace for once in my life.

"Hey, it's getting late Bruce." Pinkie nudged me with her muzzle, a faint and glowing smile on it. "We have to get back home or everpony will be worried."

"I know, I know. This, I might be able to manage this." I gave her a weak smile and closed my eyes, drinking in the near-silence and the slowly darkening night. "It's not as bad as all that, is it?"

Pinkie shook her head, still smiling, as she led me with joyful hops back toward Sugarcube Corner.

"Wow, you'd think someone died." As we got nearer and nearer to the bakery that I was slowly accepting as my new home, I heard things that disrupted the spell the night had placed on me. Rushing and clattering hooves, whispered conversations barely perceivable through the streets. When we turned the final corner, it was evident why there was so much commotion.

Armored guards everywhere. At least a dozen made up of all types of ponies. Two white pegasus mares in the gold armor of Celestia talking to Mrs. Cake and Ms. Meadows as a gray unicorn stallion in silver took diction and another comforted a crying Mr. Cake and two twins, sniffling beside their father. A trio of red earth pony guards in burnished copper listening to two of those bat-winged ponies in their purple and black that rushed off into the sky as another group sped in to deliver their own report.

It was like someone kicked a pony-anthill. With the part of the crying woman and her children played beautifully by Mr. Cake and his twins.

"Great, now I feel just awful." With a groan, I lowered my head and began to trod wearily to my certain doom. I was hoping to grab their attention gently and with little fuss. Pinkie, on the other hoof, had other ideas.

"I found him!" I stopped in my tracks, one hoof lifted to take another step. My grimace of stoic acceptance easily - and almost by habit at this point - changing into one of shocked horror. What power have I insulted to deserve a happy and extrovert Pinkie Pie?

"Oh gods." At her shout, the entire ensemble whipped their heads around to stare at us. Pinkie was enthusiastically waving one 'arm' in an attem- what? No, they are arms now! 'Fore hooves' and 'hind hooves' is just ridiculous! I don't care if it's not anatomically-you know what, FINE! Ruin my story why don't you...

Ahem, Pinkie was enthusiastically waving one fore hoof in an attempt to gain even more attention for our arrival. I've never liked being the center of attention and here it was made worse because I was the cause of all this unnecessary activity. Silence reigned again, disturbed only by the sounds of the bat-guards wings in the air and the blood in my now burning ears.

"Ah heh heh." Nervous laugh and far-too-wide smile, always a great start to any conversation. "Uhm, hi everypony! I'm, uhm, I'm back?" Yeah, smooth move there, Ghandi. Wonderful diplomacy. Peace has been restored throughout the lands due to your suave talking. After a bare minute of surprised blinking - and Pinkie's wildly waving fore hooves - the two pegasus guards trotted over to us, Ms. Meadows and Mrs. Cake in tow.

"Oh my, well dear, you gave us all quite a fright," one of the mares in armor piped out. I have no idea what exactly I was expecting but that very soft and melodic voice was not it. Something to note: all guards have the same coloration. I didn't know if it was a weird genetic quirk or some kind of bleach or enchantment or what but that sounded ... just like ...

"Fluttershy?!" My jaw dislocated. It was! It was fucking Fluttershy in guard armor! "Buh-buh-how?! Why? What? But this doesn't make any sense!"

She blinked at me for a brief second before taking off her helmet. As she did so, the white and blue colors of a guard drained slowly away to be replaced with her soft yellow coat and long pink hair. Her face was creased with worry and confusion, looking at me as if trying to place a face.

"Uhm, yes. Actually, uhm, I'm Officer Fluttershy of Her Majesties Royal Home Guard, Auxiliary. Uhm, do - do I know you from somewhere?"

"HOW?!" Assaulting an Officer of the Peace is probably an offense but I couldn't help myself. Sweet, innocent Fluttershy as a cop? That was just all kinds of disturbing and messed up! It took me a second to realize I had grabbed her armor and was staring at her from not even an inch away, braced against her breastplate with my hind hooves. The shock of everypony there was probably why I wasn't being beaten into a coma. Or maybe that's just humanity.

"Uhm, please let go?" She squeaked, obviously distressed. I swear, if I make Fluttershy cry I'm killing myself.

"OH! Oh, sorry. Sorry, uhm, Officer?" I gingerly lowered myself back to the ground, even more red than I was before. Before my hoof even touched the ground, however, I was swept up in a crushing hug by none other than Mr. Cake.

"Oh my goodness, you silly little colt, you had us all worried sick! Don't you ever run off like that again!" Ok, this was just plain weird. Fluttershy a guard, Carrot (I remembered his name! I'm such a nerd) sniffling into my filthy coat, and creepy ponies staring at me with their gigantic eyes! When did my life get so complicated? The entire guard force had gathered around, just as confused as I was though probably for different reasons, and even some nearby homes/stores had let loose a small gathering of onlookers. Rubberneckers, all of them. I know why I was damned confused, getting a definitive creepy-uncle vibe from Mr. Cake. The guards were probably astonished I wasn't bleeding on the ground for grabbing Fluttershy like that.

"You know this colt, Flutters?" ... please don't be who you sound like. Fluttershy shook her head almost meekly, which looked really odd from a mare dressed in battle-gear. Scowling, the other pegasus guard shook off her helmet. The guard colors of white and blue melting into cyan and the shockingly real rainbow mane of the Fastest Flyer in Equestria.

If I could breathe from the hug, I think I would have yelled out something about the world gone mad. As it was, my blue coat was getting even bluer if that was possible. A light tapping from Mrs. Cake disengaged her husband and I slumped to the ground, gasping for air.

"How," I weakly sputtered, "how is this even possible? You," I pointed at Fluttershy, "are an animal caretaker! And you!" I shifted over to Rainbow Dash. "You are a weather mare!" They both raised their eyebrows at my accusations, delivered as theatrically as they were.

"Uhm, we-well yes, I am," Fluttershy looked around at the moderately sized crowd nervously, "but there are more qualified vets in Ponyville than me and while I love taking care of animals that, uhm, that really doesn't pay the bills very well."

"Yeah, Flutters took some cajoling to get her on as an Auxiliary but it fits her really nice." Rainbow nudged her yellow friend with a grin. "And me, I'm kinda an on-call Guard. Delivering messages, Search and Rescue, even some hoof-to-hoof combat if the situation needs it." Rainbow reared on her hind hooves, giving a few jabs into the air to emphasize her point.

I don't think my confused look was what they were hoping for. My brain be done broke now, mouth free.

"What in the hell is an Auxiliary?!" That ... was a halfway decent question, mouth. Why don't you have those more often? The two mares looked at each other, perplexed. Even Ms. Meadows and the Cakes were a bit confused. Fluttershy was the one to break the silence, lowering herself onto the now chilly cobbled street like a schoolmarm getting ready to tell a story.

"Well, 'Bruce,' the guard is set up like this. We have the Royal Guard which helps protect Equestria from bad things that want to hurt us. They're very brave mares who," Spring nudged her slightly and, with a blush, Fluttershy squeaked. "Uhm, very brave mares and stallions who work really hard on the edges of the Princess' domain. Then you have the Home Guard which protects ponies inside Equestria from bad and sometimes sick ponies that want to hurt others." She smiled sweetly at me.

"An Auxiliary is a mare," nudge, "er a mare or stallion that works behind the rest of the members of the Home Guard. We do paperwork, make sure the prison-" nudge, "suspects are well cared for and talk to victims to help them deal with the bad things they've seen. We also help coordinate Search and Rescue and Lost Foal Searches."

I felt like this was going to be a theme. 'Class time for confused Bruce.' My mind had gotten a fiercer hold on my mouth thankfully so I waited until Fluttershy was finished. Time to be an adult about this!

"I'm in deep shit now, aren't I?"

Yeah, you saw that coming.

12 - Bacon Flavored Bacon

View Online

After Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash had sent everypony else home, I was marched straight into the bathroom by Mr. Cake and given a thorough scrubbing. Despite my vocal protests, getting that nasty off my hooves was an extremely welcome relief. I wasn't too keen on having any pony handle my junk (much less another guy) but I must admit he was more gentle than I would have thought. He was 'tsk'ing at every small scratch and scrape. Such a strange maaa-stallion.

"So, what was that all about," he asked as he tried to get soap in my eyes. He hid it as 'washing my mane' but I knew his plan. I guess since they weren't allowed to put it in my mouth now, they'd have to find a new orifice to stick it in.

Oh god, that sounded wrong.

"Ptew, what was what about?" Soap still tastes nasty even if it is accidental. I looked around the Cake's bathing area, trying to forestall the inevitable questions. Like 'where are your parents' and 'why did you flee in terror.' Penis-shaped toilet? Check. Dragonclaw bathtub? Check. Mirror? Mirror! "Hey, does that mirror work?" That was undoubtedly one of the more idiotic things I had said that day. I blame lack of food, sleep and sensible reality. Before I could correct myself, Mr. Cake gave me what looked to be a reassuring smile. His overbite did not make smiles any less bizarre. And where his hooves were didn't make me feel any more comfortable.

"Sure does sport! You wanna handsome up before going downstairs?" Handsome what? Without waiting for my answer, he hefted me out of the tub and onto a fresh towel. I probably looked like a drown rat. I felt like one. Suddenly, the lights went out and there was a piercing scream in the night that sent chills down my spine. A scream of anguish and deathly fright. A scream of murder.

Actually, Mr. Cake had dropped a towel on my head and I shrieked like a little girl.

"Woah, easy there son, just a towel." I gasped, breathing hard as he rubbed me of-DRY! Rubbed me DRY! Gah, what is wrong with me?

"Geez, I am jumpy for some reaso-AH, watch the goods!" I wonder why. After a few more minutes of him ... well, touching me all over my body and me being completely weirded out by it, I wiggled free and hefted my forehooves up onto the edge of the sink to get a good look at myself. Finally, I could see what the world saw. I could see what fate had stuck me with. I could see ...

A really crappy OC pony.

I kid thee not. A dark blue tousled mane on lighter blue pelt with a few patches of pinkish skin showing where I had fallen in my mad dash to escape. My face ... that's not me. I reached out and touched the surface of the mirror, my hoof feeling the cold glass. My hoof? I-I have hands, not hooves. But this, this stump is ... it's 'my' hoof but it's not. I looked back at the mirror and wiggled my eyebrows. The mirror wiggled back. Stuck out my tongue, squinted, crossed my eyes and each motion was matched by my doppelganger. It was not me but it was me. A thin-ish nose - no, muzzle atop an ever growing frown. And my eyes. I was half expecting my eyes to be blue - making me the Most Boring Pony in Equestria - but thankfully someone had some sense and instead I saw two golden orbs staring back at me.

It was too much. I sat down with a loud 'thump,' my image disappearing over the rim of the old-style sink.

"I desperately need a smoke now. Yes, yes Mr. Cake, I know, I'm not going to go out smoking. But I really want to."

After I had been scrubbed nine ways till Sunday I was led out into a private dining area. It was a small alcove set back from the bakery counter area hidden by a half-wall separator and obviously designed to allow the Cakes a private dining area without taking them away from their work. Small and cramped, it could probably fit maybe four ponies. Five if two of them were children. It really wasn't meant to fit three foals, a stallion and four full-grown mares - two of whom were in Guard Armor. With Mr. and Mrs. Cake holding a twin each, we managed. But just barely.

The few questions about my girlish shriek were waved away by Mr. Cake as 'nerves' - earning me an understanding and sympathetic glance from Ms. Meadows - and I was ushered into the small space. Since I seemed to be the center of attention, I got one of the few seats available. In the back, hemmed in by Spring on one side and Mrs. Cake on the other. With everypony else blocking the only way out.

Lucky me.

I looked around. The twins were having a quiet argument about who 'scared him away' with the occasional whispered 'shh' as if we couldn't hear them. The adults of my audience were looking at me with expressions ranging from confused concern on Fluttershy to irritation from Mrs. Cake. Spring was the first to speak up as soon as I had settled in.

"Bruce, we know you're scared and that things have been, well, hectic," Spring smiled gently at me and reached a hoof over, placing it on my own, "but we don't run away, ok?"

"Duh?" I grimaced up at her as soon as the word left my mouth. Shocked faces replaced the few that weren't scowling and turned the scowling ones deeper. "I mean, yeah, uh, yeah. I know. I panicked. Uh, sorry. I, uh, I heard the word 'adoption' and kinda freaked."

"Yeah, you can say that again." Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, getting a hoof in her side and a slight ... well, from anyone else I'd call it a 'hard glance' but this was Fluttershy so I guess it was her version of a 'glare,' in response. "What, he totally did!"

"Yes, well, we don't 'freak out' over things like that here, ok?" Spring's hoof squeezed mine.

"I figured that, thanks." Gingerly, I lifted Spring's hoof and gently placed it back on the table. She didn't even bat an eyelash.

"I'd like you to apologize to Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash here. They were hustled away from their homes to look for you." Guilt trip, nice. I gave the two Guardmares a way-too-wide grin.

"Uh, sorry about that. It's, uh, been one of those days, ya know?" I laughed nervously. I have never felt so awkward in my life. Except one time but when you pee yourself in school, that makes everyone feel awkward. Rainbow Dash face-hoofed and grumbled under her breath.

"Interrupt my na-" Another hoof from Fluttershy stopped her from continuing.

"Oh, that's ok sweetie." The yellow pegasus smiled at me. I almost 'd'awww'd out loud, she looked so precious. "Just remember that adults are here to help, ok?" Spring cleared her throat.

"Yes, well, most adults, isn't that right Ms. Fluttershy?" The way Spring said most seemed to click in Fluttershy's head and she glanced at me with large eyes before nodding, a sudden sadness sweeping away her confusion. Mr. Cake gasped and covered his mouth with a hoof while Rainbow looked up from her own and made a sick face.

"Aww, man." Rainbow got up from the table and, with a shake of her shoulders that sent her armor clanking, stepped into the main area of Sugarcube Corner. I could hear harsh mumbling but all I caught were 'sick freaks,' 'no lube,' and 'till a cart can fit.' Yeah, mental images abounded. Fluttershy 'eep'ed what I can only think was some excuse and trotted out after her.

"Is it ... is it ... ?" Mr. Cake struggled to form words, shooting glances at me and his own foals. Pinkie reached across the table and gripped her employer's hoof.

"It's ok, Mr. Cake. He's safe now." Pinkie's smile was really, really, really sad for some reason and it just looked off as the dickens.

"...what," I managed to croak around the well spring of confusion and worry. I was not at all following where any of this was going. Why the weird looks? Why was Mr. Cake tearing up? What was making everypony so horrified? And why am I getting this weird Jerry Springer vibe from all of this?

"Cup, Carrot? I think it's time we had a talk about the ... challenges this placement will have and how me, the Ministry, and the Guard can help you and Bruce overcome these challenges. But I think we need to have a very frank discussion and just for the three of us." Spring had switch Modes again. From dopey-smile Mode to 'srs bzns' Mode. Pinkie got the hint though.

"Hey guys, who wants some dinner?"

My stomach growled in response. Yeah, dinner would be nice. All I had that day were three cupcakes and five glasses of water.

Pinkie led the three of us through the common area where Fluttershy was talking softly to a very angry looking Rainbow Dash. I heard 'not cool' about ten times as we walked past and Fluttershy gave me the saddest look I have ever seen before going back to her whisper-quiet conversation with Rainbow. The tension in the air was even affecting me.

"Something is fishy in here and it's not just because I'm following Pinkie closely." I grumbled just low enough not to be understood. Pinkie glanced back but I gave her the fakest smile ever.

The kitchen for Sugarcube Corner seemed to be the family kitchen as well as the business kitchen. The foals, out of the oppressively heavy air of the 'adult' room, began to perk up and started their argument again. Pinkie left us to our devices as she rummaged in the refrigerator.

"Why do you make my daddy sad?" The three of us sat at an even smaller table conveniently placed behind yet another half-sized wall. I raised an eyebrow at Pound's question as well as it's suddenness.

"Ya know what, half-size? I have no idea." Leaving me with children, a bad idea in normal circumstances.

"Why'd you run away?" Now it was Pumpkin's turn.

"Cause I'm a glutton for punishment and I love to make my life more complex than it needs to be." The twins shared a look.

"You're weird," they said in unison. Ah, kids! I so love kids that it makes me want to slit my wrists.

"Yeah, it's been a weird day."

"Dinner time!" Saved by the Pinkie. Trotting over to the table while balancing four trays took an immense amount of co-ordination and skill. Carrying four glasses filled with what I guessed to be milk was a feat unseen by mortal eyes. Pity there was only salad on the trays or I would have clapped. Argh, I want a steak! Bacon, oh bacon ...

"Cheer up, Brucey-wucey!" Pinkie Pie dug into her own tray, leaves of some plant spilling to the table top. As she ate, she tried to speak around her mouthfuls of food. Nice, she's a keeper fellas. Each mouthful made my face twist ever so slightly into a grimace of disgust. "We'll play some games -munch- and then maybe tell -munch- stories and then we'll -munch- get you tucked in nice and cozy into bed and -munch- tomorrow will be super-duper fun!" -munch munch-

"Pinkie, if I wasn't so hungry, that little display would have put me right off this - ergh - salad." I poked at the tray. Lettuce, carrots, cucumbers. Even a few flowers. I hoped that it would be a flavor explosion, that this new pony body would enable me to taste things as I had never tasted them before.

But nope, it was a salad.

"You don't like salad?" Not only did Pinkie eat a ton of sugar, she ate it fast it seems. Lucky girl, I wish I had your metabolism. The twins were still munching on theirs, though that was interrupted by an impromptu carrot-sword fight. Pinkie ignored their antics and, taking my cue from her, I did so as well.

"Yeah, I don't usually eat things that lack meat." MOUTH! MOUTH, WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME! I looked up in surprise at Pinkie, her face suddenly chalky white. "Uhm, that is to say, uh ..."

"Uhm, P&P? Uh, you guys stay right here with Bruce-I-have-to-go-tell-Spring-something-super-important-be-right-back." Shooting to her hooves, Pinkie dashed out the saloon-style doors that separated the kitchen from the common area, leaving a pink blur in her wake. The twins and I stared after her, their faces filled with confusion and mine with sheer terror.

"Uhm, Bruce? I thought meat was bad for ponies." Pound looked at me, his head cocked to one side. Corrupting the youth of tomorrow, today!

13 - Urine for a Surprise!

View Online



"Uhm, is there something you want to talk to me about?"

"Not that I can think of."

"Not even what you told Pinkie Pie?"




"Please don't try to hurt yourself."

"I have a surprisingly hard head."

"Yes, well, for my sake."

"...I'll try."



"You can talk to me about anything you want to, ok?"


"Even things that might make you feel uncomfortable or bad. Even things somepony else has told you to keep secret, ok?"


"...well, I'll let it be then. Just, we don't eat, ergh, meat here, ok?"

"Yeah, kinda figured that out."

"...ok then."

Spring got up from where she was sitting, patted me on my back and walked back into the main room. I could tell because even though my face was planted firmly in the tabletop, that chair gave out some horrendous squeaks. We had been sitting alone and in silence for a few minutes - Pinkie and the Cakes having hustled the twins out of the room - before she tried to open that particular conversation.

It was as awkward as I thought it would be. At least I was alo-


OF course. Fluttershy crept into the room slowly. Hooves, even soft ones, made a great deal of noise on wooden floors. Sneaking out of Sugarcube Corner was going to be crazy when those twins start their teenage years. I kept my face where it was, giving a muffled grunt in response.

"Uhm, would, uhm, you like some company?"

"No." I picked my head up and looked at the newest intruder to my Fortress of Semi-Alone. "No, I think I just want to be alone right now if that's ok." Fluttershy visibly cringed. She wasn't wearing her armor anymore, probably to make herself seem less 'intimidating.'

"Uhm, I-I'm sorry but I don't think that's a good idea." OF course.

"Well, why'd you as-NO! Shut up mouth, you've gotten me in enough trouble tonight." thunk

"OH! Oh my, please don't do that." She ran over and put a wing around my shoulders. "Please don't hurt yourself."

"Why? It's a wonderful way of coping with ... this."

"This what?"

"THIS!" Oh god, don't shout at Fluttershy, she doesn't deserve it! I yanked my head off the table - almost headbutting Fluttershy and knocking her back regardless - and waved my hooves about. "This everything! Go to bed a fully grown man with self-control and wake up a 'My Little Pony' with the self-control of an idiot and child!" I put my head down on the table, more gently this time, and heaved a massive sigh. "And it's not going to get any better because no one believes me, no one takes me seriously, and I don't even know where to start looking for help."

"Bruce," Fluttershy sat back upright, placing her wings back around my shoulders, "we're all here to help. We want to. But we need to understand. Spring hasn't told me very much about you except you were in the hospital today and you're troubled. I need to know so I can help."

"She's going to tell you I'm delusional. I have a fantasy land of humans made up in my head to escape my problems and that I'm a damaged little colt that needs love and affection." I rolled my eyes and my head away, facing the wall instead of her. "And because the truth is so preposterous that she can't accept it - I doubt she'll even try to find out if it's true or not - I'm going to be stuck having to live a life that isn't mine."

"Uhm, oh my." I felt the wing around my shoulders squeeze slightly. We sat there in silence for a while, Fluttershy just holding me as I breathed slowly.

"...you're not going to say anything Fluttershy? About how humans don't exist or how I'm just confused or anything?" I kept my head pointed away from her, staring at the kinda garish wallpaper. It had cupcakes on it. How apropos.

"Oh, uhm, I can if you'd like." Her voice was very soft, especially when your head is pointed the other direction, and I found my ears swiveling to catch her words. Ponies may be weird but there are a few perks to it all.

"No, no. I'm kinda glad you didn't." I wanted to say more. I wanted to throw another tantrum about how unfair life is, how things shouldn't be like this. How I miss my wife, how I miss being who I was, how I just wasn't happy. But I didn't. I just sat there, underneath Fluttershy's wing, breathing slowly so as not to start crying again.

"I think it's time to get you to bed, Bruce. Tomorrow, uhm, tomorrow we can deal with ... all of this." I nodded in response and let the animal caretaker-turned-Guard lead me back into the common area. In the alcove, Spring was talking in a low voice to the Cakes, all of their eyes wide and Mr. Cake even holding back tears. I heard Pinkie somewhere, playing with the twins. Rainbow Dash had gone, it seemed. Though I didn't look at them purposefully, for a moment my eyes met the eyes of couple that was to be my caregiver. A look of worry from both sides.

Birds. Lots and lots of birds.

My old alarm was one of the buzzing-screaming deals that has the most annoying sound in the world telling you to get up. It was also located as far from my bed as I could stick it so I'd have to get up to go turn it off. The entire town of Ponyville had the sweetest bird song ever to wake up to. It was a gentle reminder that the day had begun and that it was time to wake up. One problem, though.

No snooze button.

"Argh, shut up you stupid birds!" I flipped over and tried to bury my head in the pillow, trying to drown out their racket. It was less than successful. In fact, it seemed that they got louder in response. "Can't an old man get some rest?"

"You're not an old man, silly, you're a young colt! And it's time to get up!" Pinkie's voice cut through the chirping birds. Me, I'm not a morning person. I don't like coffee but if I don't have my morning caffeine pill and Pepsi (ugh, Coke), I'm just not ready to call myself awake. And, depending on what I did last night, my hangover cure (raw egg, instant coffee powder, hot sauce and just a bit of whiskey). Pinkie is an any-time-mare it seemed. I groaned and uncovered my head.

It was dark when I had collapsed into bed last night and I really hadn't gotten a good look around - what with Fluttershy cooing at me and singing lullabies. Now that it was morning, I could take some time to glance at the room I had been snoring in. And it only took a second for me to realize that I really didn't want to stay. It was blue, sure, but man was it frilly.

"Pumpkin likes blue I guess," I mumbled as my mind tried to come to terms with all the lace. A pair of windows with yellow curtains bright enough to hurt poured sunlight into a very bright blue room. There were flower and, weirdly, soccer ball designs imprinted in the paint that seemed to match the contents of the room perfectly - flowers on the bedside table and soccer paraphernalia spread about the floor. The bed was in a corner opposite the now-opened door - Pinkie evidently just passing by to wake the 'foals' up - and aside from a dresser with socks of all things sticking out of the drawers and the slight mess on the floor, the room was pretty empty. With a long-suffering sigh, I tossed the lemon-yellow bed spread aside and tumbled out of bed. As I lay on my face, my eyes twirling in different directions, I mumbled to myself.

"I have got to get the hang of getting out of these things."

After having been subjected to Mr. Cake's hoof-y ministrations last night, you'd think I would know where the dang bathroom is.


After stumbling out of the bedroom I was temporarily inhabiting, I managed to find every. Single. OTHER. Room in the entire place EXCEPT the bathroom. It wasn't even a very complex building! Three floors, that's it. First floor, Bakery. Second floor, Cakes Residence. Third floor, Pie Residence. How in the world could I miss an entire room? After struggling to find a toilet - and failing - I was pee-dancing my way down stairs to ask for directions. Why was it so dark down there anywa-


A hundred voices shouted at me from below. The lights snapped on and I saw ponies packed into the bakery. Unfortunately, that was about as far as my brain got with trying to interpret anything before my neurons shocked themselves into a semblance of wakefulness. With a girlish scream, I tried to leap backwards. My hind hooves caught the edge of one of the steps however and that was just enough to throw me off balance. i think I kinda hovered there, in between falling and standing, for just a little longer than physics should have allowed me. But I'm no Pinkie Pie and I went tumbling head-over-tail into a pile of blue pony parts at the bottom of the steps. Pinkie bounced over from where she stood in the front of the 'call the fire marshal' level packed crowd.

"Were you surprised?! Were ya, were ya, were - sniff ew, Bruce! I didn't think it was THAT startling!"


View Online

After another rousing session of 'clean the filthy Colt' - again with Mr. Cake, that poor long-suffering stallion - I came back downstairs to find a party in full swing. So many ponies, so many eyes staring at me ... is it a bad sign I'm finding them less creepy? Probably.

And the party. Oh my god, the party. Pinkie's parties were just like I expected them to be and that disappointed me. Fruit punch, piles of snacks (most of which had a bite already out of them but nopony seemed to mind), and, eugh, party games. There was 'Pin the Tail on the Pony' going on in a corner - headed by Cheerilee - with a few board games popped open being used and somewhere I heard music starting and stopping along with the clattering of many hooves. And you know what was really bizarre? ADULTS were playing these things! Adults! I haven't touched a board game since I was, like, six!

"This party sucks," I mumbled under my breath as Spring nudged me into the room, carefully avoiding the mop and bucket at the foot of the stairs. Right next to a freshly clean but damp section of the floor. My cheeks grew red just thinking about it.

"Oh hush. Pinkie went to a lot of trouble to get this set up and this is a perfect way for you to see how healthy, stable ponies interact." She nudged my unwilling body even further into the room, ponies parting to make way. "Though that surprise was a little much ... "

"I'd be able to 'interact' better if you weren't sticking your muzzle up my butt." That earned me a slight glare but it also stopped her from pushing me with her face. Instead, she switched to hooves.

"Go out there and mingle!" With a final shove, I was propelled into the writhing crowd of bodies. Being a kid sucked. Being a kid in a crowd of way-too-tall ponies sucked worse. I kept feeling as though I was going to get trampled as the crowd heaved and waved around me like some type of living ocean. And yet, at the same time, I felt comforted. Safe. Herd instinct I guess. Which means my brain is being affected by my body. So not only was I not in my own body but my whole personality was just different enough that I'd probably classify as someone entirely different. Cue panic attack.

"Well, you must be Bruce." My mental breakdown was interrupted by a voice I knew so well. Not 'best pony' but really close to it. A purple unicorn stepped out from the crowd, smiling at me with bright purple eyes. If that wasn't a dead enough give away as to who she was, the single pink stripe in her hair should have been. Her voice was loud enough to cut above the chatter yet not so loud as to draw attention to us.

"Do I have to be? So far, this life kinda sucks." I was petulant and I didn't care. Waking up early, tumbling down stairs and then peeing myself in front of the entire town was not a good way to start a day. Twilight Sparkle, personal student of Princess Celestia, blinked at me in response.

"Uhm, yes, well, I've heard quite a bit about you from my friends." She gave a nod over to a small cluster of ponies sitting around the snack table. I recognized them, of course. Elements of Harmony and the wet-dream of many a high school brony. And some not-high school I guess. Anyway, they were all here and it was going to be a chore not to let something slip. Wait, why was I trying not to let anything slip anyway? Twilight lifted a hoof to her chest, undoubtedly preparing to give some pre-checklisted speech or something. "My name is Twi-"

"Twilight Sparkle, protege of the Princess and Bearer of the Element of Magic. Yes, yes." I waved a hoof at her dismissively before taking a step forward, a smirk on my face. "How'd your checklist go this morning?" Twilight blinked at me, her face confused for a brief moment. Suddenly she chuckled.

"Ohhh, a fan huh?" She brushed off her a shoulder (screw this horse terminology, I'm sticking with what I know) and broke into the smuggest grin ever. She peeked one eye open after a second and chuckled again. "Yes, well, I don't like to brag or anything. I'm just a really lucky filly. And I hear you're quite the smart colt too."

"Sure, we can call it that." I shrugged. "I'm more inclined to think I'm an average human but, eh, go with what you know I s'ppose." Twilight rolled her eyes.

"Those books aren't even that great." Ok, that came out of left field. I blinked in slight confusion before I remembered what she was talking about. Understanding dawned on my face.

"Oh, well, I wouldn't know, never read them. I li-" Twilight shook her head, interrupting me with a snort of irritation.

"I mean, life without magic? That's not even possible! And don't get me started on that 'hands' thing. Just some ponies can't be happy with what they're given." Okay, I was going to have a nice, calm and adult conversation with her. Was.

"Oh, and I suppose you've got it so rough what with having magic and all. I bet you haven't even tasted a doorknob in years." Seriously, why the hell couldn't I have been a useful pony, like a unicorn or a pegasus or something? With one, I could work as if I had hands! The other, flying is awesome. But no, I have to be some dumb dirt pony drooling on doorknobs and handles all day.

"Excuse me? Unicorns don't use magic for everything! It's not like it's my fault I was born this way!" Twilight stamped a hoof, anger creasing her forehead as she stepped forward slightly. I stepped closer myself, my own anger clear on my face.

"I never said it was but it must be so convenient to have the power to make an entire town go crazy!" Why was I getting so upset?

We were muzzle to muzzle (ok, MOST horse terminology), pressing our noses together as we stared into each others eyes and, well, pretty much growled at each other. The argument had caused the sounds of the party to slowly cease as it got more heated and now we were locked in vicious mental contest in a circle of staring and confused ponies. Behind Twilight, I could barely make out the form of Pinkie Pie, her face a contortion of fear and horror at the train wreck that was unfolding in front of her eyes.

"OK! That's enough you two! Bruce, that way. NOW." Spring Meadows forced herself out from the crowd, physically pushing Twilight and I apart. She pushed me back towards the crowd, keeping hold of Twilight as she did so. "Twilight, dear, we need to talk."

They disappeared into the kitchen, Twilight fuming and shooting looks of pure hate at me. Actually, more like mild irritation but a colt can dream. As they left, every face followed them, on each a mask of pure confusion, but once the pair of mares vanished from view, every head slowly turned to regard me.

"What are y'all staring at?" I growled, stomping off to find a place to be alone. The crowd parted to let me through. I mumbled under my breath as I stalked through the bakery. "I need a drink."

I was sitting dejectedly under a table, the covering hiding my spot from sight, my mind churning. Why had I been so emotional? Sure it was a freaky situation but I should have been able to keep calm. And even if this foal body was affecting my mind to that high a degree, I should have been able to contain myself regardless by the sheer fact that I know I was being affected. The sounds of the party weren't helping me in the slightest, too loud to ignore but not loud enough to complain.


Twilight's voice sounded from nearby. I could see her hooves underneath the table cloth. She sounded ... sad. I facehooved. Again. Without speaking, I slid my way out and stood in front of her. She looked ... well, a bit of a wreck. Her hair was mussed and her eyes were a bit red. She had probably been crying or something. Behind her, the other Element Bearers stood in a little half-circle, keeping the part-goers a bit distant and looking just as bad as Twilight. I have no idea what Spring said but this was becoming a nuisance. I really needed to find out what that Counselor thought beyond just 'abused' because, wow. It looked like someone just told them all Princess Celestia was going to die. Twilight opened her mouth to say something.

"No." She blinked at me. I saw her friends look at each other in confusion in the background. "There's nothing to be sorry about Twilight. In fact, I should be sorry. I have no idea what brought that on. It's probably stress. I don't know. I shouldn't have been so ... angry."

We looked at each other for a moment before Twilight smiled gently.

"Well, I'm sorry as well. I shouldn't have been so quick to anger either. Friends?" She held out a hoof. Without even thinking it over, I joined mine to hers with a smile.

"Sure, friends."

"Bruce?" Spring's voice caused the grin to evaporate from my face. She was standing just outside the circle of Bearers with a surprisingly gentle smile. A light yellow male unicorn stood next to her with a matching one. "There's somepony here who wants to speak with you."

Editor: Genjen, he's a pretty cool guy.

15 - Interview with a Child Psychiatrist

View Online

"Hello Bruce. I'm Dr. Clear Sight." The yellow unicorn and I were sitting across from each other in the Cake's kitchen, again. Every time something serious comes up, it's in the kitchen here. "I'd like to talk to you about, well, you."

Dr. Sight looked at me with a gentle smile, the same one I had come to equate to Spring's condescending attitude. It was just as irritating on him as it had been on her. His blue mane was cropped fairly short and he had a small stack of paperwork next to his hoof. A folder lifted off the top, encircled by his yellowish aura of magic.

"Not here." I put my hoof down heavily, emphasizing my words. I would be damned before I started to make the kitchen 'serious town.'

"What?" He blinked is orange eyes at me in slight confusion. The folder wobbled a bit before setting back down.

"Not here." I thumped the table again. "Every time something serious comes up, it's in this room. I want to talk somewhere else." I sat back, my forehooves crossed and my face set in a determined frown. Or maybe I just looked pouty.

"Uhm, well alright." Dr. Sight looked around a bit as if searching for a better place. Nothing came to mind evidently. "Did you have a place in mind?"

"Nope, just not here." Ok, I was being pouty.

"Well, how about ... Pound was it?" I arched my eyebrow at him. Of course he would know about who lived here and who didn't. "Pound's room?" I shrugged.

"Sure, better than the filly's room I guess."

We managed to slip through the party fairly easily. I caught sight of Pinkie about three steps from the staircase. Her hair was mostly straight and while she was trotting around making sure everyone was having a good time, it was obvious she wasn't. I sighed and, after catching her attention, gave her a reassuring grin and a wave. She blinked at me for a second before a huge grin broke out across her face and her hair poofed out with an almost audible 'sproing' noise. Feels good, man.

Upstairs and ... wait, this room seems familiar.

"This is Pound's room?" The bright blue lacey place was Pound's room?! Wh-why? How? What?

"Uhm, yes?" Dr. Sight tilted his head in confusion behind me, looking between the room and me. The stack of folders levitated next to him. They glowed slightly in his yellowish aura.

"But, it's ... it's so ... it's frilly." The soccer balls made more sense now but the flowers made less. And the lace! Lace everywhere! The curtains had lace, the bedspread had lace, even the socks sticking out of the drawers had lace! Boy socks aren't supposed to be lacey!

"Well, it is a colt's room." Dr. Sight seemed not even to notice all the lace. "Quite a gorgeous room actually. A bit messy but foals will be foals."

"But ... but," my mind tried to come to grips with the weirdness of it all. Talking ponies, boys-in-lace, magic ... ya know what? Screw it. "Ok, fine. Whatever. I'm so numb to shock and confusion I'd be worried if I didn't feel that way. So, what do you want to talk about?"

I trotted into the room shaking my head. Dr. Sight rose an eyebrow at my statement and watched me as I struggled to get onto the bed. Hey, it was the only thing in the room to sit on. With a shake of his own head, he came in and nudged me onto the mattress. Great, another pony sticking their nose up my butt. Gingerly and with ease - I noticed, jealously - he jumped into bed across from me. As he leapt up, I caught a flash of his cutie mark, a caduceus interposed on what seemed to be some form of crystal ball. Yeah, medical something alright. I'm going to ask about how pony names and cutie marks relate because his sure as hell didn't seem to.

"You, Bruce. I want to get to know you. Where are you from sweetie?" With a slight glow from his horn, the top folder - once again - lifted off the stack and opened in front of him. I noticed that it was facing away from me. Eh, head-docs and their notes.

"I was born in San Francisco, California, in the United States of America." He didn't even blink. He didn't write anything down either, though a pencil was hovering not a few inches from his side. Where'd he get that pencil from anyway? From his lack of reaction, I'm guessing Spring told him all about me. "However, my father was in the military so we moved a lot. I ended up in Nashville after some shuffling about and that's where I've lived the last, oh, dozen years or so."

"Yes, I see. How often did you move?" While his questions were blunt, he kept his voice light and really-too-sweet for a stallion. It reminded me of a pre-school teacher. Simple questions too.

"Often enough, didn't want anyone to think I was sleeping on the job ya know?" He looked over his notes at me, an eyebrow quirked. "What? Didn't want to get fired."

"Uh-huh." He paused to scribble some notes down. I sat opposite him, grinning. "So, you had a bit of a nomadic life then?"

"Isn't that what ponies normally do? Wander about, eat the grass, that sorta thing?" I waved one hoof around, as if to indicate the area. Earth ponies were nomadic! Course, early humans were nomadic too so, eh.

"Uhm, no dearie." He sat across from me, his brow furrowed in worry as he scribbled in his little folder. Take notes on me, will you? I'll give you something to write about.

"Well, why not?" Dr. Sight blinked in confusion, looking between me and his folder. I just grinned at him in that really irritating way. As if I had a lot to say but wasn't saying it.

"Uhm, because ..." he waved a hoof, trying to articulate something, before shaking his head. "Anyway, what about your family?"

"What about them? Screw those guys, they're jerks." They are! My whole family is filled with jerks, me included. You don't give a kid a Sega Genesis for his twelfth birthday and not give him any games! That's just cruel.

"Y-you don't like your family?" For some reason, the very thought that I might not like my family filled Dr. Sight's face with sadness. D'awww. I can't let that stand.

"No, I love them to death." At the phrase, his eyebrows shot up and he scribbled in his little folder. "Doesn't mean they're not jerks." It doesn't. They might be jerks but they're family, ya know? Can't pick your family. Their noses, on the other hand ... well, let's just say I've tried and despite the protests, you can pick those.

"I see ... how many mares were in your herd?" WHAT?! I sat there, with a look of confused horror on my face for a good half minute before he even noticed I wasn't answering. SERIOUSLY?! Herds? What is this, some third-world country like Iran or Utah? After half a moment, he looked at me from above his levitating folder, one eye quirked.

"...really?" I squeaked out. All I could think about was Twilight and friends in Arabic-style belly dancer outfits around a raised platform with Blueblood on top - of all ponies. It was not a pleasant image and it took a few good shakes of my head to get it out, get it out, oh god please make the hurting stop.

"Uhm, what?" Dr. Sight said as he just kept looking at me. With those weirdly big eyes. God, I was getting used to them. At least they weren't some kinda faceted bug-eye things. That'd just make me go kill myself. I finally managed to banish the mental mind-rape of Blueblood and Applejack in a oh god not again, not again, stop stop stop STOP!

"...one. Not counting my sisters," I gasped out, trying to get the conversation moving away from There Where Madness Lay.

"Ooookay, monogamists." My turn to quirk an eyebrow. They had a name for those that had the whole nuclear family one-male-one-female type of lifestyle. Which implied it was odd. Which implied this whole world was full of sex-crazed ponies. Grrrrrreat. "Ok, well, did, uhm, did your parents have a good relationship?" I leapt at the chance to move the conversation away from sex-crazed ponyland.

"Not really, my mother left dad for another woman when I was about 8 or so. Mare. Whatever." I looked away, seemingly disinterested. My life, my insanity - these things seemed normal to me. Hell, my whole screwed up family life was normal compared to ponyland's harems. Yeek.

"... oh my. I so sorry sweetie." Sorry? I looked at the stallion sitting across from me, my face confused. He seemed really ... worried. Why ... no. No, that is Where Madness Lay again. Let's keep things out of crazy-town, shall we?

"Yeah, well, she had issues." I shrugged. "Don't we all?"

"That's, uhm, that's different." He scribbled even more down. Seriously, what is with these ponies? It's not like my life was really all that nutters compared to most other human lives. They're acting like this was some massive family shame almost.

"Normalcy is for the boring." My Life Motto.

"...explains a bit," he mumbled under his breath. I caught it but thought I'd give him the opportunity to say it to my face. Jerk.

"What?" I tried to sound threatening but in my new squeaky colt voice, it came out ... different. I think it sounded more hurt. He glanced at me slightly shocked, as if he didn't mean to hurt my feelings. I glowered back. Yeah, I don't really care about your opinion of me at this point doc.

"Nothing, sorry." He had the good graces to look sorry. I let it slide, my face reverting to disinterest again. Questions and more questions. Booooorrrring. "Well, what about your sisters?" I cleared my throat.

"More information is required before this query can be completed," I sing-songed as computer-y as I could make my voice. Wow, this little colt voice had a delightful range. I'm no singer but this colt could perform a solo and make it sound good. The doctor stared at me in confusion, his mouth hanging open. I rolled my eyes. Good acting is lost on these ponies, I swear.

"Details, man! I need to know more about what you want to know." I waved a hoof, for some reason. Argh, I was getting really antsy too. Like I wanted to get up and move. Since I knew my mind was being affected by my body, I kinda guessed it was youthful energy and fought down the urge to just get up and pace. But just barely.

"Uh, we-well, how old were they?" Simple questions from simple minds. Let's make him think a bit.

"Plus two and minus three." I smiled smugly. He blinked back at me, confused.

"Excuse me?"

"My age plus two and my age minus three," I explained with a roll of my eyes. Seriously. These ponies are boring as hell.

"And you're ... thirty-two?" Finally, he got it right!

"Ding-ding-ding! You've answered correctly, let's see what you've won!" I stood up on my hindhooves, waving my forehooves about slightly as if I was showing something off. My face was full of wonderment and joy. He looked at me, worried. "Nothing. Because it's not that hard to get." With a bounce, I lay back down, my face once again emotionless.

"Oook." I think I confused him. Cause that's so different than what I've been doing thus far, ya know? "So eleven and six-ish?"

"No." I facehooved. So close and yet ... "Thirty-four and ... hang on." I furrowed my own brow as I did some simple math. Man, I need to work on my everything, I can't even remember simple math anymore! I really hope that's not a sign of things to come. Foreshadowing, so help me god, I will kill you if it is. "Twenty nine. No ... yes! Yes. What? It's been ages since I did actual math without a calculator." Dr. Sight stared at me for a little bit before scribbling some things down in his now several-pages long notes folder.

"...ok, how was your relationship with them?" I think I broke him. All that 'dearie' and 'sweetie' crap was dropped a little bit ago and now he's just trying to get information quickly so he can get the heck out of here. Get out of here Doctor.

"My older sister is cool. Really level head on her. Bit of a love-hate relationship with old dad but, hey, physical abuse'll do that." That got a blink. And an open-mouth stare. But I want to be honest, so I will be. "My little sister is fuuu-messed up. Lotsa issues, some of them real ... touchy, ya know?"

"...touchy?" Dr. Sight squeaked, his yellow pelt paling slightly.

"Sure, sexual abuse'll do that." I am going to be honest, damn it! Even if it touches on some ... icky things. Icky, eurgh. Yeah, well, bad things happen. That's life innit?

"... oh my." He was paling. I didn't know yellow could get that grey. "Did she, uhm, and you ... ?" Ah, bugger. Erugh, let me be upfront: we were both really, really young. Really. Really young. And, eh, we ... my god, this is embarrassing. I blushed and looked away, refusing to meet his big giant weird eyes. For a moment, it was quiet. Not even the scratch of the pencil.

"... we were young and confused, I don't want to talk about it." Yeah. Uhm, this is awkward and I'm not at all proud of what I did as a stupid kid.

"... oh my." Breathe, doc, breathe. You're looking kinda monochrome.

"Eh, stupid kids'll do stupid things. And man I was one stupid kid." Yes, yes I was. I'm very glad that we were both mature enough to discuss ... that after a few years. And we never did blame each other. As much as I may disagree with my little sis, I love her and I'm glad we were able to be ok with the craziness of our youth.

"... oh my ... oh dear." Monochrome Sight was scribbling down tons by this point in time, the scrach-scratch of his pencil was almost a drone. I'm surprised he hasn't needed to sharpen ... oh wait, there were two worn pencils next to him on the bed. Never mind. "Uhm, wh-where are they now?"

"Uhhh, Montana for the older and ... I think Utah for the younger? We haven't really talked much. As I said, issues. Besides, my little sis's kid's dad ... he has issues too." I told her, I told her! He wasn't for her but did she listen? Nooooo, she was 'in love.' Pfft. She was in lust and she knew it.

"Oh my, oh dear." Dr. Sight was looking over his notes with wide eyes. Something seemed amiss in ponyland. "Uhm, sweetie? Why don't you go downstairs and, uhm, mingle a bit? I have, uhm, things I need to take care of. You know us adults and our paperwork!"

"Yeah, yeah." Spring tired that on me, Clear. And can you stop with the 'sweetie' crap, it's really bizarre. "Hey, can I get a copy of all those notes? I'd like to see what y'all are thinking about me."

"Bruce, please, this is very important. I, I need to contact the Ministry." Evidently, things were about to get interesting. I realized that I didn't want to have anything to do with their insanity.

"Eh, whatever." With a shrug, I tumbled off the bed again. After reassuring Dr. Sight I was fine, I happily trotted out of the bedroom, my tail held high. After a few steps down the dim hallway, I tucked my tail back down. Geez, being naked was weird enough without winking at everyone behind me.

Edited by Genjen.
He's a pretty cool guy.

Interlude 2: Comprehensive Behavioral Assessment

View Online

Minor spoilers contained below.

Equestria Ministry of Families, Foals and Mental Health

Comprehensive Assessment

Client Demographic Information

Client: ‘Bruce’
Age: UNK, apparent 8-10
Gender: Male
Race: Pony
Tribe: Earth Pony
Parents: UNK
Siblings: Two sisters, 'two years older and three years younger' as reported by client.

Reason for Assessment

Bruce was hospitalized at Ponyville General Hospital on June 29th 1003 CR after being discovered on the edge of Whitetail Wood by a group of young foals. He was treated for dehydration but no other cause for his comatose state was discovered. Initial assessment was taken by Spring Meadows, EMFFMH, at this date found possible signs of abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and enslavement. Comprehensive assessment was requested to determine what services – if any – were required. Contact was made at Sugarcube Corner, the foster home found for him by Meadows until his family could be identified.

Sources of Information

Bruce, Client
Cup Cake, Temporary Placement
Carrot Cake, Temporary Placement
Pinkie Pie, Boarder at Placement, Potential Babysitter
Spring Meadows, Counselor
Pound and Pumpkin Cake, other children in home


Social History

Bruce presents a ‘rough’ appearance of a young Earth Pony colt foal, approximately 8 to 10. His coat is light blue and his mane a darker blue. His eyes are golden. No known relatives exist but due to the actions and reactions of the client and staff at the hospital, he was deemed a potential abuse victim and placed in temporary custody of the Ministry. Bruce states his family was monogamist and reacts with confusion at the common polygamous nature of the average Equestrian family. Of note: 'Hell' is defined as a place where 'bad ponies' go that consists of what appears to be some sort of mining operation with 'large bipedal demons' holding 'sharp pointy sticks' and never-ending torment very similar to Diamond Dog enslavement hives.

Health History

Bruce presents no known health history at this time.

Sexual History

Bruce declares he is ‘married’ to a filly or mare named ‘Lisa.’ He also has presented both overt and covert sexual signals. Bruce reports incestuous relationship with little sister. Seems uncomfortable discussing details. Also states younger sister has foals, unknown how truthful that is.

Mental Health History

Bruce presents signs of being touch-shy at times and overly submissive behaviors to authority figures which rapidly switches to highly aggressive. Bruce also claims to be ‘human’ and in greater age than his apparent one. Bruce denies all pony heritage and seems to dislike Unicorns and magic. Bruce has delusions of great detail, human-centric. Bruce's world is constructed from a highly modified Equestria that seems to have failed in protecting and providing for the young. A utopic ideal was reported vis-a-vis technology but sociocultural aspects are almost turned on their heads (monogamy the norm, sexualized behavior 'not bad' and the like). No record of mental health has been found to date.

Substance Exposure History

Bruce self-claims addiction to cigarettes and presents usage of alcohol. No other drugs known at present time.

Abuse History

Bruce was found in an apparent intoxicated state. In addition to this and his other behaviors above, neglect is almost assured. His sexualized behaviors and his fear of authority figures seems to confirm this. Bruce reports physical abuse history between elder sister and father as well as incestuous relationship between self and younger sister.

Family History

Bruce describes his family as non-pony, ‘human.’ This is patently impossible. His true family whereabouts are unknown and their actions and behaviors are currently unable to be determined. Bruce reports family was monogamist and expressed confusion and almost disgust when presented with normal polygamous herd family structure. Reports mother left father for another mare. Reports unstable housing throughout life. Reports time-spans exceeding current age.

Cultural History

Bruce acts in ways unbecoming of a young colt. It is reported he has a foul mouth though that has not been observed during this assessment. Bruce is wary of adults in general but can become confrontational and aggressive for no apparent reason. Seems to dislike both natural covering and natural family life. A full analysis was not possible due to his family's unknown whereabouts.

Situational Analysis

Interview with Spring Meadows

Spring Meadows is the Counselor in charge of the Town of Ponyville. This is the first assessment requested by this counselor in her four years serving this area. Spring Meadows stated she feels ‘overwhelmed’ by this case and that it is outside of her normal work though not outside her purview. She states that due to the rarity of foals needing assistance, she had to place Bruce in what she felt was a sub-optimal placement but that it might not be as potentially harmful as she feared. She stated Bruce needed a stable and disciplined environment to break bad habits.

Interview with the Cakes

The Cakes (Cup, Carrot) are an Earth Pony family that live and work in Ponyville. They own their own bakery and run it efficiently with help from a boarder and employee. They state they feel ‘overwhelmed’ by this case as well and expressed nervousness about how Bruce’s behavior might impact their children. They were adamant that they want what is best for Bruce but are unsure if their home is the place for that. Their interaction with the client has been limited and they expressed nervousness about how that ‘fell apart’ so quickly. They are willing to ‘try’ but their unease is evident.

Interview with Pinkie Pie

Pinkie Pie is an Earth Pony boarder and employee of Sugarcube corner. Pinkie stated she is a ‘party-holic’ and appears to be suffering from hyperactivity or attention-deficit disorder. She required multiple redirects to the task at hoof. However, when the reason for this assessor’s visit became clear, she calmed down significantly. Pinkie stated she met Bruce as a courtesy at the hospital. She states that his language caused her to attempt to punish him but his reaction was unlike anything she had seen. She expressed severe regret at her actions. She stated that Bruce seems ‘super smart’ but that he has emotional difficulties related to interaction and family matters. She stated that his actions ‘made her feel super bad and sad’ but that firmed her desire to help him. She seemed nervous about being a caregiver for him, stating that she is inexperienced at dealing with such a complex and difficult child. She expressed willingness to try given a support network that can react quickly in emergencies.

Interview with the other children

Pound and Pumpkin Cake are the three year old children of the Cakes, a pegasus and a unicorn respectively. They are vocal but of limited ability. They expressed nervousness about Bruce and stated ‘he’s weird’ several times. They state they would like to be his friends but are unsure of his actions and his behavior. They state ‘he seems too old’ to be friends with them though their age difference does not make Bruce outside their age range.

Interview with Client

Bruce presents a sarcastic and slightly flippant attitude to the assessor. While he seemed to speak truthfully about his past history, he also seemed unable to comprehend the severity of his previous life and given the nature of some of his claims, the truthfulness of many of his statements can be called into question. His knowledge of sexuality and other mature matters, however, is real and must be taken into account. His behavior was not like a colt his age in some respects and very much like a colt his age in others. A great deal of information was gained, detailed in Assessor's Notes.


Relationship Analysis

Parental relationship unknown. Current placement relationship strained due to client’s behavioral problems and apparent severity of case. Training would be required for the caregivers to maintain this placement as well as counseling on a continuing basis for client.

Observations of Client

Observation in the Foster Home

Client was observed in the foster home during a ‘Welcome to Ponyville/Home’ party given by Pinkie Pie. Client was injured due to falling at the outset and lost bladder control. Client was effectively cared for by Mr. Cake. Client appeared unwilling to interact with others, fearful of being touched and expressed crude semi-sexual language to Counselor Meadows. Client’s interactions quickly became aggressive and confrontational. Client and guest were removed and client withdrew under a table. When client reappeared with guest he was previously aggressive to, client appeared well mannered and apologized. Interactions with foals of near-age observed and quickly deteriorated due to aggressiveness from both sides. Counselor and Assessor both had to physically restrain both foals. Redirection unsuccessful in both cases.

Observation Alone

Client able to accept responsibility for actions and seems to redirect well in some areas. Areas of note are impulse control (poor) and age-appropriate sexuality (very poor). Enslavement/Abuse at Caregivers Hooves with some sexualization aspects. Molestation possible but Sex Exposure is most probable given client's self-reported child-on-child sexual contact. Potential for Lack of Oversight while Engaged. Also of note, extremist monogamists known for attempting to redirect natural impulse through over-exposure to single mare. Given his 'marriage' status and surprise at average Equestrian lifestyle, potential for being an escapee from some monogamist cult high.


Bruce appears to be an extremely intelligent Earth Pony colt of about 9 in a Temporary/Permanent Foster Home. His intellect and creativity are astounding. His prior home and family are unknown at this time. He appears to be unable to deal with changes in his environment well and reacts with aggression and fear when changes occur too quickly. If he is given enough time to calm himself, he is able to effectively manage interactions on a friendly but distant level. A ‘wait and see’ stance has been taken in this setting. Bruce is currently undergoing no therapeutic mental health care and no permanent placement has been identified but these must be sorted with all due haste.


Withheld pending further assessment and information.


Proper recommendations withheld pending proper diagnosis. A permanent placement and home is required due to his reactions to changing environments. Individual therapy is recommended to deal with his delusions. Group therapy is recommended to deal with his unwanted behaviors. A full psychosocial assessment is requested. A full medical evaluation is requested. A full and detailed psychological assessment is requested.


This could be nothing or it could be the worst case of child abuse ever seen in Equestria. We need to be very cautious about this and very careful about him. If all of this is due to lies, we will have spent some time unnecessarily. If this is due to true trauma, we will have spent it very well. I lean toward spending time where it is unneeded rather than withholding it where it is. Notes as follows:


16 - You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party

View Online

Descending stairs ... well, that's an adventure in and of itself. After my hectic and unplanned run through the hospital, I've had pretty good luck with most leg-based chores. Getting into and out of bed seems to be an issue but most other things I can do. Stairs, though, stairs are problematic. Going up seems fine, I can kinda hop up them like a spastic idiot. Going down, well ... that's where the fun begins.

"How does this even work?" I was pacing at the top of the stairs - the party still going strong below - trying to wrap my head around the massive secret of 'going down without peeing myself.' It seems silly but I was actually a bit nervous about walking down head-first. Ponies are long, see. Going down head first would put my butt above my head. I could see myself landing face first on the hard wood floor with a new hat. Well, things aren't going to screw themselves up. I put one hoof on the top stair -

"Whatcha doin'?" Suddenly, chicken. With a yelp, I yanked my hoof back, sending myself flat on my ass. Scootaloo tilted her head to the side from below, her unruly purple mane covering one eye momentarily before she flicked it out of the way with a hoof. The young pegasus really did have stunted wings, poor thing.

"Trying to go downstairs without ending up wearing my butt as a hat." I picked myself up off the floor, wincing. "What are you doing?"

"Watching you try to go down the stairs like a baby." She smirked at me. Oh wow, Scoots, really? Baby jokes so early in the day? Or early afternoon. I haven't seen a proper clock since I got here. I gave her a flat look in return before responding.

"Well, I had two fewer legs a few days ago, give me time to adjust." I resumed my pacing as the Crusader below kinda looked up at me even more confused than before.


"Nevermind. Hang on, I got this." Scootaloo sat down, watching me with a confused-but-interested tilt to her head. With an infinite amount of caution, I slowly lowered my hoof to the top step -

"Hey, what're you doing Scootaloo?" Suddenly, dictionary. With a slight start, I retracted my hoof and glared below as Sweetie Belle came out from around a corner, her pink-and-purple mane bouncing with each step. Damn, it must take a ton of hairspray to keep those colors separate like that on her little unicorn head.

"Do you mind? This is a very delicate operation here." Sweetie looked up at me, her brow furrowing.

"Why are you up there? The party's down here." She motioned behind her with her hooves needlessly. I can see from where I'm standing, thank you. I rolled my eyes.

"I am trying to rectify that situation." The two Crusaders looked at each other - confused - before turning their attention back to me.

"Huh?" In stereo where available.

"Nevermind. I got thi-" I stepped forward for a moment before my brain kicked in. I sat back with a blank expression. "Actually, why don't I wait for the third to appear out of thin -"

"Hey gals, what ch'all doin'?" Little yellow Applebloom trotted out from around the same corner Sweetie came from, her head fixated on her two friends. She was still wearing that pink bow in her red-pink hair. It was looking a bit ratty, to be honest, and smaller than it was in the show.

" ... and there we go. Ok, now I got this." I smiled and placed both hooves on the top step. Applebloom noticed me edging my way downstairs.

"Why you upstairs?" If I had more limbs, I'd facehoof. Instead, I just grimaced.

"Let me get downstairs and I'll tell you," I said, through clenched teeth.

Slowly - almost painfully - I crept downwards. Each step an agony of balance, each motion threatening to throw me to my doom. My hooves clopped loudly on the wooden boards but were almost drown out by the orgy of revelry I heard from below. I moved my tongue in my dry mouth, flicking it out to try to wet my parched lips. My breath - once shallow - became quicker as I -

"Hurry up, will you?" Scootaloo's voice caused me to jerk, nearly sending me off balance. Thank you Scootaloo, with an 'F.' I favored her with a glare before continuing on my hazardous jour- eh, I slowly walked downstairs. The magic's gone now.

"Why were you upstairs?" Sweetie asked after I had all four hooves on level ground again, her head tilted. These ponies, I swear. They look more and more like my dog every time I see them. At least these three were about my size, that's a positive.

"And why'd it take so long for you get get down here?" Scootaloo chimed in with her two bits.

"Gimme a break, I have double the number of legs. It's weird." I flipped my ears down and started to walk towards where I thought was a refreshment table. I needed a drink and I hoped Pinkie had some non-foal friendly libations out and about somewhere.

"Huh?" Applebloom and Scootaloo shared a confused look, following along behind me. Sweetie's brow creased for a second before her eyes lit up in sudden recognition.

"OH! You're one of those hum-in pony gals!" She pointed at me with one hoof, her head held high in triumph. Great job, Sweetie, you figured it out faster than these adults did. Gold star. I stopped trotting along the edge of the crowd and turned to regard her sudden burst of genius. I was not afraid of being seen out in the crowd, what are you talking about? I just didn't want to get stepped on.

"He hums?" Scootaloo seemed even more confused than she just was.

"No, silly. Hum-ins. The, uhm ... Knights of something ..." Sweetie scratched her head with a hoof, sitting down to think. Evidently, her genius is limited. "Something. Anyway, it's a kinda cool book series from Ink Star. It's about these hum-in gals that fight monsters and battle demons and stuff."

"Cooool." Both Applebloom and Scootaloo's eyes lit up and they turned to regard me with a bit more interest than I wanted them to have. Hey, kids are cool I guess but I don't need them hanging around.

"Uhm, actually I work in Accounts Payable." Let's nip this thing in the bud.

"Huh?" In ... what's the word for triple-stereo? Trereo?

"I, uh, I guess you could say I'm a clerk or something." A trio of blank stares met my gaze. "Yeah, and humans fight other humans more than demons or monsters." I turned back to my quest, hoping in some small way they had lost interest in me. Despite my optimistic outlook on life, I knew it was not going to happen. Six pairs of 'hoof on wood' sounds following me proved my point.

"That's not how it's written in the books," Sweetie Belle sounded very confused. Let me help her with her confusion!

"Well, the books are wrong." I scanned the party tables, looking for any specifically shaped bottles. There's nothing to say that pony booze was stored in the bottles I was used to but I really didn't have a whole lot to go on just then.

"I'd be an awesome demon-fighting hum-in guy!" Scootaloo pumped her forehooves in the air in front of her, mock battling with what I could only assume to be vicious demons. She looked so serious it was hard for me to keep in my laughter. The chuckle that did escape brought her attention right back to me. Angry eyes.

"No, you'd be a squished demon-feeding pony gal." I continued to scan for a bottle of liquor I could swipe as I spoke. For some reason, the three Cutie Mark Crusaders followed right behind me as I walked the refreshment area. Either they were in love with my shapely flank or their sisters/role models put them up to this. I'm betting there were bribes involved. Probably cookies.

"Well, what do you know anyway?" Scootaloo can sound whiny when she wants to.

"I know I don't wanna mess with any demons." I gave her a look. I was trying for 'wise and knowing' but I think it just came off irritated.

"Pfft, just like a colt." She sat down and rolled her eyes. I blinked twice before what she said really hit me.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I took a step toward her, my irritation flaming up towards anger. Applebloom interposed herself between us, evidently used to trouble.

"Gals, gals! We haven't even introduced ourselves yet!" Sweetie Belle nodded a bit too enthusiastically, sending her eyes spinning.

"Yeah, how can I hate that which has no name?" I plopped myself down with a roll of my eyes.


"Sorry, sorry. You go ahead." I waved them on with a hoof. Scootaloo started to give me a stink eye but was shoved out of the way unceremoniously by our first contestant on 'What's Your Name.'

"I'm Sweetie Belle!" A grey-white unicorn dictionary with pink-and-purple hair. I'm sure there are some artsy-fartsy crazy names for these colors but, eh, she looked grey-white to me. She posed in what I could only hope was exaggerated imitation of Rarity. Otherwise, she was trying to flirt with me and that was all kinds of weird on so many levels.

"Ah'm Applebloom!" The little yellow farm-filly with pink-red hair posed heroically after shoving Sweetie Belle out of the way. I guess that's what it was meant to be, with her chest thrust out like that. On a human girl, it'd be weird. For ponies, eh, it worked.

"And I'm the awesome Scootaloo." Orange Chicken ... mmmm. Purple hair, uhhh ... I wonder if there's an Asian dish called 'purple hair.' She butt-bumped Applebloom over and tried to give a 'rockin' pose' but really, she just was trying too hard.

"And we're the CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS, yay." OH MY GOD! My eyes shot open and I laid my ears back instinctively as the wave of sound crashed over me. The noise from those three mouths could deafen an already deaf man! The party goers all winced and laid their ears down from the sound but aside from a couple glances our way, continued on as if nothing was odd. The entire town knows how to deal with these three evidently. I, on the other hoof ...

"Ow." I rubbed my ears, my head ringing from the ghastly sound.

"We're on a quest to find our purpose!" Scootaloo threw one hoof into the air. She sounded hollow, like I was underwater or something. I hope it passes, I'd be rather annoyed to lose my hearing to three fillies shouting.

"A mission ta find our marks!" Applebloom mirrored Scootaloo's pose, leaving a space between them where Sweetie popped up.

"A ... a ..." Sweetie Belle started to follow suit, throwing her hoof halfway into the air, but after trying to come up with something settled on looking at her two friends with a frown. "Gals, why do you always take the easy ones?"

"Well, that was deafening. I'm Bruce and I'm out." I turned to walk away, still scanning for something - anything - to make the hurting stop when my quest was once again interrupted, this time by a gasp from Applebloom.

"Oh mah gosh! You don't have a cutie mark either!" I glanced down to where she was pointing in slight confusion. My bare ass. Now I was very much aware of being nude in front of three little girls. Who were nude themselves. Hoo boy, this won't end well.

"Uh, really, I hadn't noticed." The shocked stares I received were not what I was going for. Staring at my bare behind. I tucked my tail slightly more. So weird.. "What? It's not all that import-"

"What do ya mean it's not important?" Applebloom leapt forward, almost knocking me over as she got really uncomfortably close to my face. "It's the most important thing evar!"

"Without your cutie mark, nopony will know what your special talent it." Sweetie's voice cracked once or twice in there but nopony else seemed to notice.

"You'll never really get anywhere in life," Scootaloo opinioned.

"You'll never get any colts!" Sweetie Belle almost gasped that last one out, her face a grimace of absolute terror. Three foal heads turned to regard her with confusion and just a slight bit of fear. I think my face held more fear than confusion, though. I broke the silence that had descended on our little group.


"Ew, Sweetie Belle." Scootaloo shied away from her friend while Applebloom just sat there blinked in blushing confus- OH MAN! No, no, no. This is getting weird!

"What!? I don't want to be alone for my whole life!" Sweetie held one hoof up to her chest as her friends stared. She looked offended, bless her little overactive heart.

"OH-KAY!" I put on one of my wider smiles and stood up as their heads whipped around. "That was enlightening and very loud. And a bit too much information as well. So! I think I'll take my hard earned knowledge and just go this-"

"Wanna join?" Applebloom asked.

"Wazzat?" My intelligent response.

"Do ya wanna join?" She looked at her friends, Sweetie nodding herself brain-dead and Scootaloo almost pouting. Applebloom poked her pegasus friend with a hoof and a smirk. "We've been expandin' so we cin get our cutie marks faster."

"Really not all that worried about it, girls." I was not planning on staying long enough to find my special anything. Talent, tramp stamp, or pony.

"But-" Sweetie Belle was about to protest when her eyes went wide in fear.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't the loser squad." That voice. I sense much anger in her, young padwan. "What's this? New recruit?"

"Leave him alone Diamond Tiara." I turned to look at the approaching Doom at Scootaloo's angry retort. There she was, a pink Earth Pony with white-streaked purple hair stepping out from the crowd. Her ice blue eyes were staring at the four of us in turn, a hateful glare of superiority. I could feel the tension rising as she got closer, lightened only by the fact that her grey 'rump bump' buddy was nowhere to be seen. I wanted no part of this.

"I think I'll let you guys talk." I backed away slightly, eying my potential escape routes. Under the nearest table was probably the best bet but I could probably weave through the cro-

"Leaving so soon blank flank?" I did not like the way she was looking at me, up and down like I was somehow beneath her. Or like I was some sort of meat.

"Yup, I'm going this way." I gave her as flashy a smile as I could and pointed kinda randomly off in a direction. As I was about to walk away, however, I was grabbed from the back and thrust behind ...

"You leave him alone Diamond! He's a colt!" Sweetie Belle? Ten of ten points for trying to help but negative one million for getting in the way of my escape.

"What's that got to do with anything," I squeaked out. This was going to end really badly and now the Crusaders were between me and getting away. The three fillies squared off against their hated bully, anger radiating off both sides. Scootaloo had even flared her wings out, buzzing them like some sort of insect. An annoying, stinging insect. At least she wasn't pointing her sharp end ... OH GOD! Don't look self!

"Pfft, what are you, his herd?" Diamond Tiara sneered at them before turning that creepy rape-face back to me. The Crusaders had interposed themselves between me and the she-devil and while I was gracious, I was trying really hard not to look at the three butts pointed right at me. Unfortunately, the only thing I had to stare at was that pink face. A pink face that promised nothing but pain. Pain and maybe some domestic violence.

"Uhm, I'm right here you know." I seemed to be channeling the spirit of Fluttershy. Nopony heard me.

"Ah knew you was low, DT, but Ah didn't think you'd go after a colt." Applebloom took a threatening step forward, matched a moment later by her friends.

"Uhm, this is getting out of hand. Hoof. Thing. Guys?" I tried to get everypony's attention but they weren't having any of it.

"Puh-LEASE, as if I'd have anything to do with a baby blank flank." Yeah, the way you keep looking at me makes me really believe that.

"Really?" Yeah, see! All safe, can I get around you- no? Ok then.

"At least Ah was taught ta be nice ta colts!" Applebloom and Diamond Tiara were now muzzle-to-muzzle, almost growling at each other. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were fairly close by as well, scowling angrily at their tormentor. Ok, time to man up and be an adult. I guess.

"OK! That's enough!" I wiggled through the Crusaders and interposed myself between Applebloom and Diamond Tiara, shoving them apart.

"Get your hoof off of me!" Bap. Maybe it was just a reaction to being shoved or maybe there's some cultural thing about not getting involved in a fight or something but let me tell you. There is no such thing as a 'slap' to ponies. Those hooves are pretty hefty suckers.

"You did not just hit me." The Crusaders stared in wide-eyed surprise as my face suddenly got very, very dark. I turned to fully regard the spoiled little brat.

"Ah, we-well you shouldn't have pu-," bap! "OW! You jerk!"

"I'm the jerk!? Who goes around town acting like she's better than everypony?" BAP! "OW! Bitch!"

And that was the last straw for us both. As the Cutie Mark Crusaders looked on in surprise, Diamond Tiara and I leapt at each other with murder in our eyes. Hooves were swung, manes were pulled, bites were had. At one point in time I had her in a head lock trying to twist her head off. I think she sat on my head for a little bit while she pummeled my sides. A crowd of ponies gathered, unsure of what course of action to take. The adults mumbled to each other while the foals began to cheer on their favorite fighter. I was practically unknown in Ponyville and 'the blue guy' was getting more cheers than Miss Bitchy-pants here. Go me. We were in the middle of a pure dust-up when we were interrupted quite rudely.

"That's enough!" Spring rushed out of the crowd and attempted to pull Diamond Tiara off of me only to get a black eye for her effort. Undeterred, she jumped back into the thick of things, trying to pull me off of my neme-, well, other nemesis. Dr. Sight shoved his way into our little ring of onlookers, wrenching at me as Spring switched over to take hold of Diamond Tiara. After a few moments of pulling and growling, they finally managed to force us apart. Didn't stop us from shouting at each other.

"Worthless flankhole! You're never going to find a herd as long as I live! NEVER!" Her eyes were bruised, her mane was very messy and her trademark tiara was missing from her head but she kept that angry fire alive.

"Pony hell, do you hear me? RIGHT TO PONY HELL! And I'll be laughing! LAUGHING!" My sides were sore, my nose was bloody and I think she loosened a tooth but I couldn't care less.

Spring and Clear dragged us out of range of each other, still shouting curses and threats as we were ponyhandled into separate corners.

Edited by Genjen.
Cause Genjen is cool.

17 - Of Mares and Men

View Online

"Bruce, what are we going to do with you?" Dr. Sight sighed and shook his head. We were sitting in what I think was some sort of living room or something, a place I hadn't yet explored. Well, he was sitting. I was pacing furiously back and forth in front of an unlit fireplace. The decor was very different here than anywhere else. Dark, earthy tones that gave the room a cozy feel. A pair of single doors led alternately to a second stairway upstairs and the front common room. Worn but comfortable rugs, plush overstuffed chairs, a fireplace with a simple yet sturdy mantle. Very homey, very comforting and enclosed. Dr. Sight clearly had other opinions, from how he was grimacing. Still, we weren't here to study the decor.

"Let me go about my business unmolested?" How dare that little brat hit me! I stopped pacing - my limp showing where I had used my right hoof quite a bit more than my left in that little fight - and started to tap my sore limb on the ground, going over the fight in my mind. Hoof, meet face. Face? Meet hoof!

"Uhm, no." Clear shook his head, confused at my little tap dance. "No, that was a major infraction. Fighting? I'd expect that from a filly but -"

"OK! Time out!" I rounded on the psychiatrist and tried to form one of those 'T' symbols football refs use to indicate a timeout. It came out more an 'f' but still. "We are going to clear this up right now."

"Uhm, wha-" Clear backed up a bit, holding one hoof up against his chest as I turned, surprised at my sudden movement. I took a step towards him, anger almost glowing from my eyes. Hell, it could actually have been, this is magical-princess-pony-prancing lands, right?

"First, filly-socks." I took a step towards the good doctor, causing him to lean away from me. "Then, Mr. Cake getting all emotional." Step, lean. "Now, fillies fighting!" Step, lean. "What is this, Bizzaro world?" Step, le- with a small cry, the stallion toppled over onto his back.

"I-I don't understand." He sounded confused. I walked over to his prone body and stood above him, scowling. Actually, I was more trying to hold back a chuckle at his lack of balance but hey, use it to my advantage.

"... what does my gender have to do with fighting?"

"W-well, colts aren't known for being aggressive like that and -"

"What?!" He flinched. That poor guy, he didn't deserve that but I couldn't hold it in. That doesn't make any sense! "That doesn't even make sense!" (See?) "The testosterone levels alone would make for a more aggressive gender but the physical changes that hormone creates in the body are almost tailor made for -" He scrambled to his hooves, shaking his head and looking at me with wide eyes.

"No, no Bruce. Testosterone hasn't been linked to any aggressive behaviors." Yeeeeeaaaaaaah, so what's all this then? Then again ... magical-pink-whatever.

"So this IS Bizzaro world?" I tilted my head up at him, one eyebrow quirked.

"Please, Bruce, we're having a serious conversation."

"What makes you think I'm not seriously calling this Bizarro world?"

"Bruce, we -" He was interrupted when the door to the common area burst open, framing a very flustered Mrs. Cake against the sudden influx of bright light.


"Hiya Mrs. Cake." I waved nonchalantly.

"Are you ok, deary?"

"Wha-argh!" She galloped over to me and grabbed me in a huge bear hug. THE FAT WAS TRYING TO EAT ME OH GOD OH GOD! "Yes! Yes! I'm fine! Personal space, please." I braced my hooves against her ... holy hells woman! The fat wasn't all that surprising (kinda gross as it squished under my hooves) but - oh my god - she had some muscle under all that!

"Oh, I'm sorry dear." She put me down. I was shivering but not from the fact the fat wanted to eat me. It was more the fact she had the body of a muscle machine under it all. How did that even work? She smiled down at me for a second before sheer rage engulfed her entire face. "What in the Pastures name possessed you out there, young colt?!"

"Uhhhhh." My brain, still trying to come to grips with the sudden realization of the She-Hulk in front of me, gave about the most intelligent answer it could think of.

"Fighting?!" Her blue face was actually getting purple. I guess the red plus the blue ... no. No, that's just a royally pissed-off mare face. "At a party thrown for you by one of the most devoted and kind mares I know who is now crying her eyes out in the bathroom because you thought to turn this into some sort of free-for-all?!" I started to shiver and I think my eyes got really, really big as I looked at her blue-to-purple transformation. Those were not tears! Those were ... ok, they were tears. Tears of terror and shame. Hey, that'd make a great band name!

"... technically it wasn't free-for-all ..." WRONG ANSWER! The fact that Pinkie Pie was crying because of me, the fact I messed up a party for me that was supposed to welcome me to Ponyville, the fact it wasn't the first time it had happened ... yup, worst pony in allllll of Equestria, right here folks.

Mrs. Cake looked at me incredulously, anger radiating off her body. Seriously, I could feel the heat.

"Mrs. Cake? Maybe we should talk." Clear stepped in before we had our first foalicide and gently lead a still very angry Mrs. Cake away. I sank down to the rug as they stepped away, squeezing my eyes shut and wrapping my hooves around my head. Why? Why, why, why!? Why was it that every time I had something decent, I had to go and muck it all up?

I had been laying there - wallowing in my own self-created misery - for a few minutes, absentmindedly beating myself in the head, both figuratively and literally. Bonk - ow - bonk - ow - bonk - ow - bon-. A hoof stopped me before my hoof made contact and with red sore eyes I looked up at Mrs. Cake's sadly smiling face.

"What are you doing, dearie?" She looked ... tired. Very tired and even a bit old. Her usually well-cared-for mane had a few strands of hair flying loose, her eyes had bags under them and I swear even her pelt seemed greyer.

"I really messed up, didn't I?" WARNING! WARNING! Emotional stabilizers compromised! Abort, abort!

"Oh, dearie." I was gathered up into a hug. She felt warm as I lay my head against her chest. I could feel her heat beat, smell her coat. It smelled of ... horse. Clean horse but horse. Despite that, I really felt no urge to fight against it. It felt kinda nice, just being hugged. Like all the problems of the world would be made better by simple contact. Oh man, I was being pussified and I didn't even realize it. "Everypony messes up. Beating yourself senseless isn't going to fix anything."

"I'm sorry I've been a hassle, Mrs. Cake." I sniffled into her chest. Why did I feel so bad? Was it just because I made Pinkie Pie cry? Was it because I was being a selfish idiot? Was it because I was being a regular idiot? "I was just trying to stop Scootaloo and Diamond Tiara from fighting and she hit me and-"

"Shh, I know. I shouldn't have gotten that upset." Mrs. Cake started to pet my mane. It was weirdly comforting. A tiny voice in the back of my mind complained that it was just plain weird and please stop but I was not listening, la-la-la-la-la. "Dr. Sight saw the whole thing and while I am disappointed that you tried to stop them yourself and not get an adult to help, I'm sorry too. I - I shouldn't have gotten that mad at you for defending yourself."

We sat there for a few moments, hugging in the darkened room. It was a very touching scene.

"D'awwww." We both looked over at the wet-eyed yellow unicorn, rubbing his muzzle with a hoof and sniffing into a tissue. "What? It's so good to see a connection between you two!"

With a look of growing horror, I realized I was hugging a slightly fat and way-too-muscular mare on the floor of a child's cartoon bakery. I had even snuggled into her chest and sniffled. Commence manly struggle.

"Oh stop, you looked precious."

18 - Impending Frilly Socks

View Online

The walk out to the common room was awkward. Mrs. Cake led the way and - I don't know if I've mentioned this but - everything is out for the world to see. Everything. I've adapted though! I kept my gaze fixed on the ground. That's how I didn't notice the lack of crowds, the lack of party music, or lack of staring eyes. Mrs. Cake's sudden stop - and me plowing into her back end - knocked me from my isolation. That's when the quiet hit.

"Uh, where is everyon-pony?" I looked around at the devasta- HOW?! The entire place was so clean it sparkled! The tables that once held all the refreshments were no where to be seen - much to the dismay of my stomach - and even the confetti and balloons were all cleaned up. Not a thing was out of place. If I hadn't just been in here I would have never known there had been a party. My mouth slumped open and I sat down pretty heavily.

"I sent them all home." Spring Meadows smiled at me from across the room. She and a purple-greyish Earth Pony mare I've never seen before stood with Diamond Tiara between them. Other than those - and our little group of three - there was nopony else around. Diamond Tiara had her head-wear back but she was still looking pretty roughed up. I bet I didn't look any better but I still grinned at her. She glared slightly before dropping her gaze to the floor. Bruce: 1, DT: 0, Tie: 1. "I should have guessed a party was an inappropriate way of introducing you to everypony, Bruce."

"Uh, is Pinkie ok?" I grimaced at Pinkie's name. Poor thing, probably drowning her sorrows with ice cream.

"She's a tough mare. She'll be fine." Spring's smile was not as convincing as she probably wanted it to be. Her eyes flicked toward the stairway slightly and her ears drooped slightly. Yup, worst pony. "But this is Mrs. Rich," she motioned with her head toward the purple-greyish mare, "and there is somepony here that has something to say."

She and Mrs. Rich both looked at Diamond Tiara who was staring at the ground with a very big and unhappy frown. Mrs. Rich nudged her with a hoof and a frown of her own.

"Diamond Tiara?" Her voice was very ... cold. Almost harsh. Yeek, with a mother like that, I'd have turned to bullying myself. Diamond Tiara winced at her mother's voice, glancing up at me with both anger and a little trepidation. She cleared her throat and let loose something I can only describe as 'Flutter-like.'

"I'm sorry for hitting you."

"Huh?" I tilted my head in response. If there had been any other sound in the world just then, I don't think I would have noticed her speaking at all.

"I'm sorry for hitting you."

"Diiiidn't quite catch that." I think she said something about 'he-yah' or something. I leaned forward, trying to catch her words. My ears swiveled towards her, trying to pick up the faintest of sounds.

"I said 'I'm sorry for hitting you'!" Wow, there's the volume! With a wince, I jerked my head back a little and flattened my ears. I rubbed them gently, scowling at Diamond's smirk. Mrs. Rich bopped her daughter on the head with a frown causing Diamond's smirk to disappear.

"Hmmph." That's my ten cents.

"Bruce?" Mrs. Cake looked down at me with a frown and I was suddenly very aware of being next to a tank. I gulped and grinned up at her. She nodded towards the other threesome and quirked an eyebrow.

"Ah, yes, eh, I mean." For a moment I wanted to try the same trick Diamond pulled and mumble my way into shouting in her ear but I didn't think that very wise. Mrs. Rich seemed kinda cushy compared to Mrs. Cake and I didn't want anymore knocks to my head if I could help it. I cleared my throat. "I'm sorry for pushing you."


We sat there for a few seconds, neither side willing to break the silence. The tension was beginning to grow and even the adults seemed at a loss as to what exactly to say. Two sides, met in battle first in form and then in will, seeking to dominate by any means neces-

My stomach rumbled very loudly in the pregnant silence. Everypony looked at me and I looked down at my suddenly very hungry belly. With a nervous chuckle, I addressed the gathered warriors.

"Uh, can I get breakfast? I haven't had anything to eat at all today and I feel famished."

I was led into the kitchen by Spring as Mrs. Cake saw the others out. Again, sparkling clean everything. Mr. Cake was sitting at the table, his back to the door and his head in his hooves. He seemed ... sad. Awwww crap, I was feeling absolutely awful. And hungry. But mostly awful. At our entrance, he perked up and looked over his shoulder, giving me a weak grin.

"Hey Bruce, how're you doing?" I walked over to him, Spring watching my progress with her ever-present smile.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Cake." It took an effort of will to look up at him. He had tears in his eyes, the poor fellow. With my new-found knowledge of gender roles, it was like looking up at a mother trying to make the best for her children. Just awful. "I'm sorry I'm so much trouble."

"Oh Bruce, you - you're not trouble." I winced at the stutter in his voice. It's hard to say something you don't believe. He noticed and his face grew pained. "You're not trouble, you've just had a lot of things happen and you don't know how to deal with them." I opened my mouth to say something but my stomach reminded me why we were in the kitchen in the first place. Mr. Cake and I both looked down, him in surprise and me in embarrassment. "Hungry?"

"Uhm, if it's not too much trouble." He chuckled and shook his head, getting up to move into the kitchen-proper.

"So what would you like?"

"Right now?" My stomach growled like an angry beast. "Anything."

One salad later - with the Cakes and Ms. Meadows looking on in surprise at my voracious appetite - I was left alone with Spring while the Cakes discussed something. Probably about me and how horrible a little colt I've been so far. Her bench squeaked as she shifted.

"So, Bruce, how do you like it?"

"Mmmmf?" I grunted a question-sound around the last mouthful of delicious salad. FINALLY, I had a full belly. It does wonders for your attitude when you have something in your stomach.

"The Cakes." She waved her hooves around to indicate everything. "How do you like it here?" With effort, I swallowed the gigantic bite I had taken and looked around with a careful eye.

"A runaway attempt, the crying and gnashing of teeth of stallions and foals, a fight to the death with a filly ... it's ok I guess." I grinned at Spring's smirk. She was trying to look irritated but I knew she found it just slightly funny. She rolled her eyes.

"Yes, well, aside from all that excitement, it seems you and the Cakes are beginning to get along fine." Her smile faded somewhat as a look of concern crept slowly into her face. Ew, get it off! "But, I do worry if this is right for you and their foals. If you need anything - anything at all - I'm going to be checking up on you regularly and you don't need to be afraid to ask me for anything. Or tell me anything, ok?" She reached across the table and gripped my hoof. "Think of me as a really 'cool' friend, ok?"

Ugggh, I could hear the quotes around the word 'cool.' I fought the urge to facehoof. I lost. Spring giggled slightly.

"Yeah, it's fine for now. I'm still devoted to finding a way home though." She winced. Still didn't believe me but at least she didn't say anything. We sat in silence until Mr. Cake came clopping back into the room. He nodded at Spring and, with a sigh of relief, they exchanged places.

"Remember Bruce, I'm here if you need me." With that, she trotted out of the room, leaving me with a slightly nervous Mr. Cake.

"So, Bruce. How are you feeling?" He was trying very hard to hide his unease. His eyes shifted constantly and his grin was a little too forced. I tilted my head at him from across the table. He was going to make me nervous.

"Eh, better. Not so hungry now."

"Good! Good." He cleared his throat. I stared at him with my giant, creepy eyes. He probably didn't think they were all that creepy but, well, just me staring at him with a rather blank expression probably wasn't doing him any favors. "Well, the missus and Pinkie have to open shop and they felt it would be a good idea for you and I to, well, have a bit of time off from that so to speak."

"Oooohkay." Aw crap, I could see where this was going. At least I wasn't going to be enslaved to an oven immediately.

"Yeah, so, well, us and the twins of course."

"...lovely." Yup. Leave the stallion to do 'stallions work' with the kids I guess.

"So! What, uhm, what do you want to do today?"

"Honestly?" I raised my eyebrows. With all the craziness that had been going on, I hadn't had time to think. Much less plan. Uhm, what do kids do? "I have no idea."

"Oh!" He scratched the back of his neck. "Oh, yeah, you are new in town. So, uh, why don't we go to the park?"

"Is that a normal thing for, ergh, colts my age to do?" I lowered my head into my hooves, grimacing at my unfortunate choice of words.

"Sure is bucko!" He was way too excited about this whole thing already. His smile seemed more genuine and his ears perked up. Poor dear. Trying so hard. I shrugged and flicked a wrist offhan-offhoofedly?

"...sure. Why not? What could poss-" My eyes shot open and I clamped both hooves over my muzzle, trying to both stop myself from finishing what I had just tried to say as well as hold in a scream of fright.

"What was that?" Mr. Cake looked at me curiously, his head tilted to one side. I removed my hooves gently and began to look around the room, panicked.

"I didn't finish that sentence! IT DOESN'T COUNT!"

Interlude: Frillius Sockus Interuptus

View Online

Author's note to follow this chapter.

"Well, what are your thoughts?" Spring Meadows sat across from her colleague in her sparse and little-used office, her head in her hooves. She was rubbing her temples, a sign of a worsening headache. Clear Sight sighed, his hooves crossed in front of his chest and eyes wandering the room as he weighed her question. It said much for the mare that she kept little in her supposed office. While blank walls spoke volumes of a ponies mind, Clear thought it more indicative of the mostly under utilized nature of the room rather than her mental faculties. He sighed again and turned his attention back to the mare in front of him.

"Well if it was enslavement, it was a very short period in his life." Spring looked up at him, her face etched in confusion. Clear shrugged. "He has no scars, no physical trauma of any sort to suggest it. He's intelligent beyond his age and Diamond Dogs aren't known for teaching their slaves."

"This 'hell' suggests he at least knows of it." Clear pursed his lips and shook his head slowly to Springs assertion.

"Well, seems likely it was a more disciplinary type of measure of his parents. 'Do what we say or we'll send you to 'hell' with the big, mean bipedal demon-dogs.'" Clear waved his hooves in front of him, making an overly-expressive angry face. "It's more likely his parents are more to blame for his situation." Spring stuck her tongue out, making a sick face at the thought.

"I - I can't see anypony doing something like this but you have a point." She lowered one hoof to her desk top, tracing imaginary lines. Her face grew contemplative as she fiddled with her hooves, a nervous action. "He tries so hard to act as he saw adults act but it's so obvious he has a lot of growing up to do."

"Yes, well, we're getting away from the main issue here." Clear grimaced and waved at the small pile of papers spread out between the two Ministry workers. "What can we piece together from this?" Spring straightened, idly hoofing through the papers without really reading anything. They had both had more than enough time to read what was there.

"Well, his actions point toward poor adult-foal interactions but he is surprisingly willing to accept responsibility for his mistakes." She bit her lip in concentration. "That ... doesn't fit. If he was afraid of discipline, he'd be more apt to blame others. But he's afraid of adults, that's for sure."

"And being touched." They both nodded at memories of his sarcastic comments and general nervousness. Clear's brow furrowed. "You stated he was very insistent on not being nude but he seems more comfortable with that than you implied."

"He told me he was uncomfortable in his natural state." Spring shrugged her wings and shoulders, a strangely casual motion for the subject. Familiarity breeds ease. "You noticed he kept tucking his tail?"

"Yes, which does point to improper body touch. Still, it might not be as bad as you first thought. I'm worried, though." Clear fidgeted slightly in his chair. He didn't want to feel at ease with this case. It was very strange and if even half the things noted were true, being at ease with it would just add to the 'wrongness' of it all. "You noted the incestuous relationship he reported and the physical abuse between his father and elder sister." Spring waved a hoof with a frown.

"If he even has sisters. This could all be a gigantic fantasy land."

"Now you disbelieve him?" He met Springs look with a quirked eyebrow. "We could reducto ad infinitum here. He has no parents, he has no sisters and he's been homeless since he was foaled. But we have to accept some of what he says as truth." She nodded at that with a grimace.

"Well, within reason."

"Of course."

Silence fell between the two ministry workers as they tried to sort their thoughts. Occasionally, a sound would slip into the room from outside. Hoof-falls on the tile or the distant sound of passing conversation. Clear kept his eyes firmly on the desk in front of him, the papers spread about in semi-organized disarray. So little known but so much hinted at. Spring broke the growing tension after a few moments of reflection.

"We know he's from a monogamist family of some sort, we can assume he's telling the truth about his family up to a point, we know he's touch-shy to an extent." Clear nodded his head at everything Spring said. You could fake a lot of the reactions, true, but that would be placing too much trust in a youthful mind. Something would slip if Bruce was just making it all up. His body-unease was one of those odd things that didn't make the list, he noted wryly. "We can assume he's also a smoker and a drinker from his actions and his state in the hospital. So, lack of supervision at the very least. Probable child-on-child sexual misconduct with possible adult acceptance or knowledge." Clear frowned at this last one. Not enough evidence but it wasn't something he was discounting entirely.

"Runaway?" Spring perked her ears up at his suggestion, tilting her head to the side with a concentrating look.

"Hmm, that might fit. Fell in with a bad crowd after he ran away. Some mares like them young." They both grimaced at that. Spring frowned as she continued, her face contorting into a sneer of distaste. "Maybe that's where he got this 'wife' of his. Or could it be one of those arranged marriages that some monogamist cults try to pull?"

"Could be. We don't have enough information to say for certain though." He sighed. With all the information they managed to get out of this colt, how was it he was so hard to read? An inkling of a doubt entered Clear's mind as the memory of Bruce's convinced face rose to the surface. 'I'm 32...' He shook his head slightly to clear his mind. Impossibilities ... "Until we can get him to start telling the truth, be it willful misleading or delusion, let's go from the 'least cause' here. He's from a monogamist family that was dysfunctional and he's had a lack of supervision. Anything else we can't be certain."

"Yes. Oh, and a tribalist family. You saw how he reacted to Twilight." Clear jerked slightly at her words, concern etched in his face. Tribalism was one of those accusations that was hard to prove and potentially devastating to anypony, foal or not.

"Well, yes and no." He managed to keep his voice level despite the memories of angry parents and yelling children trying to enter his thoughts. "He distrusts magic but a good number of pure-tribe Earth Pony foals do. He didn't seem to dislike me." Spring seemed to chew on this for a moment before nodding and pointing a hoof at her colleague.

"Point. I'm still leaning heavily towards that though."

"Until we can-" he began, only to be cut off by Spring waving a hoof.

"Yes, yes. I'll put it in my notes but not in the paperwork." He frowned and laid his ears back. A counselor's notes were her own and he couldn't tell her what to put in them. Still, it was not something he would be so cavalier to accuse. Even if it was the parents they were tangentially accusing. "So, uhm, suggestions."

Clear heaved a sigh and stood, tired of being confined to a chair. The blank walls, the heavy conversation, the implications of even half of what they discussed weighed heavily on him. Spring's eyes followed him as he began to stretch his legs and walk slightly. Not a true pace but a movement.

"Well, he needs therapy. Badly." Spring nodded energetically and motioned for him to continue. "Group therapy to get over his aggressiveness, family therapy with the Cakes to ensure they are kept in the loop and know how to deal with his problems, individual therapy to get over this lying or delusion."

"Oh, and body-form therapy." Clear blinked at her outburst. She shrugged and sheepishly smiled. "He does have that 'human obsession' after all."

"Are any of those for foals?" The 'human' thing was relatively new but it was already making a huge splash in the psychiatry profession. It was opening up a great number of long-buried and glossed over issues ponies had been dealing with for centuries.

"No, but the Ponyville group only has ... a few members. We can make it a one session per month deal where it's more about general topics and not the excessive sexuality most groups tend to focus on." Spring's pause and the 'sexual' aspect she mentioned caused him to raise an eyebrow. Most body-form groups dealt with difficulties in lacking firm control over magic or lack of proper support for one tribe or another. He'd never heard of any that concentrated on the sexuality of the members. Still, if it was something that was unique to this group ... he trusted Spring's professionalism. She would never force the young thing into a situation she didn't think he could handle. Or, barring that, she could handle for him. Clear shrugged, returning to his chair with a groan.

"Ooooh, well if you think that'll work. Ugh, this is a headache." He unceremoniously dropped his head onto the table, avoiding impaling his horn in her desk with practiced ease. He heard Spring chuckle.

"Yeah, well, that's why I work in a hospital."

Edited by Genjen. Again, he's cool.

Author's Note: Ok, so some people have been getting their jimmies rustled voicing some concern over some of my choices in this fic. Primarily, there have been complaints about the gender-inverse but there have also been some concerns about Bruce's actions, his seemingly unconcern for going home, missed opportunities for 'convincing' characters of the validity of his actions, the characterization of the main characters and some other piddly stuff.

I am going to be answering a lot of the characterization aspects in the coming chapters. He's going to be interacting with the Main 6 more and I think I'll get their characters down regardless of their professions and/or where they exist in the society in this fic.

I will admit that Bruce has not seemed too concerned about going home. That is a bit of a failing on my end. I know things he (and y'all) don't know that make it less ... important. BUT! He should still be looking for a way home/convincing ponies he's telling the truth. I'm going to be working on getting that across more effectively. I am sorry. However, do note that only about a single day has gone by. 40k words and a single day ... wow. Anyway, so it's still pretty dang early for him to be panicking about how long he's been in Eqeustria.

Gender inversion, polygamy and the new AU tag: Ok, this is a source of extreme contention in the comments, about this story and just plain old in general. So here we go: My original thought was not to invert the genders. It was to invert the ... societal value of the genders. Not quite. Uhm, a caring motherly mare was seen as a better Mayor than even a caring fatherly stallion. Uh, Equestria saw war as disgusting in total (defensive included) and the guard was there only because it was needed and not because it was honorable or noble or good. Diplomacy and turning enemies to friends was more important. A place where the motherly and inclusion was 'better' than aggression and individualism.

I couldn't write that way. I tried and, uhm, didn't work. SO, in the interest of copying AnonAuthor of Xenophilia fame in making the ponies seem more alien and 'other,' I chose to make this Equestria have inverted gender roles for, uhm, most things. Also, I thought it'd be funny to have this hard smoking, hard drinking, comfortable-in-his-masculinity guy end up in a land where guys are frilly. It was either that or make him a filly. I had a ton of convoluted and twisty ways of rationalizing it within the context of the show itself. And, frankly I don't think they are completely and totally bogus rationalizations. I don't think we, as fans of the show, have enough information to point at Equestria and say 'This is Americanada with ponies and will follow all aspects of our general culture.' It's the most logical and simplistic answer ... yes. It's not the only one and Occam can go suck an egg, sometimes shit be all complex.

However, in the interest of having these silly and far-too-often arguments about why gender inversion is right/wrong, I am sticking an AU tag up in here yo. I don't think it's right/wrong either way. So far, we have a single married couple (the Cakes, all other couples haven't been distinctly labeled as married) and a single wedding between royalty. We can assume from these two issues that, sure, it's Americanada or what have you with all other couples not specified as married being married. And it's the simplest and easiest answer, sure. But it's not the only one and any small and slight inconsistency in having another answer is trumped by the general inconsistency in the show itself. I mean, RD knows about tanks and bullets, they have camo and Rarity has an old M1 helmet ... but the Royal Guard uses plate mail and spears? WTH man? Read and like or read and dislike, it's here to stay.

That and I like it and find it funny.

Oh, and in reply to some of what Bruce is saying/what the counselors are saying: we're being 'told' this story through Bruce's eyes and - in the interludes - some other eyes. We only know what they say. Well, I know more but for the most part, y'all only know what they are telling us. And they can be wrong, mistaken or just plain-old assuming things. Don't take everything that comes through the chapters as 100% 'from the horses mouth' fact. Over the course of the work, I hope to point out where everyone is wrong and what the truth is but sometimes, a 'fact' might not be as factual as the reciter believes.

19 - Frilly Socks Part 1

View Online

"What are you wearing?" My mouth, freed by shock, blurted the first thing that came to mind as the twins trotted down the steps - I was envious of that ability - smiling at the thought of a day out and away from the bakery. I guess. Or the thought of my sweet, succulent pony-flesh but let's be more optimistic. Cause things have been turning out so well so far, right? In a strange inverse of a normal situation, Pumpkin - the yellow-ish unicorn filly - was buck naked and that was the most normal thing about the two.

Pound, on the other hoof, was wearing what I could only describe as the most lacy, frilly and god-awful get-up imaginable. Lacy blue socks with floral patterns, some kind of blue and yellow saddle (Seriously, why? Who is going to RIDE you?) with too many little frilly designs and a ... thing on his head. That thing. That thing was vaguely reminiscent of a Southern Belle's racing hat but taken to an extreme unheard of in mortal lives. Flowers, feathers, frills and even more lace than all the other stuff on him combined. Mr. Cake grimaced slightly and I couldn't blame him in the slightest. If had ever come down the steps in that get-up, I'd have been laughed out of the room by my oh-so-caring family. And probably helped into a noose.

"Oh Pound, you know you're not supposed to wear your new saddle until the first day of school." Ah, yes, the whole gender-inverse thing. Forgot for a second. Least it should be easy to deal with, right? I facehooved as Pound frowned and turned his gigantic eyes on his father. Puppy dog eyes, quivering lips and the slightest hint of a tear. Oh man. "No, Pound. You go put those back. You can wear the purple one if you want but you can't play in the sandbox if you're dressed."

Wow. Wow, that is just ... how do you handle something like that? From 'Bruce, put your pants back on this instant!' to 'You can't do anything if you have a scarf near you.' It's been years since I was yelled at for pulling my pants off at a park. Well, except that one time but I was really drunk. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Once Pound had returned, a less frilly saddle in place of his 'school clothes' and a slightly unhappy frown where his smile once was, we were herded out into the common area and into a commotion of noise and motion. Ponies. Ponies sitting at the few tables eating and drinking, ponies in a line at the counter, ponies chatting excitedly with their friends. Ponies. Ponies living their joyous lives. And here I was, stuck in a foals body light years or dimensions from home. I groaned at the lovely tricks life likes to play on me.

Pinkie, her mane still a bit straighter than normal, was ma-mareing the counter while I could hear the whistling of somepony in the kitchen. Mrs. Cake, presumably. Mr. Cake waved at the depressed pink party mare as we left, her face struggling to form a smile in return. I caught her eyes once just before I was pushed out the door and sheepishly offered a smile but she quickly turned her head. That hurt a bit but I didn't blame her.

After we wandered far enough from the bakery that the crowd thinned out, Mr. Cake and the twins settled into a nice, gentle pace with me trudging along behind. He would occasionally look back and try to get me into a conversation - when he wasn't trying to corral the kids - but I only grunted at him. I had a lot on my mind. It helped that the twins were so excited that they were trying to weave in and out of his hooves as he walked, peppering him with requests and questions. I tuned their antics out and focused on my thoughts and the ground at my hooves.

Why was I doing this? Why was I trotting down a dirt road in a fantasy pony land after my foster father and siblings instead of struggling to get home? The obvious answer was, of course, the fact that I was smaller than anypony. If I ran, they'd find me and probably put me in a much more confined home with even less of a chance of getting away. With soap. But there was something more. I was having a hard time focusing, a hard time keeping my wits about me. I've always been a bit of a panicky guy. I can't handle change very well. This was different. This was -

A face full of tail. After spitting out Mr. Cakes tail hairs and trying to glare his friendly grin away, I noticed that what few crowds were around had all but vanished. It almost seemed like we were outside of Ponyville itself. Rolling hills of vibrant green grass with small groups of ponies scattered about. Bird song filled the air, enough to be noticeable but not enough to drown out conversation. Clean air that smelled of flowers and the few stately oaks that dotted the idyllic landscape. It was pretty.

"Now foals, I want you to stay within -," the twins took off, yelling and laughing as they ran, "sight distance." Mr. Cake frowned after lamely finishing his sentence. Heh, kids. Filthy, backstabbing kids! Leave me with this man-woman will you? "Well, Bruce, just you and me huh?"

"Uh, um." Trying not to vocalize my thoughts on his spawn was hard. I whipped my head around the park, trying to find the easiest escape route before he started crying or something. Yeah, never had great success with human women, pony men-women-stallions were going to be worse. At my terrified searching he rolled his eyes and huffed.

"Bruce, I have to go make sure those two don't get into anything. Can you stay nearby?" With a pat on my head, he turned and headed off towards one of the hills. It looked to have a good overview of the entire park. He looked over his shoulder and called out one last thing as he trotted away. "Just remember to keep me in sight ok?"

"Really? Really? You're just going to leave me to my own ...?" I asked in the most confused tone I could manage. He didn't seem to hear me and within seconds, I was left alone, standing in the middle of rolling hills with birds whizzing by and groups of very happy ponies sitting around talking about ... stuff. I could go out there and try to join in the foal games, be a good little colt and try to integrate. Work slowly on gaining their trust and eventually get them to at least try to look into my story ...

"Yeah, fuck that."

Five minutes into Ponyville and I was lost, again. I swore loudly, kicking a loose stone against one of the many houses surrounding me. Ponyville is big, I think I said this. It's also THE GOD DAMNED SAME EVERYWHERE! Every single house was similar enough that I couldn't tell you if it was the first time seeing one or the forty-second. There were street signs but I gave up on trying those after I took one look at the wing-dings on it. Seriously, a unicorn head as a letter? Or maybe it was an entire sentence, I don't know.

I looked around at the mostly deserted streets. I had been fooling myself into thinking I recognized anything in this thatch-roofed bumpkin town. Not only did I not know where Sugarcube Corner was but now I didn't even know how to get back to the park and the undoubtedly frantic Mr. Cake. There wasn't a single pony on this street that I could get directions from and almost every other street had barely anypony either. I was completely and total - is that a giant tree?

"The library!" With a burst of speed, I galloped towards the massive tree-building with a soaring heart. At least I wasn't completely screwed. Right?

Genjen edited this. That makes him a swell guy.

20 - Frilly Socks Part 2: Revenge of the Soap

View Online

*BANG BANG BANG* I was standing outside the library, one forehoof braced against the door jamb and the other wailing on the sturdy wood that barred me from the inside of the ... tree. It was a really big tree, still living with healthy green leaves and everything. They had carved it up as a building. That was actually kinda freakin' cool. Unfortunately, I had more pressing matters than marveling at the inventiveness of the ponies.

"Yeah yeah, hold your horses." The muffled sounds of speech and movement caused me to bang louder. I couldn't tell who it was, their gender stripped by the wood. I was so hoping Twilight wasn't too busy.

*BANG BANG BAN-* The door suddenly swung open and, with my infinite amount of grace and dexterity, I toppled forward. Luckily, my face managed to break my fall though that did set my eyes spinning in their ... sockets, I guess. As the world settled down around me, the smear of purple that had taken up the majority of the colors slowly coalesced into the form of a taller-than-expected baby dragon staring down at me.

"Geez, what is with you ponies?! It is a public library." He reached one of his hands (OH MERCIFUL GOD I WANT MY HANDS BACK SO MUCH) out and helped me to my feet, crossing his arms afterwards and regarded me with a smirk as I swayed. He seemed taller and lankier than I would have thought, almost at the same height as I was. His snout was longer and his spines 'sharper' than the show depicted but he was still a child-like creature. I could still see some 'child pudge' underneath all the scales. A few pointed teeth peeked out from under his upper lip. His eyes, though, they gave me the willies. Focused, smaller than a pony's eyes. More forward. Almost human in placement. He was a predator and it was kicking off some really weird instincts.

"Oh. Huh, never thought about that before." I absently rubbed the growing lump on my head and took in my surroundings to keep my mind off the apex predator that was in front of me. It must have been about mid-afternoon or so but the library was deserted. Something I hated about the show was the amorphous nature of some of the buildings. The animators would use whatever form suited them at the time, never really allowing fans the satisfaction of having a fully defined structure. Here I was, though, and I could see some details that had been left hazy.

The main door opened into the familiar circular room packed with books with a table situated in the center. Across the span, a stairway led up into what I assumed were Twilight and Spike's private quarters and a doorway a bit to the right of that led into what seemed to be some form of kitchen though it was hard to tell through the half-drawn curtain that acted the part of a door. Another, fully closed door, was on the other side of the room. I was guessing it led to the basement and Twilight's 'Mad Scientist Laboratory' but it could have been a bathroom for all I knew. The sound of a throat being cleared brought me out of my wide-eyed searching and I turned my attention to the patient young dragon that was now tapping his foot and regarding me rather coldly.

"Hey Spike." I gave him a grin. A near grin. Kinda a grimace but I was trying.

"Do I know you?" He kept his arms crossed and squinted at me. I felt rather nervous under his gaze. I was sweating a bit, I'll admit. Poor guy, never really fitting in with his pony-family and not a dick enough to really fit in with the dragons. Or maybe that was just those high school jerk dragons he decided to try first.

"Uh, no." I contemplated telling him everything but decided against it. I had a more direct route in mind. "Anyway, is Twilight around?"

"Uhhh ... yeah, hang on while I go get her." He gave me a slightly confused look but decided not to press, I guess. With a slight shrug, he turned around to go fe- "TWILIGHT! THERE'S SOME COLT HERE FOR YOU!" OW. His bellow made me jump, scrunching my face up in surprise as my ears jerked down on their own accord. I suppose shouting at the top of his lungs from directly in front of me counted as 'going to get her' in some book. Somewhere.

"Thanks, I didn't need to hear anyway." I rubbed my ears as a reply was shouted from above.

"What?" That was Twilight, definitely. She seemed to be upstairs.

"I SAID THERE'S SOMEPONY AT THE DOOR FOR YOU!" Indoor voice! Indoor voice! I covered my ears with both my hooves, leaning as upright as I could to maintain my balance and grimacing in pain. And yes, there was pain. That boy could get loud.

"Who is it?" Wouldn't it be easier to just come down, Twilight? Save us all sore throats and really sore ears?

"I DON'T KNOW, HANG ON! What's your name?" He turned to me, his voice at a decent level. I could barely understand him through my hooves and the ringing in my ears. I tentatively removed one hoof to facilitate normal conversation.

"Uh, Bruce bu-"

"SAYS HIS NAME IS BRUCE!" Yeah, that wasn't smart. With a cry of sharp agony, I smacked my hoof back on my ear. The knock to my head was a secondary pain to the pure loud that dragon could produce.

"Spruce?" Twilight's voice was getting closer but not close enough. I think she was at the top of the stairs by this point but with my eyes squeezed shut at the aural assault, she could have been standing right in front of me and shouting for all I could hear.

"BRUCE!" MY GOD! I thought he was loud before but sweet mother Mary! I wasn't a religious man but at this point, with my head firmly on the ground and tears coming out of my eyes, I considered converting to anything just so I could pray the pain away.

"Her book isn't due till next Tuesday!"

"Argh, TWILIGHT JUST GET DOWN HERE!" Finally, something I could get behind.

"Ok, seriously, going deaf now," I managed to squeak out in between my clenched teeth. After a few seconds of blissful quiet, I felt a hoof nudge my shoulder. I cracked one eye open and managed to see a blurry and concerned Twilight looking down at me in confusion.


"I'll let you handle this Twi." Spike, ever the gentle...dragon, walked out of the room and into the kitchen. Completely ignoring the cowering and unhappy colt he subjected to vocal torture. Thanks Spike, you're the best. Twilight followed him with a slight frown.

"Yeah, thanks for going out of your way to help, Spike." He waved at her comment, either ignoring or used to the sarcasm. Gee, what got under his scales.

"No problem." Twilight rolled her eyes and turned her gaze back to her unexpected visitor. By this time, I had managed to blink the tears out of my eyes and could now look ... at ...

"I - uh ... what are you wearing?" Twilight looked at me with a confused and sort of flustered expression on her face. Her hair was damp and segregated by color in clips and her face was half-done in make-up. But that wasn't the really weird part. On her hooves were these things that would take a mad-poet decades to describe.

"Uhm, socks?" Is that what you call them? Such an innocent word should never tied to those abominations.

"They have lace!" Among other unfathomable things. Seriously, why do they have straps? That's like the whole saddle thing that I am still not sure of. What next, actual mouth-bits? Blinders? Hobbles? Are these ponies really that kinky?

"Uhh, yeah. Most socks have lace." I stared at her, my mouth agape and my eyes darting between her serious face and those atrocities on her hooves. The color was ok, though that shade of pink was a bit bright for her coat. The form was fine ... mostly. A few holes to highlight her coat color. But the accessories were really not needed. After a few seconds of me looking back and forth between her face and those things, she huffed. "Was there something you needed?"

"This world to start making sense," I mumbled under my breath, pulling my eyes away from the mind-breaking sight in front of me.

"What was that?"

"Nothing." I refocused on Twilight's face - the least disturbing thing in the room - and gave her a smile. Let's see if I can remember how to act like a decent person. Pony. Whatever. "So, uh, why are you wearing socks anyway?"

"Oh, uh, well ... that's not really something I feel comfortable talking to you about Bruce." She pawed nervously at the floor, looking slightly to the side. I could see a bit of a blush creeping into her face. How does a pony blush, anyway? You'd think the pelt would make that - aw crap, it hit me. Half-done make-up, fancy socks and probably a saddle or dress to match, her hair in state of 'getting ready.' I cursed myself for my contrary nature. I had interrupted her in the middle of getting ready to go out. I felt a heat rising to my own cheeks as I realized what I had done.

"Ah, sorry! Sorry." I backed up toward the doorway, left open from my entrance. "Uhm, should I go? Uh, I mean, if you're expecting company or something ..." The blush that was there burst into a fierce red and she glared at me, daring me to finish that sentence. I snapped my hooves up and covered my muzzle. "Ach! Sorry, sorry! I didn't mean like that! Uh, crap. This is not working out at all. Uhm, well, I know that ... stallions wear lace and all but why are you wearing it too?" I was desperate to change the subject or at least try to cover up my stupidity. I think she knew it as she didn't stop glaring but this is Twilight we're talking about. Give her something to answer and I don't think she could resist.

"... Bruce, lace is kind of androgynous. You wouldn't catch, say, Rainbow Dash in it but most ponies like to keep up with fashion at least a little bit no matter their gender." Nailed it! Get Twilight on a subject and she'd go for hours. At least, from what I remember from the show. So far, my show-knowledge hasn't really been completely comprehensive. It's been pretty close but it hasn't been all inclusive. With a flick of her horn, the door shut behind me. Great, now I was trapped in here. At least try to make the most out of my idiocy.

"Ah. Well, alright then. Uhm, I was wondering ... could I ask a huge favor?" I gave her the biggest smile and the largest eyes I could muster. Please work, please work, please work. She looked down at me with a cocked eyebrow.

"I'm not sending the Princess a letter about you being human."

"Oh come on!" Damn it! I dropped my 'puppy dog' routine and frowned up at her. "Please, it's really impor-" She cut me off with a hoof stamp and a frown.

"No Bruce! My relationship with the Princess is not for everypony with a crazy story to try to get her attention." She spun her eyes in opposite directions at the word 'crazy.' Yeah, Twilight, everypony in this town really is crazy. Including you and now me. Maybe it's something in the water. "She's a very busy pony, you know, what with having to run an entire country and all."

"Sooo, this is an absolutist monarchy?" Twilight blinked at the change of conversation. "Well, diarchy technically."

"Uhhh, wh-what?" She was thrown off by the change. Good. Take control of the conversation, bend it to my will. Or at least try to direct it to where I wanted to go. Maybe if I could appeal to some kind of Pony Rights movement I could get her to, I don't know, at least think about sending her teacher a letter. And if this was a monarchy in that sense, maybe I could petition the crown for redress of my problems.

"And there is no universal listing of pony rights, then?" I looked up at her, smirking. This was going entirely to plan! Mostly, anyway. I was not the best at directing conversations but so far it was working pretty flawlessly.

"... Bruce, do you even know what those words mean?" Ok, not so flawlessly.

"Yes!" She hit one of my buttons pretty hard there. I'm not a genius but I at least consider myself slightly intelligent. I hate being called - or having it implied that I was - stupid. "She - and her sister - hold supreme power and legal authority. Meaning that if I were to disagree with them in any fashion, there is no recourse." Twilight blinked at my outburst, tilting her head as she weighed my words.

"... actually, while it's true Equestria is a diarchy, all ponies have unalienable rights under the Convention of the Three Tribes including the Right of Voice and the Right of Life." Convention? "The Princess is both executor of laws as well as the Supreme Judge of Law. However, the making of laws rests in the hooves of the Council of Officials."

"I dunno, that sounds like an absolutist mon-diarchy to me."

"No Bruce, we have the Convention which guarantees certain Rights that not even the Princess can disabuse. And if a law is struck down as unconventional, new additions to the Convention can be-" I stuck a hoof in her mouth, leaning forward precariously to do it. She looked at me in surprise that was slowly becoming anger. Oops, have to remember she isn't Pinkie and I could probably interrupt her normally.

"Sorry!" I removed my hoof and flattened my ears, rubbing the saliva off on the floor. This was no longer going to plan! I smiled back at her sheepishly. She frowned at me as she wiped her mouth. It left a smear of lipstick on her fetlock. Awwww crap! I'm ruining everything! "So if I can't convince you to help me send her a letter, maybe ... maybe you could use your freaky unicorn powers to check my memories?"

"Ptt." She spat a bit off to one side. Yeah, hooves are not the cleanest of things to put in your mouth. I'd say 'I feel ya' but, uhm, it was kinda my fault for doing that. And ruining her make-up. And wasting her time. "Freaky unicorn powers? Bruce, magic isn't something to be afraid of."

"Yes, yes it is," I deadpanned. Twilight looked shocked at my assertion. "Especially when you can make an entire town go insane for your little Smartypants doll."

"Ugh, that was years ago and it was only about a third of the town," she huffed, almost mumbling it to herself.

"Still something to be afraid of." I pointed at her with a hoof as she almost growled at me. Whoa, yeah, let's tell someone their entire point in life is dangerous in their own home. I closed my eyes and hung my head. I deserved to be smacked for this.

"Anyway, Bruce, no there is no spell out there that lets me 'read minds.'" Twilight managed to do an 'air quotes' thing with her hooves. I was impressed. "That is just anti-unicorn propaganda and I would appreciate it if you didn't spread such slander in this library."

"Geez, sorry. Didn't know it was such a touchy subject." I raised my hooves in a placating gesture. "So, what'd you use on your friends when Discord was doing his thing?" Twilight flopped her mouth a bit at my question. For a second, I thought I had managed to convince her that I knew things that were impossible. Hope, that bitch, had taken hold of my heart. Twilight sighed, and flattened her ears.

"That was a couple years ago ... but I still remember the reporters going on and on about my 'misuse of magic' and 'unwilling subjects' and that kind of tripe." I flopped my own mouth a bit. Reporters? For some reason, that seemed wrong. Reporters actually following newsworthy events? Twilight seemed to interpret my confused fish-gasping as something different and frowned angrily. "I used a 'share memory' spell. It let me share my experiences with them, let us both see those memories we shared. Since we've only known each other a few hours, young stallion, I don't think that would do you any good. There is no spell that lets me dig through anypony's mind and even if there was, I would never use it. That is a breach of confidence and trust that is hard for me to fathom."

"What if I WANTED you to breach my trust?" Hope hadn't let go, though reality was shaking it really roughly.

"Don't you get smart with me, young stallion."

"Hey, woah. Chill. That came out a bit wrong, that's all." This, this. THIS! THIS EVERYTHING! I could feel anger rising and with my inability to function normally anyway, that was not a good sign. Damn it, no one believed me! I had a right to be angry. "Erugh! Twilight, I'm human and you are a cartoon pony designed for little girls that I just happen to like!" I pointed my hoof at her as words began to spill out of my mouth. I was human, I wasn't a pony colt! She backed up a bit as my emotions started to flood my mouth with words that were too long in coming.

"We followed the adventures of you and the other Element Bearers through two years of friendship reports and you are - were one of my favorite Main Characters." She began to backpedal a bit, her socked-hooves slipping slightly on the polished wood floor. Every inch she backed up caused me to stomp forward two inches and soon I found myself directly in front of her with her back against one of the stuffed bookshelves. For some reason, I noticed titles in English next to wing-ding books and some kind of boxy-rune-script thing. That just caused my anger to grow cold for a moment. This was not my world! After that second of distraction and Twilight's stuttering, I turned my attention back to the very smart yet wholly idiotic unicorn in front of me. "You are logical to a degree but tend to be closed minded when presented with something that doesn't fit your worldview. You are friendly and helpful but sometimes I wonder if you really aren't just acting that way because you really want to impress Princess Celestia with your studies. You are the glue that holds the five other Bearers together despite their extreme differences."

"What?" Twilight gasped, her face a mask of utter confusion.

"I know about Magic Kindergarten, I know your brother calls you 'Twily,' I know you turned your parents into a cactus and, eh, I can't remember the other thing to be honest, at your entrance exam for Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns when you hatched Spike." I heard a slight gasp from behind me but I ignored it. I was not going to be distracted any more damn it! "I know you have an owl assistant in addition to Spike and he ran away because he thought he was being replaced. I know you failed to remove that dragon from that stupid mountain and it was Fluttershy and her anger at him for hurting her friends that made him move! I know your birthday at the Centerlot Gardens caused friction between Rarity's high-class clientele and that you can't dance to save your life!

"I know that Luna had trouble getting used to the idea of Nightmare Night and that it was you who convinced her to take up her role as 'feared Nightmare' that helped her get used to the idea but I wonder if that didn't cause her issue when she went back to Canterlot because of misunderstanding that it was that one night they wanted to be afraid of her! I KNOW ALL THIS GARBAGE AND I AM NOT LEAVING UNTIL I GET SOMEONE TO DAMN WELL BELIEVE ME!"

I stood there steaming with anger as Twilight pressed her back against the bookshelves behind her. She looked slightly afraid but more confused than anything. I heard the slap of feet on wood and glared over my shoulder at the open-mouthed face of Spike as he approached from behind. Yeah, try something dragon boy, I have hind hooves. My concentration was broken as two books hovered in front of my face, both grasped in purple auras. Both were titled in English, though one of them also had wing-wings on the cover. I read them both out loud as my angry face drifted into confusion once more.

"At Her Side, the biography of Twilight Sparkle; Book Three in the Elements of Harmony series. The Knights of Bretonnia, a human tale by Ink Well."

"Bruce." Twilight's voice sounded sad. I turned to look at her, my confusion obvious. She had slid down into a sitting position, leaning very close to me. I suddenly felt very nervous near her and made a move to back up but she reached out with a hoof to stop me and pulled me into a hug. "Everything you said was in my biography, written after many interviews with me, my friends and family and even Princess Celestia. The author even used the term 'glue that holds them together' in her book. Our tales are popular and well-documented. They tend to be read more by fillies and mares because we 'exemplify the qualities of good mares' and that garbage but it doesn't surprise me that we have colt and stallion fans at all." She magicked (the word really does exist!) the cover open and flipped through pages filled with wing-dings before showing me one of them.

"I can't read this, Twilight." I poked the book with a hoof, nudging it slightly in the air. "I can read the titles but those are in English." She smiled down at me.

"Earth Pony script. Some places still only teach one of the written languages of ponies for some reason. These books exist in all three writing styles." Explains the wing-ding street signs, I suppose. Though it'd make more sense for those to be in 'Earth Pony' script since Ponyville was an Earth Pony town. I didn't have a chance to ask before the other book opened to a picture. It ... it ...

"That's not human." I ignored Twilight's blink of confusion as I leaned forward in her grip. It was almost human. The face was more pronounced - almost muzzle like - but it was the ears and hands that really caught my eye. The ears were pointed and the interior was flat. Like a pony ear stuck on the side of a human-like head. But the hands. They only had four fingers. "That's like a Tolkienian elf almost."

"Elf?" From all their assumptions about humans, they sure didn't seem to know a lot about us.

"Yeah, elf." I motioned with a hoof at one of my own ears, tracing the shape very roughly without taking my eyes off of the book in front of me. "Pointed ears to the human rounded ones and lacking a digit on each hand."

"Bruce, this is the first in the Knights series." I looked up at her face, trying to read her emotions. She seemed sad even though she was smiling. "It follows a group of human knights as they fight against the aggressors from the East. It's ... a really well made series." That last phrase was said through slightly clenched teeth, as if it was almost painful to say. Twilight didn't have a huge amount of respect for the writer, I guessed.

"What is he riding?" I pointed at one of the bearded fellows perched on the back of some kind of lizard thing. I looked vaguely like a Jurassic-park style velociraptor which was way too big anyway. Twilight looked at the book, pursing her lips.

"The humans can't run very fast because of their bipedalism. They've domesticated these unintelligent 'suarians' as, well, mounts. Like how some of the soldiers of the past would allow baby dragons or others ride with them into battle. That's why saddles are seen as clothing today, an outgrowth of some of the militarism of the past." That explains why saddles exist, I suppose.

"Twilight, this isn't a human. We have rounded ears with ridges inside to help direct sound waves. We have five fingers on each hand - not four - and we ride unintelligent ... uhm, horses. But our technology has gone beyond the need for living mounts." I twisted in her arms and looked at her. I could see in her eyes she didn't believe me even though she was still smiling. She squeezed me in place of words and I could feel my heart sinking at it. "Twilight, please. I really am a human."

"Oh Bruce. I know you're confused about everything. I know it's scary. But you're safe now. You don't need to hide anymore in books and stories. You can live your life now." I sat there, being hugged by Twilight for a few minutes as my attempt at a plan fell to pieces in front of my eyes. I could only think of one thing to say.


I could tell the word was unexpected by the way Twilight tensed up. Kinda ruined the moment I guess.


"What do we say?"

"Ugh, that tastes like how lavender smells." I gagged at the flavor as my hooves kicked uselessly against the air. After my unfortunately chosen word, I had been hauled up by magic (very not possible to fight that, I tried) into the private quarters of Twilight and Spike. While downstairs was neatly organized and nigh spotless, their room was a catastrophe of books and papers piled every which way. I didn't have very much time to look around until I was yanked into a bathroom and subjected to my favorite punishment: soap.

"Bruce, what do we say?" Twilight, still in her half-done and now slightly messed up going out clothes, was hovering a bar of hoof soap near my head as she directed my thrashing form over the sink. It was a pretty well-kept bathroom. Sink, squat toilet, tub ... all the amenities I'd come to expect from a pony bathroom. Nice mirror too, though the counter was jammed full of arcane bottles of lotions and perfumes. I couldn't wrap my head around it, to be honest. I thought it was a gender-inversion but it was obvious all these bottles and such were Twilight's. A gentle shake from the magic surrounding me brought me out of my critique of her toiletry articles.

"Least I don't have to brush my teeth now, right? Ah, no wait! NOARGHLGHLGHLGHLGHL pttttew, ugh." At least I wasn't swallowing half of what I had in the hospital. I had learned! Though it was a skill I probably shouldn't have had to learn.

"Bruce ..." Twilight hissed through clenched teeth at me. I rolled my eyes in response, prompting her to try a third time. A quick wave of my hooves stopped the advancing soapy terror.

"Sorry, geez." Surprisingly, that seemed to mollify her and I was lowered - gently, this time - to the floor. A glass of water soon followed, for which I was really quiet grateful.

"Yes, well, let's make sure there are no more little linguistic oopsies, alright?" 'Linguistic oopsie?' I was doubly glad for the water as it cut off any snark that might have driven the mare over the edge. I nodded instead, still chugging. Lavender might be a nice smell but it was definitely not a nice taste. After my glass of liquid relief, Twilight sat back and eyed me critically. Our little heart-felt moment was put aside so quickly it was almost as if it had never happened. "So, anything else you'd like to ask about or can I go back to getting ready for my date?"

I put hoof to chin in thought. This was a good enough time as any, I suppose. "... yes! Yes there is and, uhm, I'm kinda sorry about it but," I scratched my head, suddenly a bit nervous about bringing the whole thing up, "how does this whole polygamy thing work anyway?"

"What?" Her face spoke volumes that her words did not even touch. A flush of embarrassment, confusion, a sudden jerk backwards almost as if she was struck. She had not expected that and it was touching on some situations she was uncomfortable with. Probably due to my assumed 'age.'

"Why are y'all polygamist?" I looked at her, completely serious, and tilted my head. I was not crying or cringing at the whole 'soap' thing, I was not angry any more at her disbelief. I thought I was being calm and collected considering the crisis that had coalesced. Alliteration!

"Uh, well, there'd be a lot of unhappy mares if we were all monogamists." Twilight chuckled nervously as her eyes began to dart around as if searching for an exit. Which was kinda silly, seeing as how there were only two of them: window situated well out of my reach and the door she was currently blocking. But really, that wasn't the interesting part of the whole situation.

"Huh?" Well said, me!

"Th-the birth rates." I pursed my lips and shook my head. Thankfully, she got the hint and offered more information, though in a tone that showed her confusion. "Three mares born for every stallion?"

"... mein gott in himmel!" Twilight blinked at my shout. Or at the German. Maybe she knew it as Germane? I sure as heck didn't know a lick of it save that one phrase. I looked at her with a fake smile of understanding that morphed into a frown of confusion as I spoke. "That explains a freakin' ton wait no I'm wrong. That explains absolutely nothing. How does that work?"

"Ugh, Bruce, I know you've got a lot of questions but I'm running out of time." Oh, right, her date. Yeah, probably ought to get out of her hair I guess. She turned and walked into her living area with me tagging along behind her. As I was about to disengage myself from her, she glanced at a wall-mounted clock ... showing eight numbers instead of twelve. Hmm, time keeping is different it seems. From the looks of things, it was about 3 PM or so - though the sock hanging off the clock was covering up a few of the numbers. "By Celestia's mane! Shouldn't you be heading back home?"

"Uhhhh." The mention of 'home' hit my stomach like a piece of ice. In all the excitement, I kinda sort of forgot how I ran out on Mr. Cake and the twins. Oh gods, there was going to be hell to pay for that one. Twilight must have seen my expression out of the corner of her eye. She stopped and closed her own, taking a very deep breath before speaking.



"The Cakes know you're here, right?"

"Uhhhh." Good job, brain.

"BRUCE!" She turned on me, anger and shock written all over her face. I backed up, bumping into a stack of books that was more solid than I had given it credit for. My life flashed before my eyes ... and a lot of it I really regretted.

"It's not my fault, er, somehow!" Before Twilight could shout back, a figure popped out from around the stairwell's corner.

"I'll take care of it, Twi. You get ready for your date." Spike, you life saver! The lanky dragon seemed relaxed and calm - compared to my panic and Twilight's kinda justified anger anyway. Luckily, it also distracted her and she whipped her head around to regard her assistant.

"Spike! How long have you been sitting there?"

"Long enough." The dragon shrugged. Lucky bastard, keeping his limbs! Er, having limbs. Something. I tried to turn my slight fear - ok, 'moderate amount of fear' - onto him but squashed the emotion. He was saving my literal bacon here and I was not going to end that with letting my mouth get the better of me. "Look, I'll take little Brucy-wucy home and you get ready."

"Spike ..." Twilight said, her tone one of warning. I was still a bit scared nervous about the massive powerhouse that was Twilight but Spike just rolled his eyes. He must have been used to her moods.

"I can take care of this, Twi. Just get ready. You're already late and you're not even halfway done with your checklist."

"Really? She makes a checklist for this?" There we go again, mouth. Opening up just enough to get me in trouble. My vocalization brought Twilight's attention back to me and without moving her head, she lowered her voice into the 'whooping' tone.

"Bruce." Spike's laugh cut through the tension, drawing a growl out of his sister/mother. I wonder how their relationship really was, how it all fit together.

"Yeah, I know right? Look, Twi. I got this. Come on Bruce, let's get you home." He waved he over and, with a sidelong glance at Twilight, I zipped around her to the relative safety of the pony-eating dragon. Not literally, of course, I don't think Spike would ever even consider eating a pony. But he could. Twilight fumed for a second before huffing in annoyance.

"... fine. Be careful."

"Sure will Twi. See ya soon!" With a wave, Spike nudged me out of the room and down the stairs to the library proper. I shook my head, glad to be out of her hair. It seems about ten minutes is the most anypony can take of me before I end up getting on their nerves enough to get soap in my throat.

"So, uhm, instead of Sugarcube Corner, uhm ... could we swing by the park? I, uhm, kinda got lost from there and maybe Mr. Cake is still looking for me." My tone was perhaps just a little too hopeful as Spike eyed me while we walked out the door.

"... really?"

"I'm being honest!"

"... sure." With a shrug, Spike and I headed to the park and, with any luck, toward where Mr. Cake was still distracted enough not to have noticed my absence. Yeah, no, let's be honest, I was in deep hot water but I was not running away now. We walked a few moments in silence.

"So," Spike broke the silence, "you really think you're a human, huh?"

"Nope, I know I'm a human." Sarcasm, my old friend. Come to screw with me again. I cringed at the comment as soon as it left my mouth but Spike just nodded.

"I like the series. It's pretty good, despite what Twilight says. She doesn't like the 'fake science' behind it. Always going on about the anatomy and how it's impossible and crap." He snorted and waved a hand behind him. "It's fiction, man, it doesn't have to be accurate to life. Just accurate to itself."

"I haven't read any of it. I can tell you right now that some of that anatomy is wrong." Spike looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

"You seem pretty cool and all. Not like these other pony colts, always going on about garbage no one cares about. Only ones I can partially stand are Snips and Snails but even they get all, ugh, 'colty' sometimes. I much prefer fillies for friends." I nodded. That kinda makes some sense. Dragons seem more 'human' than ponies so it stands to reason Spike was feeling a bit out of place among the colts. I couldn't say for sure why but the way he acts, it's more like a real brother to Twilight than a girly-man. Then again, my whole 'gender inversion' thing went out the window in her bathroom anyway so I couldn't even tell you what was true and what wasn't. Spike cleared his throat and glanced about before taking us down one of the many eerily similar streets.

"Look, I'm not saying I believe you but some of what you said back there I know for a fact wasn't in that biography Twilight shoved in front of your nose." My ears perked up at this. Is someone finally starting to trust me? To believe me? "It's possible you're some kinda crazy fan that managed to find some stuff out or something and it's really hard to take you seriously about the whole human things but ... you're definitely not striking me as an average colt."

"Spike, I could kiss you but that'd be weird and I'm not into dudes." He grimaced and backed away slightly, though he did chuckle.

"Thank Celestia for that. Look, I can't just send a letter out of the blue to the Princess even if it's something really freaky. I'm probably going to catch Tartaurus for taking you to the park instead of home but ... for what it's worth, I think I'm on your side here." He looked over and smiled. For the first time since meeting him, I didn't feel like running away from his teeth. I smiled back and nodded as we walked to the park in silence.

"Bruce!" With a shout, Mr. Cake galloped over and swept me into a bone crushing hug. The small gathering of ponies that he had broken off of trotted over a second later, murmuring to each other. I could see the twins among them, though they were lost by the larger adult bodies quickly. "Where did you go? What were you thinking? Spike?"

"Hiya Mr. Cake." Spike waved at the Earth pony, smirking as I thrashed my limbs and turned even bluer. Thanks dude, thought you were pretty cool too. Until now. I squeaked as Mr. Cake set me back down, gasping for air. "Bruce wandered into the library and Twilight didn't see proper postage so we had to send him back."

"The library? Bruce, I told you to keep within sight distance of me!" He stood back, his face set in a deep frown and tear streaks staining his face. "You are in so much trouble." For a moment - just a short moment - I wanted to tell him off. Then I thought about how he was putting himself out for me, how much worry I probably put him through.

"Yeah, I deserve it," I said, my head hung low. "I wandered a bit off and got lost. I, uhm, couldn't read the street signs and got turned around." Mr. Cake shook his head.

"You should have stayed in the park, Bruce." He sounded hurt. He trusted me and I threw it back in his face. I am a rotten person, much less a pony. The crowd around us seemed fixated on me and I wilted under the stares, most of them disapproving.

"I know Mr. Cake. I don't want you or the twins to have to stop having a good day out ... though it's probably too late for that. Uhm, if you're not ready to go I'll stay right next to you the entire time. Uhm, if that's ok with you." I was not channeling Fluttershy intentionally this time. I felt bad about having ditched him and his children for what amounted to a little tantrum. Heck, a public spanking was what this situation called for in my opinion. I managed to straighten myself a bit and looked my foster father straight in his eye. "Any punishment you deem necessary I probably deserve."

The crowd of ponies looked between me and Mr. Cake, their murmuring growing less disapproving and more curious as I spoke. Eh, they were not my concern. Mr. Cake looked down at me, a frown still on his face but with softer eyes.

"We'll figure that out later. It's not quite time for dinner though you missed lunch time." His stomach rumbled loudly and he winced. "As did I. Pokey?" At his voice, one of the stallions wiggled forward. He was a blue unicorn and ... aw heck, I recognized him. He was that balloon popping guy from that Cutie Mark episode. No pony seemed to see my recognition thankfully.

"Can you watch the twins for a bit?" The stallion nodded with a smile. "Thank you. And thank you everypony for helping me look for Bruce here. Turns out he wasn't even in the park."

"I'm sorry everyon-pony." I raised my voice above the crowd, turning to regard everypony I could. "I really am, for making everypony worried and ruining a bright sunny day. Thank you for looking for me, I'll try not to get lost anymore."

Mr. Cake smiled and rubbed my head, mussing my hair. "I was going to tell you to do that, sport. Glad to see you take the initiative. Come on, let's go grab a little bite and talk about ... things."

With one last apologetic smile at the slowly dispersing group of ponies and dragon, I trotted out after Mr. Cake. I was in trouble, sure, but it wasn't anything to panic about.

21 - Frilly Socks Part 3: Son of Frill

View Online

We managed to make it to one of the nearby cafes in good time, though I was panting a bit. Mr. Cake is huge! Or at least, his legs are and even with him trying to walk slowly, I was still scampering after him like a puppy grown too large for my feet. We were seated in good order and a large sheet of paper was placed under my nose by one of the most stereotypical snooty waiters I've ever seen. How does a pony even grow a mustache anyway? Biological conundrums aside, there was a more pressing matter to deal with.

"Uh, I can't read this." I poked at the paper ... menu, I guess, with one hoof, trying to hold it up with the other as Mr. Cake slowly tore his eyes from his own menu. We had been seated outside and - except for the colorful ponies wandering about - it would have been a picturesque moment from any small European town. The mid-to-late afternoon light was still bright and I had to squint a bit due to the glare from all the white walls around us. I wished I had some sunglasses. The cafe was full but not overtly crowded and in deference to his other customers, the waiter had placed the 'potentially screaming foal' outside. I didn't know if I should be offended or surprised. Probably both.

"What's that Bruce?" Mr. Cake's question popped my mind back into reality. I didn't want to go, there was a whole lot of pain there. But, well, whatcha a gonna do?

"I can't read wing-ding." I poked the sheet of paper once more, holding it out even further.

"Uh, never heard Unicornian called wing-ding before." He chuckled before scratching his head idly in thought. "Can you read Earth Pony?"

"I call it English, but supposedly yes." I still have no idea how the 'three written, one spoken' thing came about. One writing system not good enough for you, huh? Well fine than. I didn't want to read your stupid books anyway.

"Eng-lish, huh?" He tilted his head, one eyebrow cocked. I nodded in response, trying to keep my smart-ass comments to myself. It was difficult but doable. "Well, this place is a bit fancy so I doubt they'd have Earth Pony exclusive menus. Here, what's your favorite dish?"

"Uh ..." My eyes shot open and I tried to think of a decent vegan dish. Except that was a contradiction in terms as there is no such thing as a decent vegan dish. Mr. Cake noticed my shifting eyes and facehooved.

"Ah, right ... that. Favorite pony dish I mean."

"Uh ..." Still drawing a blank here, brain! Something, anything that would taste decent! As I tried to claw through my memories for the Great and Unknown 'Edible Vegan' dish, My. Cake's face kinda collapsed into a frown.

"... you've never had pony food before?" Nope, hay isn't the biggest hit with those that can't eat it and all. I wanted to say that but I was still trying the whole 'not to be a dick' thing I had going on.

"Well, I've had salad before but, uh, not without ... extras, really." Bacon-bits is the only real food on a salad. Hey, I'm a human not a rabbit, I don't do green things.

"... oh my, well. Hmmm. Let's get you something I think you'll like then."

"Alright." I shrugged. So long as it was edible, I suppose. He motioned for the waiter and - after trying to get his attention a few more times - successfully got a disdaining look. And not much else. "I guess 'fancy' can mean 'aggressively looking to lose all customers' in some dictionary." That got his attention and the stallion - with his nose so far in the air he looked like he was trying to stick it up the sun's butt - sauntered over.

"Very droll, young sir." I try you stuffy little -

"Yes, well. Two dandelion sandwiches with hay fries and a couple hayshakes." Why would you ruin a milkshake with hay?! No, no. Bruce, give it a chance. They had it at the hospital but you were too busy throwing a temper tantrum to give it a try. Here's your chance. It might be decent. It might ... taste like a lawn but who knows? With a tilt of his head, the waiter kind of pranced out of ear-shot and hopefully out of my life.

"So, Bruce, we need to talk." Mr. Cake put on his 'serious face' and leaned towards me slightly. Private conversation in a public restaurant and with all the little signals of 'hey don't listen in' conveniently being broadcast to anypony that wanted to listen in. Golf-clap, Mr. Cake. Golf-clap.

"I thought that's what we were doing." I couldn't help but get a bit smarmy.

"Bruce, I'm serious." I blinked at him. We've had this conversation before and it didn't turn out well then either. "Ergh, Bruce, you can't go running off every time you want to." Oh, this conversation! For a minute there, I thought I was in trouble!

"... yeah. Yeah, I'm sorry. I know I ruined the day because of that and -" I rubbed my head sheepishly but was cut off before my guilt-induced brain could natter on too much.

"Bruce, you didn't 'ruin the day' but you did make it more ... hectic. We need to set some ground rules in what is appropriate and what isn't." Mr. Cake ... has jazz-hands. Hooves. By that I mean he likes to talk with his hooves a lot - so long as he was off of them of course. All through this conversation, imagine speaking with someone waving their hands all over the place. The funniest thing was his hooves would kinda twitch while you were talking as if he wanted to help you out.

"... alright." They were mesmerizing. I felt like I was drifting into a nice, pleasant sle-

"Ok, so, when an adult you trust tells you to do something, you do it." That woke me up. And shot ice down my spine. Aside from the whole 'independent thought' that statement tried to murder was the horrifying idea that, as the equivalent to a nine year old little girl on human-Earth, I was now very much the target of basement dweller fantasies and creepy pedos.

"That's a horrible idea." MOUTH SHU-wait, yes. Yes, that was a valid statement to make mouth. Gold star.

"What?" Mr. Cake blinked at me in stunned confusion. Better than regular confusion, I guess.

"Firstly, I don't really trust any of you ponies. Let's be honest here." I smiled and waved a hoof to indicate the entire world. "You guys are nice and all but I'm not really feeling the whole 'in my best interest' thing here." Mr. Cake shook his head and frowned.

"Bruce, Cup and I are your foster parents for the time being. We're responsible for you and if you get hurt or lost, we get in trouble." I rolled my eyes at his blatantly obviously statement. I've been in foster care, buddy, I know how the whole 'blame game' thing works. Er, on human-Earth anyway.

"Well, okay, I get that. But I'm contrary by nature. I can maybe see things like curfew, places I have to go and things like that. I can even understand language censorship and not talking about certain things -" Mr. Cake cut in, again. Had that habit, cutting in during a conversation. With kids at least. Another thing that sucked about being a tiny pony in a land of small ponies.

"Bruce, you can talk to us about anything." That's a lie. Let's prove that fact.

"... have I ever told you how to dress a kill?"

"... what?" From his wide-eyed stare and shocked expression, I don't think he expected that. I glanced around at the other tables and saw at least two eavesdroppers. I smiled wickedly and rose my voice a bit to give them an ear-full.

"It's a lot like surgery or dissection." I used my hooves to trace a line down my torso and up my forehooves, giving a mental image to go along with the mental scarring. "A vertical slice along the abdomen with radiating cuts toward the limbs, usually segregating the limb-flesh itself either for later harvesting or refuse because, let's face it, not a whole lotta meat there. Then, you use the flat of a kni-" By this point in time, Mr. Cake was vaguely grey in the face and seemed to have been put off his late lunch. He held his hooves up to ward off any further conversation.

"ERUGH! Please, Bruce! That's disgusting!" I noted with some satisfaction that he wasn't the only grey-ish face in the area and there were a few more than just two others. Teach them to listen in on a conversation. Can't a girly-man and a guy trapped in the body of a child have a conversation without people listening in?

"...certain things." I cleared my throat and tilted my head in thought. "Hmmm, I bet a dandelion sandwich would be great with some bacon."

"... Bruce, that's enough." Now he was green. Ok, time to let up.

"Just sayin'!" We sat in silence for a while. I wondered if the waiter had to go hoof craft the plates cause it was taking a long time for them to come out with the noms. Eventually, Mr. Cake had settled his stomach enough to continue the conversation. I think we were being pointedly ignored by the gossips by this point.

"Erugh, Bruce. This. This is not a normal thing colts know. Tartaurus, it's not a normal thing for anypony to know." He shook his head in disbelief.

"But I do know it. There's lots I know that could be, uhm, hard to stomach. Like botulism!" Wow, I was getting way too happy talking about sickness and death to an innocent pony. Maybe it was just me being contrary but the looks of horror were just too good to pass up.

"Bruce, please ... I'm hungry but I don't think I could eat." Poor guy. Put it on a bit hard but, uh, I have no excuse. I am a bad person and I should feel bad. Luckily, Snooty McWaiterson trotted up with a tray balanced on his back just in time.

"Excuse me, sirs. Your lunch."

Lunch was eaten mostly in silence. Sure, there were the occasional 'how is it's and 'it tastes like flowers's and such but overall, it was a nice little lunch. Seriously, why do ponies eat flowers? They taste like how you'd imagine them to taste. Flowers. I guess some ponies like bitter or something but not me. Hay was a bit different, more like a bread-y kind of flavor. In a milkshake, though, it was a bit weird. Still, I've had worse. Crickets taste like nothing much but when something wiggles on the way down, I tend to stop eating.

After I finished (and Mr. Cake had picked at his plate for a bit, trying to settle his stomach), I belched loudly enough that a few tables actually looked my way. Eavesdroppers all of them. I gave them an evil grin and that got us our privacy back right quick.

"Ok, so ... what, do we go back and forth like this for a while and hash out what the ground rules are or what?"

"No." Oh right, me being a kid equals 'I don't know what's good for me.' Of course. "The ground rules are: do as we say, come in by dark and ... well, try to be normal." That last one was going to be the 'catch-all' for anything they didn't like.

"Normal is boring and stupid," I grumbled, crossing my hooves and looking away. "I - is that Twilight?" It was! Twilight - in a fancy dress with really nice make-up - trotting in, oblivious to my presence. The dress was slit up both hind legs and cascaded around her ... flanks as she moved. It was a really nice magenta color, a blend of her two hair colors I'd guess. Is that magenta? Anyway, she had socks (why?) and those little booty things on her hooves that glittered. All I could say was any female wearing that dress would be arrested for indecent exposure because it did not cover up a damn thing! The price of having a tail, I guess.

"Huh?" Mr. Cake is a treasure of witty conversation. That I promptly ignored.

"Hey, it is!" My face lit up with joy. Another pony to annoy, how marvelous! Not really, I was just excited to see somepony I knew and in a more relaxed situation. After glancing around a bit, Twilight settled into one of the smaller tables. My face fell. "She's alone. I wonder if she's ..."

"Bruce, what are you going on about?" Mr Cake looked over where I was staring. "The librarian?"

"Why outside?" I knew ponies did that whole weather-control thing and all but wouldn't a date be more romantic inside with candles and wine and crap? As I watched, a cyan blur from the sky caught my eye and I followed it as it landed next to Twilight. "Hey, there's Rainbow Dash. Wait, she's not ..."

Oh. My. God. Twi's a lesbian?! That's classic. Rainbow Dash was obviously set up for a date herself. She was wearing clothes but very few. I'm guessing the more clothes you wear, the more 'sexy' you are here. Or something. She was only wearing some form of sleek saddle and a hairband, both in rainbow colors themselves. Kinda hard to get away from them when your mane is prismatic. I couldn't hear from where we were sitting but Twilight was obviously making small talk with her presumed filly-friend. Or maybe I was leaping to conclusions.

"Bruce?" Again, Mr. Cake trying to get me to pay attention to something boring like 'limits' and 'rules' when something far more interesting was going on. He started to sound a bit irritated but that's his problem.

"Aww man, that's ..." Suddenly, some white unicorn with a blue mane came trotting over to their table and oh man, if I thought frilly socks were bad. This guy. This guy had on this fluffed up lacy neck-piece that ... reminded me of a plow harness but softer. Ok, that makes a lot of sense, actually. If the stallions stayed at home and did field work, of course the 'sexy' stuff would be things that harkened back to those days. I guess. Still, I was surprised he could see around those billowing waves of lace and, er, were those feathers? "And a stallion? Well that's interesting."

"Bruce!" Mr. Cake knocked the table as he shouted, almost spilling my half-finished hayshake. I jumped in response, turning quickly and darting my wide eyes around.


"Leave Ms. Sparkle and her friends alone, we are having a conversation."

"Yeah, but that's normal and boring." I waved my hooves at him dismissively before turning back to the more exciting action across the patio. "This is something interesting."

"Bruce, this is important!" Again, Mr. Cake resorted to raising his voice. Not a true shout but loud enough I think even Twilight glanced around at the noise. Seeing as how this was a fancy place - and getting tossed out on my rump was not something I was too keen on experiencing (again) - I turned away from the curious spectacle of a three-some date thing and back to the quietly fuming Mr. Cake.

"Ok, ok. Sorry, I was just curious." The glare I received told me how close I was to really ticking the baker off and I smiled apologetically. "So we've set some ground rules - barring that whole 'be normal' thing I don't understand."

"Yes, well, now we talk punishments."

"Wha-oh. OH. Ohh ..." Great, and he's mad at me. Good job.

"So, since this is the second time you wandered off - after you were told not to that is - what would you suggest your punishment be?" Mr. Cake leaned back in his chair, giving me an appraising look. Is it common to ask a kid what they want for punishment? Or is this some type of 'let's see what he suggests' kind of thing?

"Well, I'd suggest a quick paddling but I don't think that's on the table." He shook his head, frowning. Not the answer he suspected I wager. "Well, let's say ... grounding, time indeterminate. Any action requiring me to be away from Sugarcube Corner itself requires an adult supervisory presence until such time as trust is regained. That sound about right?" His jaw dropped.

"Uhh, wuh - well, I was thinking no dessert for tonight," he stuttered, his eyebrows leaping at one another as if they were suddenly very angry. Or scared. I shrugged at his words, picking up the untouched glass from his side of the table.

"Well, let's go with that then." I sipped the hayshake nonchalantly. "Mmm, needs more sugar."

After our late lunch - with me trying to watch Twilight and her dates out of the corner of my eye - Mr. Cake and I headed back to the park. It was ... nice, I suppose. Quiet. Peaceful. But there was an itch in the back of my head. Er, metaphorically. Here I was, prancing around and just about being pampered, when for all I knew my wife was going frantic trying to find out what happened to me. And I was no closer to getting home than I was when I woke up in that hospital bed yesterday. Sure, Spike had my back a bit but he wasn't about to stomp on Twilight's wishes to send a letter that ... probably would just get him in trouble, to be honest. I needed something more convincing. I needed -

Child in the face.

"GAHH!" I leapt backwards, thrashing about, as Pumpkin jerked backwards herself. Mr. Cake and I had made it to the park while I was musing over my predicament and I guess the kids didn't like my silence. I sat there, wide eyed and panting, as the twins looked at each other with concern. Mr. Cake had walked off a bit to converse with that unicorn fellow, Popeye or something. Leaving me alone with the two kids. Grrrreat. "Child, I swear, you're going to give me a heart attack."

"You're quiet," Pound said, his saddle now covered in mud. I'm probably going to get blamed for that one, somehow. "Whatcha thinkin' 'bout?"

"Things and stuff." I smiled and nodded. Please no more questions, please no more questions, plea-

"Uhh. What kinda things," Pumpkin asked. Yeah, love you too universe.

"Stuff-like things." The twins shared another look, this time one of those 'really' types of looks kids share when an adult says something that is really stupid. I know it well, having been on the receiving end enough times to know it by heart. Eh, not too concerned about what two kids thought about me.

"... you're weird." In stereo!

"Yes, yes I am." We resorted to silence after that, a nervous awkward silence that can only be properly replicated when an adult is stuck with two children he doesn't know and has no relation to. Or when someone passes gas in an elevator and tries to blame it on a baby without success. I think most of my childhood was spent in that silence. And some more distressing parts of my adulthood. I was fine, in other words. The twins, on the other hoof, seemed to be having a tough time of it. I turned away and tried to tune out their whispered conversation. It did not work.

"You talk to him." Pumpkin.

"No, you." Pound.

"Momma says we have to be nice to him because bad things happened a long time ago." Pump- what? Where did that come from? I fought the urge to turn around and ask because getting in the middle of what was happening was not high on my list of things to do. Right under 'hot poker to the eyeball' actually.

"We, that means you too." Pound.

"You're a colt, you do it." Pumpkin. I was silently pleading with Mr. Cake to hurry up whatever gossip he was busy with so we could get the heck out of here. The sound of two stallions laughing at some joke or other assured me I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"So? He acts more like a filly anyway, you do it." Pound. Yeah, I'm a filly-colt thing now. Just leave it alone, kids.

"No, you do it!" Pumpkin. By this time, my eye was twitching in time with the grinding of my teeth. It was not going to end, was it?

"Guys." I sighed and turned to regard the two ... when did it become physical? Why was Pumpkin pulling on Pound's ear with her mouth? Why was Pound on his back with his hind hooves in his sister's abdomen? I shook my head. Some questions are best left unanswered. "Seriously. I appreciate the effort, I really do. But I'm not exactly the nicest of ponies, so just ignore me like you would any silly adult and I think that'll be just fabulous, hmm?" They looked at each other (as best they could, one being on top of the other) and then back to me.

"Why do you try to act all adult-like anyway?" Pumpkin asked, Pound's ear falling out of her mouth. He twisted a bit under her, settling into a sitting position as she stepped to the side and sat next to her brother. Cirque du Soleil could use these two in their act. Yes, I was jealous at how well they could move. I was still feeling stiff-legged.

"I am an adult. A very small one and kinda confused. But I am an adult." I stood as straight as I could and tried to give off an air of authority or competence. It didn't work but I tried.

"You look like a colt to me." Pumpkin said, her brother nodding along with her. I huffed and collapsed a bit. Man, trying to stand 'straight' with that curve in your neck was harder than it looked.

"Yeah, I've had this conversation with Ms. Meadows before. And your father. It all ends in tears, kids." I glanced towards where Mr. Cake and Pocky were now sitting and talking. Mr. Cake noticed my glance and waved with a smile on his face. That jerk. I tried to covertly shake my head but he had turned back to his conversation. This was going to be a common thing, wasn't it?

"We're not kids, we're foals!" Pound's exclamation brought my head back to him and his sister.

"Ehh, yeah ... nevermind. Foals." I face hooved, sighing.

"Soo, what do you like to do?" Pound tilted his head at me, his scuffed and dirty saddle sitting at an odd angle on his back. I can see why Mr. Cake was so adamant about getting him to not wear his 'school' frills. However, his question caught me off guard in its simplicity.

"What?" Just so. I tilted my head opposite his because I'm like that.

"Well, we're gonna be living together for a little bit ... so what do you like to do?" Pound reiterated, his sister nodding enthusiastically. With such a simple and innocent question, what could I do?

"... video games, mostly." I answered, of course. No sense in keeping things a secret. "I write a bit, though not too much to be properly skilled at it. Uhm, that's about it."

"That's boring." Thank you Pumpkin. I find it very intellectually stimulating but, hey, I'm not three. Or six. Or however old you are. "Don't you go out and play games or to the park or something like that?"

"Eh, not really that much on physical activities. I'm kinda a boring guy." The sun was creeping ever-so-slowly towards the horizon but it had not yet hit 'real dusk.' It was barely getting orange. I looked around the park, seeking an escape from the Two Terrors. Nothing leapt to mind. Aside from the two stallions having a gossip-fest and a few trees, the park was just a series of rolling grassy hills in the middle of the town. I had seen a play-area the first time we were here but it was not in sight any longer.

"Wanna play a game?" Pound's voice interrupted my survey. I turned, startled, and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Well, second thing that came to mind. 'Live or die, make your choice' was not something I wanted to repeat to any kid.

"Livuhh - I mean, depends on the game?" I tried to cover up my little verbal hiccough with a smile. An awkward smile. I think the two were getting used to me a bit because all I got was a pair of rolled eyes.

"How about tag?"

One sweaty hour later, I collapsed next to the still talking Mr. Cake with my sides heaving and my tongue lolling out of my mouth. He turned to me in surprised as I panted, stopping his conversation with Pop-goes-the-weasel or whoever. I hadn't even caught a few words of it but from the blush on the other stallion, I figured it was not really something for young ears to hear.

"Oh my, Bruce. Are you ok?" Mr. Cake rubbed my back, his face a concerned frown. I gasped, trying to choke out words past my parched throat.

"Never. Again. Those. Two. Are. Monsters." Ponies sweat but panting really does help. I tried to stop but my body wouldn't let me.

"Monst-you mean the twins?" I wasn't looking at his face, my own being buried in my hooves, but I heard both worry and a hint of warning in his tone. Mommy-dad doesn't like his kids being insulted. Not that it was that much an insu-crap, I could have just suggested they were rapists for all I knew. Pony slang could be vastly different than human slang, despite our general language being so similar. Something to watch out for in the future. Or maybe to play with.

"They double teamed me." I felt rather than heard a double foursome of limbs trotting up behind me and suppressed a shudder. They've come back to finish the job! My stomach flipped a bit as my lunch tried to find a more comfortable position. I kept it all down but just barely. Remember kids: wait thirty minutes after eating before any strenuous activity.

"Oh my. What happened?"

"Hi Dad!" Pound plopped himself down nearby. I kept my face buried, hoping that old adage 'if I can't see you ...' thing would work. Spoiler: It didn't. I could feel the Beast sitting near me, basking in the glory of his downed prey. "I think Bruce is done playing tag. He's really fast but not as fast as me or Pumpkin."

"Unfair little sh-" I cut that off as I mumbled it, realizing the conversation had stopped. I peeked out from under my hooves. Yup, everypony was looking at me. "Er, yeah. I'm done." Mr. Cake looked over at the clock tower, just barely peeking above the branches of the trees. I tried counting the minute notches but they were too distant.

"Well, we've still got some time." He continued staring at the clock face for a second - I think - before turning back to us. "Why don't you guys do something less strenuous?" I shook my head energetically. No way was I going back out there with those two if I could help it.

"Nope, I'm good!" Way-too-energetically, evidently, as Mr. Cake frowned at me. No, it's not your demon-spawn that's making me afraid of going out there and pretending to be a kid, why would you think that? I faked a yawn poorly and settled in where I was laying. I was a bit too close to Mr. Cake but if I moved they'd shoo me out to face the horror again. "I think I'm going to just sit here and pass out, if that's alright with you."

"... Pokey," THAT'S HIS NAME, "do you mind if ..." Mr. Cake motioned towards me with his head as Pokey grinned.

"No, no. I understand the little ones need attention. I can finish that story later."

"Oh, don't let me stop you. I could probably top it." Great job faking tired, self. You should be an actor.

"Eh, wh-" That caught the unicorn off-guard and he blinked at me confused. I could guess what they were talking about. Come on, I really could top it. That thing about a sheep? Yeah, well, I still owe someone a kick in the rump for managing to sneak that thing into my bedroom. Waking up to that was not fun for me or the wife.

"Ah haha!" Mr. Cake grinned a bit too wide at his friend. "Bruce here is that special colt I was telling you about."

"Oh. OH. Oh." Confusion, to understanding, to ... pity? Concern? What are these ponies thinking about me and how can I make them stop? Pokey looked at me like you'd look at a kicked puppy. Thanks dude, really feeling like an adult now.

"Yeah, I'm special alright." I rolled my eyes at that, ignoring the mounting concern-slash-confusion in Pokey's face. I waved at them offhoofedly. "You two love-birds gossip to your heart's content, I'm fine just laying here hoping that my asthma died when I got stuck in this body." Mr. Cake gave a nervous laugh.

"Eh hehehe. Yes, well ... Pokey! How's your herd treating you these days?" My ears perked up immediately. A chance to get some first-pony accounts of herd dynamics! The nerd inside me was squealing in joy.

"Well, can't complain too much. Berry and Cloud are still getting used to 'not being the alpha.'" Pokey snorted, his tail flicking in annoyance. "Mares and their social standing garbage." Mr. Cake nodded, his face sympathetic. "Still, with Blossom now involved, I think we've got a pretty good team. I could even quit my job at the nursery if I wanted to - and believe me, the fillies are trying to get me to - but I don't know. Me? A househusband? I've been looking for a herd for so long and been independent so long I don't know what I'd do with myself."

"Mmm, do you want to quit?" Mr. Cake's question seemed to throw the blue unicorn for a loop for a moment. He pursed his lips and considered it before answering. Distantly, I heard the shouts from the twins. Mr. Cake glanced about for a moment, his body suddenly tensed, but relaxed as he caught sight of them on the playground. Watching out for his kids, I'll give him that. Kinda felt bad about what I put him through earlier now. Well, more bad.

"Well ... no. No, I like taking care of the little ones. They're such little bundles of joy." Wow, dude. Pokey even did that face-scrunch thing. Even more creepy on a stallion. But at least that kinda gave a good idea about his cutie mark: safety pin for the diapers. Caring for little foals.

"Then don't quit. It's a different world now, Pokey. So mares need to get out of the nine hundreds and into the modern era." Modern? Well, time's different. Years are different. Everything is different. I need a smoke.

"But I hate it when they snipe at each other. If I stayed at home -" Mr. Cake cut him off with a shake of his head, snorting in irritation. Wow. I wonder if they whiny when they - NO! BAD BRAIN, STOP THAT.

"You'd be unhappy." As I fought down some disturbing imagery, Mr. Cake reached out and squeezed his friend's hoof. "A herd is there to make everypony happy. Otherwise, it doesn't work. Those two mares just need to get over themselves and realize why they're in a herd in the first place."

"I suppose." A bit of blessed silence descended on our little threesome of ponies. Those mental images were gone but I could feel my sanity slipping slowly into the Abyss. It was looking at me ... Pokey broke the silence with a smile. "So, you hear about Ms. Belle and her newest ... friend?" I started to hum. This was going to take a while.

After another hour of sitting there listening to the two gossips go back and forth about Ponyville's 'hip' social scene, I learned a good deal. Most mares thought Rarity was a heart-break-mare but no one had ever seen her with a stallion outside of a date, Twilight was sought by a couple stallions because of her connections to the Princess but she knew what they were after, there was this Manehattenite stallion that was the talk of every mare but he was taken (and I noted a hint of jealously in both stallion's tone as they began to pick apart his 'atrocious' attire), this 'new jazz' was all the rage but was not suitable for little colt's ears, and the Mayor's latest stallion stormed out a few nights ago. Oh, and Mrs. Cake was 'doing much better' in some way. I didn't get that and Mr. Cake looked kinda pained when I asked about it. Sore topic, leave it alone.

UnFortunately, it was soon time to pack it in and head on home for a real dinner, family fun time and snuggly beds. That and I had to piss.

"So, Bruce. How'd you like your first day in Ponyville?"

"It was super ... boring." My head dropped at the word boring, being held only a few inches from the ground. Mr. Cake frowned at me, his face pulled into a thoughtful look. Every fiber of my being told me to flee but that would just make headaches for later. All the streets looked the same and - while it was getting late - the magic-time of dusk had yet to arrive. It was that nasty period just before dusk, where the sun is setting and making the shadows all weird but it's still bright out.

"Well, I know what'll make you smile. Tomorrow, Pound and Pumpkin are going to have plenty to do so it'll just be you and me, champ!" Mr. Cake smiled as the twins ran off ahead. I was about to tell them to stay with a grownup when I saw that they were heading for Sugarcube Corner.

"I am a-tingle with excitement." I deadpanned, my eyes on my foster siblings. Mrs. Cake popped her head out of the still open door and waved at us. When her natural foals got close enough, she stepped out and hefted Pound into a gigantic bear hug, ruffling Pumpkin's mane a bit. With him on her back and her daughter prancing about around her hooves, she trotted back into the sugary smelling bakery-cum-home as the sun slowly began to set. It was heartwarming. It was sweet. It was ... erugh, something is wrong with my head because I just hated it.

"Yeah, well, you should be." Sarcasm must be a lost art here. Or Mr. Cake was pointedly ignoring that. I looked up and noticed a gleam in his eyes, a happy gleam. There's that 'flee' instinct kicking in again. "I saw how you were eyeing Pound's school clothes. What say you and I go out tomorrow and go clothes shopping?"

While outwardly I put on the most fake smile in the history of fake smiles (more of a death grimace but I was struggling), inwardly my head was screaming 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!'

Edited by Genjen.

22 - Frilly Socks Part OMGPLZSTOP: The Return of the Revenge of the Bad Joke

View Online

"What do you want for dinner, dearie?" Mrs. Cake, bereft of her colt-y load, was all smiles and warm semi-motherly overtones as we trotted into the kitchen area. A nice, quiet family dinner. I haven't had one of those in years. The front 'store' had been darkened as we trotted through but the warm lights of the kitchen chased away the gloom. It was ... nice. I thought for a minute about Mrs. Cake's question, again trying to find the ever-elusive 'good' vegan dish. Still nothing though.

"I really have little preference. I mean, I'd love some ..." Mr. Cake cut me off, his face a furrowed frown.

"Uh sugar plum? Can we have a word before dinner?" His tone told everypony everything they would need to know. I stopped in the middle of the room, one hoof lifted and my face blanking in fear. The twins, happily trotting along with their mother, also stopped. They shared a look before edging away from the very still Mrs. Cake.

"Uh oh." Succinctly put, brain.

"Bruce?" Mr. Cake gulped and nodded, though she was far enough in front not to have seen it. His silence, however, was all the confirmation she needed. Her voice lowered a bit dangerously. "I see. Alright dearie. I'm coming." Mr. Cake trotted back out to the front area, a bit stiff-legged. "Bruce. You stay here, do you understand? Pound, Pumpkin. Go upstairs to wash up." At her words, the twins almost bolted up the stairs. I gave a very nervous little nod and tried to sink into the floor.

"Yes ma'am, Mrs. Cake." I was not taking any chances with my mouth.

With that, she almost sneered and trotted after her husband. I began to count flower designs on the walls as I wasn't moving. You couldn't pay me to move.


I had gotten only to the first dozen when I heard Mrs. Cake's shout. I think Princess Celestia heard it. I know Pinkie Pie did because I heard a more muffled cry from upstairs. I winced, cringing into the floor.

"Oh boy." Very articulate today, hmm brain?

"Now honeybun, we had a talk -" Mrs. Cake came storming back into the room - her face a reddish shade - with Mr. Cake following behind. Not flat-out purple as I was thinking it would be. At least that was something, right? Her hooves weren't 'clopping' on the wood flooring so much as 'stomping.' 'Tromping' works as well but the 'tromp of impending doom' doesn't sound that good.

"No! No, this is frankly unacceptable!" Mrs. Cake had lowered her voice a bit but it was still stuck in a 'loud' setting. She stopped when she saw me, her face a mix of anger and surprise. I suppose she thought I'd bolt at the shout but I was willing to face my demise like a man. Or maybe it was because I was too scared to move. She was huge!

"Gumdrop, he's really sorry." Mr. Cake galloped past his fuming wife and stood between her and I. I noticed his face was ... scared. He was scared. Oh god, he was scared! I was a bit nervous before, started to get a bit scared when I heard the shout but seeing that on a grown stallion's face, I was no longer scared.

I was utterly terrified.

"I am so sorry, you have no idea!" I buried my head in my hooves, clamping my eyes shut. Pain incoming, preparing life support.

"See, he won't do it again." I couldn't see but I could hear. And feel. The clopping of Mr. Cake's nervous hooves. The heavy breathing of Mrs. Cake. My senses heightened, I could smell the flour of the many spills on the floor. There was a musky odor in the room, something my mind immediately 'knew' was anger. I was really hoping that my mind was over-reacting.

"I won't, I won't even think about it. The very possibility of that thought maybe even perhaps crossing my mind at any time hasn't even begun to think about existing yet." Though my words may have been slightly muffled, I was fairly sure that the pair of ponies heard me as silence fell. Even Mr. Cake's nervous tapping of his hooves ceased. I added a very quiet whisper. "Please don't kill me."

"Bruce, I am very disappointed." Mrs. Cake didn't sound angry anymore. She sounded, well, sad. And hurt. I waited a moment, trying to think of the words to say. The words to make everything better. Words. Words that mean nothing, that can be said without meaning, without effect. Words that were hollow.

I nodded. Words meant nothing.

"... Carrot, dear. I think we need to talk about this ... this whole thing. Bruce, you go wash up for dinner." I removed my hooves from my face and looked up into the hurt faces of the two ponies that had put themselves out for me. That had taken me into their home and tried their best to make me feel welcome. Mrs. Cake was trying to look angry but her eyes told the truth even if her face did not. Mr. Cake just looked hurt.

"Yes ma'am." With the two adults watching me, I bounced up the stairs as best I could.

"Bruce, why do you get in so much trouble?" Pound was wiping his hooves on a hand towel in the now-crowded bathroom. His sister was scrubbing her hooves in the sink, standing on a stool that was a bit too high for my tastes. His face was wet around his muzzle and his hooves were still damp despite the copious amounts of wiping.

"I don't mean to." I rubbed a hoof across my eyes, wiping out some of the tears that threatened to spill. "I guess I just don't think things through."

"You're not very adult-like." Pumpkin shook her hooves off and hopped down from the sink. "Even if you think you are."

"No, no. You're right. I may have the memories of an adult but I sure don't have mind of one." I cautiously clambered up to the sink, leaning over to turn the tap with my mouth. Mmmm, the metallic taste really made me hungry. The water was cold against my hooves.

"Soo, you're like a half-adult colt?" I heard Pumpkin and turned to regard the twins. They were just standing there, hooves dried but on the bare floor. Why even wash? What is the point?

"I guess you could say that." I looked at the sink and the array of tooth brushes, tubes and what looked like bar soap. Bar soap, that makes even less sense. "Uh, can I ask y'all a question? What is expected of 'washing up?' Like, face and hooves?"

"Yup, just your face and hooves. You've never washed up before?"

"Uh, not beyond a bath really. No cause for it." I turned back to my task, idly poking at the bar of soap. Now how to grasp it, that was a mystery.

"P&P, Bruce? Are you almost done?" Mr. Cake's voice came muffled from below. The twins looked at each other before Pumpkin shouted out.

"Coming papa! You'd better hurry up, Bruce. Or you'll have to eat a cold dinner."


Dinner was some type of veggie casserole with cheese. Pretty good, all things considered. Dinner also was a chore and a learning experience. They had forks. Forks and hooves, that was something I had never tried before. But I learned quickly. Ponies seem to have a 'second wrist' I guess because everypony else was grasping things by folding their hooves up onto their ... fetlocks. It took me a couple tries to get it - and some seriously odd looks from everypony else - but I managed it, in the end. The first few stabs of it were poorly aimed, however.

"Bruce, do you need help?" Mr. Cake asked. I grimaced. I really did not want to talk at all. Mrs. Cake was still kind of switching between glaring at me and looking sad.

"No, no. I, uhm, I think I can manage." I shot a smile at him and his wife. The twins were busy snickering at my fumbling attempts at pony-normalcy. Way to build up the old self-esteem there, guys. Mr. Cake nodded at me and turned back to his own meal.

And that was the extent of the conversation. The rest was filled with either the twins chattering on about their 'super fun' day or Mr. Cake and Mrs. Cake talking about orders and other business things. Pretty standard, I suppose. Nothing to see here, move along.

"Well, Bruce." Mrs. Cake piped up as we finished. Mr. Cake had gathered most of the dishes, waving off my attempts to stand and help. "Since you didn't listen to Carrot when he told you to stay near him, you don't get dessert. But that doesn't mean you can leave the table."

"Huh?" My confusion only lasted a bare second before realization hit. I smiled at her, making her own frown deepen. "Oh. That's kind of clever, actually. Not only is it a punishment in itself but it forces the chi-foal to sit and watch what rewards 'good little colts and fillies' get. Kind of smart."

"Yes, well, hopefully it will teach you that adults are to be obeyed." I rolled my eyes slightly, though I stopped them mid-roll with a sheepish grin. Don't push your luck, don't push your luck.

"I doubt it, the self-induced guilt and shame will probably do more." Damn it! What did I just say!?

"Bruce, you're not going to slither out of this with pity."

"Uh, that was never my intent, Mrs. Cake. I made a horrible mistake and I will accept the punishment of that mistake. Just saying. Unless it's sub-conscious or something. In which case it's still not my conscious intent." Mr. Cake delivered four giant bowls of ice cream to the twins, his wife and himself. She glared at me as I continued while the twins dug straight into theirs. "I'm serious! I suggested a spanking but it's foster care and that's a no-no." That got her to blink at least.

"What do you know about foster care?"

"Eh, been there and done that, got the tee-shirt." Not really. It was a pair of pants. Still ...

"You - you've been in foster care?"

"Uh," I stalled for time as I looked over at the twins. I hadn't yet burst the whole 'human' thing on them yet though I think Mrs. and Mr. Cake knew. "Well, not Equestrian foster care."

"Hmm." She and Mr. Cake shared a look before starting into their desserts. Slowly. I started to hum. Pour some sugar on me ... I felt it was apropos. That and it had been going through my mind for an hour for some reason. Couldn't remember all the words but I was humming and not singing.

23 - Lovesong

View Online

*knock knock*

"Co~oming!" I stood in the darkened hallway before the door leading to Pinkie's loft apartment, shifting from hoof to hoof. I could hear some type of peppy music from behind the door as well as some shifting. I was standing there through force of will - I really didn't want to bother the poor mare - but I think some things needed to be said and since I was going down my list of 'who I've wronged' and she was close, well, might as well start there. Suddenly, her brightly painted door swung open and the brightly colored pony with her brightly shining smile was framed in the bright light of her room. Did I mention it was bright?

"Hi - oh." Her brightly shining smile fell a notch and I could see some of her mane uncurling. She purposefully closed the door slightly, cutting off my clear view of her room. Not that I could see anything through the sun-like glare of her lights. And yes, ponies have electric lights but I still saw some candle and gas lamp fixtures here and there. Still in the adoption phase of things, I guess. "H-hi Bruce. Uhm, did you need something?"

"Can I come in to talk, Ms. Pie?" Let's be formal here. Less chance of me screwing something up that way.

"Well, Spring said that I wasn't supposed to be alone with you." What?

"Wha-no, no. I'm saying that way too much lately. Erugh, it'll be real quick." I looked up at her with the most serious expression I could muster. I was serious, I needed to both apologize and try to get her to at least understand that I wasn't an average colt, regardless of what else I was.

"Do the Cakes know you're up here?" She looked really worried. I can imagine why, to be honest. If Spring knew she was talking to me, she'd probably get all frowny faced and serious about 'boundaries' and 'appropriate' this and that. She struck me as one of those types, at least. I was going to lie but I didn't want there to be any question of my truthfulness.

"Well, no. They're downstairs listening to some radio thing or other. I told them I was coming upstairs but not to what extent." Pinkie shifted from hoof-to-hoof, an odd mirror of my own actions just prior. She did not want to be around me. I didn't blame her. I don't want to be around myself most days.

"Uh, maybe you should go back downstairs ..." Okay, time to pull out the big guns and drop the formal thing.

"Please Pinkie?" I whined slightly and lowered my rump slightly, as if to sit down. I set my ears back and made my eyes those large puppy dog eyes that kids can pull off so well. I probably looked like a puppy with how dang small I was. A kicked puppy that had just had his toy taken away. Pinkie bit her lip and seemed to be trying to come up with a good way of saying 'no.' I started my own lips quivering. With a sigh, Pinkie nodded.

"... just for a little bit." That did it. She turned around and trotted into the brightness as my own eyes adjusted. It was a stairway. A curving stairway up. I shrugged. Obviously, just the entrance way. At the top of the stairs, though ... was an average, everyday room.

"Huh." I pondered this a bit. True, it was a wide, circular room and had the standard 'Sugarcube Corner' decor - ice cream banisters, peppermint stick columns and the like - but it really wasn't a 'Pinkie Pie' room to me. There were no balloons, no streamers, no confetti littering the place. If the bed in the center hadn't had Pinkie's balloon cutie mark carved in the headboard, you'd be hard pressed to name exactly who it belonged to. And the bed's headboard was pretty banged up, too. Pinkie bumped a stand atop which sat an older style gramophone record player, causing the music to stop, before coming back and watching me as I settled into a comfortable position. On the floor. In the middle of her room. Because ponies can't afford chairs, evidently.

"Hmm?" Pinkie hummed at me, inquiring what I had seen.

"Mm-mm." I hummed back, telling her it didn't matter.

"Mmmm." A hum of acceptance. An entire conversation in hums. That's more Pinkie-like. "So Bruce, what did you need?" Pinkie Pie plopped her plot down and perked her ears at me. Perfect.

"Parties," I professed.

"Parties?" Pinkie pondered. And that's all the alliteration I can procure. At the mention of her favorite pastime - dang it - Pinkie's face began to split into a very wide grin. Grins on ponies are creepy. I needed to do something about that before I shat myself.

"Uh, now don't get too excited, Pin-er, Ms. Pie." I waved my hooves at her, glancing around to distract myself from the way-too-wide grin that was staring at me with ... she has canines, why does she have canines? How did I not notice this before? Pinkie, what is wrong with you? Shaking the slightly disturbing mental images of cupcakes out of my head, I soldiered on. "I want to tell you that the welcome party you threw was one of the most thoughtful and generous gestures anypony had ever done for me. It was great."

"Oh. Oh?" Her grin disappeared faster than a ten dollar bill at a strip club. In its place was the usual confusion I seemed to inspire in everypony.

"Except, er, how do I put this?" I tapped my hoof on my chin, trying to think of the best way to put it. Nothing came to mind. "I'm not big into parties. At all."

"Wait, so it was a great party but you don't like my parties?" Ok, her hair was deflating again. She still looked confused but I could see that shifting into sadness. With Celestia as my witness, I would not make Pinkie cry again!

"No, Pinkie, no! It was a great party but I don't like any parties! Even the ones my mother threw me were trials in patience and calm." I shivered slightly as memories of the few times my mother tried to get me to 'come out of my shell' came rushing back. Even my tail got into it, tucking around my hindhooves. "Peop-ponies wandering around, bumping into you, crowding in next to you ... actually, that part was surprisingly calming if you could get lost in it." And it was. I looked up as my thoughts, once again, got derailed halfway down the track. The whole 'herd safety' thing I guess. Still didn't get that entirely but it was the only thing I could think of at the time. Turns out I was right anyway.

"You got in a fight." I yanked my attention back to the now straight-haired mare in front of me as she idly hoofed the floor in front of her. While she wasn't crying, she was not a happy pony. I suck at interper ... interponial relationships but I knew she'd be sad when I told her. Still, I was sticking with the honesty (mostly) so I continued.

"Er, well, yes. Yes I did. Twice, sorta. But it was - no, no. No finger-pointing, self. Yes, Pinkie. It was an unfortunate situation that I handled really poorly. It was not meant to be an insult to your party. I'm sorry I got into a fight." And that was that. Situation fix-

"... with enthusiasm next time." -still broken. Sarcasm is usually not something you hear out of Pinkie Pie and it caught me off guard.

"Huh?" I'd say 'see' here but my track record of witty comebacks hasn't been the best of late. Pinkie, while not exactly sad, did have a bit of a frown. And her hair was still straight. She huffed her cheeks out and regarded me with a bit of a forced smile.

"Look, Bruce. It was really nice of you to come up here to apologize and I really appreciate it." Her smile evaporated back into the frown. "But an apology that you don't mean isn't really an apology."

"Wh-I mean it!" I lifted a hoof and jerked backwards. I really did mean it, what are you talking about? Or at least, I meant I was sorry a fight happened at least. Same thing, right?

"Going back, would you change anything?" Pinkie eyed me almost coolly from where she sat. Serious Pinkie Pie? Is that even possible?

"Uh, well, uh - no bu-"

"See? You don't mean it. You can't go trotting around on other ponies like they're nothing."

"I-I haven't-" Ok, what? Have I been that bad? Really? Am I that bad?

"Yes you have Bruce. You seem like a nice colt, honest. Like you want to be a nice colt. But you can't tell ponies that you're an 'adult' and have them believe you. You haven't been acting like it at all. You're kinda mean, you don't think before you say stuff and you blow up at the smallest things." I stared at her for a good minute and a half after that little speech. Her frown did not disappear though her eyes began to get a bit nervous and she scooted back a tad. I wasn't even giving her a glare or anything, just staring in shocked silence at her a bit. Maybe Spring put the fear of god into her. Of Celestia. Whatever.

"Who are you and what have you done with Pinkie?" I was honestly curious.


"Pinkie isn't all introspective!" I began waving my hooves around as if through motion I could call back the Pinkie Pie I thought I knew. "She's bubbly, she's smart but kooky, she's not ... this!"

"Bruce, I am Pinkie. Pinkemeana Diane Pie. It says so on my renters agreement." With a flourish, she yanked a piece of paper out from somewhere and showed it to me. It was in English, thank my lucky stars, and her name was signed at the bottom. With hearts above the 'i's. And a little squiggle thing below it. Very fancy.

"But Pinkie sings silly songs like 'Gotta Share, Gotta Care' and stuff, she leads-"

"Whdj- huh? How'd you know about that?" The paper fluttered to the ground as Pinkie lost her grip on it. Her frown had turned deeper as she looked at me with a very guarded expression.

"What?" Yeah, gotta work on my whole 'brain talk work' thing.

"I mean, it was a turning point in the Mild West's Equestrian-Buffalo Accords but they only listed an attempted cultural exchange, not the song's name." And here we were. Pinkie seated across from me looking confused about my knowledge of her life while I was at a crossroads.

Being told your life - or a close approximation of it - was fodder for cartoon adventures for an alien species would freak anyone out. It would make me question my life, my reason, my whole existence. Was that problem back there caused by random chance or some higher-dimensional being trying to force drama? I'd always question my instincts, my role in life, my choices. Did I have the right to take that comfort away from her? Did I have the right to give her this knowledge? But did I have the right to deny it to her? Being forced to make that decision, especially while suffering from forced age-regression, sucked. But I made my choice. Agree with it or don't, it was mine to make.

"Pinkie, you're a cartoon."

"I am?" Ok, there she goes again. Tilting her head like a quizzical dog. Almost made the entire self-introspection thing above worth it. With straight hair, though, it looked kinda sad.

"To me, you are. I know about the Cutie Mark story you told the Crusaders, the emotional breakdown during your birthday party, how you struggled trying to be responsible with the twins ... I know these things because I watched them." I looked down and waited the inevitable 'it was all in my biography' ploy that Twilight pulled off marvelously. Seconds ticked by in silence as I assumed Pinkie tried to parse what I had said and I refused to look her in her eyes. Those big blue eyes full of hurt.

"... did Dashie tell you about that?"

"No, Pinkie." I shook my head but kept my eyes downcast. "I watched it happen. Madam Le Flour, Sir Lints-a-lot, Rocky, Mr. Turnips -"


"Yeah. I watched those things, no one told me." Suddenly, her statement 'clicked' in my mind and I shot my head up with a confused look plastered all over my face. "Wait, you're not going to blame this on some autobiography or something?" Pinkie, her hair still straight, shook her head at me, confusion and sadness warring in her eyes.

"Uhm, I haven't been interviewed for that and I wouldn't tell anypony about that part anyway. Well, not in that kinda detail." She looked away as I realized my chance. My chance! This was my chance to get somepony to believe me! To get help to go home! Bruce, don't you dare screw this up!

"... Pinkie, I'm trapped." I stood and took a tentative step forward. "I'm stuck in a little colt's body when I should have hands. I've got a wife." Oh the little things we forget when trying to navigate the treacherous minefields of a burgeoning social life. At the thought of my family looking for me - not knowing where I was or if I was hurt or even alive - I kinda broke down. "Oh god, my wife." Ok, I really started to break down. I fell to the floor and curled into a fetal position. There were tears.

"Whoa, whoa. Hey, uhm, it'll be alright." I felt Pinkie wrapping her hooves around my shoulders as I tried to hold back my tears. Again. More points off the man card.

"How can you say that? No one believes me, I can't control my emotions for Christ's sake, I keep on messing up my chances to go home and now Mrs. Cake hates me and I'll never get a chance to even try to convince Twilight to ask her mentor for help!" Silence descended again. Pinkie kept her hold on me as I fought to stay in control of myself. It was more difficult than I had anticipated.

"... I believe you, Bruce," Pinkie whispered. I looked up at her, startled. She was looking away, her eyes distant.

"What?" Hope - bastard hope - lit my face slightly at her words. She looked back at me with a half-smile.

"I believe you. Uhm, kinda?" And the carpet was yanked out from underneath me. Pinkie saw the inevitable 'pity party' and evidently didn't want to have to host that soiree. "Whoa! No, listen. That, what you told me, nopony knows about my, uhm, episodes except Dashie and Spring. I don't think they would have told you. So, unless Dashie turned into a bit-er, meanie pants-"

"You can say 'bitch,' I don't mind." Even through my sniffles, I could still whip out the good one-liners. Pinkie blinked at me and her own smile turned into a disapproving grimace.

"... meanie pants or Spring went loco in her coco and blabbed when she shouldn't have, uhm, you have to have learned it from somewhere."

"I tried to convince Twilight." My voice was quiet but so was the room.

"Ah. Yeah, she's hard to get through to sometimes." I immediately thought of her 'Pinkie Sense' and wondered how much of that was valid. Could she really enter mirrors or was that just a gag the animators used? And what was with all the fourth wall breaking? "One thing though Bruce." Pinkie's hair had gained some of it's 'poof' back and that was even more confusing. How does one's hair relate to their emotional state? Is it just Pinkie or ... oh, right. Pinkie was asking me something. I shook my head to clear it and looked up at her.


"A cartoon? Really?" There's the Pinkie I know! Though she was a bit more sarcastic than usual, I'd like to think it was because I'm a bad influence.

"Heh, I didn't make it. I just watch it." I was about to start explaining 'bronies' and the show's demographic and all when a deep rumbling in my abdomen interrupted my train of thought. "Ohhhh, that's a bad sign."


"Nope. Other way." Yeah, really bad sign. Pinkie scrunched her face up in sympathy.

"... ohh. Uhm, you know where the bathroom is right?"

"Yeah but I've never done that in this body."

An awkward silence followed as I shuffled to my hooves with as much grace as I could muster while trying not to let any loud noises escape my body. A diet of salad and bread products gives a lot of fiber. Healthy enough, I guess. Pinkie bit her lip in thought before looking at me ... also nervously. Why was she so -

"Need help?"

"Ew, Pinkie!"


The Adventure of the Bathroom will forever remain untold. No, I did not take Pinkie up on her offer of help - though I probably should have. She assured me it was because she had no idea how to break the awkward silence. I wanted to believe her and so I did. Anything else would be to invite more madness into my life. Still, I managed with only a little bit of cursing. About halfway through the process, Mr. Cake knocked to check in on me since I had essentially disappeared from downstairs and made everypony nervous. I'm good at that. The amount of relief in his voice when I answered what I was doing was almost enough to make me feel pretty weird. Actually, scratch that; it did make me feel pretty weird. Still, it seemed that I had dawdled enough that it was now time for all good little colts and fillies to get to bed.

And I had a new room, all to myself! Oh joy.

"Uhm, it's a bit plain right now," Mr Cake mumbled, motioning towards the room. Plain yellow walls, that odd green flooring that Sugarcube Corner had all over the place, and a plain fun-sized bed with a rickety nightstand next to it. No dresser but nothing to put it in anyway. "We've been using it as storage but Cup and Pinkie cleared it out for you while we were at the park."

"I didn't need the extra guilt." Mr. Cake looked at me with a cross expression. "But thank you. Uhm, sorry." He sighed, rubbing one hoof through his mane.

"It's ok, Bruce. Let's get you to bed." We both trotted over to the bed where I spectacularly failed at getting into it. My short hop left my hindhooves scrambling for purchase until I slipped off the bed and heavily onto my rump. Ow. I was about to try jumping it when Mr. Cake planted his face in my butt and hefted me up. I hope I cleaned well back there. "There we go."

"Ugh, I don't think I can ever get used to having somepony's face in my butt for this." I hooved open the covers and tried to cover up but, well, Mr. Cake helped with that too. With his mouth. Geez, why don't ponies have hands or something? How does that even work in a tool-using species?

"There we go." Mr. Cake smiled down at me with his sad eyes. I had left the bed a wreck but at least I was under the covers. Mostly. "Need a bedtime story or something?"

"Uh, no. No Mr. Cake, I think I'm ok." I looked around, trying to figure out how to say what needed saying.

"Well, alright then. You get some rest, ok Bruce?"

"Ok Mr. Cake. And, uhm, I'm sorry." He patted my head with a chuckle. It was ... not condescending. I always thought that's what it was. It even felt like that at first. But it was a sign of affection. I didn't bat him away this time. "I may not be the easiest to deal with but I'm trying not to be a burden."

"You're not a burden, Bruce." My look showed how much I believed him. He glanced around a bit - eyes shifting uncomfortably - before deflating. "You're not a burden but it is a bit hard dealing with, well, all of this."

"Mr. Cake, what did Spring tell you about me?" Innocent question I thought. The way Mr. Cake started to sweat and look for an escape made me realize how dang crazy everything had gotten. Something was up and I'll be damned if I was going to let weirdness go unprodded.

"Wh-what do you mean?"

"Well," I tried to come up with the best way of saying 'I think she's friggin' nuts' but settled on a safer route, "I'm getting the sense that there's some assumptions going on that may not be true. I would like to put any fears to rest."

"Bruce, it's late. We can talk about this in the morning." Yeah, something was fish-I already used that line. But something was really strange in Ponytown ESA. Heh, Equestrian States of A-MARE-ica ...

"... ok, Mr. Cake. But I really want to clear the air a bit."

"Ok. Good night Bruce."

"Good night Mr. Cake." With that sad smile I've gotten semi-used to, he turned and walked out of the room - pausing only long enough to flick the light off. The darkness of the room was offset by the faint shining of moonlight from outside. No pools of it but enough ambient light to see shapes by. I was glad Sugarcube Corner had that newfangled 'e-lec-tricity' because candles are a damn fire hazard.

Sleep did not come. Tossing and turning in the dark, I found myself exhausted but unable to close my eyes without seeing something from my old life tossed in front of them. My family, my job, my wife ... my house, my car, my abortive attempt at college, the years in high school when everything seemed so full of hope and yet so dim. Portions of songs that have no genre here played in my head. Yesterday, I was worn out. It was no wonder I had fallen into an almost-comatose sleep last night with how emotionally confused and exhausted as I was. Now that I had a firmer grip on what was going on, I couldn't let it go. I couldn't let go.

I could still see her beautiful brown eyes framed by her long brown hair. They were shining with happiness as I proposed to her in the park that day. I had lost the ring - it was cheap but it was meaningful - and I asked her flustered and upset after we spent an hour looking for it. Then I bought her a real one after our wedding and asked her again. Even when my wedding band broke in half and I had to resort to wearing cheap costume crap, I could still feel that connection with her. She was my baby and nothing, nothing would break that. Not oceans, not mountains, not inter-dimensional walls.

I began to sing. My voice is ok, but I'm no Robert Plant. And I kinda started to break down in the middle of it - but I finished. Bad choice of song, though. It was my wedding song ... I buried my head into my - no, their pillow and tried to hold back the sobs. The angry, weak sobs of someone that was lost and alone and didn't know where to even start getting home.


"Huh?" At some point in time the door had cracked open, spilling light across the floor and bed. I could see a poofy maned head sticking through that was soon followed by the rest of her body. "Pinkie?"

"I was getting a drink when I heard you singing." Softly closing the door behind her, Pinkie clopped across the floor and sat at the side of the bed. I could see her faint outline in the moonlight but not her expression. I rubbed my hoof across my face, scrubbing the tear streaks out of my fur. "Are you ok?"

"Not really, no." Honesty was the best policy after all. And even if it wasn't, at least I was sticking with it. My word is my honor.

"Would you like some company?" I could hear the nervous shuffling of her hooves. I shook my head, despite knowing that she wouldn't be able to see it very well in the dark.

"You'll get in trouble, Pinkie." My voice cracked and I felt like I was choking. A lump in my throat from my emotional breakdown.

"I don't care. If you need a friend, I'm here for you Bruce."

We sat in silence as I thought about what she said. Friend. I'm not a very good person. I'm an even worse pony. I've never really had many friends before; a skill I never really picked up. I was always pretty much alone until I found her. I was happy alone - I thought. And she was all I needed when I found her. Now, though - now I could use a friend.

"... I'd like that Pinkie."

Edited by Genjen.

Well this took a dog's age. I'm nervous about messing up which causes me to write less which causes my skill to degrade which causes my inspiration to evaporate which causes me to be less interested in writing which ... yeah. But I will not let this die.

Be that as it may, this feels to me to be a bit forced in some places. I know where I want him, getting him there is another thing entirely. The only goal I had for this was right at the end: a big introspective scene about Bruce's wife. I knew I wanted a song to go with that and picked Adele's version of The Cure's Lovesong for it. It matches the mood well, I think. The Cure's version seems more hopeful, more a promise to me. Adele's is more personal to me because of her voice and the instrumentation of it. It sounds almost sad, like it's trying to reinforce a promise that had grown cold over time. Bruce might be losing hope, guys!

24 - In Sickness and in Health

View Online

AN: This originally was four times this length. It was also really, really boring and stupid and I was embarrassed about having written it. So I cut out MOST of Spring's conversation with Bruce. I think that was what was hampering me this whole time: trying to make it WORK rather than pruning the stupid out.

I still hate waking up after a good long cry. My eyes were all gummy, my throat was scratchy and I felt as though I hadn't gotten a single wink of sleep. It sucked waking up that way. Especially to birds again.

"Really, guys? You couldn't give me five more minutes?" I grumbled as I turned over in bed, giving the little chorus line of birds sitting right outside the window a rather bloodshot evil eye. My voice sounded very hoarse but that's to be expected from crying into a pink coat for an hour before passing out. Least I finished singing my 'pity me' song. The birds turned their little heads at each other as if considering my words and then piped up with a really painful tweet that set my teeth rattling in my head. "I take it there's no snooze button, huh?"

Their long tweet reply actually caused me to dive under the pillow, whimpering. Yes, I can whimper. I can also whine and cough. Which is what I started doing. My mother - my real mother - used to have a name for a cough like the one those damnable birds set off in me. She called it a 'goose cough' because it sounded like a goose's honk. I guess. Sounded more like someone stepping on a goose to me but it works. And it was not at all pleasant.

"Argh, stupid," honk, "birds and," honk honk, "their stupid," honk, "twittering." The birds all vacated the window sill in quite a hurry as hoofsteps echoed into the still bare room.

"Bruce, is that you?" Mr. Cake poked his head into the room, his face full of worry. I was going to drive that poor stallion into an early grave with all the worry I was causing him. His mane was all roughed up and he looked like he had spent the night wrestling a bear. Either that means Mrs. Cake got violent or ... ew, don't think about that Bruce. Despite the mental scarring, I really hoped it was the latter one and not the former.

"Yeah, it hap-" honk, "-pens." I spent the next minute coughing a lung out. I had an extra anyway, didn't need that one. When I finally coughed myself out - panting amid the ruined remains of what was a bed - I found Mr. Cake rubbing my back gently.

"That doesn't sound good at all." I shrugged, not trusting my voice not to send me off on another rousing trip of 'let's see how much damage we can cause to these lungs.' I'm a smoker, I got used to the 'hack-up a lung' wake up call in the morning.

"Ahhh, it's passing." With a sniff and another honk, I finally managed to get what was in my lungs out. Mm, breakfast. With Mr. Cake looking on in a horrified manner. "Sorry about that. Extreme recycling."

"That was ... lovely Bruce. Uh, well, it's time to get up." I grunted up at him as I pretty much just walked off the bed. Now there were two Mr. Cakes and they both looked really worried. "By the Pastures Bruce! Are you ok?"

"Yup. Only way I know how to get off beds." I picked myself up and shook like a dog. I really didn't know why, it just felt right. Mr. Cake gave me a quizzical look. Whether it was from the dog-shake or the tumble, I couldn't tell.

"Uh, m-most foals hop down."

"I don't trust my legs." Mr. Cake facehooved with a big sigh.

"Bruce, what am I going to do with you?"

"Help me downstairs for a real breakfast?" I looked up at him as he shook his head, a frown plastered on my face. My antics must be at least kinda funny, I saw a ghost of a smile. He nodded towards the door, motioning me to lead.

"Don't hurt yourself."

"I hadn't planned on it, Mr. Cake."

A hop, skip and a tumble down the stairs - with Mr. Cake once again getting all flustered at how accident prone I seemed - and I was in the kitchen with the rest of the ponies of the household. I couldn't call it a 'family' since they weren't my family ... and Pinkie Pie was there. She was much chipper this morning as she zipped around the actual food-prep area of the kitchen, even giving me an over-excited wave that I returned in a halfhearted kind of way. The other members of the household were seated around the kitchen table, already digging into bowls of something.

"So, Bruce, what do you want for breakfast?" Bacon and eggs, bacon and eggs, bacon and eggs ...

"Uh, what do you have?" Yeah, pony food. Looking at what was being eaten, I think 'hay' was a very integral part of their complete and balanced breakfast.

"Well, we have haycereal, haycakes, hayshakes, haybrowns, some fruit and I think we could whip you up just about anything you'd like." Mrs. Cake grimaced at her husband's implied offer. I think I should keep it nice and simple.

"What about waffles? Could I get some regular waffles?" Waffles. Plain old waffles. Can't screw those up, can you? Uh, actually you can but frozen waffles are a staple of my diet and I refuse to bend to the strange urges of this pony biology.

"Sure thing Bruce!" Pinkie piped up from behind the counter, her zipping form doing strange and arcane things to even stranger and more arcane equipment. There was a stop at the fridge, a pantry, and several of the machines as she added my request to her already hectic workload. I winced in sympathy.

"Uhm, is it ... nevermind."

"What were you going to ask?" Mrs. Cake's voice was tinged with a wary curiosity. At least she wasn't growling at me. Seriously, I know I've been a bit of a handful but I haven't been that bad! Have I? Regardless, she did ask and I am not one to hold my tongue when given the opportunity to use it.

"Uh, is it really proper for your employee to do family cooking?" My questioning look really drove home the fact that I saw this as strange. And it kinda was. Was Pinkie a household servant as well as a baker? Maybe she did chores to help offset her room's cost. Suddenly, Pinkie-maid images flooded my head.

"... I, uhm, don't see why not." Mrs. and Mr. Cake shared a glance before Mrs. Cake looked over her shoulder and called out to the pink speed-demon that was currently doing something ... vaguely disconcerting to the oven. This isn't Robot Chicken, Pinkie, stop humping the appliances. Oh, she's fiddling with the dials. Continue on. "Uh, Pinkie? Do you mind doing the cooking?"

"Nopey-dopey Mrs. Cake! I love to bake and cook and steam and dice and slice and cut and-" Flashes of my life passed before my eyes as an image of a blood-splattered Pinkie armed with a cleaver stared at me from the depths of my imagination. Her dead eyes weighted with the souls of all she slew, her manic grin dripping with cruelty and madness. Almost got a giggle out of me, honestly, because once you meet her there is no way Cupcakes could ever happen.

I hope.

"O-ok, thank you Pinkie!" Mrs. Cake cut off the perky pink party pony's profuse proclamations, politely. Must be something in the water making me do that alliteration thing. She turned to me with a furrow of worry. "Uh, is it a problem that she's cooking for you?"

"No, no." I waved my hooves, emphasizing that I had no problem with Pinkie. Where they got that idea I have no clue. Maybe it was the hospital. "I, uh, it's just that it seems odd to me to ... have such a close relationship with your wor-." A plate of steaming waffles appeared in front of me and I jerked backwards, startled. A glance to my side showed Pinkie's beaming face just inches from my own.

"Here's your waffles, Brucey-wucey! And Mr. and Mrs. Cake are my bestest of friends and have taught me everything they know about the bakery business!" She smelled like hay and sugar. I quickly pulled my head back to give her some room. "Least I could do is help them around the house." I nodded, my eyes still not moving from Pinkie's face. How does she do that? That is not scientifically possible. She was not ... right, science and Pinkie still have that custody battle going over Reality. Leaving those maddening thoughts behind, I regarded the plate in front of me as a thought bubble burst inside my rather empty head.

"... these have hay in them, don't they?" The twins looked at each other through mouthfuls of ... haymeal? Oatmeal with hay in it. It was as weird looking as it sounds. Even Mr. and Mrs. Cake's brows furrowed at my question. Pinkie, on the other hoof, seemed to take it in stride.

"Duh! Of course! Hay is a staple of a good breakfast and helps all good little fillies and colts grow up big and strong." With a ruffle of my already mussed bedhead mane, she bounced on back to the kitchen to do, uh, whatever it was Pinkie does there. I think it had something to do with Dark Gods and virgin sacrifices. Explains how the twins came to be, at least.

"Faaaaantastic." With a slight grimace at the steaming pile of grass in front of me, I dug in. It wouldn't be the first time I chanced my human allergy towards outdoor carpeting in my pony body. Course, nothing bad happened then so I was pretty sure I was okay. And hey, free food is free food. I wouldn't be an American if I didn't love me some free stuff. And food. Free food is a bonus!

"Well that was interesting." I fought the urge to belch the 'Star Spangled Banner' and hid my gaseous expulsion behind a hoof. Pinkie could be heard out in the store-front, chatting with everypony that came through the door, and the twins had run off to do ... whatever it was little pony foals did during summer vacation. I had my money on the aforementioned 'Dark Gods' and 'virgin sacrifices' thing. Mrs. Cake went with them.

Maybe she ate the survivors? Only Mr. Cake was left and I was bound and determined not to let him suffer that Fate Worse than Death. Oh, wait. He was already married. He seemed to have been chosen as my handler for the day anyway.

"What was interesting?" Mr. Cake looked up from his newspaper. I waved towards my empty plate with a half-smile.

"The waffles. Never had them taste so ... bready." Haywaffles were pretty good, all things considered. Not as sweet as regular human waffles but not too shabby. At my choice of words, Mr. Cake quirked an eyebrow at me.


"Ah, nevermind. So what's the haps, paps?" That got a blank stare. I figured since jazz was the 'new thing' maybe their slang was the same. Except I didn't know any 20's slang so I was just throwing things out. After a second, he shook his head slightly and put his paper down.

"... ah. Yes, well, Ms. Meadows stopped by earlier and said she wanted to talk with you about, well, everything really." We stood together, his face carefully cheerful and mine completely deadpan.

"I am a quiver with anticipation." I made a move to leave but was stopped by a hoof.

"We put our dishes away before we leave the kitchen, Bruce." Lovely, now they're adding chores.

The walk to the hospital took about as long as you'd expect: too long to avoid Mr. Cake running into a dozen friends but not long enough for my mood to improve. I was depressed, a bit angry and about to see my least-favorite pony in the world. I was entitled to being a bit irritated. Luckily, we were expected and I was quickly ushered into that faux-field 'talking room' from before. I found myself seated on a pillow in the middle of the floor with Spring beaming at me from her own pillow. Ponies can work fast when pressed. I could make a crack about her being the 'sun' here and feelings of inadequacy compared to the Princess but, well, I'm not that good at the whole 'psychology' thing.

"Hi Bruce!" Spring - devoid of paperwork this time - lay with her legs curled up underneath her. I noticed her pillow wasn't as plush as the one I was on which caused our heads to be almost level. Clever girl. Foster feelings of equality and remove the 'height' of being an adult to stimulate youthful interaction.

"Hello Ms. Meadows." My face betrayed no emotion. Otherwise, I'd get chewed out about 'being mean' or something stupid. "You wanted to speak with me?"

"Well, I wanted to see how you and the Cakes were getting along but there's also some ... unfinished business I need to address." She seemed hesitant, for some reason. "First, I need to get your input on a few things."

I nodded with a halfhearted shrug. This whole thing was stupid, she was stupid and her stupid face was stupid. Wow, that was really childish. Keep it together, Bruce. After a moment of waiting for me to say something - and my continued silence - Spring sighed.

"Alright, Mrs. Cake said that you were in foster care before?" Her smile had fallen a few notches. Perhaps it was about time to turn over a new leaf with her but I was still not happy about being treated like any regular foal. I was a foal in their eyes but until I was treated more inline with what I felt myself to be, there would never be any regular interaction between the counselor and myself.

"Yes." Spring waved at me to continue but I pointedly ignored her urging. Her smile morphed into a slight frown - finally! Ha! Eternal sunshine has been vanquished.

"... uhm, care to talk about it?" she asked after a few more seconds of awkward silence.

"Not really." She groaned and collapsed into her pillow at my simple response. Things were not going to her plan. Of course, if she'd approach me as at least an adult-like foal, things might go better for her.

"Bruce, where were you in foster care?" I could hear her muffled question. She wasn't acting very professional and I quirked an eyebrow at her prone form. Maybe pony-professional was different from human-professional.

"Earth." Yes, I was answering her with one-word answers on purpose.

"You're making this difficult on purpose aren't you?"


"Fine, we'll discuss that next week." Heaving a sigh, Spring brought her head back up to my confused and admittedly slightly irritated face.


"We're going to have weekly meetings to deal with some of these issues, remember?" Her smile returns, warmly. It made a huge difference from that forced grimace she had been wearing for so long. "We're going to find out better ways for you to deal with these problems."

"Oh, right. You told me that before."

"Yes. Also, I'd like you to sit in on a group session starting ... tonight actually. It's called 'Loving the Real You' and-" I cut her off before she could get into the 'selling' part of it.


"Yes, Bruce. It's about coming to terms with the real you and how everypony - no, everyone is special. We're all special and worthy of love."

"Wow. That is so ga-er, well. Never mind." I hate that term as an insult. My mother was gay and it always irritated me when people would use it. And here I was, driven to the point of madness.

"Yes, well. I suppose it is ga-er," she lowered her head and mumbled under her breath, "whatever that means." I'm guessing I wasn't supposed to hear that last part. "And there's one last thing before we really start. Ms. Cheerilee is going to give you an assessment test to find out where you are scholastically. We need to be prepared for when school starts in the fall."

She looked at me expectantly as I tried to process this little bit of information. ERROR: intAge OutOfBounds in aiSchoolAge. School. Again! I did my time, I don't want to go back! School sucked then and I doubt the one-room classes that I remember from the show have made it any better.

"I'm an adult. I think I have a pretty good grasp of schooling." I had no hope of getting out of going to little foal-school. None whatsoever. I still had to try.

"Well think of it as a refresher course then." She clopped her hoof rather ineffectively against the carpeting, 'pomf'ing a small cloud of dust up. I take it she put her hoof down. I still had time between now and when school starts, right?

"Or a waste of time." With a nod at my tacit acceptance of my school-fate, she rubbed her mane slightly and twisted her smile into that fake-grimace thing she loved so much. My face hurt just looking at her.

"So, Bruce, tell me about your feelings."

"That could have gone better," I grumbled as I awaited Ms. Cheerilee and her assessment test. Spring had tried very hard to get me to talk to her about 'feelings' and 'emotions' and that sort of thing but, well, I wasn't having a thing to do with it. I was not happy but I think I'll avoid going into the shouting match I tried to have with her. Eventually, she put me in the 'time out corner' for the rest of our scheduled time together.

Dealing with feelings is hard.

All three of us - Mr. Cake, Spring and myself - were sitting in that happy-fun 'talking room' while we waited. I was still in the corner while the adults got to be on the pillows. I had no one to blame but myself. Didn't stop me from trying though. Stupid Spring. I couldn't hear what they were talking about but every so often I would glance back to check up on the progress. Spring seemed adamant about something or other while Mr. Cake was quite adamant in the opposite fashion. Probably discussing 'adoption' again. A knocking at the door brought everypony's head around.

"I heard somepony needs an - OH! Oh my." Ms. Cheerilee, the mauve (mauve? Pink-ish? Something) headmarestress of the Ponyville Schoolhouse, trotted in with saddlebags on her back. Spring's happiness always seemed forced to me, like something she 'had' to do. At least around me. Cheerilee's, on the other hoof, felt more natural. That meant that her confusion and partial dismay at where I was stationed was that much more rewarding. Hell, maybe I'm a changling and I feed off bad feelings. "W-well hello Spring, Carrot. Uhm, is that the colt?"

"I'm right here, ya know."

"No talking in time out, Bruce." Spring's voice held that lovely adult tone of authority that I so loved to hear. That HAD to be why I kept egging everypony on because I sure as hell wasn't winning any popularity contests with my behavior. I couldn't see what everypony was doing from where my head was firmly entrenched in the corner but I could hear them.

"Well, that's not a good sign." Cheerilee's voice was calm. I heard the sound of something hitting the floor, presumably her saddlebags.

"Yes, Bruce is ... a difficult foal." Mr. Cake sounded more tense. Seriously, stop worrying! I'll be fine, I've had worse punishments before. Soap comes to mind. Yech.

"His behavior is difficult." Spring was trying to correct Mr. Cake without correcting him. She's probably thinking something about how all snowflakes are beautiful even if they have soot in them. Or something.

"I can come back at a later time."

"No, no. You're fine Cheerilee. We can set you up wherever you want."

"Oh, well, it's just a test. If we can use, uhm, well it'd be best with a desk."

"We have an old school desk in a storage cabinet nearby. I'll go get it." I heard the plod of hooves and a door shutting. I peeked out from the corner but the clearing of a throat told me I was caught. After a few seconds of me not moving, the two adults remaining began talking again.

"How is it going, Carrot?" Cheerilee's voice drew a sigh from the stallion.

"I try but, well ... " His voice tapered off and I could just imagine him waving a hoof towards where I was seated. My ears - already down from trying to hear their conversation - twitched and began to turn a bit red. His voice lowered and I had to strain to hear him. "I don't know. Spring is really concerned about where everypony needs to go to get him acclimated to his situation but with Cup's problems and Pinkie in the house, I'm not sure we can keep him there."

"Yes, but I remember Spring trying to find more foster options for him at the town meeting yesterday. I mean, other than you two, nopony seemed willing to take up his case. Even the Apples declined and you know how open they are."

"And Spring thinks placing him with a unicorn would do more harm than good."


"That dressmaker friend of Pinkie's, Rarity. She's been trained as a foster but you know how she is. Still looking for 'Mr. Right.' Has little time for even her sister."

"Carrot, those are rumors. She and her sister get along fine. She'd take him if nopony else would."

"Cheeri, she didn't even want to babysit for us."

"That was years ago, Carrot. I'm sure she was just nervous about messes." A door opening cut their conversation short and I heard something heavy being dragged into the room along with some unidentified flapping noise.

"Come - on - you - stupid," Spring's grunting made me roll my eyes and turn away from the corner, consequences be damned. She was flapping her wings to get more traction as she pushed this antiquated chair-desk thing into the room. There was a wooden bench balanced on the desk itself. She noticed me looking but said nothing, concentrating on getting the obstinate piece of furniture into the room. I was just glad I didn't have to trot my way across Ponyville to the schoolhouse to get this stupid thing over with.

"Let me help, Spring." Mr. Cake trotted over and together they dragged the assembly into the room. Cheerilee closed the door for them after they had cleared the entrance.

"Finally. That thing is heavier than it looks." Spring wiped her brow as she sat, chest heaving from the exertion. "Should we leave or is it ok for us to be in the room with him?" I could hear the unasked question under her breath, can you handle him?

"Oh, whichever makes him the most comfortable. Can't have him distracted during the test though." Ms. Cheerilee favored me with a smile.

"Uh, I'd probably do better without an audience." Yeah, keep Ms. Sunshine away from me.

"Well, we'll leave you to it. I have to discuss schedules with Carrot anyway." Mr. Cake and Ms. Meadows trotted out as I approached the desk with trepidation. Wow, that thing was 'old' but it looked brand new save for some scuffing. Cheerilee watched me as I gave the desk a once over.

"I know, it's a bit on the old style but it's what we have. This is one from the Ponyville school actually, when we remodeled five years ago." With a deft kick of her hoof, the desk shed it's bench passenger which clattered to the floor. Surprisingly, it remained upright.

"I think my grandma used to sit in one of these." Cheerilee rolled her eyes as I prodded it with a hoof. I didn't expect it to try to bite me but I didn't want to chance it. That and it's fun to poke things.

"It's not that old, Bruce. Come on, let's get you seated." With some balancing and just a bit of nudging from Ms. Cheerilee's muzzle, I was up and sitting like a proper young colt. Actually, I was clinging to the sides of the desk as I teetered back and forth. You'd have to be a gymnast to function in pony society! Ms. Cheerilee retrieved her saddlebags and started to rummage through them, placing odds and ends on the desktop as she spoke. "Oh Bruce, it's not that bad. Now, here's your pencil and here's the first part of your assessment test. Writing!"



"Uhh, right. How, exactly, am I supposed to write without hands again?"

Genjen. He's cool yo bucket.

ALSO! Question for all readers of this: what would Bruce's Cutie Mark be? Not promising anything and I have my own idea for it but I was curious about what y'all thought.

Cut Content: 'Spring'time for Brucey and Equestria!

View Online

Some readers were interested in the Bruce/Spring conversation that I had written before trashing it and starting over. Well, I trashed it. I can't remake what is now effectively gone but I can re-do it, so to speak. So here's the latest Bruce/Spring interaction for your reading ... uhm, I'd say pleasure but that might not be the case. Perusal? Review? Whatever.

"Well think of it as a refresher course then." She clopped her hoof rather ineffectively against the carpeting, 'pomf'ing a small cloud of dust up. I take it she put her hoof down. I still had time between now and when school starts, right?

"Or a waste of time." With a nod at my tacit acceptance of my school-fate, she rubbed her mane slightly and twisted her smile into that fake-grimace thing she loved so much. My face hurt just looking at her.

"So, Bruce, tell me about your feelings." And there it is. Was she reading from some sort of script in her head? Actually, I expected it earlier in the conversation but that it came at all was really no surprise. I tilted my head at her, weighing my options. Since I usually went with what my gut told me to do - regardless of if it was sensible or not - I did the same here.

"Um no." Her blinking look of surprise was precious in a way. But she didn't yell or cajole me to tell her. No, her way was far more insidious.

"Why?" Spring asked, tilting her head back at me. My own blinking look of confusion mirrored her earlier one. She had asked me a question that was very, very, very hard for me to resist. And I couldn't resist. Such a wonderful and yet basic question. The root of all questions, really.

"Because ... well, aside from me just wanting to be contrary, I really don't think that would do anypony a bit of good." She smirked at my admission of being contrary. I have many flaws but most of them I know. Some of them. Well, the odd one or two.

"What do you mean?"

"Look. You think I'm a confused and possibly deluded colt. That bit of, uh, assumption is sabotaging our relationship from the start. And-" She cut me off with a shake of her head and a warmer smile.

"Bruce this isn't about me. This isn't about what I think or feel. This is about you. This is about what you feel. Whether you're a 'hu-man' in a colt body or not, your feelings are real," Spring said.

"But the history and situations behind them are different depending on whether I'm a pony or not. And I'm not. So-"

"What does it matter?" That question caught me off guard.

"Uhhhhh, I think the species of the creature feeling the emotions would have a great deal of affect in regards to those emotions." I waved a hoof, trying to get my thoughts together. I mean, the various species here must have different brain structures and those would influence thought processes - much less the differing biological necessities feeding into culture, feeding into society, reinforcing the differences and heightening their effect. I was about to expand on the thought when Spring spoke.

"No. No Bruce, it doesn't. Gryphons, ponies, donkeys, minotuars ... 'hu-mans.' They all have the same basic needs and they all feel the same basic things. Are ponies very different from 'hu-mans?'" She looked at me with that semi-fake smile and bright shining eyes. Yeah.

"Yes. Yes you are. You're a bit more naive. A bit more open, trusting, willing to help." I shuddered at the thought of one of these ponies appearing in Compton or Lower East Side. Or even Southside Nashville. Hello slavery!

"I am, Bruce. Mrs. and Mr. Cake are. The doctors here are. If you woke up on the piers of Manehatten, I think you'd have a rougher time of things." That got a blank look from me. Spring sighed at my apparent lack of 'modern Equestrian Geographical' knowledge. "Regardless of the species you were, I think that deep down you still have the same needs as others. You want to be loved. You want to be accepted. You want to be somepony that is important to somepony else. Maybe just one, maybe everypony."

"I don't need anyone."

"Bruce, that's not true."

"I am an island unto myself." I am! I swear, I can do anything! I don't need anyone to back me up, I'm a badass. I can ... manage. Look, this is me managing, see how well I'm doing?!

"No mare's an island."

"I am a rock. I am a stone. I am -"

"Burying your feelings under this false stoicism now. Come on, Bruce." Spring's smile came back, the real one. She looked at me with a bit of concern in her eyes though and I found my gaze unable to meet hers. "You've throw how many tantrums in the past two days?"

"I am under a lot of stress." I could feel the dam holding back my emotions crumbling. Maybe she was right, maybe I wasn't doing myself any favors by pretending to be tough. And yes, it is pretending because - let's face it - I'm not the most stable of people. Ponies. Whatever.

"I know. And I'm sorry for that. It's ok to be afraid."

"I'm not afraid!" My face was pulled into an almost sneer as I shot back at her still-smiling face. The concern was still there, the pity. I hate being pitied. I hate being pitied and made to feel small and thought of as incapable. I hate it.


"I'm ... I'm terrified." Oh boy. My face and head both fell as words came out unbidden. I could feel tears spring to my eyes though they never fell themselves. "I'm terrified of being stuck here. I'm terrified of never seeing my wife again. I'm terrified of having to fight through childhood again!"

"What happened?"

"What?" My head snapped up at her question. She noticed but did not comment on my damp eyes. Stupid emotions. Stupid tears. Stupid body. Stupid stupid stupid.

"What happened to make childhood so bad?" She regarded me with that real smile and grasped my hoof in hers, squeezing it gently. "It's supposed to be a happy time. It's supposed to be a time of learning and growing. What made it so bad for you?"

I considered that for a moment. What was so bad about being a child? It's not like I really had control over my life back on Earth. I was a slave to my addictions, tied to a house and a job and a car. But it was stable. It was mine. It was what I built - figuratively speaking. What was I so afraid of? After a few moments of silence between the two of us, I began to speak. My voice was very low and I saw Spring's ears flick forward to catch every word.

"... we moved. A lot. I never was in one place for that long. I've been in foster care, homeless, living in roach-infested hovels. Until I was sixteen, I had never lived in one place for more than a year or two. That was also the year I first started living in a real house. Trailers, apartments, projects - these were where I had lived. A real house. How stupid is that?" I chuckled. So proud of something many take for granted and many more never get to experience. I kept my head low. I felt worse about feeling deprived than the small amount of deprivation I had to deal with. It wasn't right to feel like that, my life wasn't bad.

"It's not stupid, Bruce."

"Yes it is! My life wasn't even that bad." See? I gave Spring a bit of a glare which she took completely in stride. Raging emotional colts must be the norm I guess. "Sure it was dirty and unstable, but I wasn't starving. I wasn't cold - often. We had help, such as it was. I had clothes, I had ... garbage."


"Toys, crap like that." I waved it off and looked away. "Hell, I had a Genesis the year it came out. Expensive as hell and the only gift that Christmas but still. I had things, I had chances."

"So why are you afraid of being a kid again, if it wasn't that bad?" I heaved a sigh at Spring's question.

"I don't like change. I don't like moving all the time. I don't like never having friends, always losing people. I don't like always being the 'new kid' that's scrutinized and judged. I don't like doing that."

"That's not going to happen." Spring's reassurance caused me to snort. I've seen what foster care can end up doing to a person. Of course the kids are usually more messed up than I am so that doesn't help.

"Sure it's not," I replied. From the tone of my voice, I think Spring knew to drop that subject. Again, we were left in silence as we both worked through our thoughts. Spring was the pony to break it this time.

"You were homeless?"

"Homeless shelter for six weeks." I think it was six weeks. Could have been a bit more or less, I can't remember.

"How did that happen?"

"I can't remember." I gave it the old college try though. With hoof to chin and eyes raised to the ceiling, I struggled to recall exactly why we were all there. "It was pretty close to my parent's break-up. I - I can't remember exactly when. I do remember that they wanted to put me in the 'Male Room' with the drunks but she convinced the ... administers that I had medical issues."

"'Male Room?' Hmmm, and that was something you didn't want?" Oh, right. Semi-inverted gender roles or something. Cultural preconceptions aside, I fought down a sudden ill feeling.

"I remember screaming. I don't like to remember the screaming."

"Oh. OH. Oh my." I looked at Spring as she squirmed on her pillow. She looked a bit green herself. I remained quiet. I had nothing I wanted to say. "Bruce, I'm sorry. Despite what you say, I think it was a hard life. It was a tough childhood."

"Better than being a child soldier." Yeah, see? No matter how bad it is, someone somewhere has it worse. So stop complaining and suck it up. So why were my ears flipped down and my head hung low? Stupid emotions boiling away inside. I felt sick. I hated that feeling.

"... we need to talk more about this. I'd like to revisit the foster care you told me about. Was this after or before the homeless shelter?"

"I don't remember. I think it was after? It doesn't matter." I was done. Too much to think about, too much to feel.

"Bruce, of -"

"IT DOESN'T MATTER!" My shout caused my lungs to burst ... figuratively speaking. My small form was wracked with coughs as I tried to gain my air back. Spring - once seated sedately across from me - was at my side in a flash, rubbing my back in circles and making worried noises. After a time, I managed to gasp enough air to refill myself.

"That doesn't sound good."

"It's fine. Smokers cough." I collapsed onto my hooves and rubbed my eyes free of tears. And again. Stupid tears. Between the emotional pendulum that is my brain and the coughing fit that'd make my human body try to shut down, I was physically and emotionally drained. Why does that happen, anyway? Spring stood next to me as we passed the time in silence - again - and I tried to gather the shattered remains of my emotions. I think she looked sad but she was a bit too blurry to make out.

"Bruce, can I hug you?" Spring asked. I blinked away what was left of my little emotional outburst and regarded her warily. Ponies love their hugs but I was not ... ok, I was beginning to like them myself. But I was not yet ready to embrace my pony-self. Besides, hugs are awkward as hell with hooves.

"I'd prefer it if you didn't."

"Ok. I'm here if you need anything." She returned to her seat slowly. As if she was afraid I'd start up again - either coughing or crying. Stupid tears.


Guess what? If you guessed 'more silence' then you're right! I was still panting a bit from my exertion and Spring seemed very intent on the carpeting for some reason. You never realize how often conversations pause, stutter or end up dying until you try to communicate one of them with one hundred percent accuracy. Spring's head shot up - her smile bright - startling me slightly. Luckily, I didn't start coughing again.

"A good memory."


"A good memory." She emphasized her statement. "Tell me something good that you remember from your childhood."

"... I don't remember."

"There must be something."

"It was a long time ago, Spring." Wow, over twenty years ago. Where'd the time go?

"You remember the bad memories." Her smirk told me that was meant half in jest. She waved my growing frown away. She did raise a valid point. My life was not that bad, there was some good memories there. I just had to remember them. "Think about it. There's no rush here. Whenever you're ready."

"I'm sorry, Spring. I can't think of anything specific. Christmas morning, I guess. It really wasn't that important." I mumbled to myself a side note, just low enough she couldn't catch it. "Only reason I remember it is because I was recorded." Why was it that I couldn't remember the good things? Was I so caught up in the negative that I couldn't see the positive side of things? Was I that obsessed with the bad?

"Hmmm. When was this?"

"I must've been twelve? Thirteen? Something like that."

"Mmm." I could hear the math beads in her head, trying to place that bit of information into her personal timeline of 'my' life that she was trying to build. She frowned - well, her smile fell slightly - as things failed to add up very well. Even with me being a bit older than she first thought, things weren't adding up to her. At least, that's what it looked like from the way her brow furrowed. She changed topic for her own sanity. "I heard you got lost yesterday."

"Oh. Right. Yeah." I had the good graces to blush and look ashamed at least. She sighed at me.

"Why do you feel the need to run away, Bruce?" My head swiveled to stare at her accusation.

"I was not running away. I - I did walk off in a huff but I had a purpose!" She waved a hoof, inviting me to continue. With a roll of my eyes, I obliged. "I was going to the Library."

"The Library? Where Ms. Sparkle lives?" A tone of concern tinged her voice. Why would she - oh, right! The argument at the party. Water under the bridge, Ms. Meadows.

"Yeah." I punctuated that with a hoof jab. I was already limited in my interaction with one of the main characters from the show - best pony at that! - so I didn't want to loose access to any more. And my only source of contact with the Princess at that. "Spike can send letters to the Princess so I figured that I could get him to send a 'Help me!' letter and this would be over with."

"You want to contact the Princess?" The counselor blinked in surprise. Why is this surprising? I'm an adult human stuck in a foal's body! Why would this be surprising?!

"Ah, yeah? I figured that she's thousands of years old, she might have some idea of what's going on." You could slice my sarcasm and sell it as a food additive. Spring bit her lip in consternation.

"Well, instead of trying to get Spike in trouble, I'll put in a Petition and we ca-" What? What? What? Petition? You can do that? Why was I not told? This is important!

"Wait. Wait, hold up." My blush - recently gone from embarrassment - came back. Only this time, it was from a growing sense of anger and indignant rage. Spring glanced around nervously at the signs of 'colt breaking point.' Hell, I was sure I felt the signs. When you're that angry, though, it's hard to hold back. "You mean you can contact the Princess?"

"Well, not directly. But anypony - anyone, actually - that wants to can Petition the Crown for redress of an issue. Usually, the Princess only answers a select few but she does tend to favor foals. She cares about all her little ponies." Little ponies my whi-blue ass!

"This. Is. BULLSHIT!" I leapt to my hooves, seething with anger. Looking back at things, it was probably one of those 'common knowledge' things that nopony thought to mention because of how ubiquitous that knowledge was. One of those 'cultural knowledge' things the show writers never touched on or that just didn't exist in the rose-tinted version that was produced for tiny children. Still, I had a right to be at least a bit miffed. But not this miffed.

"Bruce, language!"

"No-no-no-no-no-no-no, fuck you!" And that, my friends, was all it took. Spring's smile fell into a rather angry frown but I was too into my own (irrational) anger to notice. "All I had to do was ASK?! And no one thought to tell me this fact?"

"Bruce, you need to calm down right now!" She sounded serious and her glower was serious as well. I glared back, gritting my teeth.

"I am calm, considering the circumstances," I snarled, hissing through my bared teeth. Say whatever you want about pony/human divergent evolution, I think snarling was sort of universal in that respect. Our raised voices must have carried through the door because Mr. Cake - having waited patiently through a few of my outbursts already - peeked his head in, his face lined with worry.

"Is, is everything alright in here," he asked, oblivious to the pot of boiling anger that was 'Bruce.' I rounded on him, completely and totally out of control.

"No it is not! This bitch-" At my shout, a few things happened. Mr. Cake folded his ears back against his skull, his eyes shooting open at both my volume and my words. My own eyes popped open wide as well. Those words were not exactly the ones I meant to utter. Most importantly, Spring - her face flushed and her mouth pulled into a tight grimace - jumped to her hooves.

"That's it! Corner, NOW!" I found her breaking point, it seemed. I began to stutter out something that might have resembled an apology but she cut me off before I could get even an 'I' out. "Corner! You are in time out! We do not use that language and we do not insult other ponies when they are trying to help."

And she was so right. I didn't want to admit that to myself or her right then, though. I was still a bit upset at being 'left in the dark,' I was reeling from the feelings, I was irritated and I was in a very bad mood. I shouldn't have let that color my words but 'should have could have' never solved things. I tried one more time.

"... but!"

And that's as far as I got. She stomped her hoof and snorted, her head lowered in what I guess was a slightly aggressive manner. It looked aggressive and I think it was the same thing as a human leaning forward and pointing. Whatever the equivalent, it got the message across fine.

"Now, mister." Looking at Mr. Cake for back-up (and him frowning at me in return), I gave a defeated sigh.


DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY! With Genjen catching my stupid mistakes.

This did not come out exactly as it had before. When I was doing my editing, I cut out a huge chunk of conversation but had wanted to get some things settled so I had to go back and edit what I had saved. I forgot to keep in the Princess Petition thing so we'll get to that in the next 'real' chapter in the story (I'll fit it into this conversation as well because it's not 'non-canon' or anything either). This is more a look at what 'could/should have been.' This also suffers from a case of WUI (Writing Under the Influence). Completely legal, let me tell you.

The original had the feelings/history come first with the Princess argument later and then the Assessment test conversation. Putting Bruce in the corner after this felt 'off.' In my experience, punishments tend to follow immediately the behavior that needs correcting. I couldn't - at the time - see any way of rearranging things to make it work better so I cut out the feelings chunk and retyped it into a more compact format. That and the conversation-heavy nature of this made it difficult to interject actions leaving me something akin to 'he said' 'she said' 'he said' 'she said' which I've always hated. I still felt that taking it out served a better purpose and made the previous chapter more focused (and funny) but I may be wrong (what with the breakfast scene acting only as a continuation-joining of the two previous chapters and the assessment test more of a teaser for what will occur next chapter).

No promises about going back and adding any particular part that I may skip over in the future, by the way even if there is a clamor for it. Also, if you get the title reference, kudos! Mel Brooks is a genius.

25 - Down with a Sickness

View Online

"Bruce, is there something you want to talk to somepony about?" Cheerilee looked at me incredulously, having dropped the pencil during the second paragraph of my 'creative writing' portion. Because I couldn't mouth-write, the kind teacher pony had opted to give me my test orally. I was one question in and already causing mental scarring. The task: write a fairy tale. I may have used a loose interpretation of a 'fairy tale.'

"Shub Niggarath isn't that bad." Hey, it's a modern fairy tale!

"A gigantic mile-long sow with," she looked down at some of what she had written, "'black teats leaking a viscous pus, fouling and eating away at her belly as it oozes' isn't that bad?!"

"Yeesh, it's just a fertility goddess reversal." Cheerilee's stare caused my eyes to roll. I shifted uncomfortably on the hard wooden bench. I think Cheerilee got the wrong message about that action as her stare softened in worry but honestly, my ass was going numb. "Instead of representing birth as a natural and wondrous act of giving, miss Shub represents the act of 'creating without thinking.' She is the anti-thesis to a proper fertility symbol. She's not even a goddess of sex, she's a creature that exists solely to create without thought as to her creations. If you can even give sense to a creature that exists outside of space and time." As I explained my concept of the 'Black Goat,' the mare's face changed from one of confusion and worry to horror and worry.

"Bruce, that's horrifying."

"Well, life's been pretty unstable as of late. We're all mites crawling on a dust mote suspended in a sunbeam, insignificant in our works and efforts as the universe around us decays into a black void of nothing." Cheerilee's shocked stare earned her another eye roll. "I haven't even gotten to the part where the protagonist realizes she's in the amassed filth of a millennium's worth of Shub crushing her own young under her enormous bulk as she thrashes in her madness and ecstasy, not to mention Shub's own - uhm, questionable cleanliness?"

A now green-ish looking Cheerilee looked between the lines of text she had written and my face a few times before pushing that portion of the test aside.

"Ahh, let's move on shall we?"

"How is it even possible to have four branches of government?" I scratched my head at the very concept of a four-branch government. Hell, I thought three was a bit overkill except in extremely large countries. Perhaps that should tell me where Equestria was on the scale side of things. Cheerilee - fresh from a 'drink break' where she undoubtedly told Spring of my love of Lovecraftian horrors - looked at me with a slightly confused yet still hopefully happy face.

"Uhm, this isn't really a class Bruce." I gave the teacher the biggest puppy-dog eyes I could muster. After a bit of fidgeting, she sighed. "Since we've already gone past that portion of the test ... the Legislative makes the laws, the Executive administers the laws, the Judicial judges actions and laws based on precedence and the Theocratic ensures that actions and laws don't hurt anyone." I blinked at her. Theocratic?

"That last one sounds like the Judicial with different words .. and really, Theocratic?" My question caused the poor mare to huff.

"Yes, well, the name is a hold over from when the Diarchy of Equestria was the Theocracy of Equestria." Silence reigned for a moment as we both gathered our thoughts. I spoke first.

"... you have any Crusades?" We sat there and blinked at each other as my question sunk in. It kinda makes sense they did, what with the CMC and all. I had a vision of cross-bearing ponies riding other ponies into battle against veiled ponies touting a crescent moon. Oh snap, that was probably not far from the truth, just replace the cross with a sun symbol. Wasn't the cross a sun symbol itself anyway? Enclose it in a circle - BAM - sun symbol! My sudden wool-gathering was interrupted by an answer.

"Uhm, yes. Yes, there were some situations where armies were formed under the Theocratic banner." She shifted nervously from hoof-to-hoof. Clearly, the poor mare was uncomfortable with some of her own country's earlier history and I should step carefully around this subject lest I really cause her worry.

"Wow, did you have any witch burnings?"

"What?!" Cheerilee's shocked expression told me that, yes, they had stake burnings at one point in time because she'd just be confused otherwise. Yeah, well, I'm a bull in a china shop here. The sooner I get home, the better.

"Now, here's an easy one. When was the Treaty of Hoof Glen signed?" History, my favorite subject! Never did well in it, to be honest, as I refused to keep my notes in order and every teacher I ever had ever was more interested in the student's ability to keep a neat binder. History should be about impact! It should be about why's and how's, not when's and where's! Damn public school system. Cheerilee cleared her throat and I responded with the first date that entered my head.

"1812." I smiled up at her incredulous look.

"... Bruce, that's eight hundred and nine years from now."

"I stand by my statement."

"No Bruce, heliocentrism has been proven wrong numerous times."

"Issac Newton says otherwise and he's older than you so I'm more apt to trust him." I crossed my arms petulantly and turned my nose up at her as the red-pink mare facehooved.

"Bruce ..."

"Actually, it was Galileo but gravity is important too."

"I hesitate to ask but, do you know the First Law of Thaumatological Decay?" I think I broke her spirit. She was reading the questions and writing my often very silly answers without much response. We had already gone through a good chunk of the test by this point and I was pretty sure I was doing terribly. I needed to up my game, come out with something that resembled a proper answer.

"Isn't that what happens when you don't brush your teeth?" Cheerilee sighed as she wrote down that ridiculous answer. No, that proper answer thing can go eat a bullet. I was actually having fun with this.

"Where is the Zebra homeland located?" Cheerilee grimly looked at me as I mulled this question over in my head. Africa was probably the closest Earth-style local but I didn't exactly know the name of it here. I shrugged and went with it anyway.


"Well, no. It's located in Zebrican. But bonus points for creativity." As the test wore on, Cheerilee had become more sarcastic herself. It didn't bother me but I was pretty sure this was a side of her personality she didn't show her students often. "You know, if we gave bonus points on this thing."

"I'll give you some bonus points."

"Bruce, focus on the test, not my - ahem - 'cutie mark.'" I gaped at her for a minute as she smirked at me. Slowly, my mouth turned upwards in a grin. I like her. Not going to go easy on her but I like her.

"... therefore, the area of the field is the limit as x approaches six, six times four minus six times zero, simplified as twenty four." The final portion of the test, probably the most dreaded part for most normal colts and fillies. Math. I told you I was in Advanced Calculus in High School, right?

"Bruce, why did you use this weirdo calculus to figure out the area of a six by four plot of land?!" I opened my mouth as Cheerilee quietly fumed across from me, closed it and placed hoof to chin to consider. The 'show work' portion of that one had taken up half a sheet of paper and it was the first of twenty or so.

"Uhm, cause I could?" I think her groan damaged my hearing.

"Sooo, Bruce." Cheerilee looked over the test I had just taken with the look a cow gives an oncoming train. I don't think I did that poorly. Well, maybe I did. "I've graded your test and I must say, I've never seen scores quite like this before."

"That's a good thing, right?" I had abandoned the bench-desk thing as soon as was physically possible and man, my butt had never been more sore. Well, except that one time but everyone experiments, right? The teacher's eyes slid over to me with the same expression she had regarded my paper with and gave me that fake-grin thing that should work on exactly two ponies in the world but everypony seemed to think was a wonderful way of putting a foal at ease. Yeah, thanks for that.

"Well, uh. Your math is great!"

"That's a given. I'm thirty."

"Uhm, yes. Well, other than that ..." I huffed. Lacking Wikipedia sucked, I couldn't prove a thing without it. Hell, I'm pretty sure the notation I used for that silly calculus was completely wrong. Cheerilee looked over her sheet once more, lips tight. "Let's call in your foster father and counselor and we can all discuss this as a group, hmm?"

I shrugged and soon enough, was joined by a couple of nervous nellies. Mr. Cake seemed to be shifting a bit on his pillow while Spring - a font of patience and wisdom - was staring straight ahead as if she was about to be mauled by manticores. Yeah, these two were really helping keep my ass calm. Good thing I'm a very calm and collected person right? Cheerilee sighed and passed the pair some notes she had jotted down in between my answers.

"So, Cheerilee, how is he placing?" Spring glanced over the sheet and I swear, her eyes bugged out! Like literally bulged out of her face. I was intrigued by that reaction. And just a little creeped out. But above all else I was bursting with hopeful joy. Even with my moodiness and my inability to control my energy - I was tapping a hoof as we sat because I had been sitting for two hours already and damn it, I needed to move - I had great hopes for this test to at least stick the potential of my situation into her thick damn skull!

Ah hope. Screw you too.

"Well, his writing is ... not there at all." Yeah, open on my weakest point Cheerilee. Thanks. The teacher sighed. "I had to give him the oral test because he couldn't write at all."

"Oh my." Mr. Cake ignored the probably arcane sheet in front of him and looked at me with sad eyes. I shrugged at him, failing miserably to put his mind at ease.

"He can read though, Carrot. My goodness, can he read. Well, earth pony anyway." Cheerilee grimaced, trying hard to put her next thoughts into careful words. "And he is - remarkably, uhm. Creative? For his age."

"That's ... weird." Spring was tilting both her head and the sheet she was holding. Looking at it at a different angle wasn't going to make it any more logical you daft pegasus.

"Unless I'm not in my own body." I mumbled it just loud enough to be heard and glared at the counselor when she looked over at me in confusion. "Makes sense that my writing skill would be absolutely nothing if I'm used to, I don't know, hands or something." I waved a hoof at her with a frown. She pursed her lips in response, going back to the test with a sharper eye.

"Yes, that brings me to the next part. He placed low in writing and reading because of that," Cheerilee somehow managed to continue over my shouted 'What?!' - and slight coughing fit - without missing a beat, "but it's his math that really shines. You can see he's well into tertiary school level math. Some of his science is high but in other parts he's far behind." I managed to gasp a breath of air before anypony else could reply.

"I should be into college courses! That's calculus. Calculus! If I could remember any more of it ..." Mr. Cake looked between me and Cheerilee with the most astonished look possible. "And pardon me if magic wasn't a big bullet point in my school district."

"... yes, well. Calculus is actually a bit outside my memory as well." The teacher at least had the good graces to look sheepish. I couldn't really blame her for forgetting that kind of thing. It was almost fifteen years ago, I can't remember any of that physics crap I had to learn. "Finally, his civics, history and geography are ..."

"Absolute shit." Three adult heads snapped to me with angry glares. I glared back. "They are! Provinces!? The only provinces I remember are Alberta, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia and the Yukon unless that's the one with the changed name. And I know I'm missing one!" Sorry, Canada. If it makes you feel better, I doubt I could name the fifty states. Actually, scratch that. I couldn't name half of them. My own glare remained steady as Spring lifted a hoof to place it gently on my shoulder.

"Bruce, it's ok. We're not judging you. This isn't a thing where you fail or pass." Spring actually sounded reassuring. It was still a bit irritating but I think I was getting a bit defensive and with a bit of grouchy mumbling on my part, I realized she was right. I took a deep breath to calm myself and nodded.

"I'm sorry, you're right." The adults all gave a sigh of relief at defusing me. I winced slightly at that but I figured I was trying to re-learn how to control myself. Or something. I don't even know anymore.

"He's all over the charts, Spring." Cheerilee chewed on her lip a bit. "I have no idea where to put him, honestly. He should be in tertiary school or even at an apprenticeship with some of these scores but others he is lacking so much he needs to be tutored to even get him to a grade school level." The teacher gave a helpless shrug. "I just don't know."

"Cheerilee, Carrot? I think we should discuss this without Bruce for a little bit." I looked at Spring, trying to gauge where she was going with this. She smiled back. "I'll look into sending that Petition to the Crown out tonight after we get done here but you should get that cough checked out. And we are in a hospital."

For a moment, I could only stare at her with this dumbfounded look on my face. Her smile slowly slipped into a frown and her forehead creased slightly at the growing expression of terror that replaced my normal grim and surely look. She opened her mouth to speak but that was when it began.

"No god! No god please no! No! No! NOOOOOOO-" Hooves leapt to ears as my high pitched scream of horror echoed through the hospital. I think another dog began barking and somewhere in the distance, the faint sound of light piano music began to play.

A nurse-orderly-type pony led me into one of those cold, sterile rooms that doctors love to look at you in and hefted me up onto the table. Thankfully, he used his hooves instead of his nose. The room was rather unremarkable; just an examination table, a side table thing and a cabinet filled with medical supplies. Very little else that I could see. Admittedly, I was a bit lower than most things when I entered and was more concerned with being pout-y than giving the room more than a cursory glance.

I'm a kid now, for some reason, so I can be pout-y.

Why did they insist I wear a hospital gown? I was naked normally! There was no point in wearing something now. My protests remained unvoiced though. Felt kinda good to be wearing clothing of some kind even if it did leave much to be desired about covering things up. The nurse pony turned on his heel and walked out, not even giving me a cursory glance. I think he was offended I compared his mane with spaghetti.

"Hello again, Bruce." And here was the kick in the balls. That Doctor Horse fellow that had looked over me while I was stoned out of my mind walked in with a slight smile. Orange muffin top and all. I groaned and face hoofed.

"In my defense, I was stoned out of my gourd." I didn't see his reaction but his chuckle was telling. I lowered my hoof and fell backward onto the paper-covered examination table, spread eagle. At the time, I was not thinking about how the patient gown was opened on the 'bottom' of me.

"Yes, well. In my defense, I've never met a colt quite like you before." He turned from me and began to leaf through a folder I hadn't noticed sitting on a side table. Yeah, like there's a whole lot to leaf through there, buddy. Three pages in, he sighed. He seemed to dislike having much information about his charges. Can't blame him. What if I was allergic to paper or something?

"One of a kind, man." He grunted at me, pursing his lips. I sighed. I was not having a good time anymore. "Let's get this silliness over with."

"... right. Well, I hear you've been coughing horribly lately." He glanced over at me, as if for confirmation.

"Smoker," I replied with a hoof pointed at my own chest.

"Mmm, I would still like to take a few tests, is that all right with you dearie?"

"Yeah, better to be safe than sorry and all." He nodded at me and walked over with a stethoscope in his hoof. Three-legged hobbling looked mighty uncomfortable and I hadn't gotten the bravery to try it but still, the ponies managed. With his hooves, he managed to wedge the earpieces in and start listening all across my chest. I was about to roll over but he seemed more interested in the front of my body. I did self-consciously cross my legs, though. Yeah, didn't think this position through.

"Well, you've got some congestion in your lungs but not enough to really warrant the kind of cough Spring reported. Say 'ahhh.'" First he took my temperature - the correct way this time. I knew that nurse was a freak. Then came those weird nose-light things. Finally - from somewhere - he produced a cotton swab. "And finally, a sample." Then he started trying to force feed me the thing. I felt it scraping along the back of my throat. Gives a whole new meaning to the term 'deep throat,' WAY-OH!

"GAAAH!" I tried to force his hooves away but his glare and the fact that he was a bit on the 'stronger than me' side of things made me try to control my retching.

"Yes. Rather uncomfortable, I know. I'll take this for some testing and we'll have the results in a few hours." He hobbled over to the table and - producing a glass jar from one of the various drawers - plunked the unlucky swab in a cold and uncaring prison.

"Magic must be nice." Getting viable test results from that should be at least a day or two but adding magic to the mix means anything is possible. Almost. I licked my lips and made faces, trying to get the feeling of that dry cotton scraping away my oral virginity. Blah.

"Ah'm a' earf pony like you, Brushe." He had gone back to the small packet of doctor notes and forms, scribbling away in his chicken scratch. No I couldn't see it but he's a doctor. That's what every doctor's hand/mouth writing looks like. Try making it legible doc. Mouth writing looks hard. I miss my hands so much.

"But you have access to magic. Also, doesn't everypony have magic inside them?" He spat out the pencil he was using and gave me a sidelong glance as I resettled myself on my side, hind leg conveniently placed to hide my ... I'd say shame but really, these ponies don't have that.

"Well, yes. That's true. Anyway, there are a few things I'd like to get checked out more thoroughly." He walked over and called out the door. "We're ready for you Doctor Clear Throat." I wanted to make another deep throat comment but managed to keep it in. WAY-oh, never mind. A purple maned, white coated unicorn mare trotted in and smiled at me. If she took better care of herself, I'd almost mistake her for Rarity. Seriously, all ponies look like ponies. Only difference between her and the seamstress were the eyes - yellow on white was a bit much. Maybe in a few years I'd be able to tell them apart better. Maybe they had subtle facial variations I just haven't been able to pick up on. Maybe they're all clones.

"Hello, 'Bruce' was it? I'm Doctor Clear Throat and," she blinked in confusion as I tried desperately to hold back my snickers, "and ... and I'm a pulmonologist. That's a lung doctor."

"Yeah, my whole family smokes." I giggled again. She looked questioningly at Doctor Horse-face but only received a shrug in response. I'm sorry, the 'throat' name was throwing me for a loop. I cleared my throat and regarded her with a keen eye. "Shouldn't you be an ear, nose and throat doc, doc?"

"Er, why do you say that Bruce?"

"Names here tend to anticipate both talents and cutie marks." She quirked an eyebrow at me as Muffin-top facehooved.

"Uh, Bruce, my full name is Charlie Horse."

"...BWAHAHAHA!" I was almost rolling. Sometimes, puns are funny. Especially when it ends up as some poor sop's name. Both doctors looked at each other confused as I ended up fighting a fit of the giggles. "Le-let me guess, your specialty was musculature?"

"Uh, no Bruce. I'm a pediatrician."


"Bruce!" Both doctors looked so aghast at that it actually stopped my giggles. Geez, tough crowd. I rolled my eyes at their expressions.

"Sorry, bad joke."

"Bruce, please do not make those kinds of jokes. That is a very serious crime and I take my patient's health and well-being very seriously." Ok, Doctor Horse was one of those guys. Why so serious?

"Seriously?" I tried for a troll-face but I can't stretch my skull in that way. I think I pulled a muscle trying. Both doctors blinked at my antics as I worked the sudden kink out of my jaw. They looked marvelously confused. I think I get why Discord was such a jerk. Geez, I'm rooting for the villains now. Deus ex machina, get me out of here before ponies are ruined forever.

"What?" they asked in unison.

"Never mind. So, what are we going to do on the bed?" With that horrid saying out of the way, I fell backwards on purpose, letting the air escape from underneath my back in a puff. If you get the reference, shame on you. I feel shame knowing it. I stretched languidly and slowly, hiding my 'self' with one leg the whole while. Damn, maybe I should do this for a living.

"... uhm, Doctor Horse? Is-" Doctor Throat gave the brown earth pony a sidelong glance, trying to keep my supine form in view all the while. Her eyes were very wide. I don't think I was helping my case here any.

"Spring is already taking care of his case, Clear."

"Oh. OH." Her pupils shrunk to pinpricks as what her colleague said settled in. If she wasn't white before, she definitely would have paled at that. I gave her a 'come hither' stare. She backed up. I was feeling flush with victory in my 'war against Spring's skeptic' and was taking way too many chances. This would never come back to bite me in the rump, what are you talking about? "Is this...?"

"Yes." Despite her hushed tones, Charlie's grim assurance was spoken in a normal volume. I switched my 'come hither stare' to him, complete with waggled eyebrows. He only glared back at me, causing my face to collapse.

"Party pooper."

"I see." In a flash, Doctor Throat's face went from an almost blank thousand yard stare of horrific realization into that fake-smile adult ponies seem to think foals love. "Well, Bruce! We're going to do a bit of a magical scan on your lungs - those big bags that let you breathe! It might tingle but it won't hurt a bit. Won't that be fun?"

"Oh for the love of bob." I covered my face with a hoof and nodded, just to get it over with. I couldn't see her magic begin but I knew when it started. Tingle nothing, that thing tickled. It was like feathers across your chest - only a pony chest seems to be more ticklish than a human one. I may have yiped at the first contact but I'm guessing they were expecting that because the mare didn't let up. Man, I was choking trying not to laugh out loud as those little tingle-tickles of magic ran up and down my chest. A look down showed my whole chest area bathed in a yellow aura and Dr. Throat's face scrunched in concentration. After a minute of her little yellow sparks going off, she let up and I could breathe again.

"Well, your lungs are as fit as a fiddle-" She was about to continue but both Doctor Pulled-Leg and myself sort of interrupted her.

"Haaa, wait what?"

"What?" Doc Horse-Puller had as surprised look on his face as mine. I guess me being a smoker really was fact for him. It was for me but that's because I was the one smoking a few days ago.

"That's what I sa-look, I'm a smoker. I should have tar deposits in my lungs as well as-" My rant was cut off by a shake of Clear's head.

"No, no you're not."

"What?" I am a font of creativity and original content, folks.

"You already said that." She grinned at me as my face morphed into 'that look.' You know, the one a kid gives you when you say something so stupid, even they have a hard time believing it. Clear rolled her eyes at me, unimpressed with my world-savy abilities. "Look, with my magic, I can tell a great deal about the internal organs of ponies. You, young stallion," she punctuated that with a hoof jab toward me, "are perfectly healthy, lung wise. Some minor irritation, that's all. Lots of congestion in the upper respiratory tract, though. You've taken a sample?" Doctor Horse nodded, eyeing me as if I was some criminal. I've said nothing but the truth. "Alright, I'd like to isolate him."

"Aww man, really?"

"Yes, really. You've got a slight fever, according to this chart, and I'm not taking any chances."

The universe hates me. It really, really hates me. You know how I can tell? I was in the same damn hospital room I had escaped from only a day or two prior! Same pea-green colored paint job, same bed ... if they hadn't changed the sheets, I might have a lawsuit on my hooves. I'm guessing they did though. And it wasn't but a few moments after the nurse-orderly-pony stallion had walked out that I saw my third 'I thought I wasn't going to see you again' surprise.

"Well, this is a surprise." Nurse 'Soap' eyed me warily from the doorway. I gave her a once over, my normal frown morphing into a sneer of displeasure.

"... yeah, unpleasant though it may be." I was already in bed and the clear plastic sheeting surrounding me really lent the whole room that air of 'immanent death' that every hospital needed. So not only was I evidently no longer a smoker, I had ebola or something. My immense imagination was running through every 'worst possible thing' from bleeding from every orifice to zombies. I was in no mood for this nurse's 'I know better than you' attitude.

"Don't sass, young stallion." She hadn't left her station near the door. Clearly I was a pariah. I hoped I was contagious and it was airborne enough to get out of the plastic shroud and infect her. Well, not really. I hoped it was a cold and I could go 'home' soon.

"I only sass when sassed," I sassed. Her wide eyes and shocked expression told of a world of word-torment to come. I grinned at her, a grin with no warmth whatsoever. Bring it.

"You infuri-no, no." A calm breath later, she regarded me very coldly. "Look, I don't really like your attitude-"

"Couldn't tell." She paused at my interjection, giving me time to finish anything else I'd want to say. I didn't give her the satisfaction of having anything else to say. After a second, she continued with more force behind her words.

"-but you are a patient. Now then, your foster father, counselor and that teacher from Ponyville East are here to see you." She turned as she finished, clearly intending to send the trio of semi-rational adults in with me.

"Well send them in, Miriam! Chop-chop." I clopped my hooves together in a farce of clapping. The nurse paused at the doorway and I could hear a low and very angry growl. She didn't chose to reply, which was a shame. I had some suggestions on how to make the room a bit cheerier.

"Bruce, you really shouldn't antagonize the nurses. They're here to make sure you get better." Mr. Cake - ever the conciliatory gentlestallion - frowned at me with those sad eyes of his as he followed Spring and Cheerilee into my boudoir of sickness. I almost shot him a sarcastic comment or two but bit my tongue. Poor guy didn't deserve having to deal with me.

"Right, once we figure out what's wrong with me." It wasn't sarcastic! It was pessimistic and fatalist. There's a difference. I began to pout a bit before noticing the worried looks the three adults were giving me. Spring stepped forward but remained silent. It was kinda creeping me out and I nervously looked between the three faces, searching for a clue as to what was going on. "What?"

"They'll have the test results in a few hours. We'd like to talk about ... you," Spring replied, her tone very even and steady. Yeah, I could tell she was controlling herself. That alone began to ratchet up my already rapid heartbeat. What do I do when nervous? I make things worse. I placed hoof to chin again in a parody of deep thought.

"Well, I'm a Taurus, I like quiet nights at home, prefer cats to dogs and am looking for a mare that shares my preference for drinking until unconsciousness and wild nights of hot, wet - "

"BRUCE!" Three shocked voices cut me off before I could finish. I looked at them confused.

"... bubble baths." My poker face was never this good as a human. Cheerilee leaned in towards Mr. Cake, her face a deadpanned look of acceptance.

"He's always like this, isn't he?" she whispered.

"Yeah." Mr. Cake eyed me from where he stood, a bit sad and a bit ... disappointed. I tore my eyes away from his, unwilling to go down that path again. 'Son I am disappoint' really does work, somehow.

"Now Bruce, we've gone over your test results and ... well, they're strange." Spring's facade of control was slipping a bit because I saw some conflicting emotions roiling away underneath her mask. I couldn't read them for the life of me though. The show was never this detailed.

"And I'm not?" I asked, one eyebrow raised. Spring rolled her eyes at me and groaned.

"Yes, well, I have a few questions about you. Be honest." That got to me, it really did. I haven't lied a bit since I ended up in pretty pink princess ponyland. I may be many things but a liar I am not. I met Spring's hopeful gaze with as intense a look as I could muster. Cheerilee snickered but I paid her no mind. I was a serious tiny baby pony, damn it.

"Ms. Meadows, I haven't been dishonest since I woke up." She stared at me for a moment before nodding. She took a deep, calming breath and released it slowly.

"Ok, why do you speak Equestrian?" I blinked at her question. That's a very good question. Why do I speak Equestrian? Oh, wait.

"I don't." Three adult faces tilted to the side in unison and pursed their lips in thought. It was like a 'synchronized tilt.' Mr. Cake broke the silence with a very uncomfortable 'uhm' sound. I facehooved. Of course they're going to question that.

"I don't, really. I speak English. It's pretty dang close to Equestrian though. Somebody instead of somepony, little things like that. But mostly, it matches creepily well." As the three ponies tried to wrap their heads around that thought, I began to count the seconds until somepony responded. I got to about fifteen before Cheerilee spoke up.

"That makes no sense."

"Lady, I make no sense. I shouldn't be here. I am not scientifically possible. And yet." I spread my arms out wide, slightly gesturing at my form. Cheerilee frowned at my use of the term 'lady' but said nothing. "It's strange, about the strangest thing I've seen thus far and that's counting the magic stuff. But it's not entirely impossible." Spring shook her head, about to protest but I continued on. "Look, divergent evolution aside, if our cultures match closely enough, why wouldn't our language be similar? Is it a one-in-a-million chance? Sure. Fertilization is the same way. One twitch the wrong way, and you get a male instead of a female. Or even a foetus that's not functional."

"That is really creepy," Mr. Cake stated flatly, a grimace replacing his confusion. I pointed a hoof at him roughly.

"Your face."

"What?" He drew back, hoof raised. Cheerilee glared at me though I ignored her. I think I offended my foster father so I waved my hoof at all three of them and began to clarify my statement.

"Ponies. You guys are all CREEPY! BIG giant eyes that shouldn't be possible in ball form, gia-" My listing was interrupted by Cheerilee.

"Ball? Pony eyes are plates." She poked her face with a hoof - just below the eye - and stretched it. The motion distorted her eye itself, pulling it into a mockery of form that will haunt me until the end of time oh my freaking god. My face changed from regular-sour to terrifyingly-horrified - yes, it's different from regular horrified - in less time than it takes Pinkie Pie to eat an entire cake.

"OH GOD, I CAN'T UNFEEL IT!" I was suddenly acutely aware of the shape of my own eye 'plates' and began to roughly hoof at my face. I think I was trying to dig them out or something and I was lucky that the thought of eye 'plates' caused me enough distress to close my eye lids. I heard the sound of two sets of hooves rushing towards me - though I was only dimly aware of my surroundings because eye plates! What the actual fuck? The sound of plastic being ripped followed the sounds of hooves.

"Bruce, stop, you're going to hurt yourself," Spring said and I felt two pairs of hooves trying to restrain me. I fought them, though. I gave it my all because I would be damned if I was going to be subjected to the sensation of my iris floating across a plate of gelatinous goo.

"Argh, get them out, get them out!" I was thrashing around pretty well and it took both mares to keep me from disfiguring myself. I think Mr. Cake had joined me and I could barely hear somepony shout for a nurse when the door flew open, startling us all. I still pulled at their grip - Mr. Cake had taken my hind legs while I was flanked by both mares - but the look on the doctor's face had kicked me out of 'eye plate' horror.

"Shpring. We 'eed to chlear t'is room imme'iately." He cantered over towards me, syringe in mouth. Oh no. No, not again! I began fighting once more, looking on as the syringe got ever-closer to my pristine flesh. My babbling of protests did not dissuade anypony and the conversation continued on around me.

"Doctor Horse? What's going on?" Spring was ... terrified. There was no mask, no fake smile. She was afraid for some reason. The way she glanced at me afterwards made me realize - she was afraid for me. If she wasn't currently holding me down in a 'rape' pose as a doctor I had not too long ago pissed off approached me with a needle, I would have felt the warm and bubblies.

Doctor Horse spat out the syringe and I watched as it was caught very nicely by a light yellow aura. Doctor Throat followed closely behind her colleague, maneuvering the poison-filled weapon of torture with practiced ease. It was probably sedative but I wasn't really sure of that.

"The testing has finished." Doctor Throat looked gravely at the adults assembled. I felt like I was in one of those medical dramas, it was uncanny. "It's diphtheria."

"WHA-" honk honk honk Talk about a surprise! Any other exclamations were silenced as I hacked out another lung - I was starting a collection you see - and Doctor Throat looked down at me with those yellow eyes of hers gently smiling.

"Ok, Bruce. I think it's time for a nap." I felt the prick of the needle against my flank and growled out the first thing that came to mind, choked out between coughs.

"This is," cough, "bullshit."

I opened my eyes, the swirling colors and thumping noises sending my head into a whirlwind of pain. I moaned loudly as I lifted my head, rubbing my temples and trying to settle my stomach from the assault of light and sound. Suddenly, a loud smack brought me out of my haze and drew my eyes upwards.

"Hey buddy, it's closing time. How about we settle your tab and you can be on your way?" The moustachioed man across the bar from me eyed me carefully, used to violent antics from college kids. At least they were going somewhere with their lives. "You gonna be okay to drive there?"

"Yeah. Yeah." I reached into my coat pocket and drew out my wallet. With a practiced flick, my card was in the bartender's hand and he was off to settle on how much of my dwindling bank account the drinks would cost me. As he left, my eyes fell on the mirror behind stacks of mixers and hard liquor. Steel blue eyes met same and I grimly looked over what I had become. My own mustache and goatee - poorly trimmed - sitting on an extremely pale oval of milky white and framed by thin and limp brown hair that fell to just above where pectorals would be on anyone in decent shape. My blue work shirt unbuttoned, my tie laying limp and loose against my chest and on top of all of that my very stupid and very dear black leather duster. I reached out and sat my black leather hat back where it rightfully belonged just in time to sign my receipt and make my way wearily out of the near abandoned bar and into the muggy summer night air. Nashville was always such a treat in the summer.

"Ahhhh, I hate this city," I mumbled as the familiar smells of car exhaust and the nearby 'Bum'berland River besieged my nostrils. The smell of diesel and sewage, my favorite mix. I heaved a sigh and began my trek home keeping one eye out for shadows and a hand on my .380. Yeah, I carried into a bar. Take my C&C permit, I don't care. At least it wasn't far. The dirty street was lit only by lamps that glimmered harshly off of the surrounding businesses windows which slowly, over the course of a few minutes, changed into run down homes and corner stores. Most of the buildings were built in the 20's and 30's and from where I walked, none had been renovated since they were raised. A few of the houses had lights on - though most were boarded and abandoned - and I could hear shouts of anger from at least three separate homes as I passed. Thick brick doesn't help keep the sounds of a domestic situation from the street at that volume.

Home sweet home. A solid brick house - built circa 1930 - with a yard more dirt than grass and an old Buick parked in the driveway. Faded and pealing white trim outlined the squat one story building, giving it just that much of a run-down feel that it matched every other house on the block. Blink as you drove by and it was gone, lost to a sea of similarity. One house in a million and it held the most important thing in the world.

"Baby, I'm home." The front led into the 'living room' though it was more a storage shed than a proper room. Hell, I hadn't seen the couch in at least a year. It was dark but the light shining down the hallway was enough to see by - the scuffed wood floors, the yellowed 'white' paint, the haphazard stacks of three decades of life. I eyed the collapsed section of the ceiling that led into the attic space as I shed my coat and hat. Raccoons liked to get into the attic but it didn't seem there were any unwanted guests that night. I tromped across the wood floor, following the light. "Baby, you in here?"

The hallway connected the rest of the house. Every room had a doorway onto it. The kitchen, the single bathroom and the single bedroom all opened onto that central corridor. The light led me right to the bedroom, pouring out of the half-open door. My heart began to pound. She hadn't replied. Why hadn't she replied? I fingered my pathetic pistol - still in my hand from the walk - and moved up cautiously on the room.

"Baby?" With a nudge from my free hand, I opened the bedroom door fully and I fully felt my heart stop. There are times when everything in the world slows down and you remember each and every detail as if it was burned into your mind with a hot iron. I remember the TV flickering with some news program. I remember the grain of the wood on the floor. I remember the pile of laundry, spread out from where it had fallen from both basket and hand. I saw the collapsed form of my wife laying on the bedroom floor, barely breathing.

"Where are you?" Celestia Suntouched, Princess of Equestria and Ruler of the Sun, stood upon her balcony and surveyed her lands - attempting through sheer strength of will to make the strange creature manifest itself. Above her head, pegasi circled in marked airways while the distant sounds of commerce echoed through the almost canyon-like avenues. The tall white spires of her city shone almost painfully white in the late afternoon sun while the masses of colorful ponies below wound through wide avenues and streets lined with trees so verdant they almost glowed themselves. Beyond the high walls lay her lands, bright green and dusty brown alike. Fields and forests, rivers and lakes, towns and cities - a patchwork quilt of precise and measured form. Each blue, green or earthen jewel placed in just the proper way so as to maximize each yard of land.

For two days, the Solar Princess of Equestria had come to this balcony to stare off across her lands. For two days, her Court had been adjured. For two days, she had sequestered herself in her rooms, going through reams of reports and almost frothing with worry. For two days, her scouts had scoured the lands surrounding Canterlot for any sign of strange creatures or unknown entities.

For two days, Celestia Suntouched - the most powerful mare in all of Equis and one of the most powerful creatures her world had ever seen - felt powerless.

"For all my spies, for all my guards, for all my power ... yet you remain hidden to me." Her voice was a whisper, barely heard by her own ears above the cacophony of sounds from below. A knocking at her study door jerked her mind back to the here-and-now and Celestia shook her head in the Ancien way. Calling over her shoulder, she bid the guard enter.

"Your Majesty." The unicorn guard's voice - one Sergeant Shield - cut clearly through the echoes below. Celestia turned from her perch, a mask of motherly love firmly in place against her worry.

The gilded portal of gold-chased marble led directly into her study, her functional and sturdy desk facing the door opposite. Other than that well worn relic, the rest of the room was lavishly decorated with inlaid precious metals, jewels of such clarity as to cause a grown dragon to weep and tapestries woven of pure silk with such skill that anypony would swear they were alive if so much as a breeze shifted them in their silent vigil. The stoic guard bowed at her approach.

"Rise Sergent. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Celestia stepped into her refuge from the many demands of her Principality - Empire in all but name - and gracefully moved to meet her guard without the weight of her now overloaded desk imposing itself between them. The silver gilded guard rose, his eyes rising further than his head to meet hers. A millennium of learning the subtle variations of her subject's features made even her blank faced guards as easy to read as a lighted sign. Confusion and worry for her safety caused a tension in his face and withers that shouted of an unexpected guest. Celestia knew his message even before he had begun to deliver it but allowed him his piece regardless.

"Your Majesty, there is a ... visitor here bearing your mark." The guard's tone told more than his words did. Displeasure at the unexpected interruption. Disdain at the visitor's appearance. And again, worry at his charge's safety. All this and more in tones that most ponies would find impossible to find and in slight muscle twitches only centuries of study could bring forward to the conscious mind. To the general population, every guard was a solid stone carving of determination. To Celestia, however, they were as easy to read as any book. Celestia said nothing of this, however. She only smiled down with her mask of motherly care covering her nervousness and hope.

"Please send her in." A slight widening of the eyes, a short intake of breath. Her guard was surprised. Celestia's boundless experience in reading a pony and her own knowledge of her unannounced visitor reinforced the common thought of her own near-omniscience. She shivered as her guard turned to lead the 'unknown' mare in. A misconception uncorrected was as good as a lie but such lies were useful. Celestia silently wished for a day when they were not.

Not but a moment later was the expected 'unexpected' mare ushered in under the watchful glare of her guard, her cloak still stained from travel. The light grey pony was hornless and her cloak hid all else but Celestia knew this mare well. With a burst of golden magic, Celestia sealed her room from all sound - the sudden quiet a jarring difference from the muffled noise drifting from below. With a nod to her guest, the Sun Princess sat demurely on the floor, her head lowered as the mare removed her hood and gazed on her ruler with golden eyes. At least one of them regarded her, the other drifting across the oculus plate lazily. Fake eyes were very difficult to keep still, after all. The grey mare did not bow nor scrape. Her tasks were more important and secret than those oft shown yet unnecessary displays of submission.

"Derpy, you have something of grave interest to report?" Celestia's voice was soft but tinged with concern and worry. Derpy's task was to watch over her most precious friends - and tools. For the mailmare and watcher to make such a trip from Ponyville at such little notice was greatly distressing. Even more-so in light of the fact her student had made no mention of anything untoward in her latest report. Derpy nodded, her false eye bouncing across her plate gently.

"Yes, your Majesty. I was asked to keep an eye out for any undocumented creatures and despite how odd it sounds, I may have found it. Well, him." Celestia's head snapped up, her eyes suddenly intent and searching. She saw nothing in her spy's face to indicate deception but there was an under current of worry. Worry of bringing poor news.

"Tell Us, Dame Derpy, of this 'him.' If it is the creature We seek, We would be grateful to hear news." Celestia spared a glance towards her still open balcony, separated only by a glimmering sheen of her golden magic. If the creature was in Ponyville, reaching him was no longer a problem. Retrieving him might very well be.

26 - Bruce has diphtheria. Press SPACE BAR to continue.

View Online




"Uggggh." I wearily poked my head up out of the tangle of sheets I had managed to wrap myself in, eyes adjusting to the dim lighting really quickly for being freakin' plates. Don't think about it. Don't think about it.

Stop thinking about it, damn it!

Pea-green paint and a splotch of pink distorted by clear sheets met my PLATES WHAT THE FU eyes. Still in the hospital, still surrounded by plastic, and now I had a visitor. I was drained - emotionally and physically - and my latest dream hadn't exactly helped my state of mind.

"Pink-" HONK HONK. My lungs felt like they were full of sand and my body was definitely rejecting something. I sat up quickly, pounding my blue chest with my hoof in a vain attempt to dislodge whatever was crammed in it. Thankfully, the coughing fit didn't last too long and it woke me up enough that the room stopped being so blurry. "Argh, I hate that."

"Are you alright Bruce?" Pinkie Pie tilted her head in slight concern, safely separated from me by the sheeting of what I could only hope was air-tight plastic. Nope, it was opened at the top. Yeah, high marks for safety Ponyville. Before answering her, I glanced around a bit. There was still daylight streaming in through the windows but the shadows were a bit on the long side. It wasn't orange yet but the muted yellow did not go well at all with the pea-green everything the hospital had decided the room needed to be painted in. Other than a side table with nothing much on it right next to the bed and the doors to the hallway and bathroom, the room was empty. Not even an IV bag for hydration. Not even an old black and white TV. Crap and a half, another day wasted.

That and the ponies don't have TV from what I can tell - a big mark against me sticking around.

"Pinkie, should you really be in here?" I motioned above me and her eyes followed my hoof to where the plastic stopped. "I'm probably highly contagious."

"Oh, no worries!" She reached out and I had only enough time to try to say 'no' before she popped open the curtain surrounding me. "I've kept up on my immunizations. Can't be too careful with foals in the house."

"Ah, well. Still, you could transf-"

"Nope. When you got brought in, Ponyville was ordered by the Health Ministry to catch up on everypony's immunizations as well. There hasn't been a case of diphtheria in, like, decades." As she spoke, she began to sort out my sheets and soon enough, I was laying in what resembled a bed instead of a pile of laundry. How she managed to do that and keep me preoccupied with conversation I will never know. "Some ponies were really sad about having to come in and we caught two more cases of minor diphtheria - that's a hard word to say, diphtheria. Dipth-eria, diff-theria, dip-fearia? Diff-" I facehooved as she began to try different variations on the word 'diphtheria.'

"Focus, Pinkie."

"Oh, right. Anyway, some ponies were a bit upset but I threw a 'Shot Party' right outside and that cheered everypony up." My thoughts drifted back to my own party as well as the ones featured in the show and I shuddered slightly. Balloons, games and non-alcoholic punch is not my recipe for a good time but to each their own.

"Right. I'm sure it was lovely." Sarcasm dripped off my voice. Or maybe I was just drooling a bit. Pinkie stopped in her smoothing of the hospital blanket - while I blinked at the transformation in my bed - and seemed to consider my statement before shaking her head with a smile.

"No, you'd hate it. Too many ponies." Did that just happen? Did Pinkie just tell me she was aware that her average parties wouldn't be my type of thing? And she didn't break down this time? Pinkie went back to puttering about, her self-set task of getting the bed ready for a military inspection done as I gave her this blank and considering stare. After a few moments of her noticing it but not commenting, I broke the silence.

"You know what, Pinkie?"

"What's up?" She looked up at me with those bright, innocent blue eyes of hers, a half-smile on her muzzle. The perfect picture of a content Pinkie in her semi-natural habitat. There was only one thing to do.

"You're pretty cool." Be honest. At my statement, Pinkie's face went from her normal happy-Pinkie smile to that arched eyes happy face that ponies can pull off. It was very anime.

"Aww, thanks Bruce-y wuce-y!" she exclaimed, raising up her fore hooves. She wasn't entirely stable that way and fell to the floor with a loud clop. I winced at her choice of words.

"That, not so much."

Surprise marked her face before melting into that half smile again. I smiled back. I think Pinkie was getting used to me. Then she stuck out her tongue and blew me a raspberry. Yeah, she was getting used to me. For a while, there was comfortable silence between us. Pinkie - while maintaining her buoyant personality - seemed content just to be. I, on the other hoof, began to fidget nervously.

"So, uh, I gotta ask. When you said you believed me ..." I trailed off, unsure of how to pose my question. I didn't want her to think I disbelieved her but if our situations were reversed, I don't think I could do the same. Some little girl wandering up to me on the street, claiming to be some old alien trapped in that body? Yeah, I'd be calling Child Services and leaving it in their (admittedly busy) hands. Pinkie saved me the trouble of having to be diplomatic.

"I meant it, Bruce. You - you're not like a little colt." I've never seen Pinkie stutter before. Even nervous, she always seemed to be confident in her tone and emotions. This was something altogether different. She was unsure. This was a side of Pinkie Pie I don't think the show ever gave me. As she spoke, the hurt began to show in her voice and face. "I've - well - I've talked to some really hurt colts. They're angry, they're sad. They blame themselves and the world for everything. You, you don't do that. Much." We both smiled at that in a rather subdued way. Her for her little joke and me because I'm self-conscious enough to realize that blaming others is one of my bad habits.

"And it's not just that. When you mentioned my song ... I've never told anypony about that. And I think the Apploosans want to forget it as well." Seeing as how it almost cost them the town. I kept my mouth shut. "It's not really known outside of that town and my friends. And, no offense Bruce, you're definitely not settler-pony material."

"Hey, no offense taken. I'd die within a few minutes of being away from civilization." Pinkie smiled at me and ruffled my mane.

"Oh Bruce, no you wouldn't silly. You'd probably last a week. You might die from dehydration though." That was unexpected. I grimaced at her, trying to flatten my comically poofy hair.

"That's a lovely thought Pinkie. And so uplifting with me wasting away from diphtheria," I huffed. Pinkie blushed a bit as she settled next to the bed.

"Oops. But hey, you're in a hospital and they'll take care of you and you'll be out and about before you know it!"

"Pardon me if I don't share your enthusiasm for Ponyville General here." We again lapsed into silence. Pinkie shuffled a bit. I could almost see the internal debate. After a second, she took a deep - calming breath - and spoke.

"Bruce, you need to calm down."

"What?" I looked around, a bit startled at her words. I thought I was being calm. No fires, no screaming nurses or counselors. No hilarious chase scenes ending with me under a pile of ponies, thrashing and screaming about their hooves. Or their eye plates OH GOD - no, calm. Calm. I was calm. I looked at Pinkie irritated. "I am calm!"

"You've been panicking and running around like a cow after seeing a snake." Pinkie rolled her eyes as I winced. That's what she meant, in general not this specific time. "You say you're an adult but you act like it only half the time. Don't you miss your family? Shouldn't you be concentrating on getting home?"

My jaw dropped and I think my poofy mane de-poofed on its own. These were ... very valid questions. But I had no idea what to do! How do you convince the world of one thing when they are all absolutely convinced of another - especially if they aren't inclined to believe you in the first place? As I asked myself these questions, Pinkie covered her mouth with a hoof. She seemed to have suddenly become aware of the bad memories she stirred up. We stared at each other for a moment with wide eyes. Despite the tactless way she had asked her question, she made no move to retract it.

"How?" My voice cracked. "How am I supposed to do that? No one believes me except you and maybe Spike."

"Well, Spring did submit your Petition so-" I managed a double take at Pinkie without taking my eyes off her. It involved several facial movements that can't be adequately described or imitated with a human facial structure. Pony bones were more like 'suggestions' rather than firm limits on their form.

"She told you?"

"Well, no." Pinkie looked away with her ears lowered, a bit embarrassed at having to admit to eavesdropping. "I overheard her talking to Mr. Cake during the 'Shot Party.' But it's a start." She perked right back up. "Now you just need to convince others."

"Like who? Who can I convince to help me? I mean, other than you Elements of Harmony, I don't really know all that much about this world." She put a hoof to her chin in thought, though her 'concentrating face' was ruined by the semi-smile she was trying to hide. Her train of thought was well out of the station and chugging along at a really good clip when she finally spoke.

"Uhm, then start with the Elements of Harmony silly! Sure, it might be hard but you gotta stop acting like a, uhm ..." And we have derailment. No survivors. Pinkie gaped like a fish, trying to think of a nice way of saying what was on both our minds. I saved her the trouble.

"Jerkass? Idiot? Complete and total spaz?" Each word made Pinkie wince. Yeah, those were probably the words she had discarded as being 'too mean.' But it's ok if I'm mean to myself I guess. She waved one hoof around, weighing my words in her mind before sighing.

"Well. Yes." She nodded. With a snort, I returned to my previous bad mood.

"Easy to say, hard to do."

"You can't control where you are or what really happens in life, no matter your age." Whoa. Deep, introspective and mature Pinkie has returned. "You especially because of what other ponies expect you to be. But you can change how you act. You're going to be put in school, you're going to have Spring - who is a super fun and super nice pony when you give her the chance - going on about how different you are and how weird you act. But you can't change those things. You can change how you act towards other ponies and what you do about these things."

We both looked at each other, one smiling and the other open-mouthed. I think I blinked a bit.

"Bruce, you'll catch flies that way."

"... when the hell did you get so deep, Pinkie?" She gasped with an offended look. Her hooves flew to her ... sides and she scowled at me.

"I'm not deep. My flanks aren't that big!" It took me less than a second to figure out the stretch she was going for.

"You know what I mean." I pinched my muzzle with a hoof and a sigh. "Redirecting with non sequitur or humorous intent only works if the target isn't expecting it or if they think you're an idiot."

"Works most of the time," Pinkie grumbled, her fake scowl and hooves both dropping. Her ears were splayed back again and she seemed unhappy. Unhappy Pinkie is the worst Pinkie. I sighed again and dropped my hoof back to the bed sheet.

"Ok, well y-"

"That's a deep subject." I closed my mouth with a loud 'clack' and gave Pinkie that look again. And ignored the pain from my teeth. Ow. Pinkie looked at me innocently. "What?" Her eyes told a different story than her face. They were sad, pleading. Her body was tense and I noticed a slight jiggle in her hooves. Touchy subject for the Element of Laughter. I nodded and she relaxed.

"Anyway, if you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. I fully understand the need for privacy. But, uh, thanks. You're a good pers-er, pony." With a 'squee' Pinkie clopped her hooves together and launched herself at me. I had no time to react and found myself enveloped by pink everything. She smelled like flour and sugar.

"Awww. HUGS TIME!" I couldn't see her face but I knew in my bones she had a big smile. I began to shift about, trying to un-hug myself. It wasn't working. Seriously, Pinkie had some strength in her.

"Ah! Dang it, Pinkie we were not having a 'moment'." I grimaced and growled as I shifted. The pink party pony giggled and tightened her vice-like grip on me. Not enough to cut off air but enough that I wasn't going anywhere.

"Then why are you only sorta-struggling?" I looked up towards Pinkie's head and opened my mouth to protest but ... there was nothing I could say. I wasn't fighting it very hard - I could have started pushing her away but I didn't. Instead, I sighed and snuggled into her chest.

"... touche." Slowly, my eyes closed and a hint of a smile started. My manliness rating was in the tank already because of all the crying and emotions and stuff, a little hug wouldn't hurt it anymore. Especially if nopony else saw -

"Ain't that the cutest thing." The sudden sound of cow-pony accent popped my eyes open faster than the smell of good whiskey and a nice fresh pack of reds. Five forms filled the doorway, their colorful bodies well illuminated by the still waning light of the day. Applejack was in front, her face a cheerful smirk but I could see several other heads behind hers. Purple, white, blue ... yellow.

"Ah!" I did NOT scream like a little filly, it was a very manly shout of surprise. It cracked a bit but it was not a scream. I hope. With speed to rival Rainbow Dash - now currently hovering in the doorway and trying to hold back her laughter - I almost leapt out of Pinkie's arms. After a confused scramble, I ended up climbing on top of the pillow. There wasn't a whole lot of room on the bed. I held a hoof to my heaving chest in an attempt to stop my heart from bursting out. It worked.

"Well, I did tell you he seemed like a sweet heart to me. He's just been through some bad times." At Fluttershy's voice, the Elements of Harmony came trotting into the room after Applejack. The two unicorns hung back a bit - Rarity because she's a giant germaphobe and Twilight probably because we've butted heads. Applejack and Rainbow Dash joined Pinkie at my bedside while Fluttershy quietly made her way to the other side. As I gasped my heart back into my chest, Rainbow Dash poked at the still opened isolation sheet.

"Hey, cool plastic sheet. You the reason the docs wanted to use me as a pincushion?" At Rainbow's smirking question, I noticed that each pony had a bandage on a foreleg. Except Pinkie Pie.

"Dash, be polite," Rarity huffed at Rainbow's words with a flick of her mane. Wow, talk about 'stereotypical.' "The poor thing has been through a great deal of stress lately." Rainbow grimaced a bit at Rarity's tone but kept silent. Hey, I understood it was all in good humor. Before I could voice my opinion however, Twilight stepped close to the foot of the bed and sighed.

"Well, I don't know why Pinkie was insistent on us meeting you again, 'fan colt,' but here we are." She regarded me with a half-smile but I could feel the nervousness underneath the mask. Oh great, and it was making me nervous. I glanced around at the many faces now looking at me, feeling an acute case of claustrophobia suddenly.


"Yeah Bruce?"

"I am going to strangle you in your sleep." The Element Bearers all gasped at that. Except Pinkie. Pinkie just giggled and hugged me again.

"Oh Bruce, I love you too!"

Yeah, she's getting used to me.

27 - Feeling Stupid and Contagious

View Online

"That wasn't very nice Bruce." Twilight arched an eyebrow at me from the foot of the bed - plainly disapproving of my words - as the other Bearers nodded their agreement. I would have felt small if not for the fact that Pinkie hadn't ever learned that ponies need air to breathe. Those hugs are dangerous. Thankfully, Twilight managed to distract her with something loosely called 'logic' and, with the Hug Demon otherwise occupied, I managed to not die from asphyxiation.

"Silly, that's just his way of saying 'I love you and thank you.'" She ruffled my mane with a hoof, propping herself against the side of the bed with another. I batted at her - ineffectively - as my breathing returned to normal. My gasping didn't even phase her. Thanks for making me feel all manly and adult-like Pinkie! "Besides, I think a grown mare can take a little colt, don't you?"

"Th-that's what she said ..." I gasped out in an attempt to salvage what was left of my dignity. I glanced around, expecting to see confusion. Rarity looked at me with affronted shock from where she stood near the mostly-confused Twilight - both conspicuously at the foot of the bed and farthest from me. Applejack was showing more of the 'horrified' side of 'horrified shock.' Next to her - and slightly above due to her constantly flapping wings - Rainbow Dash groaned. Fluttershy winced, though she was blushing a bit more than was necessary. Only Pinkie had what I would call a 'regular' reaction to my inability to control my words. She was wincing. "Tough crowd."

I sighed and turned to Pinkie with the largest grin I could scrape up (it wasn't much but it was big and that makes it better, right?) as everypony else mentally scrambled. Kids making sex jokes, always a great way to start the day. "Pinkie, I appreciate this. Really I do. But I was kinda planning on talking to your friends-slash-the saviors of the world each in turn rather than all together." Pinkie placed hoof to chin in thought while the other members of her clique of friends shared confused glances with each other. After a second, she shrugged.

"I figured you'd want to get it over with all at once." Pinkie said with her characteristic exuberance and a smile. I stared at her for a second before dropping my head to the mattress in irritation. "What?"

"There's no way we could do this in pairs or something?" I waved a leg off-hoofedly towards her friends. Before Pinkie could respond, Applejack saved her the trouble.

"Bruce, Ah get that ... things have happened to ya and all that but, uh, Pinkie said you had something important to tell us? And Ah figure that if you can say it to one of us, you can say it to all of us." I lifted my head and glanced around. Nods from all the ponies - Twilight's being more vigorous than the others - signaled their agreement. I opened my mouth to argue - as well as ask what the hell she was talking about 'things' - but Pinkie's hoof touching my shoulder stopped me.

"Bruce," Pinkie smiled warmly at me, "just tell them the truth and everything will be ok."

"Ah, eh ... fine." With a sigh, I abandoned my questions for later. I was going to get a firm answer on what Spring had told everypony. A straight answer damn it! But later. "Ok. Uhm, this is going to be a tad difficult to believe but let me, uh, say everything before you start calling me insane."

"Insane?" Rarity asked. A could hear a few sharp intakes of breath - probably from Twilight and Fluttershy if the positions of the sounds were anything to go by. The few who knew of my 'condition' - again, whatever the hell that was - could rightly guess where this conversation was going. I nodded in response. Outwardly, I was all creepy-wide grins. Inwardly ... I was still creepy-wide grins. This was going to suck. Well, suck more than it had up to this point.

"Yeah. I'm not ... a pony. I'm not a foal either. I'm an adult human." There. I said it. I warily looked around the room. Rarity, Rainbow Dash and Applejack looked confused. Twilight was irritated - and pointedly not looking at me. Pinkie Pie was hopeful - silly filly, don't you know that good luck never sticks? Fluttershy ... Fluttershy was staring at me with her eyes as wide as possible. She looked shocked to her core. Why in the heck was she shocked? In fact, why were any of these ponies confused? I was really sure that's what Spring had told everypony about, despite how weird it would be for that to be tied into ... weird sex jokes. No, no. Spring couldn't possibly think that! Bruce, stop being silly. Before I could even begin to ask, however, Rainbow Dash landed with a snort and a roll of her eyes.

"Pull the other one, I got three more." She waved her fore legs in the air slightly to emphasize the point.

"Oh my." Fluttershy's mumbled. She was blushing a bit.

"... riiiight." Applejack took one look at me and her eyes almost rolled out of her head.

"Yes, well, that's ... interesting." Rarity blinked at me a bit before turning to her pinker and slowly deflating friend. "Pinkie, darling, is this the 'super important message' Bruce has for us? Because if so, I hear some punch calling me from the party downstairs."

"I know it's hard to believe-" Twilight cut me off before I could get any farther. I was fully expecting her to butt in at some point in time so there was no surprise. She hefted herself up against the side of the bed, looking down the length at me and motioning with her hoof for emphasis.

"Bruce, this is impossible to believe. You're asking us to put aside what you look like, how you've been acting, what you've been doing, sense, logic, reason and every bit of scientific know-how ponykind has ever seen or learned on - what - your say-so? Your word?" Her friends looked at her, startled at the vitriol in her voice. I could see the conversation slowly getting out of my hands - hooves.

"I don't lie Twilight."

"... I know." I blinked at her, my face contorting into a grimace of absolute confusion. Wait, what? Twilight continued before I could open my mouth to let more stupidity flow. "I know you're not lying. You honestly believe what you're saying is truth. But it's not Bruce. You're not a human adult, you're a pony foal. No matter what you want to run from, you can't run from yourself."

Welcome to Depressing Town, population: everypony! Twilight's expression was one of very deep sadness with just enough of a touch of hope that it was painful to look at. Applejack ... was still confused though she was looking at Twilight slightly warily. She evidently had no idea what we were talking about but the fact it had set her friend off had made her jumpy. Rarity looked almost bored - but I think that was just a mask. She was probably as confused as her farm-raised friend but was too much a 'lady' to show it. Rainbow and Fluttershy shared a look. A look that said 'I know what this is about.' A look that spoke volumes about how close they were as friends. A look of passion and ... no, not really. I had no idea what the look was for.

Maybe they both had to pee really badly, I was still trying to get my head around some of the pony expressions. I bit my lip and tried to think of something - anything - to say to convince them I was not insane. A single blink and it hit me. Along with my hoof.

"Ow. Ah, testing." I rubbed the sore spot on my forehead where keratin had nearly met bone. Facehooving was a dangerous game to be playing.

"Huh?" In 6.0 surround sound where available! Even Pinkie joined in though more in confusion as to where I was going with this.

"I took a placement test today - ask Spring. My scores were completely illogical for a foal my apparent age. Math was almost college level. Science was fairly high as well." Twilight blinked at me in disbelief. "I'm serious, ask the counselor! But all my other scores? Absolute garbage. I can't write, I've never even heard of a 'Theological Ministry' and -" Twilight interrupted, as was her wont.

"Theological Ministry?" At her question, my train derailed. There was one survivor but he was crawling around with broken legs. I think it would be best if I had put him out of his misery. I scratched my head and scrunched my face - as if that would help me remember. I had just taken that stupid test, too.

"Ahh, the Theological branch? The whatsit thingy." I waved a hoof as if that would help them get what I was saying. Every head followed my hoof as the circle of estrogen continued to be stumped as to what the hell I was talking about.

"... whatsit thingy," Rainbow's voice carried a tone of complete incredulity. Eloquent, self. Very loquacious. I puckered my lips in irritation.

"D-do you mean the 'Theocratic branch?' The Conclave of Priors?" Fluttershy asked in her ever-delicate voice. I smiled - for a second. Then the name sunk in and my face sunk with it.

"... Conclave? Who in the hell named that?" Rarity, a mostly-silent witness to my awkward attempts at conversation up to that point, stomped her hoof and glared at me as soon as the words left my mouth.

"Bruce. Language." I leaned backwards a bit, my ears flipping down at her tone. Whoops, good going there self.

"Sorry Rar- er, Miss Rarity." Let's be extremely polite to the kung-fu fashionista.

"Quite alright darling." And with that, her brow unfurrowed and what anger she had dissipated. I blinked. And then blinked again.

"It is?" She blinked back at my question, a small crease in her forehead betraying her own confusion.

"Why yes, of course! With your history, some - shall we say 'coarse and colorful' language - is to be expected." She fixed me with a hard look. "Something to be discouraged but entirely expected."

Fifteen thousand questions could have been asked about this situation. I could have used it to pry out what Spring was saying about me, find out about appropriate behaviors and ages - hell, if I was intelligent, I could have found out everypony's bank account numbers and gotten rich.

"No soap?" That was the question that came to mind. Soap. If I could, I would have shot myself for that. My god, what is wrong with me? Rarity's jaw dropped slightly as my words stirred in her mind.

"Soap?" Rarity asked in reply. I had gotten fairly used to the flavor, I guess. She turned and frowned at her pink party-prepossessed PFF. "Pinkie ..."

"Pfft, that was - like - days ago," Pinkie replied, waving the scowl off with a hoof.

Twilight looked between the two of them, perplexed. "Uhm, actually, it was only a da-"

"What she means is that -that -" I jumped up as best I could and shouted over Twilight's response ... and then stammered a bit because I had nothing to actually cover her with. Thanks Twi, you're the best! I yammered as my mind blanked. "That, th-that-that - that's horrible and, uhm, she has no idea what you're talking about."

My strained smile has to work! Why is it not working?! More smile! More teeth! More, it has to work!

Applejack took one look at me and regarded her purple unicorn friend with her own stare as her friends began to join in. "... Twi. Did you do somethin' Bruce is tryin' ta cover up?"

IT'S NOT WORKING! Twilight shrank under the looks, stuttering. Ok, I am not losing this!

"No! There is nothing!" I shouted, drawing their gaze back towards me. My eyes wide in panic, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Cause, you know that's been working peachy thus far. "Stop asking - don't ask, don't tell!" It worked for the military, right?

"Bruce, did Twilight do something bad?" Fluttershy gently rested one hoof on me, her giant teal eyes looking deeply into my own. With just a hint of wetness at their base as if she were on the verge of crying herself. HNNNNNNNNG. I gave her the biggest (fake) grin I could but those eyes were pulling at me ... and all I could see was my wife's face for some reason. Her face was so pale - BRAIN STAHP!

"Noooo ..." And now I'm blinking through tears. This is not working.

"Bruuuce. Th-" Fluttershy began, her tone becoming firmer.

"No, stop. Wait. Look. Things have happened, confusion has been had but I'm fine." I wiped my muzzle and looked around at the disbelieving faces. "I am fine. So let's just drop that line of inquiry and continue on." I guess I was harsher than I had been previously because every single ear in the room flipped down. Damn straight, I'm perfectly fine and tears are manly. Back on track. "Alright. Test. My test was all over the place. It is hard to imagine, hard to explain but it's not impossible."

"Kinda sorta is, Bruce." Twilight's voice was much quieter but there was still that core of 'I know' in there. Just like she 'knew' about Pinkie's ... sense thing. Yeah.

"In a land of 'spirits of Chaos,'" I made air-quotes with my hooves to emphasize Discord's title, "emotion-eating bug-horses, winter spirits that both inspire and feed on anger and hatred and two deities that literally raise the sun and moon you think me being an adult trapped in a foal's body is impossible? Really?" My sarcasm must have been showing because Twilight just shook her head. Rarity cleared her throat and, with a sidelong glance at Twilight, answered for the flustered mare.

"Dear, magic isn't some 'wave your horn and make wishes come true' power. Magic has limits." Her horn burst to life with the light-blue aura that I knew was hers. One corner of the bedsheet - mussed from my leap earlier - tugged itself straight. Figures, she couldn't leave well enough alone if something was out of place. "There are some magics that can prematurely age or force a youth effect on a pony but these are temporary spells. You've been a foal for far longer than any unicorn can possibly maintain."

"What about alicorns?" Valid question I thought. The scoff from Applejack made me rethink my position.

"Sugar cube, do you really think that one of the eight known alicorns would really take time out of their lives to force a youth effect on you?" Yay! I'm important! Thanks AJ. Really helps my self esteem. My deadpanned look - as well as Pinkie's glare of irritation - made the apple farmer rethink her wording. "Er, Ah mean, ahhh -"

"To answer your question, 'no, I'm not that important' but we're getting off topic." With a huff, I sat back down and crossed my arms. "Look, I don't care if you really believe me. I just want a chance, a sliver of hope. I want ... I want to be me again."

"Bruce, you are you. You're a very special pony, very creative and if half of the rumors I've heard are true, probably one of the strongest colts in the world. But you are already you." Fluttershy lightly placed her hoof on my shoulder. She seemed to have this thing about lightly supporting ponies that needed it - I guess. I looked around the room. Every face save Pinkie was looking at me hopefully. Every face had some sadness behind the eyes but also some hope. Hope that I would accept their 'fact' of myself. Their 'truth.'

"Bruce, tell the truth." Pinkie's voice drew me. I looked at her with hopelessness in my eyes.

"Pinkie, I am!"

"No you're not, Bruce. You're not lying. But you're not telling the truth either."

The truth. Was it my place to tell them? Would I want to know? All the questions and reasons from the previous night's conversation with Pinkie swirled around my head. The truth. Again, I was faced with a decision that no man, no creature ought to be asked to make. Again, I made my choice. Disagree or not, it was unfortunately mine to make.

"Alright." Looking directly at Rainbow Dash, I spoke a simple word. "Two."

"... ok, you follow him Pinkie?" Rainbow looked askance at Pinkie, confusion in both their faces. I chuckled. Pinkie wouldn't know. She wasn't there. Only Rainbow knew.

"Your number for the Best Young Flyer's Competition. Your first number. After Rarity joined the show, you were set to go second. You panicked and started to swap your numbers with higher numbers to forestall the inevitable. In the end, the show had to stick you and Rarity out together and that's where the second Sonic Rainboom in living memory was preformed."

Five mares blinked at me - the sixth just staring dumbfounded. I was surprised, actually. I was sure Rainbow had told her friends how difficult it had been, dealing with Rarity's show-stealing 'high art' garbage. But would that be Rainbow? Would she really let them think Rarity had gotten to her that badly? Of course not. Rainbow Miriam Dash would never let anypony think somepony as frou-frou as Rarity had managed to get to her. I wasn't sure of that until I saw the old pain renewed in her eyes. Until I saw the slight quiver of her lips, the sudden wetness under her eyes. The shock as I spilled one of her most deeply held secrets. I think I heard Pinkie's sharp intake of breath as she remembered her own secret. The one I knew. This is why I wanted to talk to everypony alone.

I'm sorry, Rainbow.

"Rainbow? Is that true?" Rarity's voice sounded more like Fluttershy as the depth of how much her friend had been hurt by her own actions sunk in. It was a very old wound, I think, but I don't know if they had ever really talked about it. Too often, hurts are ignored in favor of being solved. In favor of being healed. I was not the only one to see Rainbow swipe her hoof across her face.

"Wha-eh, no! How in the hay did-" I didn't let her ask, I had more to show. 'All's fair' after all.

"Leave me alo-o-o-one! I vant to be alone! I want to wallow in ... whatever it is ponies are supposed to wallow in! Do ponies wallow in pity? Oh look at me! I don't even know what I'm supposed to wallow in! I'm so pathe-e-tic!" I threw myself into the role, tossing hoof to forehead and collapsing as I remembered Rarity doing so long ago.


"Soda! That'll wet those potato chips. A cup of sour? Wheat worms?" My southern accent was impeccable. I hope so, I lived in the south for so many years that I was confused as to why it hadn't ever been noted before. I closed my eyes as I dug through my memories. Every show quote I could think of, every situation where the ponies were alone or where it would be so minute that it would be unremarkable in a book about the saviors of the world, every single thing I could wring from my mind - I told it all. "'Iron Will isn't a monster - I'm the monster.' 'Dont go confusin' th' issue with yer fancy mathematics!' 'She's an evil enchantress! She does evil dances!' 'A tacky cloud of purple smoke just whizzed by and tore half my mustache clear off!' 'The Grand Galloping Gala is the best place for me, oh the Grand Galloping Gala is the best place for me!' 'Tardy! And what do teachers do when you're tardy? They give you a test! But this won't be just any test. And what if I fail? Do you know what they do when you fail? They send you back a grade! But no, Celestia won't send me back a grade, no. She'll send me back to - gasp! Magic. Kindergarten.' 'Loss of control. Screaming and hollering. Passion! Yay!'"

I panted as my tirade finally came to an end, my eyes wild as the truth was finally let out. Six pairs of eyes stared at me with a mixture of horror and wonder. Even Twilight - once so convinced that I was simply deluded - couldn't help but blink in utter confusion at me. Finally, one pony managed to find her voice and speak the words everypony was thinking.

"... fuck." The fact that particular phrase came from Rarity of all ponies made me realize just how much I actually - finally! - reached them!

"You're all a cartoon. All of you. You're the 'Mane 6' - the Elements of Harmony and main characters for a show for little girls to teach them about friendship and life. 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.'" I finally said it, I finally said it. Their faces remained unchanged as my words were weighed by each according to my evidence. Slowly, I think they came to the same conclusion - I knew too much to be normal.

Rainbow was the first to speak her mind.

"... that name's really frou-frou."

I never said her words were pertinent though.

28 - Eyes Wide Shut

View Online

Six pairs of eyes stared at my seventh as the facts - the truth - sunk in. I prepared for ... well, anything really. Screams of indignation, cries of voyeurism and breach of privacy, attempts to cover past blunders. I didn't get any one those.

I got all of them! Between Rarity trying to excuse some kind of weird 'dalliance' she had that I knew nothing about and Fluttershy curling into a quivering ball of nerves because someone could be watching her right now, I also had a now-flying Rainbow Dash yelling about how she was 'feeling way ill that day, it didn't count' and Applejack just staring at me with massively big eyes stuttering about her parents and some 'other side.' That one was ... kinda creepy, looking back at it. The noise had gotten unbearable and Twilight, Pinkie and I were the only three not trying to scream above the others. I could tell because our lips weren't moving and I've been in a few arguments in my time.

"QUIET!" Twilight yelled at the top of somepony else's lungs - somepony standing on the shoulders of five other ponies. She must have taken lessons on the Royal Canterlot Voice because god damn! That was louder than any living thing ought to have the right to be. Having gotten our attention - as well as three nurses poking their wide-eyed faces in from the hallway - Twilight rounded on her previously yelling friends. "What is wrong with you ponies?! We are all world freaking famous and this colt is obviously an enamored fan of ours! We do not need some mystical fakery about humans to explain how he knows so much about us!"

"Twilight, he knew my exact number! I didn't even tell you gals that! I don't even think Cloudsdale has a record of who exactly had what number!" Rainbow motioned wildly with her hooves. She looked outright panicked and it was really hard to watch. Better than some of the other reactions though, as the fetally-curled Fluttershy laying on the floor next to the bed indicated.

"Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my-" Did I mention the poor girl's 'mantra of mental breakdown?' The cadence of it matched her back-and-forth rocking really well. Twilight glanced at her with a concerned and yet confused look on her face but any empathy seemed to have been left at Sane Station when the Twilight Express took the last trip to Crazy Town. Have I made enough 'train' metaphors yet? I like trains. Much more than the panicky ponies precariously - nooo, no alliteration - situated on the precipi-edge of pande-utter madness! Seriously, this rhyming-slash-alliteration thing needs to stop.

"Fluttershy, calm down." Twilight spared one glance - one - for poor Fluttershy before rounding on Rainbow with a grimace. Everypony's hair had grown these little curls somehow. "Rainbow Dash, there are, like, four different possible reasons why and how he can know things like that! One is guessing, of cou-" And then Pinkie jumped into the conversation. Literally. Her hooves left the ground and she landed not a few inches forward but I guess it was the thought that counts.

"Twilight! Stop being a Disbelieving McDisbliever! Not everything can be explained through weird-o science yet!" Wow, I was being supported by an anti-science gypsy witch. Where did my life go so very wrong, yes? The fact that Rainbow and Rarity were both in between the pink and the purple ponies didn't stop them from attempting to get into each others faces. That just meant they were leaning towards each other more severely than they had been earlier but, again, thought counts etc.

"Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my-" And of course, Fluttershy had to interject her opinion.

"Fluttershy, calm down!" I think Twilight's pegasus friend was getting to her. Not that Twilight's annoyed tone had any effect on the quaking bundle of nerves. To be honest, I don't think very much would have an effect on her at this precise moment in time. With a groan, Twilight turned back to her pink par-NO, no more alliteration. Twilight turned back to Pinkie Pie with a nervous grimace. "Pinkie, is this about your Pinkie Sense? Are you still upset with me about that?"

"No, this isn't about you and me - it's about Bruce and-" Yup, Fluttershy was officially on everypony's nerves. Pinkie bit her lip in irritation and - after a deep breath - gave her whiter and less argumentative unicorn friend a smile. "Rarity, can you do something about Fluttershy?"

Rarity stopped in her attempt to get me to promise her - something about 'first time' and 'stallions' honor' or something, I was too distracted to pay much attention to her - and regarded Pinkie with a wild eyed expression of utter madness. Seriously, her pupils were pinpricks! "Uh, well, I shall as soon as I get a promise from Bruce that he will not be sharing anything that would paint me in a poor light, of course."

"Uh, scouts honor?" I held up one hoof over my heart and the other straight in the air. And tried to scoot away from her. It was less than effective.

"Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my-" Ok, yes. Fluttershy, I love you like a sister but please, for the love of god, shut up.

Rarity took one look at my attempt-at-serious face and where my hooves were before grabbing me roughly by the shoulders, pulling me so close to her face I could have licked her wide and bloodshot eyes. "What does that mean?"

"I-it means I Pinkie-Pie-Promise to try my utmost not to spread vicious lies and slander about your character." Oh god, she's gonna eat me ... no, you cannot have my stereo!

With a calm huff of barely contained fear, Rarity looked me directly in my own now-pinprick of a pupil and very slowly explained herself. "Bruce, I am not worried about lies and slander, I am worried about certain things that are private."

"Pfft, of course you'd have 'private things' to worry about - perv." Of course, Rainbow Dash had her own opinions on that. Because she hadn't spoken in two minutes and just had to put her two bits into the ring. I guess.

This led to Rarity letting me go - good thing - and turning to her very prismatic friend with a look that might have to be registered as a dangerous weapon - Very Bad Thing. "What is that supposed to mean, Miss Dash?"

Her voice was like icy fingers trailing down my spine. Rainbow narrowed her eyes and brought up her hooves as the kung-fu fashionista subtly adjusted her stance into one of the most dangerous katas known to ponyki-

"Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my-" Really Fluttershy? With the two more dangerous ponies squaring off on one side of my bed - and Twilight and Pinkie trying to keep them separate - Applejack walked close to my bedside. One look into those green eyes filled with ancient hopes and tears and I knew this wasn't going to end well. I think I mumbled that to myself.

"Bruce, can you tell me where mah parents are?" The way my jaw gaped at her didn't seem to dissuade her from this line of inquiry. This weird, weird line of inquiry. Ju-I-what?

"What?" I managed to squeak out with just enough force that it could be heard above the growing cacophony of madness. From the time I had told the big-T Truth, I had lost all control of the situation. I was still trying to come to grips with the implications of Rarity's request much less anything else. Brain not work now, am dumbening start kay.

"Fillies, don't encourage him!" I think Twilight finally snapped. With one hoof on Rarity's chest to keep her from getting close to the taunting Rainbow Dash - herself being held ground-side by a very concerned Pinkie Pie - Twilight waved the other towards Applejack. Who had smartly positioned the bed in between herself and her nominal 'leader' figure. Admittedly, this meant that Applejack was now straddling the near-comatose Fluttershy but I don't think the latter had any real objections - lost as she was in her own hidden world of misery and voyeur-pain.

Actually, that sounds a bit better than where I was at that time. I seriously considered joining her.

"Twi, if this colt knows things from the other side, maybe he can help me find mah parents." Applejack's heart-felt honesty was a searing pain, a lance directly across my heart. It burned itself into my-

"Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my-" Ok, I take that back about wanting to join Fluttershy. She seemed to be in a really bad spot. Why was nopony helping her, seriously? Is the fact that there exists the possibility that everypony is potentially a fictional character really that bad? Or was it something else? Trapped between choosing 'coma' or 'words,' I picked the one I had the least amount of luck with thus far.

"I don't know things from any other side!" Again, my voice came out as a squeak. The entire room was poised to launch itself into violence. Which it did. From the doorway.

"What in Tartaurus is going on in here!?" Counselor Spring Meadows - channeling the spirit of the goddess of war - was standing in the door way with wings flared to their full length. She was fuming, her face flushed with indignant anger. "Why in Tartaurus are you six in this hospital room with an underage and potentially very hurt little colt?"

Silence. Well, except for the shuddering 'Oh my's from Fluttershy.

"Uhm, I asked them to talk?" My voice sounded a lot louder than it had just a little while ago. I'm guessing the lack of six yelling mares does tend to make single voices seem louder. Unfortunately, now I had seven mares staring directly at me. Pinkie's face being notable. It was a mixture of surprise, fear and ... gratefulness. Yes, Pinkie, I am taking this for the team. Shut your face, I got this! I got ... uhm, was it really too late to choose the coma route though? "The shouting came extra!"

Ok, I was going to take most of this for the team. I wasn't entirely suicidal. Judging by Spring's face, though, I may as well have been.

"Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my-" That wasn't Fluttershy that time - the counselor's expression just helped me make my decision. Annnd I wet myself.

Interlude 4: Parabola Parable

View Online

Warning! Drastic tone shift ahead.

The early evening air felt thick on her withers, heavy with the sounds and smells of life. It was a distant, droning noise from below - as if some ancient beast slumbered but fitfully not far from her. The smells of pony and animal, of freshly cut grass and flowers too early in bloom wafted from all directions. And, as always, the ever-present wind that whipped itself in a frenzy from the mountain top. A whistling in her ears - the breath of the mountain. She could feel it as it wound its way through the alabaster spires that surrounded her. Through the streets and the avenues filled with perfumed dames and their stallions, through the filthy alleys that overflowed with the refuse of life, through the lungs and mouths of ten million creatures - large and small. For a moment, she felt as if she truly was the goddess she was said to be. For a moment, she was free.

The snap of an eagle's claw from inside and the faint smell of cotton candy hiding the scent of ozone - and worse - drew her out of her reverie and she almost collapsed onto the balcony at her body's sudden weight. Sad magenta eyes opened and regarded the city below her and she felt her will waver. She couldn't face him yet. Instead, she looked out over the city as it lay beneath her. Spires and arches, sky-bridges and towers. Even the slums that her ponies tried so hard to disguise with cheery paint and an army of sweepermares. The blindingly white and gold city that had been carved in her name. Her 'city on a hill.' Her city. That errant thought brought to mind a thousand years of regret. She remembered the confusion on her sister's face as she finally gazed on the ruins of their once glorious home. Her mind unfettered by the nightmare that had consumed her, the desolation that was once the most important location in all of Equestria broke her more fully than anything the Elements could have done. The 'city Celestia built' was such a change for her, such a change.

"I haven't got all day, Celestia." His voice hadn't changed in all those thousands of years, however. It still dripped with hate, with the venom of old wounds that would never heal. Despite his 'reformation,' Discord had never forgiven her for her crimes. Could never forgive her those crimes. That fact she could bear - if she was not alone. "Or night, as it soon will be."

"Sta-" she began, her voice also unchanged despite the vast gulf of time between them. Desperate. Pleading. Hurt.

"Ah." Though she had not yet turned to face him, she could 'see' him hold one claw up to forestall her words. She closed her eyes and mouthed along with him. "That name is dead and buried, Celestia."

His words hung in the air. She did not want to say it, she did not want to say it, she wanted him back, she wanted it all to be different and better and why couldn't it be the way it once was and damn it all why did she have to be so alone and she just wanted him back and-

"Discord." That word broke her. Her voice remained even and her mask remained whole but each time she said it - each time she thought it - she died again and again until all that remained was a hollow shell wearing the skin of a pony with the serenely smiling mask of a Princess.

"There's a good filly." Their ritual complete, a moment of silence lay between them. She could smell the sickly sweet stench of candy and feces that clung to his fur as it drifted out of her small office. Two smells, so discordant. The smells of him as it always had been since that night so long ago. It grew stronger until she could almost taste the intermixed flavors. Her nostrils flared. It was an effort of will to simply stand and breathe. His hot breath on her ear was unsurprising. That it smelled of mint and chocolate instead of blood and meat was. "Aren't you going to lower the sun and get the moon into position or should I?"

With an irritated flick of her head and a sharp burst of light from her horn, Celestia almost wrenched the stellar orb down from where it sat just above the distant Smokey Mountains. The sudden lurch of the sun as it fought against her desire stopped her from yanking it below the horizon too quickly but for just a fraction of a second, she struggled and yanked with all her might against it. A single chuckle from beside her stopped her war of wills and reminded her of her audience. With bowed head and a faint blush of shame for her lack of strength, she lowered the raging beast gently beyond the edge of the world and set it on its path in the proper order of things. With another flick, the moon began its accent into the sky. It would be hours until she need worry of those two.

"Bleh." She finally turned to him as he eyed the positioning of the moon critically. His eagle claw stroked his goat's beard as his lion's paw sat pensively on his 'hip.' One leg - his goat leg - tapped a non-rhythm as he watched the sky while his other - his lizard leg - supported his weight. "It would look better doing loops across the sky."

"Thank you, Discord." The smell was almost too much, like an opened sewer left to rot too long in the sun. A few millennia of dealing with worse creatures than him helped ensure her mask stayed as solid as it had ever been, however, and she smiled gently at him. His surprise was an added bonus but that was not why she had spoken those words. "For coming on such short notice. It is a distance even for you to travel."

His surprised face sunk into a wary sneer as he weighed her words. Eventually, he shrugged. "If it was you I'd have taken my time, you know. Little Lulu deserves better." Spiraling his serpentine body in the air, the self-proclaimed 'Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony' backstroked back through the purple gauze curtains that separated the outside air from Celestia's inner office. For her part, she ignored his antics and simply walked in, settling herself on the well-worn cushions near the unlit fireplace.

"So, somepony finally did it, hmm?" From above, Discord 'swam' through the air with a skill born of boredom. The smell was atrocious but the opened window helped - Celestia fought her own gorge as it struggled to empty. Always wearing the mask - even when it broke and cracked like so much ice in spring. Even when it hid nothing. Discord huffed at her serene smile. "There was a reason I never finished those spells, dear Celestia. They were too much for us to handle even with our -" He paused.

The air felt thick as history filled the room. Sounds of laughing foals, of joyful discovery and the halfhearted taunts of the lovestriken. Of a herd of ponies enjoying the summer sun and the spring moon, together. Always together. Pegasus, earth pony and two unicorns frolicking their lives away as the smells of daisies filled the air. Finally, a spell to make time itself stand still and the awe of the world. And then, the smells of war. The sounds of pain, of rape. Fear. Hate. Anger. Jealousy. A spell half-finished and done in hatred. And a completed spell, done in secret and for love - a love broken beyond repair. The air itself was broken with a pop like glass shattering and Discord wiped a lion's claw on his matted fur.

"I hate backstory. As I was saying." Celestia blinked at the draconequus as the smells of war and death, of sewage and worse disappeared as though they had never been there in the first place. Instead, Celestia smelled ... rabbit. And wildflowers. And a mare's scent she knew, a pegasus of patience and heart. Discord, now sitting in a high-backed chair of minotaur design next to a suddenly roaring fireplace, puffed gently on a pipe as he regarded a claw absentmindedly. He was very close to her, she noted. So very close that she could still smell the stallion sweat that she remembered from before, when all the world was so much simpler. "There are reasons I hid much of my work after I died. You should never have collected it, Celestia." Gone was the hatred for a moment. Just a moment. Her mask almost cracked as she said the words they both knew were coming. As she pretended not to see the pleading look he was trying to hide so poorly.

"And if another pony had found it?"

"Then they could join me."

"Discord, you know I couldn't-"

"YOU! You, you, you, you, you, YOU, YOU!" The smell of sewage filled the air once more as the spirit leapt to his claws, his face filled with age old rage. The fireplace was cold once more and gone was the chair. The closeness. "It's always about you and these ponies. Always them, never me." His voice was barely a whisper as he finished. She turned her head to not see the shivering form.

"~Always all of us. Ever and forever.~" Her voice cracked as she recited the ancient Equuish phrase that nopony alive remembered - save for three very distant and very hurt ponies that struggled to remember the unimportant moments that defined everything.

"~Till death take one.~" Discord's voice was quiet but firm. The smell of rot and foulness was not so heavy but it was still there. Always there. Outside, one of the many clockspires of Canterlot struck the moonrise hour. The two immortals passed the time in silence. Discord's quiet voice broke both the silence and her heart. "I cannot help her, Celestia. She is beyond my grasp." Celestia nodded. The mask lay broken at her hooves, its droplets forming small pools of wasted hopes on the cold and hard floor. "And the child?" Celestia sighed at his question.

"She chose a different path. For now."

"Pity." They both let words lay as they mulled over their own thoughts. They would have stayed that way for an eon of time had they the opportunity. Alas, time doesn't wait for any - no matter how powerful. A sudden rapping at the chamber door caused their heads to snap up. The elaborately carved oak doors swung on silent hinges inward and a guard, shivering at the coolness of his Princess's chambers, stepped slowly into the dark. His eyes were wide at first with trepidation but he visibly relaxed as the bright form of his Princess slowly faded into view from the dark.

"Y-your highness?" His voice broke as the leering form of Discord sulking in the shadows hovered into view as well. No matter the training, no creature could stand unchanged near the lord of change. The metal plates on his golden armor rattled as the draconequus slid and slithered around the petrified guard, sniffing just loud enough to be heard.

"Mmm, you always did have a good eye for the stallions, Cccelessstia." He drew out his 's's with the flare of an actor and was rewarded with a small yellow puddle that quickly changed into a fizzy brown one. With a chuckle that was darker than the room, Discord left the white-faced guard as Celestia shot him an angry glare. "Calm yourself, I wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Aegis, please report." The soothing and firm voice of his Princess snapped the guard out of his nightmares and back to reality. He closed his eyes and thought only of the eternal twin beauties he was charged with defending. His will renewed and his resolve set - and with only a second glance at the looming beast - the grey pegasus saluted his commander.

"Your highness, you requested hourly reports. Ah, th-there is no change in her 'condition.' I'm sorry." The guard dropped the pose as his Princess nodded with a heavy sigh. None could blame her, though the news had yet to travel outside of the castle proper. The servants and guards knew well how to keep a secret but it was only time borrowed unless a cure could be found.

"Thank you, Captain. Please, leave us now." With another salute, the guard turned tail and almost ran from the room. It would take days to get the smell of cotton candy and soda out of his armor but he was thankful to Discord for that one change. He couldn't imagine smelling like a sewer near his liege.

"We must find the thing she pulled through," Discord hissed as his anger overrode him. His form began to twist as he snaked through the air, forgoing even the appearance of swimming. Celestia could smell his anger. His hatred. She fought back a gag. "And it must be ended lest she waste away."

"We shall see. There may yet be another way."

"Hmmph," Discord scoffed, "I can see all possibilities, Celestia. I cannot see this 'other way.'"

"You know me, Discord."

"You would truly lose her over some half-formed creature from beyond?" The words of her informants filled her heart with dread. Colt, pony, hurt, frightened. Lost. She would not sink to that level again. She would never sink to that level again.

"I would rather lose her than be soaked in unnecessary blood." As the words left her lips, the scent in the air cleared itself. She glanced at Discord as he hung, suspended above her. Staring with his bright yellow eyes - eyes she once knew. She had so loved his eyes.

"My, my. That is a change." His voice was so low, had she not had practice it would have been missed. She looked away from his sneering grin - from his hatred - and stood as regally as the situation allowed. She did not flinch as his tail slowly caressed her back, she did not whinny in need and want as it became a hoof that trailed in a way she had not felt in thousands of years. She simply smiled and nodded gracefully at him.

"Thank you again, Discord. I trust you to find your own way out." Her mask was returned and the snake in the air above her hissed in irritation.

"Of course, Celestia." With that, the draconequus touched the floor once more to give his customary mocking bow.

"Oh, and Discord?" Before he rose, Celestia stopped him with a gentle and trembling hoof to his chin, drawing his yellow and red eyes to meet her own. "While you were always handsome as a stallion, I do not mind you as you are."

"I would have loved to have heard that before ... all this, Celes- Celly." For a moment, his eyes seemed to change. Blue - the clear blue of a sky at noon - in a sea of pure white. For a moment. Then, with the smell of fresh daises and the sound of laughing foals, he was gone.

And once more she was alone.


View Online

"Oh yeah, this was a great idea," Bruce grumbled as he slunk along the wall. Ahead of him, two Crusaders were trying their hardest to remain as 'sneaky' as possible - with only some success. Behind him, Applebloom pressed flush against the wall. Despite the overdone 'sneaking' act, the hallways around them seemed oddly deserted. Where once there was a bustle of activity, now it was as if all the doctors and nurses had disappeared with only a single bored looking nurse playing solitaire at one of the many stations to remind the four-some of foals that the building wasn't abandoned. "Remind me why I'm out here instead of still in bed?"

"Oh, this is a great idea," Applebloom exclaimed, oddly accent-less and loudly enough to make Bruce jump. "Enjoy the situation. I mean, I'm such a gigantic Southern stereotype, I'm surprised that I haven't been shown to be barehooved and pregnant with my own brother's child! Embrace the nonsensical - death would be a sweet release!"

"She's right, you know?" Scootaloo stomped her hooves down and cracked her neck as the head of the nurse popped up from behind her, confusion and a slight amount of irritation evident. With a stretch, Scootaloo ignored the adult-mare that was staring at her and continued. "Hell, I'm painted as an orphan so many times I can't even keep track. And don't get me started on the whole 'lesbian child-thing' authors stick me and Rainbow in."

"Indeed," Sweetie Belle huffed, "but at least the pair of you are given the appropriate level of intellect in regards to your characters. At the behest of one overtly idiotic director, I act confused on a simple word once - once! - and am forever to be branded as the 'slow Crusader.' How is that fair I rhetorically ask the lesser minds that surround me?"

"Girls," the nurse piped up, a smirk gracing her face at the blatant hatred burning behind Bruce's eyes as he grit his teeth at his fellow leads, "let's stay on script, ok? Minalkra needs to get this chapter out soon and this isn't helping."

The grumbled acceptance of their predestined roles filled the air. Suddenly, Minalkra's head popped out of the dimensional rift causing everypony to jump.

"Damn right! Ok, guys and gals - Cutie Mark Crusaders Escape Artists, Scene Two Take Twenty Two! Action!"

"Really? At least let us get back into position you jerk." Bruce stuck his tongue out at the author as he trotted back into position. "Ah-hem. Let's see ... Oh yeah, this was a great idea."

29 - From the Mouths of Foals

View Online

I stared at the three fillies currently sitting next to the bed ... who were staring back at me with those massive eyes. Massive, giant eye plates ... huh. It didn't bother me as much. Still - eugh. Having blown her lid completely off, Spring had just recently marched six very shaken mares out of the room and had left orders with the nurses that 'no one over the age of ten that is not me or his foster parents are to be let into this room or' ... well, she bit off most of that sentence but I think there were 'hot irons' involved somewhere.


But since the three fillies currently watching me (with some amount of trepidation, I might add) were just under the age limit, I now had company. Three fillies that I ... wanted nothing to do with. 'Why' might I have heard you ask? Well, seeing as how I've been ruining everything simply by existing near it, I was keenly aware of the potential taint I could spread to these three impressionable youngsters. The fact that I had been panting and trembling for my life just a short while ago surely had nothing whatsoever to do with any of it.

"Soooooooo." I said as I fidgeted under their surprisingly heavy stares. Scootaloo suddenly whipped out her wings and buzzed onto the bed - I'd say lucky girl but she seemed to be straining just to do that. Then she got really close to my face. Her lips were pursed and I swear I saw a little pink tongue peeking out the side of her mouth as she stared intently at me for a few seconds. Sweat began to form on me - it was the heat. I swear. It was not her proximity. Shut up. "Uhhh."

"Geez, Bruce. You're like a magnet for trouble." With her piece said, the half-pint sat down and smirked at me. Her wings were slightly held out from her sides, making herself look just slightly more fluffy. Why was she doing that? Before I could question, Sweetie's voice cracked from below.

"Scootaloo! It's not his fault that bad things keep happening around him." Hey I've got a cheer squad! At least one of the three was on my side. Could I go two for three?

"Ah kinda agree with Scootaloo, Sweetie. It's like his special talent is having crazy things happen to him." Aw nuts. Applebloom leapt up onto the bed as well - and I was so jealous. They must have amazing centers of balance to leap their entire height onto a soft surface. I guess Sweetie felt lonely because she clambered up after her friends. I was no longer jealous. Sweetie had the same issues I did.

"Shit, story of my life." The first words that pop into my head are never the proper ones and I felt a flush of heat as I realized what I had said. Three slightly shocked faces looked into my own slowly reddening one. I wondered if it would be a bit odd to bury myself under the covers with three little fillies on the be- yeah, no. "Uh."


"Scootaloo!" Sweetie's voice cracked once more as she attempted to go into a register that was just not suited to her vocal box. Seriously girl, learn your limits.

"What? It's so rare when a colt has the teats to curse! I mean, you gals heard Rainbow Dash going on about what Pinkie told her." Two of the Crusaders turned to their friend with a mixture of shock and anger. Applebloom was the first to speak up.

"Ya mean when we were eavesdropping on them? Ya know - the thing we aren't s'pposed to do and said we'd keep secret?"

"Well duh." Scootaloo rolled her eyes with a smile before noticing the glares were not lessening in their intensity. "What? It's not like Bruce is gonna tattle on us!" She waved a hoof at me and turned, evidently expecting me to support her decision to put the flanks of her friends in my hooves. Metaphorically speaking! I meant the ability to cause them to be spanked raw! Wait, that's worse!

"Well ..." I pretended to consider her assumption and was rewarded with a slightly shocked expression. And hurt. Aw man. I couldn't say no to that face. Well I could but that would be mean. "I guess it's not that bad. Hell, I've done worse."

"See? Bruce is cool. Ya know. For a colt." She reached out and punched my arm in what I could only assume was a friendly manner. By that I mean she freakin' decked it! Ow!

"Anyway, what are you three doing here, uh, anyway?" I asked as I rubbed my now extremely sore limb with a grimace. Sweetie looked livid, Applebloom was just shocked and Scootaloo - Scootaloo made herself comfortable on the bed. I swear she looked like a cat that just caught a mouse and was wondering how to best eat it. The fact she was looking at me that way was just a bit disconcerting. You know. A BIT.

"We wanted to come up and see you." The fact that I wasn't crying was something. OW! I was still rubbing my arm but it wasn't throbbing by that point in time. Just slightly-throbbing. That girl has got some strength. That's gonna be a bruise. Ow ... I guess it meant something to the other two Crusaders because after giving me a concerned look or two - and Sweetie throwing a mean look Scootaloo's way - they settled in next to their friend. More or less.

"Yeah, it's super boring in these hospital rooms," Applebloom said. Sweetie just nodded sagely.

"So far I've had nothing but exciting times." I suppose that my little 'escapade' had made the town's gossip mill because the three fillies just looked thoughtful.

It was Applebloom that broke the silence - and my eardrums - by jumping to her hooves with a shout. "Hey! Maybe trouble makin' is yer special talent!" Oh boy ...

"What would a cutie mark for that even look like?" Sweetie asked. You are smarter than the fandom gives you credit for, dictionary.

"A smashed vase!" Scootaloo shouted.

"A set of broken china!" Applebloom hollered.

"Weed and a shot of liquor?" I squeaked. Seriously, it's hard to make any amount of volume over the Trio of Eardrum Terrors. God damn! It had the intended effect however because all three of them opened their mouths and - silence. And then, all three of them slowly closed said mouths - in perfect sync - and looked at each other confused.

"Uhh, what's weedin' got to do with makin' trouble?" Applebloom's innocent question made me really want to answer honestly but I didn't think 'Cutie mark Crusader Drug Runners' was such a hot idea.

"Not that kind ... of ... ya know whut, nevermind." Opps. I realized too late That Accent slipped into my voice. The accent I had spent most of my life fighting against and had suffered under for far too long. I opened my mouth to correct my pronunciation but only got as far as a halfhearted 'I mean' before I caught sight of the Demon Face. I don't think Applebloom took my sudden quiet and my hooves clamped on my muzzle as the signs they probably should have been.

Her face got really dark - really, really dark - and her two friends actually scooted a bit away from the livid earth pony. With a slow step, the yellow filly walked right up to me and stared at me with those narrowed, angry eyes. They filled my vision and promised only Pain.

"Are you makin' fun a' mah accent?" Applebloom asked, her voice eerily quiet. I shivered. And noticed that her accent had actually gotten a bit thicker.

"No, no! Ah, uh, I grew up in a place - well, several ... dozen places - anyway, I grew up in an area that had that accent. I, uh, slip into it on occasion. When I'm around others with it." Big smile, big smile, big smile! Sounds were slightly muffled but that's what happens when your ears were pinned to your skull in fear. Yes, regular fear - not terror this time. Things are looking up for old Bruce-y!

"Hmmmmm." Applebloom eyed my fake-looking-yet-totally-honest smile with some amount of disbelief. I was affronted, I say! Actually, I didn't say that so much as scooch back ju~ust a smidgen.

"Scouts honor."

"... the Filly Scouts?" Sweeite asked, her voice miraculously not shattering this time. "They don't let colts in the filly scouts."

"Riiiiight. Not really a scout but Ah'm, er, I'm being honest." Applebloom gave me one hard stare with a single eye before nodding and quite happily backing up a bit. The other two fillies let out a sigh of relief. Mental note: Applebloom gets PISSED when you mention her accent.

"So, you wanna do something?" Scootaloo's question caught me slightly off guard and it took a few blinks for me to realize she had asked me that question. So, old Bruce, what do you want to do? Since you can't outright get rid of them, anyway. The three impressionable fillies staring at me with their wide, eager eyes ... so eager to be friends.

"Actually, yes." From the way the trio looked at each other - worried expressions all around - I think I was grinning a bit too wide. "Yes, there is something I've been dying to do that you three can probably help with."

"This is such a bad idea." Sweetie Belle tried to whisper but her fluctuating vocal patterns made that effort more than futile. The four of us were pressed up against the half-wall that separated the nurse's station - with the yellow-coated 'Miriam' nurse from before playing solitaire - and the hallway. It was pretty easy to convince the Cutie Mark Crusaders to try their hooves at 'Cutie Mark Crusader Solid Snakes' and I was feeling pretty good about that.

I have no idea why. Sweetie Belle was entirely correct. This was a horrible idea but I really wanted to find out what Spring had been telling everypony. With her chewing the heads off the 'Mane Six' and a party going on outside the hospital, this was my best chance to get into her office and see her papers. Everything was planned for, there was not a single thing that could go wro- Doesn't count, shut up!

"That's ridiculous, this is a great idea!" Scootaloo whispered - again, very loudly - as she fought to keep her wings under control. "Though I have no idea what snakes have to do with sneaking, I'm loving every second of this. Bruce is awesome."

"We're gonna get into so much trouble if they catch us." Applebloom replied, managing to actually whisper and bravely taking up the rear. "Sneakin' around with a sick colt an' breakin' into Spring's office."

"Hey, you heard Bruce. She's got papers in there that explain things and we need to see them." Holding a hoof out, Scootaloo checked to make sure Nurse 'Miriam' was still flipping her cards. I guessed she was as the lead pegasus waved us on. "We could combine investigating and sneaking. We could be pee-eyes!"

"Not with you three talking so damn loud." I grumbled just loud enough to be heard, getting a couple dirty looks in response. "Let's just get upstairs and figure it out from there, ok?" A short 'tip-hoof' later and we were all happily trotting up the stairs.

"Ok, I've been to her office once," Scootaloo said, free of trying to keep her voice quiet. It was paradoxically quieter than when she was trying to whisper. Kids, I guess. "She's on the top floor with all the other doctors." At that, the orange pegasus nosed open the last door and led us into ... a maze of hallways with unmarked doors. "Now we just have to find the right door ..."

"Oh really?" I stared at the row upon row of identical doors, most without any name plates - and those that did had those stupid unicorn wingdings for letters. I dropped my head with a loud sigh. "Aww crap."

"Not this one." Sweetie closed the door with a grimace. We had spent the last fifteen minutes looking from door to door and the repetitiveness of it all was fraying our child-like nerves. "I think that's a 'stallion's issue' doctor. There's weird things all over the place in there."

"Oh, let me see!" With a bounce, Scootaloo was inside and staring intently at all of the really weird devices. I rolled my eyes as she poked around and shut the door to the fifth janitor's closet we had come across in this one hallway. How many janitors does a hospital need, anyway? "Hey Bruce!" I turned towards Scoot's voice, fully intending to snap at her - and was met with what can only be described as a 'pony marital aid' being shoved in my face by a wickedly grinning orange chicken.


"Haha!" Scootaloo dropped the medieval torture-saddle to the floor with a way-too-loud clang and pointed a hoof at my shocked expression. "You should totally see your face Bruce!"

I blinked at her grinning face before answering with my own grin. "Just think of how many sweaty, nasty ponies were using that while they were humping the night away, Scootaloo." The way her face fell from 'happy' to 'horror' was priceless. "You should totally see the look on your face Scoots."

"Alright, love birds, let's get this office found." Applebloom smirked as we both blinked in surprise. Oh man, no no no no no no no no no no no no that is wrong on so many levels Applebloom. So. Many. Levels. I immediately backed away from Scootaloo - who was backing away from me. Just ew Applebloom. Ju-

"Just 'ew' Applebloom!" Scootaloo, STOP READING MY MIND! The pegasus looked at me with unhidden disgust. "He's cool for a colt and all but don't be gross about it."

Before I could answer, Sweetie interrupted our little almost tete-a-tete from further down the hall. "Hey, is this her office?" I broke from the other Crusaders and galloped over to where Sweetie was standing - still trying to be quiet, right self? Yeah, let's pretend that's still the case. There, in front of me was ...

"Sweetie, we're looking for a COUNSELOR'S office, not ... this." From the doctor's frock and stethoscope to the posters of anatomy, it was obvious that there had been a miscommunication somewhere. The fact that I couldn't read the nameplate wasn't helping matters, nor was the fact that every single surface was covered in paperwork and files all filled with wingdings or those weird looking not-English letters. I could read about a half dozen words on the bookcase but that was out of dozens of books.

"Doctor Horse? That's mah doctor!" Wait ...

"I don't know what Spring's office looks like! Isn't she a doctor anyway?" Wait!

"A head doctor. They just talk to you and make sure your family is working right." WAIT! I know that name!

"Sweetie, you're a genius." Without thinking, I grabbed her head and yanked it to me. A quick kiss to her forehead and I was scrambling through the open door. There had to be a file about me somewhere in this mess. "Girls, help me look for anything with my name on it, it should be near the top of ... one of ... girls?"

Sitting in the doorway, a fiercely blushing Sweetie Belle was staring past me with a dopey looking smile on her face while Applebloom and Scootaloo looked at her with shock and - oh man, was that jealousy? Why are they ...

"Ah damn it, girls! Focus on the task ... and not - you know - me, ok?" Creepy little girls.

"This is hopeless." Scootaloo flipped a file off the top of a precarious pile of papers, her posture and poise very clear about how bored she was. "And boring." There she goes again, reading my damn mind.

"Ah cain't make heads or tails of any of this stuff." Applebloom - for some reason wearing one of the folders on her head - tilted an open file back and forth as she stared at it. "What in the hay is 'dropping' an' why would a colt need ta do that? And whut's his age got ta do with it being a thing ta look for?"

"I want to know when I start getting the, eh, 'urges and reactions of a mature mare' towards colts. And why I'm not there yet - I mean, I like colts! I have reactions! This doctor is a quack." Sweetie dropped the folder she was holding with a scowl. I noticed a picture of a younger-her smiling for the camera sticking out of the top. I would have loved to look through it but I could already see the wingdings.

"Girls, can we focus? Don't read the rest of these, we're looking for my folder. I don't think they took a picture so that's something to think about." I rifled through some files written in English but found nothing that screamed 'me.' The doctor's office was a wreck but that actually worked in our favor. How would he be able to tell we'd been in here?

"Awwww - they got a picture of you in here, Bruce." Sweetie held up a file full of wingdings and only a few sheets of paper. But what drew my eye was ... me. A very passed out me with an IV in my leg-slash-arm and drool down my face. I was very, very passed out. And my legs were splayed. Why that surprised me, I have no clue - but the additional part of my body certainly did. My face turned so red I was surprised I hadn't caught fire. "You look so cute when you sleep!"

"Give me that!" I snatched it away from her in a huff. Oh my god, thank you so much Equestrian medical ministry thingy. That is such a nice gesture to stick my everything in a folder for doctors to look over. I could feel tears spring to my eyes I was embarrassed so much.

"Uh, it's not so bad Bruce." Sweetie hesitantly reached over and patted my shoulder - as I fought the urge to yell at her. It's not her fault, it's not her fault, it's not her - "I mean, there isn't very much drool."

"Drool? I'm not worried about the drool!" I hugged the file closed against my chest as I tried to keep the look of total amazement out of my face. "It was a picture of, well, everything ... you know."

"Oh, yer thingy?" Applebloom piped up quite happily. Girl, you have your demon face and I have mine. The way I looked at that poor little pony must have been absolutely awful because she swallowed hard and brought one forehoof up to her chest defensively. "W-why are ya so upset about that? It's not like none of us ain't seen one before."

I laughed. It was a choking laugh but it was a laugh nonetheless. "This place is so damn wrong. Nude children running around, pieces of anatomy hanging out all over the place and you guys are worried about a little drool."

"Uhm, geez Bruce. I-if you think it'll make you feel better, you can show us y-" Scootaloo's thought was interrupted by my hoof in her mouth.

"Do not finish that sentence Scootaloo." I shuddered. "This is entering territory I would really rather not be in. Let's just drop it, ok?" A chorus of silent nods and wide eyes met my request and I gingerly removed my hoof from Scootaloo's mouth. "Can one of you read this and tell me if there's anything about - I don't know - my history or what they think about my situation?"

"I'll do it." Sweetie stepped forward and reached for the folder. And tugged on it. And tugged again. "Bruce, I've already seen the picture." I let go, with some hesitation. "Let's see ..." She sat there for a few minutes flipping through some of the documents - real medical documents from what I could see, sitting as I was across from her - before coming to one that made her blink. "It says something about a 'monogamous cult' and 'Diamond dogs' ... slavery?"

"Slavery?" Three voices, all confused.

"Yeah, 'possible rape case,' 'fantasy ... humans.'"

"OH!" Scootaloo perked up, her wings popping with her ears. "I looked up that book series and mare Sweetie, I had no idea you liked cool book series like that." Sweetie creased her brow as she read, ignoring her fellow Crusader. Scootaloo's face fell from happiness to confusion a bit slowly. "Uh, Sweetie?"

"Girls, I thought Bruce was joking around at the party but ... he really does think he's a human." She turned to look at me, her ears laid back and concern on her face. "Bruce, y-you're not a human."

I sighed and creased my brow, putting a forehoof to forehead as I felt a headache begin. Time enough for that later. "Keep reading. Slavery, rape ... Jesus jumping Christ, Spring. What is going through your thick skull?"

"Uh, w-well. There's not much else. There's a whole section about your family history though ... uh, I don't know some of these words." Sweetie tilted the folder back and forth and squinted her eyes. "I can sound them out I think but I don't know what they mean."

"Maybe Ah do. Or Scootaloo," Applebloom suggested. It wasn't a bad suggestion either. Scootaloo nodded with a glance at me that looked weirdly concerned. The whole human thing must be a bit freaky but I don't really care how freaked out they get to be honest.

"Uh, 'incest.'" At Sweeties words, the little yellow filly paled.

"Th-that's what they say mah family does sometimes. It means that yer, uh, close family is a bit closer than it should be." Scootaloo and Sweetie both looked at her confused.

"It means members of your family are fucking each other." To be fair, I always appreciated bluntness in my own 'uncomfortable conversations' as a kid. Just give me the information I need and let me store it away so I can get back to my life, thank you goodbye.

"Ooooh-EW!" In stereo! Applebloom blushed a bit and nodded, her ears flipping down in misery.

"Some mares in town say that's why Big Mac ain't got a herd of his own yet. That Ah'm his daughter insteada his little sis. Ah keep tellin' them it's cause he has a lotta chores and cain't take time to go on dates and whatnot but no one ever listens to me." Oh damn it. I could not just sit there and let some little filly start cryin-never mind, too late. With a sigh, I reached out and grabbed the sniffling Crusader in a hug. I - I have no idea what made me do that.

It felt right. I didn't want to see her hurt or sad. I - I felt like she was almost family, somehow. Like she was part of my community. Like she was part ... of my ... herd? Awww shit.

"Hey now, it's okay." I started to pet her mane and shot Scootaloo and Sweetie glares, motioning them with my eyes to come join in. Sweetie immediately scooted over to hug her friend and - after a bit of shifting - Scootaloo joined with a huff. "They don't know jack sh-er, anything. They're just upset he turned them down cause they were so ugly." That got a giggle.

"Thanks gals - er, Bruce. Ah hate it when that gets thrown around by know-nothing ponies." Applebloom sniffed and rubbed her nose with a hoof, smiling sweetly at me - aw crap! My shock must have gone through my face because she blushed and pushed me away. "Ehh, Ah'm okay Bruce."

"Aaaaaand on that note, I have the info I need so let's get out of here before we're found."

"What in the name of Celestia are you four doing in my office?!" Orange-top was standing in the doorway, looking aghast at the four of us sitting in a pile of opened folders. And then it hit me - breaking and entering, probably some privacy violations, who-knows-what because I snuck out of my hospital room ... oh I really buggered up, didn't I? For a moment, it was all we could do to sit there and stare at each other. Sweat definitely was starting to form on my forehead.

"Run!" Scootaloo's voice seemed to knock us all into action.

With a yelp, the doctor jumped to one side as the Cutie Mark Crusaders and I ran by him screaming our heads off. Scootaloo was a joyous growl, Applebloom sounded like 'Ah'm in so much trouble' and Sweetie - Sweetie was just screaming in terror. I have no idea what was escaping my muzzle but I think that was what caused the doctor's squawk of indignation more than us charging at him. Hint: rhymes with 'duck it.'

"Did we" wheeze "lose him?" I sat in the janitor's closet we had managed to squeeze into, panting and trying not to cough too badly as Scootaloo peeked out of the cracked doorway. Applebloom was shivering in fear behind me while Sweetie was pretty well catatonic. We were all out of breath but Scootaloo seemed the least affected. That's why she was sticking her muzzle out the door and not me. That and she seemed pretty insistent on me staying behind her.

"Yeah, for now." Scootaloo closed the door rather quietly and joined the three of us huddled in the back of the closet. "Well, this kinda went hooves up. Did you have a plan if we got caught Bruce?"

"Hey." Sweetie's quiet voice seemed dead. I think she was terrified. At least I didn't smell urine. "Don't be mean, Scoots."

"Just saying. I was cool with us sitting around and playing 'Clouds and Cumulus' until the adults got back -"

"And you were also the one that leapt at the chance to do somethin' 'cool' Scootaloo." Applebloom's voice was firm as she ... stroked my back. AW CRAP. My eyes shrunk to pinpricks as I somehow realized what that was showing me. Crap, crap, crap - Bruce move! Get up, do something ... just going to sit there and grimace? Ok, that works. I guess - not really. "We need to figure out how to fix this together."

"Hey! I'm not some tattle!" Scootaloo's voice rose as she did, her wings splayed out in irritation. I idly realized it was a territorial display this time - and retroactively realized she was showing off her plumage last time. If it were at all possible, my pupils would have dilated even more. "Bruce was the one who had this plan, he should have a plan to fix it!"

"Be quiet!" Sweetie had exited her 'catatonic fear' state and entered a new one - 'irritated blame placing.' And for some reason, it was being directed at Scootaloo instead of the idiot that got them into this mess. "You're gonna get us in trouble!"

"Yer one ta talk, Sweetie. Ah don't see you bein' quiet." And now the relatively sensible one had joined in. Time to do something Bruce. Time to do something - something more effective than sitting there and letting it all wash over you. Up and at 'em!


"Me!? I said it was a bad idea from the start!" And now they were all shouting at each other. With a groan, I did the least intelligent thing I could have done. I lowered myself to the floor, covered my head with my hooves and wished for it all to go away. It was only a matter of time befo-

"Ah-hem." At the voice, I peeked out from under my hooves. Yup. There, standing in the doorway and looking quite unhappy - and disheveled - was Orange-top McDoctorpony. Along with a few nurses. Including a very upset Nurse 'Miriam.' I reminded myself to ask her name next time I could. The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked up at the doctor with wide and startled eyes.

"I accept full and total blame for all of it, Doctor." My voice was very soft and weak but in the silence that followed, it sounded very, very loud. Everypony there turned their eyes to me. I closed my eyes so I wouldn't have to look at them. "I have no idea what I was thinking and suggest being locked in a room with a nurse at all times to ensure I don't do anything this blatantly stupid ever again. I'm very sorry I dragged these three good fillies into my latest stupid scheme."

Nothing. I cracked one eye open to look up at the adult ponies - trying to be slick about it. Yeah, that'll help your case Bruce. The doctor didn't look convinced but I really meant it. The nurses - sans Nurse 'Miriam' - were just confused. Nurse 'Miriam,' on the other hoof, was ticked off. Since she was on duty when we snuck out ... oh boy.

What in the hell was going on with me? I had never made so many bad judgment calls in my life! Maybe ...

Maybe I was delusional.


View Online

The low roar of a crowd leaked in faintly through the closed window. If she strained, Twilight could distantly hear the sounds of laughter and happy conversation. Twilight perked her ears forward, subconsciously trying to make sense of the sounds - yet meaning eluded her. She could 'hear' different words - yet she knew they were not really there. Like a Rorschach test for hearing - a mirror to her own mind. Freak, weirdo, failure. Nothing but bad memories.

Despite the jovial rumble from below, Spring's office was terribly quiet. Quiet and ... bland. Twilight noted the lack of ornamentation wryly. A grey rug on plain white tile and blank white walls. In most cases such an office would speak of a control-obsessed personality. Perhaps a pony that felt as if control was required or lacking in their lives. Maybe even psychosis. Of course, Twilight knew of Spring's more used area - full of bright paintings and happy knickknacks. The counselor much preferred a less aggressive environment and because of that just didn't use her office unless pressed. Like how she was now. Just moments ago, the Elements of Harmony had been marched out of Bruce's room by the red-faced counselor. Now the six friends were sitting in a semi-circle as the green pegasus faced away from them across an empty desk.

Not that Twilight blamed her, of course. With the way her wings were twitching and her withers were rising and falling slowly, Twilight could tell the counselor was practicing the same deep-breathing exercises she had ironically taught the panic prone purple pony. It was much easier to do them without distractions however, so Twilight kept her muzzle shut. She knew that regaining control of one's emotions could be taxing. Her friends on the other hoof were not so inclined.

"Fluttershy, darling. I want to apologize for leaving you 'hanging,' as i'twere," Rarity whispered far-too-loudly to her yellow pegasus friend. Twilight's ear twitched as the closer conversation mercifully drowned out the imagined sounds from outside. "That was very rude of me."

"It's ok, Rarity. I haven't had an 'episode' in months. It's just, the thought of being watched all the time - oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my -" Twilight could hear Fluttershy begin to quiver at the thought. Twilight almost turned to comfort her friend - an act she should have done before - but stopped with only a small twitch. Twilight was their unofficial leader and needed to address whatever Spring had to say. Besides, Rarity was there and Twilight trusted her. Twilight trusted all her friends.

"Fluttershy, deep breaths. Deep breaths. There's a good girl." Just so. The whimpering Fluttershy and softly cooing Rarity seemed to have broken the nervousness that had kept her other friends silent and Twilight's ears swiveled to catch whispers on the other side of her.

"Hey Rainbow? Uhm, was what Bruce said true? Did you really start swapping numbers out like that?" Pinkie was rarely one to really whisper - or even keep many secrets despite having created the 'Pinkie Promise' - but there were always 'exceptional exceptions' in both cases.

"Uh, can we talk about this later?" Rainbow huffed, her voice full of irritation. And fear. Twilight once again almost turned to look at her chromatic friend but managed to keep herself from doing so. Rainbow was afraid. It wasn't the first time Twilight had seen Rainbow's 'armor of awesome' crack. There had been many times the seemingly unflappable pegasus had found herself fighting back her own worries and fears. But each time it had been all of them together that had helped the brash flier conquer those fears. Twilight hoped that Pinkie could - no. She trusted her friends.

"... I'm sorry." A shuffling of hooves followed her quiet apology as Pinkie adjusted herself.

"Huh?" Rainbow's response was as confused as Twilight felt.

"Bruce knows about, uhm, the episode? With the turnips? And the rocks?" Twilight blinked at Pinkie's assertion. Episode? Rocks? She hated to eavesdrop but this was the first time Twilight had heard about this. Every friend keeps some secrets but this sounded serious.

"Wow, he knew that?" Rainbow almost-whispered as she struggled to keep her voice down.

"Yeah. I, uhm, didn't think the same would happen to all of you girls. Mine was in private too, so I feel super-bad."

"Hey, it's alright Pinks. I mean, if we hadn't been so focused on not believing him, he wouldn't have had to air our dirty bridles right?" Before Pinkie could respond, the green pegasus heaved her withers one last time, clearing her throat.

"Ladies." The thing that turned was not the Spring they knew. The Spring they knew was happy, kind and caring. The thing that turned had a fire in her eyes and her quivering wings held at her sides in barely contained outrage. Had Spring any less control, Twilight was sure they would have been flared as wide as possible. "What in the name of everything that is holy and pure in the world is wrong with you?

"What possessed you six - heroines all - to start a hooffight in front of a traumatized nine year old colt?! I mean, I can't - not even - the most ridic - " As she spoke, Spring's wings slowly extended until they were flared in just the way she had been trying to stop. A territorial display, a display of anger. It wasn't ineffective and the six friends lowered their heads and ears slightly as Spring's voice rose in volume until she was drowning out even the loudest cheer from outside. Spring stopped speaking, biting off words as she tried to formulate something - anything - to say to the mares scuffing their hooves in front of her.

"Spring-" Twilight nervously tried to speak, only to be cut off as Spring's rant continued. The counselor started to pace behind her desk, clearly feeling contained and needing a physical expression of her anger. Twilight's analytical mind mumbled to itself in the back of her brain as she winced at every stomp. As she spoke, the counselor waved alternating hooves in an attempt to bleed off some of her anger.

"Not only that - not only that - but why in the name of Tartarus were you in his room to begin with?! You are not his parents! You aren't even his temporary caregivers! There was no reason - no reason at all - that you should have even been in his room! I - I - I have no words." The anger in Spring died, subsumed by shock. Numbly, she sat where she had stopped pacing, facing one of the walls and staring in complete astonishment. "There are no words."

"Spring, he asked to see us-" Twilight tried again, drawing a bitter laugh from the counselor. Her hackles rose a bit at the sound. Twilight hated being laughed at - before, it would have sent her scurrying to her books for solace. Times had changed and now Twilight narrowed her eyes as Spring shouted over her.

"Asked to see you?! So what?! He's a foal! A hurt and traumatized colt! Does that not click in your heads?!" Spring spun back to face the six, hefting herself halfway up onto her desk. An aggressive act from a normally non-aggressive pony. Twilight didn't fold her ears like her friends did at this, though. Instead, she stood her ground and frowned up at the overtly-emotional mare.

"So, what, are we not supposed to help?" Twilight's voice was very loud in the enclosed room but she couldn't tell if that was because of the small size of Spring's office or if she had resorted to shouting. She stepped forward, head lowered slightly - her own mind betrayed her, clearly categorizing the rising tension in both parties. Her mouth had ended in a near-sneer but Twilight fought it back into the shape of a frown.

"Help? Help. Help?" The counselor blinked at her, dumbfounded once more. "I'm sorry, Doctor Sparkle, please educate me on how having a hoof fight in front of your patient - a patient that is obviously from a broken herd and has been abused in the past - is supposed to help said patient." As Spring's voice began to become laced with sarcasm once more, Twilight backed away and lowered her ears. She raised her leg defensively - and unconsciously - to her chest. As much as she hated to admit it, Spring did have a very valid point. Spring rolled her eyes as the unicorn's mouth worked soundlessly. "Please. I'm waiting."

"... things got out of hoof," Twilight eventually managed to mumble, looking away from Spring in slight shame. Her eyes found Rarity sheepishly blushing and frowning at the floor. Twilight doubted Rainbow looked quite the same though she knew her pegasus friend was feeling just as embarrassed.

"Oh, well, let me just go and pat him on the head - I'm sure he's not a bawling mess right now, trying to hide from any mare that walks by, desperately afraid of being smacked around!" Spring's voice dripped with venomous sarcasm. And Twilight found herself looking at the floor along with her friends. Things had gotten out of hoof but that it had become an actual fight was something unique. Fights among the six of them weren't unheard of but they rarely became physical.

Spring sighed loudly - at the situation, the mares in front of her or how easily her own aura of calm had dissipated, Twilight couldn't tell. The noise drew Twilight's eyes upwards and she found the pegasus massaging her temples. With another sigh - deeper this time - Spring looked at each pony in turn. Her eyes were no longer seething with anger. Instead, they looked ... sad.

"Ladies. I know you want to help. I know you do. You six have helped so many. But right now, he needs a stable life and having your ... particularly interesting lives around him is not going to do a thing. Please, just let me work. Please." Spring gave the group a sad, pleading look and it took all of Twilight's conviction not to acquiesce. She looked so sad ...

"Spring, there's somethin' you should know," Applejack said in a low voice. Had the situation been normal, it might even have been considered a whisper. But as Twilight looked at her friend, the fear in the mare's eyes showed how strange the situation was. Applejack - a mare that had stood bravely against two gods, dragons, mad unicorn mages and every threat to Equestria for two years - was afraid. She was so stubborn that Twilight could think of only a few times when the farm pony had let fear show on her face and they all revolved around her family. "He knows ... things."

"What are you-" Before Spring could continue, Twilight snapped her head around and interrupted as Applejack sunk into an almost sullen silence.

"Blame can be discussed later, Spring. He knows things - about the six of us - that, uhm, aren't exactly public knowledge." The counselor rolled her eyes, waving her hoof as if to dismiss everything.

"He's a fan," Spring said, blithely waving off her concerns. Twilight laid her ears back in irritation at the tone. Before she could object, however, a quiet voice piped up from the back.

"He knows about my episodes, Spring." Pinkie's uncharacteristically quiet voice caused the entire room to stumble into an awkward silence. The sounds of muted festivities from outside once more asserted themselves but Twilight was more interested in Pinkie's admission than imagined ostracization. Spring blinked, her ears dropping slightly.

"D-did you tell him?" Springs voice had dropped as well and - though Twilight saw only confusion - the counselor's shaky voice pointed to surprise ... surprise or sudden fear.

"Nuh-uh. I don't want anypony to know about them."

"He knows, well, certain things about my - shall we say, private life? - that are, well, not exactly flattering," Rarity added with a toss of her mane and a slight blush to her cheeks.

"He knows things, Spring," Twilight said, stepping forward once more towards the desk. This time, however, her pace was more controlled. And much less antagonistic. Her voice had lost the edge as well as the aggression and Twilight felt a twinge of sadness. She did what was necessary for the good of all. And she hated every moment of it. "And while what he related to us isn't dangerous, well - the fact that he knows of them raises a big red flag."

"What are you saying, Twilight?" Spring Meadows looked at her with creased brows, the dying flame of anger hidden just beneath the surface of her eyes. Twilight internally winced. She hated the responsibility sometimes. The fact that so many ponies were relying on her. The fact she had the power to turn any situation into a crisis. The fact that this hurt and scared little colt was now at the center of something potentially big. She hated it - but she would never shirk from it. With a deep breath, Twilight steeled herself for what she had to do. What must be done.

"As of now, this case has become a National Security issue."

"What." All six other voices - from the quiet voice of Fluttershy to the loud exclamation of Rainbow Dash - asked the question that was on everypony's mind. Twilight swallowed the sudden lump in her throat but forged ahead. Hated, hated, hated.

"There are ways of spying on other ponies. It's possible that Bruce was, eh, used as a focus to spy on the six of us and until we can find out the extent of his knowledge, that colt is a threat to the safety of Equestria." With the proclamation - well, proclaimed, Twilight prepared herself for what she knew was coming.

"Oh my ..." Except she didn't expect Fluttershy to break down again. As Rarity gathered the quivering pegasus - and stared in wide-eyed surprise at the back of Twilight's head - Spring shook herself from her shock.

"Are you saying that he's a - a tool somepony used as a way of gathering information on the six of you?" Spring looked at the lavender unicorn as if she was mentally ill. Or as if Spring was about to become physically ill. It was hard to tell with how green she was normally.

"Spring, we're heroes - what better way of spying then to use something we can't destroy?" Pinkie Pie whimpered behind her as Fluttershy continued her descent into a self-induced neurotic fit. Rarity had not lessened her glare of death and Twilight was dimly aware of Applejack and Rainbow just staring at her as if she had suddenly sprouted wings.

"Spring, this case is a Ministry case but, well," with a sigh Twilight drew herself to her full four feet three inches. This was going to hurt everypony. "I'm authorized to investigate any and all threats to Equestria and until we can figure out how this colt knows these things-"

"Don't do this Sparkle!" Spring knew what was coming. It had never been done around her but she knew the stories, the rumors. A mixture of fear and anger laced her words. Twilight silently wished that they could be friends again one day.

"-I'm labeling him as a possible threat to Equestria." Silence - save Fluttershy's whimper. The butter-yellow pegasus hated confrontation.

"Aw come on Twi," Rainbow shouted from behind - the first time the normally brash pegasus had spoken. Twilight turned to face her friend, her eyes hard.

"No Rainbow! You - of all ponies - know how important we six are to the safety and security of this country! Until we can figure this colt out, we have to treat him like a threat." A stomp of her hoof emphasized her words and Twilight turned back to face the fuming counselor - her own face dark.

"Oh really? I don't care if he's the reincarnation of the Nightmare Moon in foal form, you have no authority to take this case without a Court Order or a Royal Decree." Twilight narrowed her eyes as Spring narrowed hers in response.

"Girls." Rarity's voice was lost as the two mares squared off against each other.

"Fine, maybe I'll have to send a letter out via Spike-mail and yank you off this case as you're obviously emotionally invested!"

"Emotionally invested?! I'm not the one getting into shouting matches with a nine year old colt!"

"Girls, ugh," Twilight could barely hear Rarity above the pounding in her head. This entire thing was one headache after another. Stupid colt, stupid responsibility, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid useless unicorn. "Girls, please ..."

"GIRLS!" Fluttershy's shout drowned out anything Twilight had begun to say, reverberating in the small space and causing everypony to clutch their ears. Twilight and Spring both snapped their eyes to the pegasus, her face slightly red in irritation. "Rarity has something to say."

"Yes. Thank you Fluttershy." Rarity backed a bit away from her friend as she found every eye on her. She fluffed her mane once with a hoof - a nervous habit Twilight noted - before clearing her throat. "Ahem, let's calm down, take a few deep breaths and look at this rationally." Twilight opened her mouth to speak - she was looking at it rationally! - but her white unicorn friend interrupted her. "Twilight, what exactly do you intend to do with Bruce?"

Twilight gaped a bit as her mind shifted from indignant to planning. She didn't want him to be locked away, she didn't want him to be sent to Canterlot and away from where his family might be, she definitely didn't want him herself. He needed to be watched and studied but ... Rarity noted how long Twilight was thinking.

"Please, take your time," she assured her friend as she polished a hoof against her chest, inspecting it every few seconds. "Don't feel rushed."

"Uhm ... I hadn't gotten that far yet, Rarity," Twilight admitted, with some amount of embarrassment. She had gotten so caught up in her growing fight with Spring that she hadn't even begun to plan what to do with the colt. Perhaps she could ... no, Spike had started to become such a hoofull. Maybe - no, her friends were often so busy with their own lives. And the Princess had been preoccupied for some reason lately.

"You hadn't 'gotten that far yet?' Why ever not, dear? That is the crux of your issue, is it not? What do you plan to do with him? Lock him in a cage? Throw him out of Ponyville? Put him in the Canterlot dungeons?" Twilight pressed her ears against her skull as Rarity's lightly-spoken words sunk in.

"... point taken," the lavender unicorn mumbled. With a nod to her friend and a beaming smile, Rarity turned her attention to the smugly smiling counselor. Twilight noted that her smile never reached her eyes.

"Spring, what exactly is the problem with Twilight?" At Rarity's question, Spring's smile faded and she looked at the fashionista with incredulity.

"Excuse me? She's already gotten into a fight with him - a fight! A grown mare in a fight with a child! I mean-" the counselor's rant was cut off by a stomp of Rarity's shining hoof.

"An argument," Rarity clarified, "and Bruce is antagonizing the entire world - ah!" Rarity held up a hoof as Spring began to protest. "You have to admit it's true, Spring. That little colt is a bundle of issues beyond the regular. He's at best trying to be around and Twilight rubs him the wrong way, I suppose. Other than her lack of control-"

"Hey!" Rarity ignored Twilight's shout of indignation.

"-what is the problem with Twilight?" For a moment, the Elements of Harmony watched as the counselor wavered a bit, her mind clearly going through all that had happened in the past few days. Finally, after a few seconds of contemplation, the counselor deflated slightly.

"... that's it, really. Bruce needs a stable and gentle life right now. He needs healing to get over these delusions, not some government spook-team watching over his shoulder or locking him in a dungeon." Twilight winced at the subtle jab as well as the slightly dirty look the counselor shot her way. Rarity ignored it however and looked between her and Spring, her face filled with faux confusion.

"So, what's changed? As it stands, we have an Element watching over him," Rarity waved towards Pinkie Pie as she spoke, "and he has a relatively stable life. We just need to - very carefully and with Ministry oversight," the white unicorn looked between Twilight and Spring pointedly, causing both to flatten their ears slightly, "prod him for information as to how he knows what he does."

"Pinkie is not the best influence right now," Spring said with a winced look of apology towards the pink party pony. Or at least where she had been, the counselors eyes searching the room in growing confusion as Twilight blinked at her admission. Surely she couldn't know -

"Hey!" Pinkie herself jumped up from ... somewhere between Twilight and Spring, her face filled with anger and hurt. Both ponies leaned backwards as quickly as they could, though Pinkie was nowhere near either of them. "I'm a perfectly good influence!"

"Pinkie, you think he's a human," Twilight replied, Spring blinking in surprise. So that hadn't been shared with her. Pinkie, for her part, looked at Twilight as if she had grown wings ... and a second head ... and had just gotten transformed into a human child herself.

"No I don't."

"Huh?" Five voices - and Spring's sigh of relief - filled the room as Pinkie switched her confused look over to her friends.

"Well, it doesn't really matter what he was - or even is, to be honest." Pinkie shook her head. "No, what he needs is somepony to connect with him, to sympathize with him and to talk to without being judged."

"I'm not judging him!" Twilight's indignant shout was met with a quirked eyebrow from Pinkie. For a moment, the room was silent as Pinkie seemed to stare right through Twilight - right into her soul. Burning, blue eyes. Twilight broke eye contact first, shaking her head to clear it of those silly notions.

"Maybe not intentionally but you kinda are Twilight. You were really accu-achusi ... uhm, forceful when you and him were arguing at the party." Pinkie met Twilight's flabbergasted stare with a smile, waving a hoof as if it didn't matter. "Anyway, just because I think he's somepony super special that we need to talk to doesn't mean I'm loco in my coco." Pinkie waved her hooves around her head, spinning her eyes counter each other in a way that made Twilight's eyeplates hurt. "I might like the human stories but I'm not crazy. They're just stories."

"It seems settled then." Rarity broke in between the pink party pony and her fellow unicorn - physically and verbally - before Twilight could respond. "Pinkie will watch over him for now, the rest of us will begin to, well, inquire as to this 'show' he claims we're a part of while Spring will continue to do her amazing job with him and everything will turn out just fine. And of course - if worse comes to worse - I'm a," Rarity shuddered before continuing, "registered foster mother myself. I can -"

Before Rarity could finish, the door to Spring's office burst open and one of the nurses - Nurse Redheart - stumbled into the room panting.

"Spring, uh, you need to come downstairs. We have an, uhm, issue?"

30 - A Meeting of ... Minds?

View Online

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick-

I gritted my teeth against the annoying sound of the wall clock as it wound down through the minutes. It seemed like hours to me but clocks don't go backwa-hey! Stupid clock. The administrator's waiting room wasn't all that interesting and it actually took a good deal of effort to hold back my new childish energy but I managed to fidget only a little. The diphtheria was helping and my hectic flight through the offices drained what little I had stored up. It was coming back slowly but I could manage. The four of us were sitting in uncomfortable chairs along one wall while a stallion - I assume the admin's secretary by the way he kept trying to look busy with the same two files on his desk - kept giving us the stink-eye over his cheap desk. So not only was I causing messes, I was dragging foals into them. I felt great.

The Crusaders, on the other hoof, couldn't seem to keep from whispering at each other.

"Ah can't believe you tried ta blame Bruce for this, Scoots," Applebloom fake-whispered over my head. I was sitting between her and Scootaloo and had been suffering through their argument since before we had been escorted here. I think they had put me here to discourage them from continuing the hushed sniping that had dogged us through the hospital hallways but it wasn't working. A harsh 'shh' from the secretary drove the volume down every so often but it wasn't stopping the 'fight.' "Ah mean, it wasn't like you were fightin' against the idea."

"You heard him, he even admitted it was his idea." Scootaloo shifted a bit in her seat. She was embarrassed. Don't ask me how I could tell, I just could.

"That was still not cool, Scootaloo." Sweetie Belle mumbled from her place beyond Applebloom. Where Applebloom was energetically upset and Scootaloo was defensively upset, Sweetie Belle seemed mortally upset. All through our walk, all I heard from her was 'Rarity is going to kill me.' Maim, sure. Kill? Not so much Sweetie.

Scootaloo gave a groan of annoyance at the unicorn filly's somewhat distant words. "Team up on the pegasus day, I get it."

"Shh!" The stallion's shush brought three heads low and his glare kept them there until he turned back to shuffling the file in front of him closed. He moved on to the second file for the eighth time and it took barely a second before Applebloom and Scootaloo were whispering above my head. Again.

"Hey, I'm not saying I wouldn't do it again but it was his idea."

"It doesn't matter. You should always be nice ta colts, Scootaloo." Applebloom was really dead-set on defending me. I knew that as soon as I opened my mouth, something awful was going to come out so I didn't discourage it as much as I should have. All I could do was grunt in an attempt to confuse the parties - each time, I was blessed with a few seconds of silence as they tried to figure out if I had said something or was willing to join them in their little blame game. Nope on both accounts but it would buy me a few seconds so I kept doing it.

Before Scootaloo could respond - and before I could make things worse by finally snapping at the pair of them - the door to the hallway creaked open very slowly and four sets of young eyes turned to find our doom. Applejack, Rarity and Spring looked back at us. They were not happy. And just behind them, the Cakes - and another mare I hadn't seen before. Fuchsia is not a color that should ever exist in nature. Holy everything, my eyes stung just looking at her. I guess it kinda worked with her mane color - yellow-green? It was like an interior designer got drunk and vomited on a sheet of paper after eating the printer ink. Purple eyes did not help the poor dear one bit. Scootaloo blanched as the pony came into view. Just a bit. Past 'pale-orange' and into 'sheet white' territory.

"Eh heh. Hi mom." Ah, that's who bright-on-the-eyes was. Scoota-mom. At that, the mares and Mr. Cake entered the room as calmly as an adult shivering with anger could. I was shivering too. It was only partly anger.

"Scootaloo, I am very upset at you." As she entered the room fully, I caught a glimpse of her cutie mark. A set of balance scales set against a black circle. At least, it was supposed to be a black circle, the muscle under her coat was making it seem a bit bumpy. It wasn't long before every foal there had a guardian-type in front of them. Except me. I had the pleasure of three of them. And no time to listen in on the quiet conversations going on around me as I had my own to worry about.

"Bruce, what were you thinking?" Mrs. Cake was a bit livid. It wasn't her constipation-esque grimace or her very hard eyes, it was the hissing quality in her tone that really set my alarm bells ringing. That tone that was so very quiet and so very angry. Mr. Cake looked a bit haggard and Spring - Spring looked sad.

"I wasn't." Oops, there I go again - opening my mouth! Silly Bruce, when will you ever learn? As soon as the words left my muzzle, my hooves launched themselves to my face and clamped down to prevent anything else from escaping my Hole of Further Doom. It didn't help, her eyes narrowed a bit more. I managed to squeak out an 'I'm sorry' out of the corner of my mouth.

"Bruce, you're in trouble but you're not going to be hurt, ok?" Spring gave Mrs. Cake a glance as she said this and got a slightly offended look back. "What you did was not only dangerous but also illegal."

"Excuse me Spring," the eye-searingly colored Scoota-mom nodded at the haggard three some from next to us, "Mrs. and Mr. Cake. May I ask Bruce a few questions?"

Mrs. Cake gave the Scoota-mom a glare of death for a minute before deflating with a sigh. Tired eyes looked out from a stress-filled face and she nodded. "Thank you Cup. Bruce? What happened?"

I looked up into her eyes. It was like nothing I can describe. I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted everything to pour out in a flood. I wanted to tell everypony everything. So I did.

"It was my idea. We were waiting in the hospital room for so long and I thought that if I knew what Spring thought of everything I could maybe make sense of what's been going on so we snuck out and went to where the offices were but there were so many and I couldn't read the signs but we found Doctor Horses office and it was unlocked and there were files everywhere and we found my files and I can't believe they think I've been raped or something and nothing really makes sense and no one believes me and I keep telling the truth but it doesn't matter and-and-and I just want to go ho~o~ome!" HONK HONK

I don't know if it was because I was exhausted by the sickness, stressed because of how long I had been away from home or if my child-emotions were playing havoc with my brain but I found myself bawling my eyes out in front of a suddenly uncomfortable group of adult ponies. And coughing. A whole lot of coughing. And then ... I found myself being hugged. By Mr. Cake. Who has been the best thing that has happened to me since I ended up in ponyland.

It wasn't long before the sound of a mare clearing her throat brought everypony's head up. An off-white unicorn mare had joined us at some point in time and despite her attempts at looking professionally distant, once her eyes passed over me a hint of worry entered them.

"May I see the guardians in my office?"

Mr. Cake gave me one more squeeze before the welcome warmth of his hug left and the crowd of them disappeared one by one through the door.

And I was alone again. Until Scootaloo grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. And then Applebloom. Even Sweetie Belle came over and hugged me. We stayed like that for a good while until the muffled shouting from the office caused everypony - even the not-even-pretending-to-work secretary - to jump. It sounded like Scoota-mom. And holy damn did she sound pissed. I mean, I thought Mrs. Cake could get angry but this was beyond that.


"Yeah Bruce?"

"Your mom scares the crap out of me." I gave her a look and she nodded slightly.

"Almost everypony says that, Bruce." She shivered a bit and if I hadn't been clamped on by three fillies, I would have hugged her back. "I have never heard her this upset before."

"Even when we accidentally set the carnival on fire?" Sweetie's voice cracked painfully in the middle of that sentence but the sounds of anger from the administrator's office kinda distracted from it.

"Yeah, this is way worse." The three Crusaders shivered a bit at the collective memory. I perked up as a particular explicative found enough volume to force it's way through the door.

"I don't think she's angry at us, girls." A glimmer of hope - guilty, guilty hope - found it's way into my heart. We stayed like that - listening to the sound of Scoota-mom's voice with the voice of the Administrator soon joining her - until the door slammed open and a fuming fuchsia form stormed out of the office. Behind her, I could see a very upset administrator and a depressed looking Doctor Horse.

"I want those signs put up tomorrow, Quill! And those files locked away tonight! This place is an embarrassment and a Sun-damned disgrace - we have regulations to prevent this exact situation! Come along Scootaloo." Without waiting for an answer, Scoota-mom stomped past a slightly-cowering secretary and out the door. And with a final squeeze to me, Scootaloo bolted after her. Just before they left, I heard Scoota-mom whisper something to the filly that sounded like 'grounded for life.'

"Ah'm so glad Ms. Hitter's the district attorney." Applebloom's quiet voice sounded loud in the silence of that rage-filled passing. It took a second for those words to filter into my mind but when they did, the screech of mental gears grinding to a halt could be heard for miles.

"Wait, what?"

"Come along Bruce." Mrs. Cake was suddenly at my side and I jumped in surprise at her appearance. Haggard, true, but a bit less tired looking. "Let's get you back to your room."

I felt two small squeezes from the remaining Crusaders and they were gone, dutifully walking behind their sisters and out the door. It took me a moment before I realized how lonely I felt. And it was a few seconds after I connected the events that I bit my own tongue to keep from cursing a storm.

I blame the hormones fully and totally and was really creeped out by everything and everyone. Cue the 'squick' dance - where you shake, shiver and flail your hands around trying to get the mental image to leave. Never works but the eternal optimist in me refuses to give up.

"No, a thousand times no. I will geld myself before that happens." The horrified looks from the Cakes and Spring made me realize I had said that particular bit out loud. "Not that - don't worry about it."

The walk back was done in an awkward silence. I was used to those but it wasn't just Spring and the Cakes that were silent. No, the entire hospital just stopped as we passed by. Nurses and doctors ceased conversation, orderlies stopped transporting sick ponies - wheelchairs make no sense if the population sits like dogs half the time but whatever - and even patients stopped what they were doing to watch us pass.

It was eerie and I didn't like it at all.

"Spring," I whispered as loudly as I dared while another group of doctors stopped to stare, "what is going on with the hospital?"

Spring sighed and shook her head a bit sadly. "You just got a few ponies very ... nervous, Bruce. That's all."

I blinked. I couldn't do anything else. A set of orderlies backed up a bit as we passed into the children's ward. The nervousness was apparent but there was an underlying tinge of something. Either fear or anger. Suddenly, the walls seemed a lot less cheery than they had been. The smiling painted sun wasn't just a silly bit of childishness thrown on the wall, it was to inspire sick foals to feel better. The flowers and grass that accompanied it weren't just refreshing colors to calm nervous children, they were reminders of happier times outside the confines of drab olive and blue walls. The empty nurses desk wasn't just an empty nurses desk with a discarded and partly-crumpled hat sitting on top of a pink slip of paper ...

As soon as we entered 'my' room, I felt tense. Both Spring and the Cakes seemed hesitant to start a conversation - probably because of something my 'little colt ears' shouldn't hear. All that waited for me was another stay in a warm hospital bed with adult ponies fussing over me and making sure I was comfortable. Less one.

"I need to use the bathroom," I said and hurried past the startled trio of ponies. I needed to breathe, I needed to calm myself and splash my face with cold water, I needed ... I needed to think.

I don't know how long I sat there in the bathroom, just sitting. My mind wandered over my actions these past three days. Or was it four? It all blurred together and my emotions weren't helping. With a sigh, I hefted myself up on the sink, intending to splash some water on my face - wake myself up and clear my head. Stop everything from being blurry. But something caught my eye.

I reached a hoof out and - with a dull clunk - it met the glass in front of me. Golden eyes stared into mine from a face that seemed far too old to be on any foal. Bags under bloodshot eyes, creases in the brow and muzzle. I was surprised there was no grey in that tousled blue mane. I was alone. No ponies running around trying to find me, no well-meaning Counselors watching over my back, no frantic foster fathers trying desperately to connect with me. No sour-faced nurses to remind me that I should be in bed. I was alone - except I wasn't.

"Is that you Bruce? Is this me?" I asked quietly, letting my southern accent come through clearly. My voice didn't echo - the bathroom attached to my hospital room was too small for that - but I half expected it to. It surely didn't reach past the solid door to where Mr. Cake was anxiously waiting for me to return. I moved a hoof to my face - the physical one - and started to pull down the skin. The foal in the glass mirrored my movements. I could feel the eyeplate stretch, the muscles contract into a grimace. It hurt. The foal across from me winced as the pain began and I dropped my hoof back to the sink. I felt as tired as he looked. I chuckled - a far too dark sound from such a small form. "Ah think Ah already hate this movie."

The foal in the glass didn't answer. It was just a mirror, after all. This was the first time I hadn't been - no, felt rushed. The first time I could breathe and think. The first time I had ended up alone since that night - and here, there was no Pinkie Pie to 'happen' upon me. Alone with my thoughts and I was stuck on what I looked like. I shook my head at that. It was deeper than it seemed to be. It wasn't about how I looked, it was about what that represented. Gone were the long and carefully cared for wavy brown tresses with only a few grey hairs out of place. Gone were the piercing steel blue eyes. Gone were the trimmed goatee and mustache. I didn't feel so confused and lost because they were gone. It was what stared back at me that inspired this - what it meant. Short dark blue mane, blue fur, golden eyes that looked so damn tired.

"Are you in mah body, blue-guy?" Again, no response. It was just a mirror. "Are you wonderin' when yer gonna get home? When you'll see yer mom and dad again? Moms. Whatever. Are you confused? Are you lost?! Are you scared and alone and you can't get any help?! Are you me?! Are you?!"

I was shouting by the time my hoof met the blue face across from me and could only sneer at the multitude of hateful faces staring back at me from the shards of glass. For a moment, all I saw were ponies. Ponies smiling gently as they pushed me here and there. Ponies that looked at me with pity, making up wild stories in their heads about why I was who I was. Ponies as they forced me to fit into their world and their little categories, into what they thought I should be. Ponies, ponies, ponies, ponies, ponies ponies! For a moment, all I saw were seven mares and a stallion trying so hard to help and failing at it.

For a moment, I just felt angry.

"Fuck." With that, I removed my hoof from the now shattered mirror and stared at the rough surface. A few minor scratches into the keratin but nothing more. Nothing more. Had I punched a mirror with my hand, I'd be nursing cuts. Here - I just damaged hospital property. Nothing more. Nothing. A sudden rap on the door made me snap my head up, subconsciously checking that it was still locked.

"Bruce? Are you ok in there?" Mr. Cake rattled the handle on the door, his voice tinged with panic. When I didn't respond - what could I say? - the rattling became frantic. "Bruce? Say something."

I looked back at the many faces frowning back at me - my frown deepening as a sudden urge to grab one of those shards and do something drastic came into my mind. The multiple voices shouting from behind the door and the slowly growing urgency of the rattling faded into background noise. One shard of glass - that's all it would take. One shard ... I reached out and tapped at one of the triangular pieces causing it to fall into the sink with a crack. One shard.

"What is going on in h-Bruce!" I whipped my head around and looked at an orderly standing in the doorway. Her face seemed stuck between shock and worry. Behind her, a large eyed Mr. Cake and Spring were staring at the mess of glass at my hooves in shock. "What did you do?"

"Does it matter?" My voice sounded hollow. I was tired, so very tired. "Whatever happened, it's my fault anyway - I set fire to the city, robbed every bank, slit every throat and everything else you want to heap on me. It doesn't matter what I did because it's all my fault."

I turned back and touched one of the shards, letting it fall to the sink and chip itself. "All my fault."

"Bruce, you'll cut yourself. Let's get you back to bed," the orderly tried to say calmly but I heard the panic in her voice. I didn't turn to look at her but that fear in her voice ... I laughed. She was scared! Her! Someone born in that body, someone that knew where she was and where her family was, someone that was so sure of her place in the world - and she was scared! It was hilarious to me for some reason. I began to laugh. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. I laughed at the well meaning pegasus pushing past the orderly roughly. I laughed at the teary-eyed Mr. Cake standing in the doorway in shock. I laughed and laughed and coughed and laughed some more.

I laughed until sobs wracked my body and I found myself curled up in the arms of a very concerned Spring, breaking down and crying. And coughing.

I was so tired.

"Bruce?" A stallion's voice - Mr. Cake - sounded gently in my ears. It wasn't very loud but it did snap me to consciousness after my exhausted fight against conformity. The warm mass I was curled against shifted slightly at my silence and I flicked to confirm I was awake. Or at least waking up. My face was pressed between two warm but heavy bits that felt ... fuzzy. I sighed in irritation.

Spring had gathered my limp body during my bout of self-induced mania and we had curled up together on the hospital bed - much to the chagrin of the staff. I had been drifting in a half-sleep haze for I-don't-know-how long before I finally succumbed. Sounds were muffled by wing and fur but everypony seemed content to leave us be - though at least once I had snapped awake at the electric tingle of a magical field and the vague sounds of conversation. My jerk alerted Spring and whoever it was to my vague awareness but I didn't have the energy to attempt to join the conversation. I think I mumbled something about pancakes. I wasn't coherent enough to listen in on whatever was going on and pretty much tanked out after a few awkward moments of muffled squawks and a soothing melody from Spring that I knew too well. 'Hush now quiet now' yourself, sister.

"Mmph." My mumbled reply didn't reach very far but it must have been far enough. It's kind of hard to respond when your face is buried in a mass of pony. I could feel more than hear the sound of a chuckle ... as well as a pretty large sized bump or something. I assume it was a chuckle from the shaking more than the sound, my form wasn't exactly in an optimal place to pick up such things you see. I must have shifted during my accidental nap, I wasn't against Spring's chest ... it smelled more like a stallion than a mare. Mr. Cake cleared his throat and tried again, very gently.

"Bru-uce?" With a shuddering gasp, I yanked my muzzle back from ... between Mr. Cake's thighs. Really? Really? THIS is how the rest of my day starts? I took one not-so panicked look at his smiling face, his belly and ... lower.

"Really?" I managed to croak out between a surprisingly small amount panic and revulsion. Very calm, all things considered. I think I was numb to new shocks. What was really odd was how comfortable it had been, if a bit tight. I mean small! I mean my head was too big to fi- oh, you know what I mean. "Really?"

His confused blink morphed into surprise and just a hint of fright quicker than I thought possible.

"Oh! Oh goodness, no Bruce!" Mr. Cake's face flushed red as the implication set in. "That's how a mother nurses her children - it's supposed to be comforting and make you feel safe. Oh stars and sun ..."

He trailed off as images of colts doing 'bad things' danced in his head. At least, I'm pretty sure he was suffering from imagination-induced sickness. Before he could get any farther, I decided to be kind to the poor frazzled stallion. He didn't deserve that kind of thing. None of them deserved this kind of thing.

"Oh, well, okay then." I blinked owl-like at the room, scanning for changes with a half-covered yawn. Yup, I was completely dead to surprise. Even forced gelding wouldn't have made me bat an eye unless it was directed at me. Mr. Cake wasn't - obviously. He had a nub. Ew, stop it brain. Seriously, I didn't need that mental image. I was no longer physically tired but I was emotionally exhausted. It had been a long couple days. At least I wasn't hacking a lung up whenever I woke up.

As I scanned the now dim room, I noticed the color once adorning the walls had changed from pea-green to a more pleasant blue. The bed was further from the door and there was a curtain across the room to separate it into two 'beds.' Survey says - new room. Can't have little damaged colts cutting themselves, can we? Never was a cutter but the last few days had made me wonder if I wasn't about to start. The very faint sounds of revelry that could have been heard from outside had completely vanished as well as most of the sounds of the hospital itself. It was quiet and dark. Not 'dead of night' dark but 'come in, time for dinner' dark. Smacking my lips, I yawned again and filed the information all away for dealing with 'later.' Back to the topic at hoof.

"That's kinda creepy, Mr. Cake, but whatever." His jaw worked a bit as he tried find a suitable response. Man, I was dry. I must have drooled in his thi-no, no. Don't think about it. We can't panic here, this is Counselor territory. She could be anywhere. Just waiting to spring out with some new well-meaning horror. "I guess it makes sense what with being where their teats are and all."

"Bruce, language," he said rather calmly as he reached down and helped me into a more reasonable 'facing the same direction' sort of situation. I squinted up at him in the dim light and blinked.

"What?" It was weird enough waking up with my head between his legs, now he wants to criticize my word-choice? The bed was far too small for his over-sized butt and I found myself pressing up against him in an attempt not to fall off. And he was warm. And I was comfy ... shut up.

"We call them 'mare parts,' Bruce." I stared at him for a good bit after that as my brain slowly shifted from first into second gear. Mare parts? That ranks up there with 'throbbing' as 'most over-used phrase in bad word-porn.'

"Really?" Wow, good start to a day! Already I was left without words twice. I could tell the rest of my short time awake was going to be spectacular. Mr. Cake blushed a bit at my disbelieving stare and nodded. He knew what I was thinking of - the way he shifted his fore legs closer to his body, the way they crossed a bit in front of him. It was a very closed off and defensive posture. His ears were flipped down and - where in the hell did this come from? Three days and I'm an expert body language reader or something? I had been in Equestria too long.

"At least you're not yelling at me." I shrugged as best I could at him and coughed a bit. At least it wasn't a 'body-wracking hack' type of cough.

"Yes, it's become clear that you are to be more gently corrected." Spring's voice drew my attention. What did I say - she was just waiting to 'spring' something on me! Get it? Get it? Right. She was just entering the room but I knew she had been around somewhere. Listening in on us. As I napped with my head between his-brain, stop it. I turned my irritation to a better target. Didn't she have other patients to deal with? Was I her only case? Anyway, I knew some of what was coming freely out of my mouth was filth but putting 'teats' on that list seemed a bit much.

"Especially by me." She looked at me, her eyes filled with unvoiced apologies. I blinked back at her as I mentally entered third gear. "I've been treating you as I would any other foal when it's obvious you're not and I'm sorry. I'll try my hardest to take into account your special circumstances."

She stopped and pawed at the floor with one hoof, biting her lip all the while. She didn't know what to say. Mr. Cake patted one of my hooves with a tired sigh. At least I wasn't the only one feeling tired. "Are you feeling better, Bruce?"

"Tired," I said, trying to dislodge the frog in my throat. "And angry but mostly tired."

"I'm sorry Bruce." Spring trotted closer to the bed, settling in as near to my front-half as she could get without crawling into bed with the two of us. She reached out and started to stroke my mane. I think it was supposed to be comforting but right then all it did was remind me of what I was. "Bruce, in the bathro-"

"Yes but it was just a silly, passing thought." My bluntness caused her to sputter a bit and I pushed her hoof away roughly. Or as roughly as a sub-ten foal can get. I guess having someone admit to having those thoughts was a bit of a shock because she managed to stay silent long enough for me to get another sentence in. "They come and go."

"Bruce," Mr. Cake's voice sounded shaky and I was determined not to look the poor stallion in the eyes. Or Spring. Or myself. "I, I ..." He trailed off. What do you say?

"They were silly thoughts, Mr. Cake." I chuckled. "I'd tell you not to worry about it but that's not going to happen."

"No, Bruce," Spring's voice sounded sad but I knew it was going to sound that way. "It's our responsibili-"

"The hell it is!" My head snapped up with a snarl. "I can take ... care ..."

That all died when I saw her. Hurt. Acceptance. She was just trying to help and here I was shouting at her. And she expected it. My face fell as well as my volume. "I-I'm sorry."

"It's ok Bruce."

"No, no it's not." I buried my face in my hooves. "I have no idea what's wrong with me, Spring. I've never snapped like this before - especially when it's someone trying to help. I've lost control of my emotions - my self - and it's terrifying."

I felt her arm drape across my shoulders lightly. "Bruce, you're scared and hurt. You're lashing out because you don't know what's going to happen or where is safe anymore. Yes, it hurts but I'm more worried about you."

"That's what terrifies me," I looked up at her confused face. "You're so concerned with me, what about you? What happens when it gets to be too much?"

She smiled at me, a smile that reached her eyes. A real smile. "I'm a tough mare, Bruce. I've had worse."

"I doubt it." She ignored my sarcastic quip.

"Bruce, I want you to know that no matter what," she squeezed me slightly as she said this, "I'm here for you. Anything you want to talk about is ok. You're safe with me. I won't hurt you, I won't touch you in a 'bad way.' You're safe and I won't let anything hurt you."

Except myself. I didn't say that, though. That would just get her talking more and I was sick of talking. I grunted instead and she gave me a sad, little smile. She let go of my shoulder and stepped back a bit - to give us more room, I suppose.

"Anyway, the doctor's have run a few purge spells on you so you're probably thirsty - and almost definitely have to use the little colt's room. That and it's fairly late anyway. We have a lot to talk about," the way she emphasized 'lot' pretty much told me it was just one minor thing - the whole 'breaking and entering' bit - but I didn't get much of a 'disappointment' vibe from her this time, "but that can wait. We have so much to do - we'll have to catch dinner on the way to the meeting, ok?"

"What meeting?" I gave her a confused look, my head tilted. I was fully awake now and ravenous but what was this about 'purge spells?' And what was more important than the whole 'breaking and entering' thing? Before I could ask, Spring's face 'flipped' to her 'super-happy-fun-times' face which consisted of a closed-mouth smile too wide for her face and those little happy-pony arcs for eyes. It also usually meant 'super-unhappy-Bruce-times' so I was understandably worried. With a nod to Mr. Cake - who managed to lift me out of bed and onto the floor with his hooves this time - she proceeded to busy herself by trying to smooth my atrocious bedmane.

"Why, your first 'Loving the Real You' meeting is tonight, Bruce." Her enthusiasm diminished as she saw my face. "I know, Bruce. But give it a chance - creatures of all sorts have found ways to accept themselves through these meetings and no matter what you are, it might help you come to terms with who you are."

"Oh joy." Deadpanned sarcasm was not what she was looking for apparently but it only brought out a sigh.

"Well this sucks," I mumbled to nopony in particular. I have no idea what I was expecting. Maybe something like the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings the courts made mom go to; a large group of people, cigs (OH GOD MARLBOROS COME BACK TO ME PLEASE), coffee, and poker chips with sayings on them - that sort of thing.

Instead, Spring had hustled me down a floor into her little 'talking room' after a blissfully short bathroom break and a quick stop at the hospital cafeteria ... and that was it. The only difference was a table set-up along the back wall with sandwiches and juice and a few folding bench-chair things. Of course, we were first - joy of joys - so not only was I going to be stuck in this room with a bunch of psycho-ponies thinking they're human but I was going to spend an indeterminate amount of time with Spring as she went through her filing cabinets while humming a cheery tune.

I sighed and flipped through one of the 'adult lifestyle' magazines Spring had out on a table as I munched at a daisy sandwich kindly provided by the awkwardly quiet cafeteria. I guess 'midnight snacks' are low on the priorities but Spring had a key and there wasn't a single pony around to stop her anyway. It was crap but 'nutrition is important to a growing colt' and all. I managed to avoid talking about bacon. Baby steps, Bruce. Baby steps.

As to the magazine, I couldn't read a word of it - wing dings all - but it seemed to be some sort of fashion rag. Mares showing off dresses in really awkwardly 'sexy' poses with only a few stallions in those suit-vest things showing up in the background. And I mean awkwardly 'sexy' from my standpoint. Ponies should not be able to bend that way. I thought I had a handle on this 'gender flip' thing but replace the ponies with humans and - suddenly - Cosmo. Maybe only some of the gender roles I was used to were different? Sports seemed to be a 'colt-ish' thing and dresses seemed to be more a 'filly' thing. But the guards were mostly mares ... it was super confusing.

"Uhm, is this the 'Loving the Real You' meeting room?" I know that voice - I had heard it exactly once before. I looked up from the wing-ding-a-licious rag I was flipping through to see a certain grey pegasus nervously standing in the doorway scuffing a hoof against the floor tile. Wall-eyed, bubble cutie mark - Derpy? Derpy - for some reason. I was surprised, I didn't think many non-Earth ponies (apart from a certain teal unicorn) would show up. I glanced over to Spring, expecting to see recognition - but she was more shocked than I was.

"Doctor Si- oh, h-hello Derpy. What brings you by?" I could tell from Spring's 'deer-in-headlights' look that Derpy's arrival was unexpected. Heck, I felt the same way. Background pony aside, other than the fact she's a klutz I knew nothing about this pony. Was she really a mother? A mail ... mare? Fandom has abandoned me so much that I had no idea. After a few odd glances around the room, Derpy walked in and smiled.

"Well, Spring, I'm here to see if ... it fits." Despite her words, something really wasn't right about her. Sure, she seemed 'clunky' in the way she moved but it was more like a dancer trying to do a bit-part as a clown. It felt staged. It was more fluid than I would give a so-called klutz and I swore I could see the hint of a scar peaking out of her pelt underneath her 'loose' eye. And that eye, it looked dead. Just ... dead. If that wasn't a fake eye, I was Queen of France. I felt a few hairs on my neck start to stand as she slithered her way into the - slithered? Really? Purple-prose aside, I really felt a weird vibe from her. Not necessarily bad - just off. I kept my muzzle shut as she and Spring spoke. "You know I've had issues with my eyesight and maybe I just need to 'love the real me' ya know?"

Yeeeeaaaaaah. Maybe if you acted like the 'real you.' Spring didn't seem to notice anything off about the mare though. Maybe it was because I was looking at everything from an outside perspective or maybe I was blowing things out of proportion. Maybe I had voodoo powers. The way her shoulders were too tense for a calm conversation, the way her real eye twitched towards movement, the way her stance was just north of 'leap-tackle' ... she was good but it's the little things. Spring's face lit up at that and she waved the pegasus in with a smile.

"We're always looking to help creatures accept themselves and all that makes them special here!" She motioned to me with a hoof from across the room and Derpy's eyes snapped to me far too quickly to be the eyes of a 'silly pony.' Spring continued, oblivious to the predator's stare. "Bruce will be a new member as well! We accept all creatures here - pony, gryphon, diamond dog, doesn't matter to us. We're all very special creatures."

I wasn't buying it for a second. Not Spring's gush about the meeting, that was real enough. But Derpy ... that pegasus was not right. She was more tense than a mouse at a rattlesnake convention, more coiled than an overloaded suspension, more ... coming towards me with a fake smile! Smile in return, Bruce! SMILE!

"Heeeey." With my wide and creepy grin in place, I nodded as Derpy took a pillow nearby. "Uhm, Derpy right?"

"That's right, Bruce." She was smiling but her eye was very focused. Very, very focused. For some reason, I wondered if she had any hippogryph in her ancestry. Golden eyes and a hunter's stare. I stared back. Not fearlessly but I can say this about myself - I am not intimidated very easily. Ok, yes I am - but Derpy was setting off alarm bells and I am not known for my brain. Or maybe it was more a 'deer in headlights' look but I looked back! That's what mattered damn it. I think she noticed because her look softened just a bit. "So, who are you exactly?"

The way she worded the question made it clear she was not asking for my name again. I made a snap decision - cause I've been REALLY good about those lately, right?

"I'm a human adult stuck in a foal's body. Who are you?" Balls, Bruce. When'd you grow those - was it after the crying and snuggling with Mr. Cake and the foals a third your age? Wherever they came from, I don't think Derpy was expecting it because I saw some guarded shock from her. Slightly raised foreleg, creased brow, twitch in an ear - speaking of which, where did this 'read pony' crap come from all of the sudden? I sure as hell couldn't read humans the same way at home.

"I'm ... a special pony that's interested in other special ponies." She smiled in a sort-of pleasant way. Then I saw teeth. That's pretty normal from a pony but ... oh. OH DAMN. I had my 'pants-wetting fear' in check. Just barely. Either I was being hunted by some secret spy-pony sent by Celestia herself or Derpy was a pedo. I was seriously hoping it was spy-pony. I can deal with spooks better than child-touchers. "I'm going to be very keen on what you have to say, Bruce."

"Alright! Free sandwiches!" A shout from the doorway snapped both Derpy and my heads up as a few ponies trotted into the room. Including Doctor Sight, Bon Bon, Lyra and ... Fluttershy?!

After a few minutes of the group getting refreshments and sorting ourselves into chairs, I found myself stuck between the golden eyed hawk-pony on the left and Spring on my right. Fluttershy was on the other side of Spring, then Lyra, Bon Bon, unknown-ponies one and two, some gryphon and a cow. Yes. A regular Jersey cow - bell included. Or was it a Holstein? A how-now brown-cow regardless. They talk and I just hadn't met one yet. Finally, Doctor Sight was off along the side of the room for some reason - probably to keep tabs on me. The lucky doctor was lounging on the plush couch while the rest of us were stuck on these hard wooden folding bench-things. Sitting like dogs, with stiff front legs. At least I was. A few of the others had stretched out along the benches but I didn't want my ass hanging out in easy reach of anyone.

As we got settled, my eyes kept wandering over to the singular gryphon I'd seen. He was a skinny sort - not beanpole thin, just a bit on the small-ish side of things. Like he enjoyed starving himself as a hobby. Ok, very thin. Did not help his case that the paper plate he was holding had been overfilled to the point of spillage. Do you not have food where you live man? Still, gryphons are cool right? He and the cow had come in together and they seemed to stand just a bit closer than I would have given a predator and his food-object. I was waiting for the main course to be served, hoping I'd get the chuck roast! Not really but a man can dream of steak, can't he?

Oh god, I was thinking about steaks now. Saliva glands, stop it. Cows talk here.

Swallowing my meat-based cravings, I gave the gryphon a good second over as the chatty ponies settled into their chairs and murmured in conversation. He was just sitting there. Aren't gryphons supposed to be aggressive meat-eaters or something? Killing and eating their way through life, screeching and yelling 'dweeb' every five seconds? Not him, though. Nope, just sitting there like he wasn't some strange fantasy meat-eating creature from Greco-Roman myth. Like it was normal. I'll give him one thing though - gryphons? Coolest. Things. Ever! Pony pelts kinda get 'samey' after a while but the way his feathers and lion-pelt blended was something else entirely. It's like the white 'eagle' part just stopped but the feathers kind of made the transition into his black pelt smoother than I'd assumed. It was surreal and hella awesome looking. Except he had a mustache on his beak! How does that even work? He noticed me staring, I guess, because he looked once and then avoided looking at me again. Jerk. Stupid cool jerk.

The two as-yet unnamed ponies were pretty uninspired, color-wise. A cutie mark of a quill on a pale blue coat for the earth pony stallion and one of rainclouds on light yellow on the unicorn - yeah, huge leap of logic to figure out what they were doing here. Bon Bon was glancing around the room but I kept drawing her eyes - please don't be another potential-pedo - Lyra was her mint-green excitable self and Fluttershy ... was a bit more animated than usual. Hell, she and Lyra had struck up a conversation. The specifics were lost in the light drone of conversation but I did notice Fluttershy glancing my way once or twice and Lyra - did not look pleased as the hum of conversation continued.

One thing I did notice was the fact that other than a cursory glance, all present were looking pointedly away from me save for Bon Bon. Like I was a leper. I haven't even said anything yet, come on! Did I really cause that much hate and discontent? Was I really such a bad pony? I was about to sink into another spiral of self-hate when Spring cleared her throat. The gentle murmur of conversation wound down and all eyes switched to her - I held my tongue. Yes, literally. With my teeth.

"Alright, group, we have two new creatures joining us today." Spring had gone into 'gentle counselor' mode - complete with half-moon happy-eyes - though I noted her phrasing. "We'll start today's session off with a couple different rules.

"First, we have a little colt with us," she motioned to me with a hoof and I felt my face flush a bit as eyes flicked to me, "so no discussing 'naughty' things. We'll cover that next week when he's not here, ok?" Bon Bon grumbled but she seemed to be the only one. Lyra reached over and patted her hoof with an apologetic smile. Huh. What was that about, I had no idea. Well, I had an idea but no clue why Bon Bon was the one upset.

"Secondly, Doctor Sight will also be joining us today," a hoof once more pointed out the unicorn head-shrinker, who waved in response, "to help our new littlest member settle in, ok? But the good doctor is just like me - we can talk about anything we want to here without fear or judgement. Ok?" A round of nods - some more hesitant than others - later and Spring smiled.

"Great! Let's all introduce ourselves so we're all on the same page. I'm Spring and I'm a pegasus."

"Hello Spring." My eyes bugged out as seven voices spoke in sing-song tune. It was a cult! Everyone except Derpy and I repeated a mantra which seemed to be drilled into their skulls. A droning monotone that was so rehearsed that it hurt. Something that bespoke of tortured repetition and beatings. "We love who you are, both inside and out."

It was horrible. Spring was going to start a cult to take over Equestria from the inside, setting herself up as the Counselor-Goddess of Ponykind! We were doomed! A quick nod from Spring and she looked directly at me. Oh god, I don't want to drink the Kool-Aid! It was Heaven's Gate all over again!


"Huh?" And than all eyes were riveted on me! Quick, you can do this brain! Don't mess this-oh, who am I kidding? I gaped a bit while making the oddest noises in an attempt to force out something coherent. 'Bwuh,' 'garf,' and 'qwuee' were only a few of the more interesting ones. Her smile never wavered. All those eyes, staring at me ... waiting for a slip so they could drown themselves in my blood. Or at least titter at my embarrassment. Either-or by this point. After stuttering, gulping and squeaking a few times - and getting 'daww'ed at by everyone but the predator-pony next to me as she fought to control her subconscious terror-induced wing-flare - I managed to find my voice. "I'm Bruce."

"A-a-and?" Oh. Oh no. Spring motioned for me to continue and I found my eyes darting towards Lyra. Who looked a bit nervous herself. This wasn't going to end well. I looked around for an escape and actually considered trying to cry - not a big stretch by that point in time - just to get out of the group. The door was closed for privacy and other than Spring's desk, there was little to hide behind. I was trapped. I swallowed my fear. No way out, walls closing in, fake-love too thick, can't breathe. "Bruce, it's ok. We don't judge."

"I'm a human?" I finally squeaked out as softly as I could. It was more reaction than intentional but it seemed to be what she wanted because she stroked my head gently afterwards. My ears flipped down as the 'mantra of promised death' began.

"Hello Bruce. We love who you are, inside and out." Yeah, 'love' you too guys. I rolled my eyes - only partially in fear - and let them wander across the group. Their faces were blank, their eyes were empty - it was like staring into the souls of the damned. Save two. A semi-familiar mint green unicorn and her beige-ish earth pony friend. There, I was treated to the sight of Lyra's face turning from nervous hope to resigned horror. Why would she ... wait, Bon Bon was now staring at me. Why did she look hungry? Seriously, she was giving me the creepiest smile ever.

"Hi, I'm Derpy and I'm ... confused." Derpy was acting her part marvelously now that she wasn't twitching in terror. She had the nervous habits down pat - even the blush - but I was on to her game. Or maybe she was just as creeped out as I was. At least she wasn't screaming about brainwashing. "I think I'm a pegasus but maybe I'm not ... I just don't know."

"What went wrong," I mumbled under my breath. Sorry, she didn't say it and it's a tradition to over-use notable phrases.

"Hello Derpy. We love you ..." This time, I joined in if only to stop from staring horror-stricken at Bon Bon's semi-feral grin. Lyra had been tapping the earth pony in her shoulder in an attempt to get her eyes away from me but it wasn't working. Staring, burning eyes - hungry eyes. It didn't help Bon Bon was a bit of a 'large' mare either. And was that cheese dust around her hooves? Oh god, she noticed me looking at her!

"Hello, I'm Mirabel and I'm a cow." Thank god! At least someone in this room was sane. "I'm here to support my roost-er, my stallion."

What? She reached over and lovingly stroked the suddenly not-as-cool gryphon's shoulder. And he smiled in return! He stroked her hoof with his talon! You're not supposed to love the cow, you're supposed to eat her! The fact his beak was smiling ended rational thought for a moment.

"Wha-eh, We love ...," I slipped into the little cult-chant after stuttering through my mental break. Now I see why Spring has 'the chant of death.' It kills gasps of confusion and disbelief dead. Clever girl. Still creepy as hell though. Didn't help my brain was shut down from Smile McBeakerson. It beak, how is smile?

"Hello, my given name is Gerald Rouleau but I prefer to be called Iron Hoof and I," he proudly put one talon to his chest with his wings fluffing behind him, "am a pegasus stallion."

Smiling beak aside, I could believe that. As the chant left my mouth almost mechanically, I pondered each situation in turn - starting with the weirdo gryphon. Given that Equestria has some weird 'Americanada' vibe to it, it makes total sense the other races that lived here would want to be ponies. And to be honest I would trade with him if that was a possibility - talons seem better than hooves - but I had things to get back to and couldn't play around in ponyland. Heck, going through puberty again might be a good deal to him. Get some of that baby-fat back.

"My name is Inkie," said the earth pony stallion, "and I am a unicorn." Bastard! What's wrong with being a dirt pony?!

Wait, wait - that came out wrong. I meant earth pony. And why am I angry anyway? Being a pony sucked regardless, why would the thought of somepony not liking the whole 'no hands' thing make me feel angry like that? I tried to blink away my anger as the chant washed around me. Where did that it come from anyway? What is going on?

"I'm Rain Gust." I so wanted to say 'Hi Rain Gust.' AA really gets you into that sort of swing, ya know? I stuck with the counselor-approved chant instead. "I'm a pegasus and don't forget it." Yeah, that much was obvious, what with her weather-centric mark. Really aggressive mare, that one. She struck me as a Rainbow Dash-esque sort of girl. Except more violent - no, not violent. Her posture was aggressive but it was a defensive sort of aggression. Head a bit lowered, one hoof more extended than the other for a charge but nervous as well. Tail flicking, ears down - brain, stop it.

"I'm Sweetie Drops," the pony formally-known as Bon Bon said as I gaped at her. When did this change happen? Then, she winked at me. A thousand tons of NOPE. I clamped my mouth shut and I saw Spring and Lyra's mouths curve just slightly into a couple of frowns at that. Fluttershy didn't seem all that happy at it either. Their target didn't notice, oblivious to the negative reactions her socially-awkward attitude was getting her. "Though I prefer my real name, Dulcinea. And I'm a human too."

Woo! Now I'm dizzy. Oh, hey Spring, Derpy ... and hello floor. Ow.

"Bruce?" I rubbed my face as I waited for the room to stop spinning. I heard a murmur of conversation but ignored it in favor of the dull ache in my head. The carpet was surprisingly comfortable despite the fact that being on my back let everything hang out. Self-consciousness hadn't managed to catch up with me yet so I just let it be. As hooves gently gathered me up and into my chair, I once more wondered how my life ended up like this.

Oh wait, that would be booze. Or someone pulling a massive prank.

"I'm fine, I'm fine ... just a bit surprised, is all." I waved off the pair of grey hooves ... wait, grey? Yup, grey. Derpy sheepishly smiled as she stopped fussing over me, patting my head for good measure. I gave her the slightest of nods and turned back to the staring group of, uh, 'creatures.' Who were trying very hard not to stare at me. Except Sweetie Drops and Spring - the first frowning petulantly and the second with a slightly deeper frown.

"I'm sorry, I didn't think, uhm, that I'd meet another human ..." My ears flipped down in apology unconsciously and I trailed off into silence.

After a few awkward seconds of frowny-faced mares eying me, Spring nodded. 'Dulcinea' 'harumph'ed and crossed her fore legs. I think I heard her mumble something about 'casual' or something but I was still rather shell shocked by the strange turn of events. Well, you know - for a given value of strange.

"Uh, I'm Lyra," the minty pony said in an amazingly sweet voice with a clarity any singer would have died for, "and I'm a unicorn. I'm here to support my 'humanfriend' Dulcinea."

I bit my tongue - again - before I could correct the mistake. 'Dulcinea' lost a bit of her funk at Lyra's declaration and after tossing a smirk my way, reached out to squeeze the unicorn's hoof with her own. Didn't Pinkie say Lyra was the obsessed one? Fandom, you've failed me! Again! You're never going to get the keys to the car at this rate, young man. And Pinkie is grounded.

"I'm Fluttershy," our own butter-yellow pegasus said in a louder-than-normal voice, "and I'm an earth pony." Say what? I thought she was just here to keep an eye on me! This wasn't what the fandom promised me at all! What is with these crazy ponies?

"Bruce." Spring hissed at me as the chant wrapped up. Both her and Derpy were giving me varying levels of stink-eye.

"Huh?" My eyes grew wide as I realized I said that last part out loud. Not loudly enough to be heard by most but just enough to be heard by those nearest to me. Lowering my voice - and my head - I turned to make sure my voice hadn't reached far. "Oh my god Spring, that is not what I meant. At all. I just didn't think, I mean with how, er, well she flies, I didn't-" All eyes were on me as my voice sputtered out. Blue fur had nothing on flushed-red embarrassment. Spring grabbed my hoof and turned a fragile and twitchy smile to the group.

"Please excuse us for a moment."

"No, Spring." I yanked my hoof back. Fluttershy was looking between the two of us confused, a feeling which only grew as my attention shifted fully to her. "Miss Fluttershy, I want to apologize. When ... I heard what you said, it surprised me and I said something not at all nice. I'm glad I didn't say it loud enough to be overheard by the group but I want to say I'm sorry regardless."

"Oh. Oh!" She looked between the frowning Spring and I a few times before the confusion melted and that beaming and happy face I knew and loved came back. A true smile from a kind mare. "That's ok, Bruce. It's weird to some p-creatures I know but I really do think I should have been born an earth pony."

With Spring not-so-subtly keeping an eye on me from one side and a very interested Derpy managing to keep her observations more calm on the other - as well as that unicorn doctor scribbling away on a notebook off to the side - I returned Fluttershy's smile with the closest approximation I could manage. It seemed to work.

"Well," Spring says, "now that we've introduced ourselves, we're going to discuss our lives and how we've managed to accept ourselves with love and tolerance. Who wants to go first?"

"I just want to be loved for who I am on the inside," 'Iron Hoof' the gryphon-stallion blew noisily into a handkerchief as his mate Mirabel patted him lovingly on his shoulder. I, on the other hoof, was busy covering my ears and grimacing in pain at his wails. Ten minutes. Ten whole minutes of this idiot blubbering on about how no one believed him or accepted who he said he was. And it never ended. I wouldn't have minded - really I wouldn't have - except for the fact it was a single situation that was obviously blown way out of proportion. He was - oh wait, he's going on about it again.

"Can you believe it? That I wouldn't make a 'proper stallion' no matter how hard I try? That cruel and hateful unicorn! That's the last time I buy anything from that store." Hooonk. Yeesh. Fluttershy had buried her muzzle in her hooves and I couldn't blame her. Turns out a gryphon's body-type isn't like a stallion's and give it to Rarity to point that out to the poor deluded fool. Cue chain of events that ended in crying. I seriously doubted his exact telling of things but, hell, Derpy was some weird predator-pony so why not? "A-a-and she has such nice clo-o-o-othes!"

Now everyone was a bit uncomfortable as he wailed anew. Even Mirabel was rolling her eyes at his theatrics. I grit my teeth and let the howls wash over me. Like a stream, like a stream, like a babbling brook, like a soft soothing voice asking if maybe he had mis-

"-interpreted what she said?" Spring's question drew me out of my 'babbling brook calming exercise' gently. Surprisingly so - she never looked so professional. Really. I didn't get that slight uncomfortable vibe she normally has around me, no stuttering or nervousness. Or pity. She was in her element and it showed. I watched as she worked, a bit entranced. "Remember, no matter who you are on the inside, the physical world is what it is. You are a stallion inside, Iron - but your body shape is that of a gryphon."

"I, I know." Honk. Mirabel gave Spring the most thankful look I've ever seen a cow give a person. Admittedly, I haven't seen many cows and fewer that could actually communicate but it was still there.

"Styles can be adjusted - Rarity is one of the best at that - so she may have misunderstood you as well." Spring gave the confused gryphon a thousand dollar smile. "It might be a good idea to go there tomorrow and try to explain to her what exactly you meant. No matter what, know that we all love you for who you are, inside and out."

The thin gryphon nodded at Spring, still dabbing at his eyes with that well-used handkerchief but I noticed a thankful smile on his ... beak regardless. With a quiet huff, Fluttershy let out a breath I hadn't realized she was holding. Yeah, having one of your group therapy members pissed at your best friend might not be the best way of winning awards. Spring ignored the loud exhale and looked around the group with her ears perked and her arms set wide apart. She was 'open' to everyone, ready to listen - stop it!

"Is anyone else ready to share any other experiences with the group?" Spring's voice dragged me out of my ranting fight against whatever was making me note this body language and back to reality. Thankfully - other than some sniffles from our resident not-cool gryphon - the room was mercifully quiet. Until Sweetie Drops started to wave her hoof in the air like she just didn't care.

"Oh! OOH!" And grunt. Lyra flashed me a brittle smile as her marefriend became really energetic.

"Anyone?" Spring kept her voice upbeat and happy despite how she was pointedly not looking at Sweetie. I couldn't blame her a bit. Though I think I was enjoying the sight of that large-ish mare flailing about with way too much energy than was healthy. She was really getting into it. And that let me see that despite how close she looked to Mrs. Cake, there was little muscle underneath all that weight. "Anyone at all?"

"OOOH! OOOH! Spring! Spring!" The poor earth pony mare was about jumping out of her chair with excitement. This was about the time I got nervous. She was a human ... type ... pony. And she was really excited. And I was the second human-pony thing in the room. Despite my nervousness, I was a bit curious and was about to poke at Spring when a certain unicorn-pegasus-mare-thing cleared her throat.

"Uh," Rain Gust looked between Sweetie and Spring for a second before lifting a hoof hesitantly.

"Rain Gust! You have something to share?" Spring was grinning like a madmare at the poor unicorn-pegasus and I was not alone in leaning a bit away from her. I heard a faint 'aww' sound from Sweetie's seat as she lowered her hoof. Poor dear.

"Yeeeeaaaah." Rain looked from the grinning madmare to the pout-y humare once more before shrugging. "Well, the tribalism in our government is horseapples."

"Rain, remember our little member." Spring patted my head. Thanks Spring - that comment about 'little members' was really necessary. And horseapples? Really? I guess it means the same thing but I was called out for using the human term - I know I was. Gah, these ponies and their pidgin language! "Did your application to Cloudsdale U get denied again?"

"Yeah, and it's horseapples!" Before Spring could remind her to control her language again, Gust stomped a hoof on the bench. She snarled and I swear I saw her shoulders twitch as if she was trying to make wings that weren't there flare. "They have cloudwalking spells! Perfectly safe!

"This stupid bone-stick," she gave her own horn a good thwack - forever killing any thought in my head that it might be an erogenous zone, "is good for that at least! And the way they hide their techniques from non-feathered ponies! It's disgusting! And another thing - those herdless flank-kissers-"

And it continued. I heaved a sigh and gave Fluttershy an apologetic glance. The poor dear was trying very hard to see how small a pony could get. For the second time that night, that poor mare was feeling embarrassed for something. Spring was trying very hard to stem the tide of colorful pony-curses, Doctor Sight was giving the group a look that went ignored by all and everyone else was just sitting there with bored looks on their faces. This is normal, Spring?

"-that hard to accept a non-feathered pony." By the end of her tirade, Rain Gust's sides were heaving and she had a bit of a manic look on her face. She had a bit of a love-hate relationship with pegasi I guess. Spring had given up somewhere around 'father rutting mules' and the rest of the group seemed surprisingly unfazed by the whole ordeal - only we three newcomers were a bit taken aback by it all. Well, not me. I've heard worse.

"Well, Rain, it looks like we'll need to work on channeling your anger into appropriate venues," Spring said as she tried to salvage what was left of the meeting. The panting and twitching unicorn-pegasus slowly lowered herself to her bench all the while mumbling about 'tribalist featherbrains.' Spring cleared her throat, giving the group one of her fake-smiles. "Well, anyone else have anything to share with the group?"

"OOH! OOOH! Spring! SPRING!" Sweetie was really getting into it. Spring grimaced, her eyes pleading with all the others around her for intervention. A subtle shake of his head from Inkie set the tone of the room.

With a sigh, Spring facehooved. "Yes, Dulcinea. Do you have something to share with the group?"

"Yes," Sweetie giggle-snorted. I'm a bit of a nerd - hell, I like My Little Pony - but that was something beyond nerd. It circled around to become double-nerd. This poor mare was beyond a doubt one of the nerdiest of nerds I have ever met. I continued my internal critique of her lifestyle choices as she continued her giggle-snort-filled rampage. "I just wanted to talk about the latest in Ink Well's visions." No. No, no, no, no, no! No-no! Visions? Did she really call them visions? I joined the group in a collective groan though I very much doubt for the same reason.

"Swee-," Spring cut herself off and rubbed her eyes. Her smile had wilted just a tini-tiny bit. And so did Sweetie's. She looked really sad with her ears flipped down like that, I wanted to give her a hug but I was afraid of cheese dust contaminants. "I mean Dulcinea. This isn't exactly the most appropriate place to discuss that. What about a current happening in your life or how you've reconciled your internal and external selves?"

"Aww, but Spring!" She motioned towards me with a slightly orange hoof, her face bright again. "There's another human here!"

"Sorry, sister," I grumbled just loud enough to be heard, "I'm not from Ink's world."

"What?" Sweetie's face fell in stages. First her ears drooped - confusion, distinct from flipped-down debasement. Her brow furrowed upward - concern. Her mouth turned down in a frown - disappointment. Her head pulled back slightly - multiple signals but this one seemed tied to disbelief. Her hoof retracted back to her side, though it curved towards her chest in a protective or closed off manner. The others of the group had turned to me, all eyes blinking in confusion. I was more focused on the earth pony mare, though. I hurt her. Just slightly but it was there. Worst Pony.

"Yeah, I'm from a high-technology world, not a fant-" I stopped myself before I could finish that sentence though Sweetie's ears flipped down at the first syllable, "I mean, uhm, what would you classify that as? Medieval?"

"Uhhh, I really haven't thought about it." And that was that. Sweetie was looking at me like every other pony had after I told them my story. She didn't need the details, I wasn't from 'her' human land and that was enough.

"Well! That's an interesting take on Ink's work." The 'unicorn' earth pony was looking at me with interest now. He seemed to be weighing me in his head. "How do you get from Ink's re-imagining of the early Classical period to high technology like that?"

"The normal way? Trial, error and war?" Oops. Cat's out of the bag now. I blinked as Spring perked up a bit at this. Why ... did I even care anymore? I heard the 'observer' pony scribbling frantically on a notepad in the background as well.

"Well, the human level of technology is very low compared to ponies." Lyra's voice was amazing! She had to have been classically trained to be able to speak like that - nothing like the few times I think I might have heard her voice. I gazed at her with a bit of wonder - and just a bit of envy - as she spoke. "How did the humans transition to a modern-era level?"

"HA!" Yes, I actually said the word 'ha.' I couldn't help myself. "This is all old hat - trains? Who uses trains anymore?"

"YES, well," Spring interrupted the pair of human-lovers - to be fair, the three of us - before they could continue, "this is fascinating but let's focus a bit more mares, stallions and sundry?"

"Spring, get the stick out of your ass." That wasn't me this time! Sweetie 'Dulcinea' Drops had as bad a vocabulary as I did! I wasn't alone! My opinion of that mare ratcheted up a few notches. Though I must admit, I did cheer. Just a bit.


"Yes Ms. Meadows." I sat back down. I kept the smile though despite the stink-eye I was given. Spring frowned and turned her attention back to Sweetie Drops.

"Sweetie, I know you're happy to find another human and I know you want to talk all about ... that," Spring waved a hoof halfheartedly in the air, "but this is a session about all sorts of creatures - not just humans. And please don't curse. Especially at me." Spring pulled out the hurt-mother look on Sweetie Drops.

"Sorry Spring - I'm just excited a bit about finding another human," she turned her head a bit and mumbled something to Lyra. Who blanched and swatted her marefriend in the shoulder. Who then poked her back.

Spring cleared her throat and smiled warmly at the mare as the two ponies started to trade half-hearted blows. "Let's try to keep it contained, okay Dulcinea? Anyone else have anything to share? Perhaps about how you've found a way to balance the you-inside with the you-outside?"

"Uhm." The quiet voice of Fluttershy was barely loud enough to overcome the quiet bickering of the resident human-fanatics. At her voice, all but two pairs of eyes were riveted on her and the poor mare almost retreated under her mane at the attention. After a few seconds of awkward silence, she peeked her face out from the waterfall of hair at the smiling and supportive circle of creatures. Including me because I want to die of a cute-induced heart attack. Better than lung canc-oh wait. That and how can you not find Fluttershy adorable? "W-well, my friends have been very supportive of my, uhm, difference. They don't understand it but they support me and my earth pony friends have been very thoughtful in helping me understand my inner-self."

The sudden clopping of Spring's hooves startled the poor thing deeper into her mane and about gave me a heart attack. "Very good Fluttershy! Very good, I'm so glad that you've found a proper way of expressing your inner self." Spring looked at me with a smile. "What about you, Bruce?"

"Spring ... no. Just no." Facehoof time. With my hoof covering my snout and my eyes closed, I couldn't exactly see the group and at that point in time didn't want to. "I got here three days ago, I've been running around like an idiot, no one believes a word I say so - no. No, I have no coping skills to offer the group except 'ignore it and hope it goes away.' And that doesn't work out too well."

I heard snorts from a few different directions, including Sweetie's. Spring sighed - a sound I've grown used to. Before she could speak however, I heard a distinctly fake cough from Doctor Sight's direction. I looked up to catch a 'we need to talk' look from the good voyeur doctor and a grimace from Spring. She addressed the group nervously. "Well, why don't we take a short break while I talk with Doctor Sight?"

My terrified golden eyes snapped open and became fixated on my coming doom. A certain beige mare who appeared to be weighing me in her mind. And the apologetically smiling mint-green unicorn sitting next to her.

"Ah crap." At least I didn't make it worse by cursing, right?

"Uh, Fluttershy?" Spring looked askance at the yellow mare next to her. "Can you, uh-" She trailed off but her head jerked towards me a bit. Fluttershy herself looked slightly confused for a half breath before it dawned on her what Spring meant.

"Oh yes, of course Spring." Fluttershy looked at me with those doey eyes. "I'll keep an eye on him." With a nod, Spring broke the Circle of Friends and trotted in Doc No-Sight's direction as a small group of mares coalesced around me - Sweetie Drops, Lyra, and Derpy with Fluttershy sliding up next to me in Spring's seat.

"Hey 'Bruce'," Sweetie Drops smirked at me - ignoring the prodding her marefriend was giving her shoulder, "as the resident human expert, I thought I'd come over and say 'hi' to another fellow human."

"Uhh, hi?" I suddenly really wanted the group to be back together. It was awkward and uncomfortable but at least it was safe - this was just awkward and uncomfortable. Spring was keeping an eye on me - she glanced back at least four times in the few seconds we had been apart - but this was different. I had no back-up, I had no one to help smooth the inevitable stupidity to come from my cake-hole, I had no one to hide behind, I had ... a wing draped across my back. A yellow wing.

"It's okay, Bruce," Fluttershy's calm voice cut through my self-induced panic attack with ease, "you're safe here. No one is going to hurt you."

Damn this pony body and damn the instincts that came with it but - it helped. Despite the confusion and the weirdness of the last few days, I knew that Fluttershy was safe. I took a deep, calming breath and smiled at the pair of human-enthusiasts before me. I most certainly did not scoot closer to Fluttershy and there was no shivering involved.

"I like to think I've got humanity down pat but hell, there's a universe of talking ponies so having multiples of ape-men doesn't sound too far fetched." That got an arched eyebrow from Sweetie but Lyra's face lit up like someone told her it was Hearth's Warming all over again.

"Exactly!" Lyra pointed at me with that extremely wide smile ponies do sometimes. She did this little two-hoof dance and shivered. I leaned a bit away. "Oooh, I just knew the Multiworld Theory of Harmony was right! I just knew it!"

"Okay ..." I watched her jig in place for a moment. She was nerding out more than Sweetie. With a quiet cough and a squeeze from Fluttershy, I interrupted Lyra's happy-dance before she could start babbling magic nonsense. "Soo, what's this about Ink Well anyway?" Sweetie perked up a bit.

"Well, her worlds are so well designed that they have to be visions from another world." She leaned towards me and did that fake-whisper I'd noticed from other ponies. I leaned back a bit at the cheese-breath but she ignored me. "Is it any surprise that Ink Well began publishing only a few years after Princess Luna's return? I heard that Ink Well was the Princess and she was sharing the hidden knowledge that Princess Celestia was keeping from ponies 'for our own good.'"

Lyra bopped her marefriend on the shoulder again - thing must be bruised by now - and frowned. I heard a rustle from my right and a quick glance showed Derpy's wings getting nervous. And I was putting more money on 'spy-pony' than creeper. I didn't keep my eyes on her though I was sure she noticed my glance. "'Dulcy' stop it. Ink Well's visions come from the multiverse, not some forbidden knowledge."

"Ugh, Lyra-a," Bon Bon - no, Sweetie Drops - voice changed pitch ... and accent. And tone. It was like some other voice actor stepped in - I resolved not to think about it lest I loose what little of my sanity remained. Lyra rolled her eyes while Sweetie leaned in and stage-whispered to her. "Don't shoot me down in front of the colt, you're making me look bad."

"Sooo ..." I cleared my throat before the two love-birds could get into another pissing contest. I had the feeling that Lyra wore the pants of that relationship - so to speak - but Sweetie was the bigger of the two 'humares.' It got their attention, anyway. "I'm, uh, not from ... Ink Well's 'vision' so maybe you guys could give me a run-down?"

They turned to each other and mouthed 'guys' with a giggle before Sweetie turned back to me with a smile. "Sure Bruce."

"So let me get this straight." I had a hoof to my head, massaging away the growing headache and trying to save my dwindling sanity. "The Nat'sies of the East overran the Frankish kingdom and set-up a puppet queen while the Bretish of the Isle of Bret held off the attempted invasion of the Nat'sies' 'Liftwurms.' And then the Mericans got involved while the Nat'sies dealt with a tyrant king named Steelman ... and there's also the Red Sun Empire on the other side of the world somehow?"

Nods from the two human-lovers. At some point in time, the entire ensemble of creatures had coalesced around us - including Spring and the doctor - I had paid it no mind because my mind was currently screaming about how damn wrong this series turned out to be. Other than Lyra and Sweetie, though, most seemed content to sit and listen as they sperged about a semi-fictitious account of one of the worst wars humanity had ever had to suffer. As a foal's story.

"I need a drink for this one." Fluttershy reached out and squeezed me gently with her wing, having dropped it at some point in the story.

"It is a scary story, Bruce, and almost too violent for young ears." She and Lyra shot a 'look' at the sheepish mare. Lyra had tried to hush the over-excitable earth pony-slash-human a few times when she started to talk about the 'Death Head Legion' while Fluttershy had desperately tried to cover my ears - a fight I was all-too-willing to ignore since by that point in time I knew exactly where the story was going. Come ON Ink Well! 'Nat'sies'?! And trying to turn World War II into fantasy novel for foals?! I actually felt a bit sick to my stomach over that one.

"It's not that, Fluttershy." I sighed and looked around. Spring was back and was watching me intently - as was that doctor fellow. And everyone else. A bit of red crept up my face as I felt their eyes on me. "It, uh, it's just that it sounds like something from home ... kinda."

"Kinda?" Sweetie quirked an eyebrow at my choice of words.

"Yeah, a war from eighty-odd years ago." I closed my eyes and sighed. "Seventy or so million dead and for what? One mad-man's vision ... and we're still dealing with it in one shape or other."

"Seventy what?" Spring's voice cut through the silence quite cleanly. I looked at her slightly aghast face and shrugged.

"Seventy million, give or take five million or so. Once you hit those types of numbers, it gets really hard to keep track of the bodies." I frowned at her as my mind started to work through what she could be thinking. "And no, I wasn't around for that. I'm thirty, not eighty. It's just - to make a kid's story out of that seems so wrong."

Spring was biting her lip and even Sweetie looked a bit down. Yay me. A few of the creatures looked at each other, confused.

"When you put it that way, I guess it does feel wrong to celebrate the war ..." Sweetie said, her ears drooping a bit. "It seems a bit distant - like it wasn't something that happened. But it did happen, didn't it?" Lyra bumped Sweetie's flank with her own, giving the mare a weak smile.

"You're here now, Sweets." Lyra's voice was gentle and she earned a slight smile in response. I think the idea of that massive war as a real thing really hit them. And now I was thinking about it ...

"Damn." That got a raised eyebrow from Spring but I wasn't going to stop. "I just realized ... it's the same."

"Hmm?" Sweetie was pulled out of her thoughts by my voice and I looked at her - really looked at her. She was plump, sure, but she was real. This was real - really real. These were people of a different shade, with their own lives and their own struggles.

"In my world, this is a cartoon for children but - there's something else." I glanced around the group. Iron Hoof, Rain Gust, my eyes settled on Fluttershy. "The dragon you stared down, that really happened. You - you risked your life. That was a real danger."

The pegasus blushed and nodded. "It was very frightening but I did what I had to do - for my friends."

"How much was changed?" I asked, making Fluttershy's brow crease. "What I saw in my world was you shouting down a bully after it had knocked your friends over - a clean story for kids. And it was over a nap that produced too much smoke. How much of that was different?"

Fluttershy looked a bit taken back by my question but her eyes - confusion above all else.

"Uhm, n-no. No, Bruce." She looked at Spring and I followed, seeing the counselor give a slightly hesitant nod. Fluttershy took a deep breath and I could feel her shiver slightly next to me. "Th-the dragon was terrorizing the countryside. A few farms had already been burnt to the ground and a lot of ponies were hurt. W-we fought him for a day and a half on the mountain and it was only after Twilight and Rainbow Dash had been wounded that, uhm, I lost control."

Silence. Everyone in the group was looking at Fluttershy with shock. She seemed uncomfortable - she was uncomfortable. She had hidden her face behind her mane once more and ... I didn't know what to say. Fandom theories had been thrown out but I almost expected that - this was a whole other story. How much of this world was different than the My Little Pony I had watched? Did Discord do worse than just play really stupid pranks? Did Nightmare Moon rule for weeks as crops failed? Did the parasprites ravage the land for days? How much did I really know about these ponies?

Spring cleared her throat. "Well, we've run out of time this week so why don't we plan an adults-only meeting next time so we can deal with some of the less foal-friendly issues then?"

Nods around and, with a few glances at Fluttershy, the group began to drift towards the door. Sweetie took a step forward, towards me or Fluttershy I didn't know, but a hoof from Lyra stopped her mid-stride and the two mares followed the rest of the group out. Soon, it was only Spring, Fluttershy and myself - and the still-silent doctor. I kept my attention on the brave little pegasus that had stood up to a dragon - a real dragon - but had so much trouble standing up to her fellow ponies.

She gasped as I hugged her.

"You're strong, Fluttershy," I whispered, "stronger than you know."

For a moment, I could only hear the beating of her heart and feel the slight shiver of her form. Then, wings and hooves as she hugged me back.

"Thank you Bruce." She sniffed. "You are too."

Spring wasn't leading me to the hospital room. My question of 'where' was left unanswered save for a sad little smile and I was more nervous than I had been thus far. Was I going to go to youth-jail? Despite the lack of warnings and proper security, I had technically entered an off-limits office. But I wasn't going to run. I wasn't going to panic, despite my worried panting.

I was going to face this like an adult whether my body wanted to or not.

So color me surprised when we entered the hospital lobby and there was only a haggard looking Mr. Cake waiting for us. At our entrance, he looked up with his own sad smile.

"You waited?" The room was empty save a bored looking receptionist - who took one look at me and immediately began playing with a small stack of files on her desk with a worried look on her face. I winced at the motion and hurried past. I didn't need to make things harder on the health workers than necessary. But as I got to Mr. Cake, I noticed a small box at his hooves. It looked like a few things for a colt ... my size.

I stopped mid-step and blinked at the box, and then looked up at him. He was apologetic. And sad. And my stomach dropped out.


He sighed, lowering his head. "I'm sorry Bruce. With everything that's happened, we ... thought it best that Spring find somepony more suited to what you need."

I ... I felt cold. Even with Spring stepping close to me and rubbing my back with a hoof, I felt cold. Though only a few feet remained between me and the stallion that had done so much for me, that had taken me in despite not wanting me and trying so hard to do right by me, I knew there was a chasm between us that would never be bridged. Not really. I swallowed a strangely thick lump in my throat and put on the best smile I could.

"Th-that's alright, Mr. Cake." I finished walking towards him and hesitantly reached a hoof out to his head, raising it back up. He was a bit blurry but that was fine. He didn't deserve the tears in his eyes though. "Thank yo-"

Arms wrapped themselves around me and I hugged back, my words left unfinished. Mr. Cake had been the best thing to happen to me since I ended up here. He was a rock and I lost him. I lost him because I made a really stupid mistake. I didn't sob. And I don't know why his coat was getting wet. Or why my mane was either. But he didn't let go for a long time and I didn't push him away. Eventually, we broke our mutual embrace and shared the same fragile smile.

"You'll always be welcome at Sugarcube Corner, Bruce." There was a flicker of determination in his eyes and I nodded, not trusting my voice to speak. He looked like he was about to say something else - there was so much left unsaid. But he didn't. With one last smile and a gentler squeeze on my shoulder, he turned and trotted out the doors.

And he was gone.

"I'm sorry, Bruce." Spring walked up and sat down beside me. "With ... the situation as it is, the Cakes couldn't-"

"No, Spring," I croaked out. "I'm sorry but I - I know it was my fault. My actions and my choices. It hurts more for that but it is what it is."

She returned to silence but she did place another hoof on my shoulder as I sat there, staring at the hospital doors for far too long. That gangly stallion had put his heart out there and I had done the cruelest thing possible to it - I had let him grow to like me and shattered it. It was late but Spring didn't try to rush me. So I sat, looking out the glass doors towards one of the only ponies that had really just tried to be there for me.

"Come on, Bruce." Spring nudged me with her muzzle. "I ... there's somepony you should meet."

I sighed and nodded. "Let's hope I've learned."

Spring led me back to her 'talking room' with that tiny little box of things on her back in silence. I knew that my new 'foster parent' was there. I was anxious. Really, really anxious. I didn't want the Cakes to have to give me up. I didn't want to be here. I didn't want any of this but above all, I didn't want to hurt anypony else. And I would. I would panic, I would be a dick. I would hurt them.

And for once in my life, I was terrified of that. Of myself.

And then Spring opened the door - to Rarity's nervously smiling face.

"Hello Bruce."

Silence. I face-hooved and sighed as the two mares smiled nervously at each other. This day just kept getting better and better.

31 - Delayed Reaction

View Online

"Spring, can we talk for a moment?" The mares in front of me blinked in unison. I sounded tired - I was tired - and that may have been affecting me a bit. Just a tad. From the semi-elation of 'not going to jail' to depression, distraction and dismay, I had felt just about every high and low barring romantic attachment. And the way I was feeling after that little hug-fest in the administrator's office, I wasn't entirely sure my body was following what my mind was telling it.

The mares shared a look.

"Alright ... Miss Rarity, would you please take a seat and we'll be back in a moment?" Spring asked gently, receiving a nod from the resident fashionista of Ponyville in reply. After Rarity had trotted over to Spring's couch - and grimaced at the state of it - Spring and I went over into an opposite corner for what passed as privacy in Ponyville.

"Spring, this isn't going to work." I jerked my head towards Rarity. Who was still trying to sit on Spring's couch without touching it, which would have been hilarious any other day. Spring opened her mouth but I held up a hoof. "Please, Spring. I'm tired. Tired of a lot of things. Pardon me if I'm blunt but Miss Prim Pants over there and I will not work out. I know this and even if I gave her a chance, just by me thinking that will put her at a disadvantage."

Spring had left her mouth partly open as I spoke and her jaw hinged further down as I continued.

"I'm sure she's a wonderful mare - she's an Element after all - but there's no way I can do this anymore." I looked at her and I must have looked awful because the counselor started to gnaw at her lower lip as she looked between me and Rarity. Who had given up on the couch and was now grimacing at the magazine I had left opened on the table from before the meeting. From the way her face had contorted I was guessing it was a few seasons out of style.

After gnawing away, Spring gave me one final brave look before deflating.

"Bruce, I'm running out of options." Spring's tone shifted drastically and I could hear the desperation. That caused me to do a double-take and my eyes stayed on her grim face. If I felt tired, she looked it. "I want - I need you nearby. Canterlot is packed to bursting, Trottingham's Ministry is a mess and I can't send you farther away without special dispensation. The fact you were found in Ponyville's boundaries works in our favor but if I run out of families willing to take you, I'll have to either find a free bed in Canterlot - which is going to be a miracle if it ever happens - or you'll end up in Trottingham."

She looked at me with a hard stare. "You do not want to end up in Trottingham."

"Holy balls, Spring." I was shocked, amazed, flabbergasted - every word in the thesaurus that could mean 'seriously fazed.' "You're almost talking to me like an adult."

"Bruce, I'm serious," Spring shook her head. She twitched at my word-choice but didn't say anything. Which meant this was a 'super serious' conversation. "I don't want you to disappear into the 'system' because of how delicate your situation is. I've got two options and one of them ... let's just say I'm going to be going over that mare's file soon."

I kept my eyes on her face as her words filtered into my mind. The Cakes were the best option I had and I blew it. Spring was desperately trying to help me find a place and ... I blew it. I looked down as an image of Mr. Cake walking through the hospital doors jumped to my mind. I blew it for a lot of ponies. A hoof brought my chin up and the tired and slightly blurry face of Spring - still smiling that gentle smile - filled my vision.

"Let's give Miss Rarity a chance, okay Bruce?" I looked down at the floor again, though this time in concentration. I had never been 'lost in the system' during my real youth ... despite how unhappy I had been back then, I knew that other kids had it much worse than I. But I'd heard stories and they still sent shivers up my spine. This mare was going out of her way for me and I had done nothing to help. I had done nothing but cause misery and strife. I heaved my own little sigh and nodded.

Rarity and I ended up sitting across from each other at the small coffee table in Spring's office as the pegasus herself completed the 'trifecta of coming catastrophe' a little off to the side. I had taken the nice cushy couch while Rarity was making gagging noises at some mare in what looked like spandex - that magazine was way out of date. She looked up in slight surprise when I cleared my throat and gave me the strangest look when I tried to smile hopefully at her. I don't think she got my message.

"Bruce, are you feeling well?" Rarity looked at Spring's quirked eyebrow and then back to my grinacing face. "Do you need to use the little colt's room?" I dropped the act.

"No, Miss Rarity. I was trying to do that whole 'smile' thing I've heard about but I don't think my face works that way." My statement caught both mares off guard and I swear to everything, Rarity managed to snort. Which caused her face to burst into a blush I could never duplicate even with paint.

"Ahem, Spring darling? Could I bother you for a bit of tea perhaps?" Rarity asked as she tried to cover her social faux pas with a bit of mane-fluffing. I bit my tongue, figuratively this time. No need to antagonize the mare that might be my last chance at contacting the Princess. Because let's face it, Rarity is one step closer to Twilight than I was before. After that little bit of primping - and Rarity had some tea floating in her aura field courtesy of Spring - there was a long and awkward silence.

Followed by a long and only slightly less awkward conversation.

"Bruce," Spring began, "you are not a bad colt." This sounded like a rehearsed script already. Spring continued despite the look of disbelief I gave her. "The Cakes just ... couldn't work with you. I'd like to work with you, I think Miss Rarity would like to work with you - but you need to work with us."

I put on my serious face and nodded. Spring nodded as well and I swore I could see Rarity trying to hide a smile behind her tea cup. Spring didn't notice my glance - taken as she was with shuffling a set of papers in front of her. She cleared her throat and sighed, looking back up at me with a 'stern gaze.' Or at least as stern as a candy colored pony can manage. I was a little less than intimidated. Though these ponies could be downright terrifying, Spring wasn't pulling it off very well.

"But there are some behaviors that we need changed," she glanced at Rarity before continuing. "We're here to help, Bruce. We want you to be happy. We want you to be healthy and cared for but we need you to listen to adults. We need to know where you are in case there's an accident. We need you to communicate with us and to do what we say - so long as it's within reason."

I gave her a blank look. Spring's wings shifted and I could see creases beginning to form on her forehead as I watched.

"'kay." Both mares blinked. "What?"

"That's it?" Rarity was the first to pipe up.

"What?" I looked between the two of them, baffled. Rarity's tea was momentarily forgotten for some reason and it met the tea-plate with a clink. "I may not remember all the time - I've been on my own for nearly twenty years guys."

They blinked again and I rolled my eyes at their antics. "Look, I'm not used to this whole 'suddenly being a kid again' schtick so there will be mistakes and all but so long as no one panics," I gave Spring a hard look and she grimaced at the implication, "or throws a drama queen fit," Rarity gasped and put a hoof to her chest in indignation, "so far I'm on board."

From the hard stare from Spring and Rarity's flattened ears, I knew something was wrong. But I had no idea what it might have been. "What?"

Spring cleared her throat again and pointedly looked at Rarity for some baffling reason. I could tell I had irritated her and Miss Prissy Pants - all the signs were there - but I was lost as to why.

"Bruce, what was your reaction to 'adoption?'" Spring asked. I blinked at her before flipping my ears down in embarrassment. I opened my muzzle ... but had nothing to say. Saying 'I'm a kid' doesn't cut it when you're no longer a kid. The pair of them looked at me for a moment before I let my anger deflate.

"You have a point," I grumbled. Spring nodded at that.

"Yes, well ... we'll work with you on correcting mistakes, Bruce. But please try." She nodded to Rarity and unceremoniously stacked the papers she had so lovingly spread out. I guessed they were some kind of 'foal-friendly' worksheets to make me 'see reason' or something.

"Bruce," Rarity began as Spring finished squirreling away her unused papers, "I'm more than happy to have you stay with me at my home but there are some rules you'll need to follow while you're there."

I suppressed a groan. Barely.

"- and finally, if you do invite a friend over, please be aware that all these rules will apply to them as well." Rarity ignored our looks of shock as she finally - finally! - ended her list. Fifty seven. Fifty seven 'Things Bruce is Not Allowed to Do or Must Do.' I know this because Rarity had produced a scroll with every single item listed in beautiful calligraphy. And they were numbered. Also in calligraphy. At least it was 'earth pony script' so I could read the stupid thing. Spring had a copy and Rarity had a third - and they were all hoof-made from what I could tell. How freakin' long did it take her to make these stupid things? And when?

"Uhm, Rarity?" Spring gave the smiling fashionista a fragile smile. "Don't you think that list is a bit ... long?"

"Whatever do you mean, Spring?"

"Item forty the first," I recited, "all plates are to be emptied of uneaten foodstuffs into the appropriate bins, rinsed, pre-soaked and placed in the appropriate wash basin for cleaning."

"Well, yes." She seemed confused. I was not - just horrified that Rarity was a crazy germaphobe. "We don't want the Boutique to smell of half-rotted vegetables."

"Pre-soaked? And you have different bins for ... why again?" I asked, calmly. Rarity huffed and started to tap a hoof as she listed them. I think this was the pony equivalent of counting on fingers.

I miss fingers.

"One is for daily-use items, one is for my special Crystal China and one is for my tea set." The way she said this made me seriously consider asking to go to Trottingham. Bad orphanages aside, at least I can deal with bullies and freaks. A unicorn that honestly thinks three 'bins' for dish washing duties is necessary might be a bit too much for me. I took a calming breath before I started on a rant about crazy ponies and Spring leapt on the opportunity to smooth things over.

"Perhaps we can narrow some of these down for Bruce, hmm?" Spring looked at Rarity with half-pleading eyes and the unicorn grimaced a bit. "A few of them seem to be duplicates."

"Well," the unicorn hemmed and hawed as she thought this over, "I can see some of them might seem like duplicates but there is a very good reason for that. I wanted to make sure-"

About this time, I pretty much zoned out. Not because the conversation was boring - it actually got a bit tense as both mares started to 'heatedly discuss' the relative merits of certain portions of Rarity's List and perhaps I should have added to the general chaos with my precocious ways. No, I zoned out because a memory resurfaced. A recent memory. One that didn't seem all that strange when it happened but, as I looked back at it, really struck a powerful chord in me. A cultural thing, if you will.

It was in the middle of one of Spring's 'points' that I slammed both hooves to the couch and shot into an upright sitting position causing both mares to jump in surprise at my sudden movement. But ears flattened at what happened next. I think my shout was heard throughout the hospital and though the words may have been lost, the anguish in it would forever haunt ponies as I screamed.

"Oh my god, my nose touched his junk!"

32 - Soap and the Flavors Of

View Online

"Bruce, you're being ridiculous," Rarity said despite the fact that she was holding me steady at the sink. I blew more soap out of my nose in an attempt at agreement. Turns out that running in a panic to the nearest bathroom - a mare's bathroom - and pouring liquid soap on your snout to 'scrub away the filth' is not a good start to a foster parent-son relationship. The wail of pain that followed and the pair of mares shouting after you as they burst in didn't help matters.

That poor nurse that tried to come in was going to be traumatized for life.

Rarity sighed and whispered softly to herself, "Bruce, what am I going to do with you?"

"'elp me get in touc' wit' da Brincess." Trying to talk with water still flowing out of your nose is hard. The taste of the stuff didn't help matters at all. I snorted and huffed, finally clearing my sinus passages enough to talk normally. "And I want to apologize for running off like that. The mental image startled me like you wouldn't believe."

I saw Spring in the mirror turn and shoot a smile my way as a neatly folded towel floated just behind my head. Cloth towels. In a restroom. In a hospital. I suppressed a shudder and reminded myself that ponies are still a few years away from paper towel technology. And disinfectant spray. No wait, there it was.

"Bruce ... thank you." Rarity shuffled a bit on her hooves. I couldn't see her face through the terry cloth but I heard the keratin hitting tile. She sounded relieved and I couldn't blame her that much. With whatever rumors had been circling the not-so-small town about me and the undoubtedly awful (if true) things Spring must have told her, I doubt that Rarity was looking forward to our relationship.

She continued as she dropped the cloth over my face. Ew! Bathroom cloth! "Though you ought to ask to use the restroom rather than hurry into the first you see. And a mare's room at that." I heard a feminine chuckle from one of the stalls and I blushed under the towel.

"Okay!" I wiggled a bit in Rarity's grasp and she let me down gently, whisking away the washcloth. My creepy wide grin and pinprick eyes must have said something I didn't want them to because Spring and Rarity both took a nervous step back. "Let's get out of here before I mess up any other mare's life."

With a nod towards the closed stall, I trotted just outside the door. And waited. I wanted to walk off to Spring's 'talking room' on my little lonesome but we had just had this conversation about 'proper behavior' and I figured I should at least put in the effort.

"Sooo, about the Princess ..." I said, trying to very subtly shift the conversation that way. Spring was finishing up the legalese paperwork that would put me in Rarity's hooves for the time being which left her and I to wait ... in the waiting room. I didn't really question where we were going. I had more on my mind at the time.

Rarity 'hmm'd politely at me as she levitated a pair of knitting ... things and did something with them. I think it was called knitting but it didn't look like any knitting I had ever seen. The 'needles' were these super small hooks with rings on them where the yarn sat. I yanked my eyes off the now still set of hooks and back to Rarity. Who was beaming at me.

"Quite good, isn't it?" She waggled some patch of yellow knitted thing at me. "I'm not done yet but I have high hopes for them."

"Yes, wonderful." I looked at the small tube thing for a moment and then back to her smiling face. "What is it?"

Her face fell a fraction of an inch. "A set of socks, silly."

"Socks?" The things were tiny! They might fit on my hooves but not ... hers. Then it hit me. She was knitting me a pair of socks. Rarity. Knitting me socks. Holy hells, Rarity was going to be my foster mother.

"Yes, socks." We looked at each other for a moment as my mind raced. Rarity. An OCD unicorn germaphobe was going to be my foster mother. On the down side, she was Rarity and I wasn't exactly the epitome of neatness and propriety. On the upside, however, Sweetie Belle was going to be my foster aunt (and that would hopefully end at least her schoolyard crush on me) and I was a half step closer to the Princess.

Rarity began to shift her eyes around the room as a smile grew on my face. A very wide smile. No it wasn't creepy, what are you talking about?

"And done!" Spring's voice from nearby jerked me out of my hopeful dreams of a quick resolution. She ignored my yelp of fright and 'winged' over a folder of documents to Rarity. "He is now in your care, Ms. Belle."

Rarity bit her lip as she looked at the folder in her aura. My heart started to sink as I saw worry and doubt creep across her face. If Rarity was having second thoughts ... she closed her eyes and I shared a glance with Spring. We both were having the same thoughts and I took a deep breath. No matter what happened, I would not panic. I would not scream. I would get home.

I would.

And as suddenly as the doubt came, it passed. Rarity's eyes snapped open and she smiled at the counselor. Who let out a held breath the same time I did. "Thank you, Spring. Now come along Bruce - let's get home."

"Huh?" Back to your old self again I take it, brain?

"Uhm, aren't I supposed to be in bed or something?" The cool night air made me shiver a bit as Rarity led me through the hospital doors. It was fairly late from the looks of things. The hospital was lit electrically (or magically) but the way the lights of the nearby town twinkled in the twilight hours told me that it was a special circumstance of some sort. The steady glow of the waiting room seemed so modern compared to the more rustic look of the surrounding buildings but for some reason, I was drawn more towards the town than the building behind me. No matter how much the hospital should have reminded me of home, there was something that didn't feel right about it.

The town winked at us in the distance and we both paused at the edge of the pool of light from the overheads. Ponyville was serene and peaceful and for a moment, I could forget. It was just me. Just me and a rustic little farm town ... and I just knew something bad was going to happen. I gave Rarity a questioning look and tried valiantly to suppress a yawn. "Ahhh-ya know, diphtheria and all that?"

"Oh no, Bruce." Rarity glanced in my direction before turning her eyes back towards the darkness. "The doctors' cleared that up - purging spells are wonderful when they are available. True, you'll be slightly contagious for a few days but the worst of it is over. And thank the Pastures. Hospitals are always so icky."

"Icky?" That was what I focused on - 'icky.' Not the unknown spells that these crazy doctors threw at me. Nope, 'icky.' Still on that ball.

"Well, the sickness and germs and such. Icky." Again with the mane-fluff. I was growing suspicious of her a bit - she seemed aware of her own quirks. Even slightly embarrassed by them. I didn't get the same 'off' feeling that Derpy had given me but it was a bit strange. She knew how silly she was being sometimes but couldn't help herself.

"Riiight. So, what was that about the doc-"

"Hey Bruce?" A familiar pink pony popped in from the darkness no more than two steps away - giving both Rarity and I a start. Ok, Rarity had a start, I had a yelp. A girly yelp. And I refuse to confirm or deny if I temporarily hid between her legs.

After the excitement died down - and my heart rate had returned to semi-normality - I could tell something was wrong. There was a tension. Rarity was standing a bit stiff and Pinkie's normal exuberance ... I couldn't help but focus on her. She looked a bit sad but the smile on her face was warm regardless.

"Pinkie, what ever are you doing out so late at night?" Rarity gave her a quick nuzzle which was returned a bit hesitantly. Pinkie shuffled on her hooves nervously before replying. Her posture was hunched.

"I was hoping to say goodbye to Bruce." The way she said that, it was like her puppy had died. Her hair wasn't as curly as it normally should have been and even Rarity's face fell a bit. She wasn't 'crushed' but she was sad. Pinkie Pie was sad. Again. Good job Bruce! "I hate it when I have to say goodbye to friends."

That would not stand! I joined the pair of mares, took a deep breath ... and hugged the pink party pony. "It's not goodbye, Pinkie." I felt her tense in my arms before going a bit slack and returning the hug. "It's 'see you later.'"

"Thanks Bruce." The thanks was much appreciated but the kiss on my forehead was a little much. And the scrubbing I was giving the area sent her into giggles. "I - I hate saying goodbye so much. I'm sor-"

"No." I pulled back from her chest and looked her dead in the eye with as much seriousness as I could muster. It wasn't much but it was there. "You didn't do anything wrong Pinkie - I did. And I'm sorry. Sorry that I hurt you, sorry that I hurt the Cakes, sorry th-"

I trailed off as Pinkie renewed her hug. And then Rarity joined in. No more mistakes, Bruce. These are pony's lives, not random characters in a bad fanfiction. We stood like that for a short time until Pinkie pulled away. Hey, I managed to hug Pinkie into submission! That's something off my bucket list. I looked up and while she still seemed sad, she wasn't so grim. She gave me another quick squeeze and Rarity a wave before pronking out into the night. For a pony so bright, she sure could blend into the darkness far too well. Her humming gave her away though.

I stood for a minute as the night breeze blew past me. It smelled like ... well, like dirt with a hint of grass clippings. But it was clean and it was pretty fresh. Rarity's voice pulled me from trying to wax poetic on the night again.

"That was rather nice of you Bruce." I didn't turn to look at her but I could hear the smile in her tone. I shrugged back, still wanting to go on about how fresh everything seemed. That and I didn't want to ruin the moment by opening my mouth - though a yawn escaped for the second time that night. Eventually, she walked over and nudged me. "Come along, it's rather late."

With that, we both trotted into the darkness - the darkness of a fresh, new start. Of potential and unending possibility. Of a new chance. Of the sky right before dawn.

"Ow! Sonnuva-" And apparently of hard-to-see fences.

The walk from the hospital had been slightly awkward. I hadn't had time to broach the subject of the Princess again. Well, I had the time but no idea how to do it after my string of invectives. And it didn't help I was in hot water for my language once again.

"I already said I was sorry." I was pouting and I knew it. After my 'little stumble' and the string of colorful language that followed, Rarity had insisted I turn in as soon as we got to her Boutique. It wasn't that bad really. She didn't yell, she didn't get upset - though her face did turn a delightful shade of pink at the 'son of a whore' part - she was just forceful and insistent.

I just didn't want to go to bed yet. As I said, pouting.

"Yes, and I appreciate that Bruce. But you must learn more self-control." Rarity shook her key a few times in my general direction before she turned back and resumed her search for the keyhole.

We were standing outside her Boutique and man was it dark. I would have loved to go on about what it looked like but without street lights it just looked like an indistinct blog of slightly-more-dark. That and I was just a wee bit tired from all the excitement that had been happening lately. After a few mumbled words - some of which I'm sure I had used in the 'fence incident' - Rarity 'ah-hah'd and pushed open the front door.

"Welcome to Chateau du Belle!" A flick of a switch and .. was that gas I smelled? Another click and lights burst into being around the periphery. Gas lights. Shaped like prancing ponies. That should set the tone at least.

As close to the show as this place had been, Rarity's Boutique was something ... else. It was larger than the show ever tried to display, that much was certain. The main room was a combination showroom floor and living area - a set of fitting rooms (WHY?! Ponies are naked ALL THE TIME!) and a raised dais looked a bit off near a set of plush overstuffed chairs positioned just so near a fireplace. Mannequins (ponnequins?) with very frilly dresses intermixed with cabinets displaying various bric-à-brac from a busy life, posters and photos showing obvious models next to those old time-y half-color photos of Rarity and her family together on the same shelf ... it was strange. The place where Rarity's work stopped and her home-life began just wasn't there. It all mixed together - her life and her career were one and the same. I lifted a hoof to step in and-

"Ah-ah-ah! Remember our rules, Bruce." Rarity pointed with a hoof at the colorful 'Welcome' mat ('Bonjour' mat, properly) I was standing on and smiled. "Four times on both mats to ensure a clean and happy home!"

I wasn't even in the door yet and already I could smell the trainwreck a'comin'.

I didn't get a good look at the downstairs as Rarity bundled me upstairs as soon as I was 'properly cleaned.' Which meant about a minute of me flailing at the welcome mat. I can walk just fine but trying to do some kind of weird two-step on a small mat ended up with me flat on my face about a half dozen times. Rarity's encouragement didn't help.

Ok, it helped a little.

There was little to the tour - it amounted to 'downstairs, facilities and your room' - and as soon as we had entered 'my' room, I winced. The upstairs matched the ground floor in color and decor - lavender pastel-y walls, white trim, fainting couch. Couches. In fact, it seemed to be-

"I do apologize for the decor, Bruce." Rarity was busy levitating a stack of bed linens out of a closet but she turned to face me as her magic neatly unfolded a set of unfitted sheets. "I know it's not a 'colts room' but this was a bit sudden for the both of us. I promise we'll get something more suited to your tastes soon and we'll turn this old sitting room of mine into a room fit for a proper colt."

"Rarity, the entire town is covered in hearts and pastels," I stepped back as a pillow set floated a bit too close to my head, "it's not that big a deal. I haven't lost my diii-"

"What was that darling?" Everything stopped in mid flight. She knew what I was going to say but I hadn't said it yet. I swallowed my normal word-choice down and tried again.

"I, uhm, I can get used to it." And as suddenly as everything had stopped it all started back up again. The twin couches and coffee table were floated over against a wall - one at a time as Rarity grunted a bit with the effort - while a fold-out bed was set up and covered in lace-trimmed satin sheets.

Yes, satin. Real silk satin, not that polyester crap that passes itself off as satin. I ran a hoof over it as Rarity busied herself in tucking away some odds and ends behind me. It was soft, light and really well made. As an aside, feeling things with a hoof is super weird. They're like giant fingers except harder and the nail is on the bottom instead. No, I still don't know how it works. Magic.

"Yes," Rarity said, making me jump slightly in surprise at her sudden voice, "a very nice set of clean sheets for the tired little colt."

I tried to protest but a yawn caught me off guard at the 'But' part. And without a second thought, Rarity ... magicked me up to lift me into bed. I got half an inch off the floor before I could react. I have to say, it was perhaps the most calm and gentle reaction known to pony-yes, I panicked!

"AHHH!" With flailing hooves and a scream of terror I panicked. There was much panic. Not only was I being hefted above the ground but I didn't even have the comfort of a nose in my crotch to let me know I wasn't in danger of plummeting to my death! All of ... an inch to my death but still - I might be a little scared of heights. Just a bit.

Thankfully, my terrified scream broke Rarity's concentration and I fell the small distance to the floor. I managed to catch myself gracefully with only a small stumble but me bolting under the bed was entirely unintended. I blame instinct.

"Bruce!" Rarity yelled, her head peeking under the bed and her face full of concern. "I am so sorry!" I looked back at her with a perfectly normal and cautious face. A bit wide eyed but normal regardless. Rarity clucked her tongue at me and she sighed.

"Are you okay Bruce?" I nodded as well as I was able, taking a deep breath to calm my racing heart. Stupid unicorns grabbing things willy-nilly - haven't they ever heard of personal space? Before she could continue, I waved her back a bit and crawled out from under the cot-thing.

"Warn me next time please, Miss Rarity." I may have been a bit colder than I should have been - but in my defense she startled the living daylights out of me. The way her face fell a bit at my tone didn't even register in my mind. "I don't like being manhandled -er, 'ponyhandled' without being warned."

Rarity sighed and nodded. "Marehandled. And I will do my best, Bruce. I cannot promise I won't snatch you out of danger's way without warning, however."

"Well, that's fine I suppose." I shook like a dog - ponies do that I hope - and cleared my throat. "I might scream again but I can't blame you for that."

We stood there in awkward silence for a bit - me pointedly not looking at my new foster mother and her fluffing her mane and not looking at me. A perfect end to a perfect day.

"C-can I help you to bed, Bruce?" Rarity's question was expected but I didn't know how to respond. I kept my face turned from her as I thought, 'hmm'ing to let her know I wasn't saying no. Beds had given me trouble since the first day I had been in Equestria and I had no reason to believe this cot was going to be any different. But Rarity's help would involve me flying through the air under her power and I was still really nervous about that. You know, being completely and totally under someone else's control and all.

I swallowed a strange lump in my throat.

"Be gentle." Ok, that sounded a lot better in my head. Actually, with that, I managed to make an already awkward situation just a tad bit more creepy. I snapped my eyes to her wide-eyed and shocked face. "I mean, the magic! And - floating. Not, no. Not that! I didn't mean it like that!"

We both lapsed into silence again. I pawed at the ground nervously while in the background, I heard a clock somewhere give a long series of happy chimes. Ten o'clock. It was later than I had realized. The sound was accompanied by a slow exhalation from Rarity.

"No magic, Bruce." Before I could wonder about why she specified that, she tucked her nose up under my barrel and pushed me up off the ground. Again with the sudden 'marehandling' but I was more ready for it then I had been for magic-floaty-adventure. She grunted a bit - rather unladylike - but between an instinctual twist from me and her freakin' weirdly strong neck muscles, she managed to get me deposited safely on the cot. A flurry of mouths and hooves later and I was tucked under the sheets.

"Comfy Bruce?" I nodded at her question, though my front hooves seemed to have a mind of their own as they clutched and released the precisely folded edge of the sheet. Nervousness tinged with fear. My mind was cataloging my own body language - perfect. She noticed but said nothing, motioning towards the door with a soft smile. "My room is further down the hall to the left outside of your room. Come get me if you need anything."

And then she leaned down and kissed my forehead before walking out the door and flicking the lights off as she left. She stood at the door, framed in the hall lights for a moment - a grey pony shape against a bright lavender backdrop.

"Good night Bruce. Sweet dreams." She had closed the door and was gone by the time my mind had started again.

"And we are off to a fan-fucking-tastic start. And I'm not even all that tired."

I was asleep within minutes.

33 - Big Boy Toys

View Online

"Princess! Something is happening in the ritual chamber!"

Waves were lapping at half-crumbled buildings - buildings that were slowly sinking under the weight of time. Mildew and water stained walls barely holding themselves together, skyscrapers and thatch roofed homes alike falling inward and fading distantly in the shroud of grey fog that enveloped everything in mist. An amalgamation of human and pony styles.

I was dreaming - a ruined city floating on some alien ocean.

It was odd. I hadn't ever been a lucid dreamer but I knew at some level beyond the improbable scenery that I was dreaming - standing in what would have once been a grand building of impossible angles and staring out across an endless ocean of half-submerged buildings. I could feel the dampness of the air, smell the sweat-tinged salt. My hooves felt the soft bed of moss beneath me, my fingers felt the moisture. My form was fluid - I was pony and human and my mind couldn't seem to decide which was most suited.

"Bruce." A labored voice that was not-me in a place that was entirely me. I knew it was different in the same way that flying in a dream feels natural to someone without that ability. This other voice was a drop of water hitting a still pond. The dream changed as it echoed. The grey fog warped around me, turning dark and malevolent. The buildings looked less timeworn and more war scarred. Even the waters around me turned dark and foreboding. Despite this, I was not afraid. I was dreaming and nothing could hurt me there. I was calm.

"Bruce." The voice beckoned me with an urgency I couldn't place. I turned from the view and was suddenly in a plaza - an island of land enclosed by the collapsed remains of some fantastical city. I knew I hadn't moved and yet I had regardless. The sound of water lapping against the edge of an unseen shore was still there, echoing in the heavy and moist air. Though rubble encircled me, the plaza itself was remarkably clear of debris. And in the center was a dry fountain - an irony not lost on me - capped with a very odd sight. Me - human-me - atop...

"Princess Luna?"

"Bruce." The voice was coming from Princess Luna's statue and I could see the mouth struggle to move as the seawater crept up my calves. Chips of stone and dust fell as she struggled to form words through the wave of green water that surrounded us both. With a slow, grinding pace and a growing terror in my heart, the figure's head turned to look at me with wide and fearful eyes as the water swept us away. "Help. Me."


"Gnn." I woke up with a grunt of surprise. I had never woken up so quickly from a dream before and it left me dazed. My pelt was slick with sweat and seawater. I could still hear the waves lapping against the shore, still feel the moss on my hooves and the sensation of water enveloping my head. I could still see her face locked in terror through the green tint of once-still water whipped to a frenzy. I could still hear her voice. I gasped in fear.

Then I felt reality.

"Why is it so hot?" I tried to ask as I peeled the silk satin sheets off of me. Actually, it was more a combination of a grunt and a whine and I only managed to get the hot sheets off after pawing at them a few times. They were soaked with sweat. I didn't think ponies could sweat but I had plenty of evidence to the contrary now. A nice spring night had turned into a sweltering hot summer night somehow and left me panting humid air.

"Bruce!" A disheveled Rarity looked at me with eyes wide in startled shock from near the window. A shuttered lantern in her aura illuminated both her and the closed window behind her, blacking out everything beyond. She was ... a mess. Her mane hung limply with only the hint of a curl in it, her pelt was slick and I noticed a distinct lack of eyelashes. After catching her breath and me dumbly watching as my mind tried to claw its way up from sleep, she looked at me with a frown. "You startled me. What are you doing awake?"

"Hot." Simple words, the most effective way to make oneself understood. Rarity tittered and brushed a strand of semi-curled mane out of her face.

"Yes, the Weather Patrol warned that we would have a few nights of heat to help even out the temperature for summer but I wasn't expecting this." Turning back to the window and hefting herself up on the well-supported sill, she began to mutter under her breath, interspersed as it was with grunts of irritation. "The brutes, no - urgh - no appreciation for a - unf - good spring night ... aha!"

Air! Fresh, clean ... warm air. But still, air flow was good. My groggy mind had started to actually think and I sighed as the air from the now opened window washed over me. Rarity sighed as well and remained where she stood. I was content with just feeling the breeze. Then I smelled her. Sweat and the last vestiges of some flowery soap. It was not exactly nice and I think I must have had a face when she turned back around to drop to the floor.

"Oh like you smell any better." My face quickly lost its grimace and I felt my ears flip down in embarrassment. Rarity cleared her throat and looked away. "I mean - I ... I'm sorry, Bruce. I didn't mean to snap, I've just never particularly enjoyed the 'heat' part of summer."

"Me either," I mumbled. For some reason, she winced as she walked over to my bedside.

"Why are you awake? You should be asleep still." She tilted her head as she asked, her eyes curious and a bit worried. I stifled a yawn, my eyes suddenly heavy with sleep once more. Though the bedsheets were damp, the air was cooling them off quickly and I even found myself shivering a bit at the sudden temperature change.

"Bad dream." Me Bruce, you Rarity. Dark-time for sleep now. Ook.

"Oh, you poor thing." With a tug of her mouth, sheets once more covered me and I found myself fighting my own desire to drift away. She must have stuck her nose too close to me as she pulled the covers up because the face she made actually caused me to giggle. Like a school girl. Filly. Colt. Thing. "Oooh, you will need a bath in the morning, young colt."

"You too." That got her to titter once more - though another yawn drowned out sound and sight. Only sound returned as my head sank into the plush pillow.

"Well, yes I suppose I will." I felt another nuzzle and lips on my forehead once more before unconsciousness claimed me. The last things I heard were a soft 'good night' and the click of the door before I was asleep once more, sighing in time with the sounds of crickets outside.

There's a lot you can say about me. I'm panicky, I speak without thinking, I can be really dumb, and I don't quite understand others. I can be fiercely loyal, driven and caring. I generally want a calm and quiet life. Lots of things can be said about me.

'Morning person' has never nor will ever be on that list.

"Good morning Bruce!" A sudden, bright light knocked me out of a rather nice dream of human-me chasing Spring around with a tuna and I squeaked at the assault on my senses. Rarity's voice - sounding chipper than anything had any right to be this early - continued on over my whine. "It's a bright, beautiful day today and we have a great deal to do!"

I grumbled rudely into my pillow and pulled the stiff sheets over my head.

"We spoke about language last night, come on." The sheet was whipped away from me - as was the pillow after I put that over my face. Not much she can do about my hooves though. Her voice lost some of its enthusiasm. "Bruce stop being silly."

"It's too early." I was so mature. "Five more minutes."

"I'll give you ten if you promise to get right up afterwards." I grumbled my acceptance of those terms ... and then shot straight up, almost bonking my head on Rarity's too-close face.

"What, really?" I received a blink of surprise from Rarity at my sudden wakefulness. Semi-wakefulness. It was still way too bright to be a proper person's time to be awake. We blinked at each other a few times - her in surprise and me in a hissing, squinting dislike of sunlight - before she nodded.

"Of course. It is a bit early after that dreadful night but I wasn't lying when I said we had a great deal to do." She shrugged off my incredulous look with a smile. "It's not as if ten minutes will destroy our schedule."

I continued to watch her as she tried to ignore my eyes and instead busied herself with folding the sheet still held in her aura. I broke the silence with a croak, a cough and - finally - speech. "So, you're not going to immediately rush me out to have a 'normal' foal's day or anything? No 'must-go-to' parties? No attempts at making me act like a normal colt?"

"I - I wasn't planning on it, no. Just some purchases to make this room more your own."

"Miss Rarity, with news like that I think I can face the day a bit early." I yawned again, put one hoof over the edge of the bed and -

"Here, let me help." - found Rarity's hooves lowering me down the side. No face-plant, no aches, no gravity-assisted dismount. I was on four hooves and on the floor. Rarity began to walk out of the room, turning when she reached the door and smiling at my confused face. "Coming Bruce?"

Rarity's bathroom wasn't actually very impressive. Other than the high degree of ornamentation, it was pretty standard. A small pedestal sink next to a vanity, a large number of glass-faced cabinets filled with colorful bottles adorned the white tile walls and a half wall cut off a portion of the area - probably where the toilet was. Overall, pretty standard.

Except for the massive pool-tub that took up a good two-thirds of the space.

"Every day must start with a refreshing and cleansing bath," Rarity said. She must have drawn the bath before trying to wake me as the room was filled with aromatic steam when we entered. She checked the temperature of the water with her hoof and levitated a set of towels down from one of the cabinets. "A clean body is a clean mind."

"You haven't met me yet, have you?" I ignored Rarity's deadpanned look and hefted myself up against the tub to look inside. "Rarity?"

"Yes Bruce?"

"Why are there flower petals in the water?" Little white petals floated on the surface of the water, lazily twisting in the eddies. I caught a flowery scent that I couldn't place.

"Well, they help perfume the water." Rarity joined me on the tub edge, crossing her arms as we watched the petals dance. "And lilies are commonly seen as a symbol of purity, of cleanliness, so there is that as well. Supposedly unicorn separatists used them to indicate safe havens for strikes against the Triumvirate Union before the rule of the Two Sisters but that has faded to a dim memory."

She smiled at me, nudging me with her shoulder.

"Not that any of that nonsense matters. In you go."

"Argh, it's in my eyes!" I scrubbed at my burning (huge, massive eye plates) eyes with one hoof while trying to keep my head above water. I was mostly successful. I heard Rarity's exasperated sigh over the splashing of water and my own whimpering.

"Bruce, stop thrashing this instant and let me help you." Hooves guided me blindly to the edge of the tub where I clung for dear life as water was poured over my face. And my muzzle. And into my mouth. "Honestly. You make the most mundane of things into massive, drama-filled fiascoes."

"Bleugh, soap still tastes awful."

"Undoubtedly." I blinked my vision clear and gave Rarity a sheepish smile. She sighed and used a conveniently placed pitcher to dump water all over me again. "This is why most ponies bathe together or have assistance from older family members, dear. Hooves are not well-suited to scrubbing and no matter what the bottle says, soap doesn't taste like bubblegum."

"Learn that the hard way?" As soon as the words left my mouth, I grimaced. Blinking my eyes clear of water, I noticed Rarity's unamused look. "Sorry."

"Mmm," Rarity hummed and levitated a bottle of some flowery smelling substance over to the pair of us. Hooves began to gently massage my mane and I closed my eyes, letting myself get lost in the feeling. Hooves aren't the best for scrubbing in those delicate areas but they worked surprisingly well in a general sort of manner. And while hoof soap was alright for hooves, I learned rapidly via Rarity-gasps that it was 'never to be used on pelts.' I swear, it was like I'd murdered a kitten in front of her.

"Rar-Miss Rarity." I sighed as she began working my neck. "I want to, well, thank you."

"Whatever for Bruce?"

"Well, I know I'm not a great per-pony - ah!" I cracked one eye opened and pointed at her with a hoof as she opened her mouth to protest. "I know I'm not. But you took me in and, well, I'd like to make this last chance of mine work out until I can get in touch with the Princess and get home."

I closed my eyes again and Rarity hesitantly resumed her scrubbing. And then I felt absolutely awful.

"Er, sorry."

"Bruce?" This time, it was more confused than curious.

"For ... being such a jerk. I don't mean to be but I-"

"Bruce, hush." I felt her hoof 'bop' my nose and my eyes popped open to see a smirking Rarity-face with a wet mane and soap suds all over her hooves. "So far, this hasn't been half as awful as Spring led me to believe. Yes, you can be somewhat rude but you're a child. Ah!" She pointed a hoof at me as I opened my mouth to speak. Her smirk grew into a smile as my mouth closed.

"You are and frankly, you've been fairly calm so far." She went back to scrubbing me and I looked away with a frown.

"Well, I think the culture shock has pretty much worn off-AH!" We both jumped at my shout - though I had significantly less traction under my hooves and ended up neck-deep in soapy water.

"Bruce! Oh my, are you alright?" Rarity's head crested the tub-edge, her face full of worry.

"Miss Rarity, please let me wash that particular body part." I felt some satisfaction at the blush.

"I'm terribly sorry, dear. I - I was washing you like I would have Sweetie Belle and I -"

"It's fine," I said, cutting her off and pulling myself to my hooves. "I wasn't expecting bathing to be that intimate between males and females."

Her blush deepened. My slight grimace of discomfort changed to a rather deadpanned expression. "It's not, is it?"

"I'm so sorry, Bruce. I wasn't thinking." Her ears flipped down and she looked away. Embarrassment, nervousness - regret. And now I felt bad. I sighed and propped myself back on the edge of the tub, nudging her with my shoulder.

"Let's just - pretend that never happened, hmm?" I asked. The way her head whipped around, you'd think she was expecting screamed obscenities. To be honest, I felt the urge but I have some self control.

"Ugh, other than bacon or steak or fried fish - or frankly any sort of meat - is there anything sensible you would like for breakfast?" I grinned at the pale-er looking Rarity.

"Do you have blood sausage?" Rarity's face turned green. Hey, I only have some self control. "I'm kidding, Miss Rarity! Whatever is fine with you is fine with me."

As the quietly gagging Rarity set about making breakfast, I gave the room a good once-over. A rather simple room with wooden cabinets, a gas stove and a small table tucked away in a corner. A nice, pleasant and homey kitchen. A strange contrast to the drama queen looking in her cupboards with a queasy grimace.

Maybe I overdid it. Just a little.

Eventually, two bowls of dry cereal and a carafe of milk were set on the table and an unhappy Rarity settled in to eat. With my own grimace, I joined her and we sat in silence as I kicked myself for letting my mouth run away from me again.

"Rarity, no means no. End of discussion." I crossed my arms and gave Rarity the most grim and serious expression I possibly could. Based on the silence, I don't think it worked but I tried. An atrocious green vest-thing with far too much white lace floated just outside my reach - I tried jumping for it but she just moved it enough to taunt - as Rarity glanced between me and it with a critical eye. Needles, thread and a few gaudy gems hovered nearby as Rarity pursed her lips in thought. My hard expression slowly changed to one of worry as a few of the more obnoxious jewels were incorporated into the ensemble. "Rarity ... I am not wea-"

"Blood. Sausage." Two words spoken in the kind of tone one would use conversing with a friend. She didn't even blink, her attention fixed on adjusting the hem of the green vest-thing. I did though. I blinked a lot.

"Uh, I'm sor-"



"Veal - and you were right, I shouldn't have asked."

I bit my lip, my eyes darting between the vest and Rarity's face. While she didn't seem upset at first glance, I saw a slight creasing near her eyes and the smallest bit of a frown as she worked on getting the vest just right. Yup, took it too far.

"C-can I have just a bit less lace?"

"And after we get your room situated, you just must let me fit you for a proper outfit." Rarity and I walked down one of the larger streets of Ponyville with saddlebags weighed down with enough 'sundries' - as Rarity put it - to last me the rest of my life. Pictures that I glanced at, more than enough lamps for me to 'to figure out my style', four sets of bed sheets, orders for furniture - a whole list of just stuff.

I huffed in a non-committal manner. I was a bit sore from all the walking, the saddlebags weren't fitted right for me and the 'slightly-more' lacy vest was itchy as hell. At least Rarity was in a better mood since she slipped the frilly thing over my head. Petty revenge - but I deserved it.

Of course, now that she was in a better mood she seemed to have opened up a bit around me. By that I mean she talked. Non-stop. It was like a more polite Pinkie Pie at times - but instead of just introducing ponies, she would list some gossip about them in her tittering and slightly nasally voice that just started to get on my last nerve. I learned that Carrot Top had tried to court Big Mac years ago and was thinking about doing so again, Davenport's herd was looking forward to another foal - maybe even a colt, 'wouldn't that be lovely' - and had to expand their compound, some mare I've never even seen before was in hot water with her herd for trying to bring another male into the relationship without asking the current stallion yet, there was some tiff about Mayor Mare and Filthy Rich's 'extra-herd affair' ... it just went on and on and on.

And then it stopped. In the middle of a word, even.

"And that is Great Gavel, the stories I could tell you abou- ah, here we are." Rarity had brought us to a stop in front of a ... toy store. I could tell because there were toys in the window and I've seen quite a few toy shops in my time. The brightly colored storefront tried desperately to gain my attention but since the words were in some kind of Dwarven runic-script, the affect was lost on me. Probably pegasi. Pegasusian. Pegacorn Onda- and I was alone. Before my mind could even shift from 'in one ear, out the other' she had trotted straight into the store without a care in the world.

I was alone for a moment without the near constant stream of inane, stupid, nervous ... gossip ... I facehooved.

"Ah, that's what happens when Rarity gets nervous. I see." And then I started rubbing my forehead where keratin met flesh. "Ow."

A few steps later and ... toys.

Toys everywhere. And not the good types with sounds and electronics but crappy ones. Pull ducks, trains, hula hoops sold as 'loopty hoops'. Blocks and balls and baby dolls. Oh man, the dolls - dolls as far as the eye could see and in colors not meant to be seen. From white to black and everything in between. More shades of fuchsia than I'd like to see. And their dead eyes kept staring at me.

Brain, stop trying to rhyme. I am not starting one of those dance numbers in the toy store.

But the colors didn't stop at the dolls. That would be too easy. The assault on the eyes couldn't stop at the toys, oh no. The shelves were painted all shades of the rainbow, the floor was composed of whirls of contrasting colors, the walls were each a different 'happy scene' of impossible things and the ceiling ... was painted with the happiest and smuggest sun I'd ever seen. Shaped vaguely like Celestia's head.

"Dude, that's creepy." My mouth worked without my conscious input but so far we were on the same page.

The lack of electronics didn't lessen the noise though. Clicks and clacks of wooden wheels and strange active contraptions that I wouldn't be caught dead with. And the foals. Screaming, wailing foals everywhere. Running down the aisles, partially climbing the shelves, grabbing this or that from where they could reach. And yet despite the mayhem, the store was remarkably clean. I noticed as I stood there with an expression a dying fish would be proud of that after a foal stopped trying one of the toys out, back on the shelf it went. The lower shelves had worn out 'try me' toys while the upper ones were in pristine condition. And while the screaming was grating, it had a happy undertone with only a few whines of denied ownership intermixed in. It was unnatural.

"Dude, that's creepy too." At least we're communicating brain!

"Bruce, there you are! I thought you were right behind me." Rarity was slightly off to the side of the entrance way and she looked awfully relieved. Of course, losing her foster child probably sent an ice pick of terror through her heart. I gave her a sheepish smile.

"Sorry, I was - ah - stunned by the decor." She blinked at me. "The colors?" Blink. "Bright, clashing colors every-frickin'-where?"

"Oh!" As if by chance, my words had sunk in. She looked around a bit, blinking still as if seeing the interior of the store for the first time. She scrunched her nose up as the garish colors finally registered in her mind. From the mouths of foals and all ... "Well, I suppose the colors are a bit bright but so much better to draw young eyes, Bruce."

I sighed and my hoof leapt to my face before I could stop it. Ow. "I know why they're there, Rarity. It was a severe shock to my eyes to step into Willy Wonka's Garden of Earthly Delights."

"Did somepony say my name?" A nasally, masculine voice beside me piped up. I dared not remove my hoof for fear of having to put it right back where it was.

"... seriously?" With a sigh and not much hope for the future, I took my hoof off my face and turned. There was a stallion, yes. A young Gene Wilder-in-pony form. And a purple suit - complete with brown felt top hat. So of course, I said the first thing that came to mind. "Oompa-loompa-doompity-doo ..."

Young Gene Wilder-pony turned to Rarity with a soft expression. "The poor dear's a bit touched in the head, is he?"

"Hey, I'm right here you know."

34 - ... oops?

View Online


"Yeah Rarity?"

"How ... what ..." She waved a hoof toward the smouldering ruin that was Willy Wonka's Palace of Earthy Delights. A group of pegasi doused the husk with another raincloud, making a cloud of steam and ash billow slowly into the air. The crowd of ponies were kept a decent distance back by their own fear but their murmuring almost drowned out the shouts as a guard tried to keep the mob away from the blackened store front. I shrugged, my face blank.

"I have no idea."

An hour earlier...

Row and rows of toys.

Toys everywhere.

Did I mention the toys?

Willy, Rarity and I - yes, Willy was his real name, I double checked - walked among the oddly shaped and spaced and yet eerily tidy aisles of toys for what felt like months. Each aisle was clearly marked in that unreadable unicorn nonsense but it didn't take a genius to tell what was on the shelves. Every so often, Willy would pull something from the shelves and explain exactly what it was and what it did. From unicorn hoverballs to lifelike plush Princess dolls - with wavy manes even. Felt like static when I passed my hoof through.

Poor guy was getting desperate. He even brought me down the 'foals toys' section.

"I don't understand," Willy's mane was getting frazzled, "I have never had a foal turn their nose up at so many toys."

"I'm just not big into toys." Another aisle of dolls. No, wait. It was the same one we had gone down ten minutes previously. "I mean, even your video games are all these massive arcade cabinets."

"Bruce," Rarity's voice had taken on a pleading tone as the minutes slipped away. I guessed she hadn't figured on me taking so long, "is there anything at all that you're interested in?"

"Why is this a big thing? I'm not into it, let's get out of here." I lifted one leg to turn back toward the entrance when Willy rounded on me with the most manic of smiles. My turn was changed into a startled scramble back from the wild-looking stallion. Even Rarity took a hesitant step back, her ears flat against her skull.

"I have NEVER had a foal leave my store without something to show for it!" Imagine Willy Wonka with a Joker smile - yeah. "And I refuse to have it happen now."

With that, Rarity and I were grabbed at the withers and yanked bodily into ... a back warehouse-esque area. And Willy was between us and the exit. not the best place to be as he had a mental break down. Despite our terror-filled faces, Willy started to run around the storeroom and thrusting things at me. Toys! Foal toys, stop it!

"Hoop? No, what about the hoverball- no horn. Okay, glider? Kitchen set? Canterlot Guard - no, colt. Think colt toys Willy. Dress-up dolls? The My Little Foal Exclusive? Princess dolls? A bear? Toy drum set? A fiddle? What about-" Each thing was thrust under my nose only to have it yank away and thrown into a growing pile of bits and bobs. I even saw one or two things that might have interested me as decor but by this point Willy had lost his mind. Everything was assumed to have failed in some way. The pile grew. Willy's octave grew as well.

"- alchemy set, My First Experiment limited edition boxed set, Princess Celestia's Official Enchanter's Kit, The World of Magic curiosity kit, the-"

And then the pile began smoking. Rarity's eyes shrunk to pinpricks as the flames became rather pronounced rather quickly, fed by not only stuffed toys but also the unidentifiable mixtures from the science sets now tossed haphazardly in the flames.

"Willy ..."

"-limited edition Crystal Empire Crystal Ewe doll-"

"Willy?" Both Rarity and I backed a bit away from the rambling and manic stallion though only Rarity found the voice to say anything. By this point, whatever was in the pile had become a lost cause and I think I heard a stallion scream in the background. I was rather warm in my vest. I'm trying to say the fire had pretty much gone passed the 'cheery' part of fire and right into the 'terrifying' part.

"-Discord plush, a half-sized house playset-"

"Willy!" Rarity shouted, her voice filled with unmitigated terror. I, on the other hoof, was a beacon of manly stabil-I peed myself.

"Miss Rarity, please do not interrupt a stallion while he is working." Willy gave Rarity the stink-eye for a half second before his nose twitched and he sniffed a few times. "Does anypony smell something burning?"

Rarity was detained for a few minutes as some official looking Guard asked her a ton of questions. And I was watched by a hawk-eyed Guard myself. After asking about Willy, the Guard shook her head just slightly.

Not every story in Ponyville ends in a good way I guess ...

34 - Let's Do Lunch

View Online

Spring leafed through the papers by wing, the fountain pen held gently in her mouth. She furrowed a brow at one sheet, flipped to one further on in the stack and returned to the first. With a grimace and a gentle nudge of her pen, the mistake was corrected and the paper set aside to dry.

A yawn caught her by surprise, the pen falling to the table and spilling ink across a few blank pages. A quick glance behind her drew out a groan - only noon and she was already tired of the endless reams of paperwork ... most of those being forms in quadruplicate for only fifty bits worth of an inn stay. She looked around her spartan office and frowned at the bare walls. Increases in productivity aside, blank white walls did not help her mood and she silently wished for some color to break up the monotony. If it got the paperwork done quicker ...

A soft knocking pulled Spring away from her paperwork and musings. A distraction was just what she needed. She quickly trotted to the door, opening it with a bright smile that became a brittle grimace when she saw who was just on the other side.

"Spring Meadows? My name is Sergent Quick Trot from the Royal Guard, Canterlot. Might I have a moment of your time?"

"Welcome to my store, young sir." Willy waved a hoof towards the store around us with a huge smile on his face. A surprisingly real smile - like the smile of a father showing off his children. "We have toys from all over Equestria and beyond. Gryphon toys, minotaur toys, even the rare oddities from Saddle Arabia. Come, let us walk together through the-"

"No singing." I had my priorities straight.

"Pardon?" Willy and Rarity both blinked at me in surprise. Surprise and confusion. Surprise, confusion and fe- no, this isn't Monty Python - stop it. The pair shared a look as I let my mind wander a bit ... what were we talking about? Oh, right.

"No singing." I gave them a glare. They responded with furrowed brows - furrowed in FEAR! Fear and confusion. Actually, mostly just confusion. Rarity cleared her throat and, with a side glance at Willy, tilted her head at me.

"Uhm, Bruce? W-what are you talking about?" And now I feel stupid. Of course ponies don't burst into song at the drop of a hat. Who does that? Would I let logic and reason stop me though? Would I allow such base urges such as 'common sense' end a potential threat to my mental stability?

Have you been following along?

"He was going to start singing!" I pointed at Willy with an accusatory hoof. The poor stallion looked behind himself. He couldn't fool me. I was on to him. "Look at him, he was ramping up for a song! Don't song at me."

"Okay ... I won't sing?" The nervous smile was telling - he was planning on singing at me, I knew it. I squinted at him, daring him to make a move. Mentally urging him to break so that-

"Bruce, stop it." Rarity stomped a hoof, breaking my concentration. "You are acting like a foal."

"You keep saying I am a foal." I turned my glare on her. "Far be it from me to ruin the fun little fantasy everyone seems to have."

"Yes, well!" Willy interposed himself between us, all smiles and damp brow. "So Miss Rarity, what does the young sir enjoy?"

Willy began to herd us along one of the many aisles, positioning me at the front. Most foals would be craning their necks to see each new thing and barely paying attention to the 'adult pony stuff' but ... okay, I was looking around in a detached sort of interest but my ears swiveled, attempting to pick up the conversation behind me. Mostly. I was not excited about toys, stop spreading such awful slander.

"I'm afraid I don't quite know," Rarity spared me a glance as I looked over the shelves full of bits and bobs. I thought of them as bits and bobs because there's no way in hell I could name what half of them were. I recognized dolls - and there were a ton of dolls in a rainbow of colors - but what was the point of the hoop-stick thing? And about four different types of strange metal balls with pillows near them. Colorful bouncing balls and then something that looked like a miniature Tesla coil. Train sets next to some sort of twirly glass structure with colored fluids ... such oddities.

I must have missed a part of the conversation because Willy's 'ah-ha' made me jump a bit. Thankfully, Rarity was there to grab the swirly-glass structure in her magic before it hit the ground.

"Of course I have a full selection! Those are usually bought by the," Willy cleared his throat, "shall we say 'less social mares' of the world but I think I know what would spark young Bruce's interest. Follow me."

And off he went. With nothing left for it - and Rarity seemingly as confused as I was - we followed Willy towards the back of the store.

"That's ... a lot of actions figures."

Willy, Rarity and I were in a particularly dark section of the labyrinthine store known only as Willy Wonka's Palace of Earthly Delights. There, in front of me, was a wall of humans. Well, sorta humans. Pony-humans. Racks stuffed to brimming with boxes, each showing some artistic rendition of what I assumed were the contents. And all labeled in unicorn script as well.

However, at head height were slightly used examples and I stepped close to the shelves to investigate. They were taller than I had imagined - roughly a foot tall if I could guess at lengths. Wood and metal seemed to be the most common materials though the heads seemed made of porcelain or some similar ceramic. No plastics - well, very little plastic. Each one seemed to have their own particular type of accessories, from some sort of steampunk axe with a great number of extraneous gears and tubes to a fancy rapier that was ... way too idealized. In addition to the weapons, many had those strange lizard-mount things but I was enraptured by something very common.

The face. It was nearly human. The ears were wrong and the mouth-nose area was a bit more 'muzzle-like' than normal but they were so close to human ... so close to human.

"The book series is more popular with adult mares for some reason but I always stock the latest in toys, no matter the audience." Willy smiled down at me. Probably mistaking me shocked expression for one of wide-eyed wonder. "I'll let you two browse."

And he was off, presumably to see if any more victims had entered his den. Rarity and I were alone. I reached a hoof out and tapped the strange near-human in front of me - it was hard. Stiff. Artificial. I couldn't read the script for the name but that didn't matter. Each second I looked at the figure in front of me gave me more of a feeling of dread. Each difference, more anger. I fought my own body to prevent a grimace and only partially succeeded.

"So close to human, and yet so different."

"Bruce?" Rarity's polite question seemed just as wrong as the figures in front of me for some reason. It was like everything that was wrong with the world. Polite, gentle, nice - but failing to understand the why of me. I gritted my teeth against the snap that tried to come out.

"The faces are wrong, the hands are wrong, the ears are wrong. It's all wrong!" I almost smacked the parody of a human in front of me - almost. I held back - it wasn't mine to smack - but I did end up stomping.

"Bruce, calm down." Rarity's voice held the warning edge of a scolding and I tried to calm myself - inhale, count to ten, exhale. Inhale, count, exhale. I felt her place a hoof on my back ... I don't know if it counted as rubbing or petting but it was calming just the same. It shouldn't have been, though. I was 32 and being patted on the back shouldn't be calming - and I had a right to be angry and bitter. I sat down, my ears sagging.

"... I'm never going to get home, am I Rarity?"

"I don't know." I glanced at her - her face was earnest. She gave me a weak smile. "I don't know, Bruce. Do you want to get home? From what you've related, 'home' wasn't a very kind place."

"It's like any other place, Rarity. It had the ups, the downs and the sideways. But it was home. It was - is where I belong."

"Are you sure Bruce?" Rarity was following me as I trotted with purpose. Around me, the sounds of overtly excitable foals had quieted but not disappeared. Racks of bits, bobs, Bobs and Ralphs passed us by in a blur of color. None of that concerned me, however. I just had to find the door out of this brightly colored hell.


"It's so strange not to have playthings." I remained silent as Rarity looked around in confusion. "Or want them ... for that matter. You're sure?"

"Rarity, I would rather be dragged through a fire ant hive backwards by my bal-"

"Bruce." Rarity Warning Tone registered.

"I'm just saying. There is nothing in here I want or need and would much prefer to go ... home."

"Well, if you're sure."

"I'm sure."

We passed by another aisle of happy foals in silence. Two fillies were magicking different sized and colored balls around the head of a laughing colt as a double set of pony parents watch. The parents glanced at us and their faces registered concern but a brisk trot and we were passed. Rarity broke the silence not two steps out of sight of the happy threesome plus three.

"... are you quite cer-"

"Rarity, please."

"Well, I know that Willy is going to be awfully disappointed." I remained silent - again. "He might start to sin-"

"That is it, I'm outta here! Where is the freakin' door?!" Rarity's shout for me to wait was ignored as I rounded a corner.

"That was rather awkward."

Rarity and I trotted down Mane Street (yes, really - the puns, they burn) with purpose. More because I had a purpose - to get 'home,' such as it was. Even trying to slip out of the toy store was a bit of a challenge as Willy seemed to be one of those storekeeps that love to ambush their patrons as soon as they set hoof in the front door. That no pony seemed to be complaining and some even seemed to enjoy the banter with the over-dressed fop was a poor way to discourage him.

The very thought of that store of false faces and weird contraptions made my pace quicken and Rarity had to remind me to slow down every so often as the press of ponies began to get thicker. The sun was almost directly above us and the heat was fairly stifling. That toy store must have had central air or the pony equivalent of it because I had started to sweat just walking out of the door, never mind charging in a sprint as I had - with Rarity shouting at me from behind.

I stopped after I was out and let her catch up. I wasn't running away from her, just that awkward place.

Our path took us through the market area we had just visited and I knew that it was going to be a 'thing.' Despite the heat, outdoor cafes and such were rather normal for the period I figured Equestria was in - rapidly industrializing just before the giant crash as local resources were strained too thin. Maybe I was projecting. Regardless, the mostly empty cafes and restaurants were sure to be full of smiling ponies so happy and assured of their place and their species and -

"Bruce, it's not at all normal - stay near me now - and I truly think you should get at least some small thing to pass the time." Rarity interrupted my downward spiral into depression. I felt a gentle pull on my tail - so weird - and caught the glow of Rarity's magic fading. As well as her sheepish smile. "I'm sorry, dear, you need to stay nearer to me."

I looked around, my mind brought to bear on ... the slowly growing press of ponies ahead of us. The heat, the crowd, the fact that Rarity's ear was swiveling to catch what sounded like a very loud buzzing insect - growing louder. Okay, it was starting to freak me out. I turned away from the crowd. "Well let's hurry befo-"

"Bruce!?" "Look out!" "Ahh!"

Three familiar voices pulled my attention back towards the crowd and I caught a flash of color just prior to the impact - mostly red. A series of semi-soft impacts knocked me off of my hooves and onto my side rather painfully and I slid a foot or two before I came to a stop. Let me tell you - cobblestone is not a comfortable surface. And the saddlebags that I almost forgot I was wearing did nothing. The world went dark ... and then I opened my eyes to find three - no, four, no seven? Eight? Seven-eight concerned faces looking down at me. Two yellow, two orange and three-four-three white-ish faces.

"Are you all right?" The two Raritys pushed passed the Cutie Mark Six-some and set me back on my hooves. Literally. She picked me up and set me down like some sort of puppy.

I stared up at the slowly coalescing form of Rarity with a blank look.

And then pain. White hot and lancing pain.

"AH!" One of my back legs gave out and I toppled to the street with a screech. And cursing. Lots of cursing.

"Really Bruce, carrying on like that." Rarity dabbed a damp cotton ball against the road rash that now adorned my flank. I took it like a man - or like a little boy. "Hush, this is your own fault for wandering away into a crowded herd of ponies."

Rarity - her face adorned with a fierce blush - had dragged me over to a fountain and was currently tutting over my 'little scratch.' I swear, it felt like fire every time she so much as breathed near it. I refuse to admit I was crying like a child over a small scratch. It was big! At least as big as my hoof. The water was helping some though. Around us, a small bubble of privacy space had opened and the ponies wandering about seemingly at random hardly spared a glance at the pair of us - though a few stallions had stopped to 'aww' at the sight. I glared as hard as I could at them - and my pride took an even bigger dip when the majority of them giggled behind a hoof before trotting away.

The ones that smiled gently at me with understanding stung worse, I think.

"Hey Rarity - ah! - how big is Ponyville anywa-ow!" Despite the question's intended recipient, the peanut gallery was still with us and decided to chime in.

"It's not that big." Scootaloo leaned over for the tenth time to try to see my gash but was pushed back for the tenth time by an irritated Rarity. I wondered what she was talking about but decided to believe she was answering the question. And for a moment, it seemed to distract her as she tapped hoof to chin in thought. "Maybe, like, one a-hundredth the size of Canterlot or something."

"It's big!" And now Apple Bloom was joining the conversation from her perch next to me - really close next to me. Seriously, scoot over a bit. Since the farm filly wasn't telepathic, I scooted instead. "It's bigger than Trottin'ham."

"Apple Bloom," Sweetie was next because everyone needs to have their turn at saying something I guess, "every town is bigger than Trottingham - even Hollow Shades."

"Fahne, it's like half th' size of Canterlot."

"Is not."

"Is too!"

"Is not!"

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were now both perched on the fountain with their noses pressed. And Apple Bloom's butt was pointed right at me, thanks for that. Didn't need to see that. Sweetie Belle was frowning at her friends and I could see the steam building in Rarity's face - and she wasn't so much cleaning my huge battle scar so much as jabbing it and that was getting painful. Time to be responsible! Somewhat.

"Shut up or I'll push the pair of you into the fountain," I whined growled. "Ow! Not so rough Rarity!"

And now Sweetie is on my other side. And Apple Bloom was up against me again. And Rarity turned her rageface to me.

Is this my life?

"Hey Bruce, once Rarity's done with that scratch, wanna come hang with us?" Scootaloo asked in a way-too-cheery voice. Here I was, bleeding my life away and-

"I'm finished." Rarity kissed the scratch gash and set me on my hooves. With a quick flick of her magic, the saddlebags that did nothing to protect me from harm were whisked off my back and onto hers. "We've all had an exciting day but it's lunch time. What do you two say to joining the three of us for a quick bite?"

"Three?" My question was answered by Sweetie Belle jabbing me in the side. "Ah. Three."

"Yeah, I'm down." Scootaloo shrugged nonchalantly but her wings twitched in excitement.

"Sure!" Applebloom was more honest and leapt to her hooves.

"I don't get a say in this?" And now three elbows.