Different Strokes

by Guy_Incognito

First published

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

Gentle Strokes is a cynical drunk from Dodge Junction. Stormy is the proud black sheep of a wealthy Manehattan family. Together they're two shining examples of the student body at Camden — Equestria's most prestigious liberal arts college. Navigating their way through one night stands, flirty professors, "End Of The World" parties, junkie roommates, family melodrama, sex, drugs and Rock 'N' Roll as they try their hooves at a college relationship.

Cover art provided by the wonderful: Kill Joy.

Anyone Can Buy Me A Drink

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"Anyone Can Buy Me A Drink."

He kept telling himself it was time for a change. Time to leave the past behind; to bury it alive, or hide it away like a dirty magazine and start over. And, where was the harm in wanting to start fresh? After a lifetime of living out everypony else's dreams, wasn't it time to follow one of his own? Didn't he get a chance to move on?

Yes. Absolutely.

That's what Camden was supposed to be: a fresh start. A chance to gather his bearings, and show the world what he could do with an opportunity. He wasn't going to take it for granted, Never look a gift pony in the mouth, right? It was a stupid expression that he never fully understood but, it seemed relevant to his cause.

Camden. He thought about it as if he were trying to reassure himself that it was, indeed, really happening. Camden was the first step on the long road ahead of him. Granted, that road had an uncertain end but, at least it was a road that led in the right direction.


All things considered, it wasn't that bad. It was... well, it was interesting. It was new. Exciting.

No, really. It was.

He liked it here. It was different sure but, in a good way. The whole place was a beehive of activity, buzzing with life at all times of the day. You couldn't say that about Dodge Junction and, you certainly couldn't say that about home either.

Then again, things had never been easy for him back home. After all, he was raised on a farm.

The smell of sweat that stung his nostrils after a day of working a field. The summer's heat beating down on his body. The feel of hot tears dampening the coat around his eyes. Winter's chill taking bites out of his lips, his nostrils, anything unprotected. The pain of an empty stomach. The copper taste of blood.

That was life on a farm. More importantly, that was his life on a farm.

Call him crazy, but when all your memories of a lifetime spent in a place had a dark, unwelcoming tint to them and you had to really wrack your brain to find one that didn't, it was something resembling a problem. And so, the decision to flee came naturally; He had a gift and, he wasn't going to squander it in Dodge Junction. Hells, all that he had going on for him back home was a career with a one hundred percent mortality rate.

Farm Ponies. They didn't just retire and live quiet lives with their families when they got too old to work their trade. They weren't lawyers, bankers, or even royal guards for that matter. There was no 401 K to be earned working out in a field. You didn't get sick days, or vacation pay and, there was no gold watch and gift card wrapped up in a pretty wicker basket waiting for you after your time was up. Farm Ponies. They worked themselves to death, one way or the other.

His grandfather, the poor bastard, threw his back out trying to plough a field well past his prime and, in doing so, just sort of accepted fate. He died the week after, alone in his bed. Tragic as it was, it wasn't unheard of; It just sort of happened. Now, it was going to just sort of happen to his father and, as good fortune would have it, when it happened to his father, he himself stood to inherit that responsibility: Fatality and all.

How wonderful.

His family called it his legacy. Somehow, it felt more like a curse to be honest.

Regardless, he'd made a choice and now he had to live with it. It was just that the living with it part wasn't really going his way.

Maybe that's why he was here, now; Sitting in a safe haven off of campus and, trying to solve his problems the only way he knew how.


He'd been sitting in the bar for the past three hours. Or, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday over the past two months; depending on how you looked at it. Right now, he was looking at it through the bottom of a nearly empty pint-glass. The vision it presented was unsavory but, at least he could be pessimistic about it.

The last swig of Buckweiser in his glass had gone warm and flat about a half hour ago, and he quietly contemplated ordering another, until his mind drifted off; The knowledge that somewhere, back on campus his roommate Au Revoir, was probably having the time of his life at The Freaks and Geeks Party clouded over him. If he knew his roommate like he thought he did, he was already drunk and, more than likely doing body shots of whipped cream flavoured vodka off of some mare's flank. He'd be getting loud cheers and ruckus encouragement from the types of ponies who had unconsciously driven he himself away from the flashy, loud and extravagant drinking orgies Camden's student body seemed to host nightly and, into the welcoming hooves of the quiet hole-in-the-wall ambience that 'Saltee's Tavern' offered on a Friday night.

For an arts school, Camden sure was filled with more than it's fair share of brain dead morons. How one single place could exist, solely to hold as many pretentious, spoiled, trust fund babies, without causing some kind of universal chasm or economic collapse, was beyond his understanding.

It seemed, Camden was an excuse for places like Manehattan, Las Pegasus, Canterlot and Cloudsdale to round up all of their empty, shallow, socialites in the making and dump them in a consequence free playground. It wasn't much more than a social experiment in that sense; The brainchild of some demented mind doing a study on how many failed adults chasing a Bachelor of Arts could produce. Throw in mares with questionable standards, colts who liked to take advantage of that personality flaw, enough booze to drown a sovereign nation and you had the majority of Camden's student body.

Defeated, he sighed quietly to himself.

Hadn't he come here to escape these kind of thoughts?

He waved a hoof towards the bar mare--a portly looking Earth Pony who he could only imagine was either Saltee's wife, lover, sister, or, as luck would have it, all of the above--and when he'd caught her attention, he tapped his hoof lightly on the bar in an age old code shared between bartender and patron: I need a drink.

She smiled politely, then reached for another cold Buckweiser.

As he waited for her to return, he found his eyes wandering across the room; drinking in his company for the night. The bar was mostly empty now, like it usually was during the weeks and on every other weekend. Of the nearly thirty seats in the entire place, only about a half dozen or so were filled and the bodies that filled them were all much older earth ponies than himself. These ponies also happened to not be from Camden (Townies was the word everyone on campus called ponies from the neighbouring small town of Barstow.) This crowd of sad old drunken townies sat in the furthest booths and tables of the bar. Hidden away from the illumination of the outside street light through the stained glass windows.

He'd seen this same crowd before. Maybe not the same exact faces as tonight, but certainly this same crowd. He didn't know any of their names, and, he could only imagine the same could be said for them of him. Yet, still, the faces that stared solemnly back at him tonight were uncomfortably familiar to him; Like staring at poorly painted portraits of broken lives.

Another heavy groan.

When had he let himself become so charmingly bitter?

The bar mare (Whoever she was to Saltee) returned with his glass of liquid relief, and he felt a momentary calmness wash over him. He generously slid her a few extra bits along with the cost of the drink. (Any little thing he could do to make her night seem better than his, he figured) and she smiled graciously as she pocketed the tip, before trotting off towards the back of the bar where one of the townies was waving a hoof in her direction.

Now, sitting alone with a fresh pint of courage, sunshine and happiness, it was time to get back to the basics.

Quiet sip. Stone faced glance around the bar. Quiet sip. Stare at the same broken faces who stared, with a neutral sense of understanding back at his. Quiet Sip. Perplexity; something was different now. Something had changed. But what? Quiet Sip. Realization dawned on him; A strange newcomer had entered the bar.

He quietly observed this newcomer. The stranger was an earth pony, like himself; He looked to be about a year, two at the most, younger and, was about a head shorter. He wore a generous black mane, rustled by the slight breeze outside. His smaller frame was hidden behind a smoked grey coat.

This strange newcomer took a seat no more than three barstools away from him. Their eyes met for a brief second and, he saw the newcomer smile warmly with recognition; like he'd just spotted an old friend or a long lost drinking buddy. This seemed odd because, as far as he could tell, he'd never met this stranger in his life. Although, he certainly looked like a Camden student. He was fresh faced. All smiles and no regrets. Just another face grinning idiot from an arts school.

The underlying question came to mind: Where exactly might he know this happy go lucky bastard from? Maybe they'd been to one of the same parties together? Who could say?

During his time at Camden, he'd been to so many pointless parties and seen so many easily forgettable faces that the notion that this one stuck out from the crowd and captured his attention seemed odd. Mathematically speaking, Camden had something like thirty five thousand registered students living on campus and the odds that he knew this pony seemed improbably low, but, here he was; sitting in his bar stool, silently observing him and asking himself how he knew him, and why he cared?

He couldn't place a hoof on why exactly, but something about this particular pony rubbed him the wrong way. The more he thought about it, the more he realized some of the symptoms of his curious hatred. He was an outsider here. He didn't look at all like he'd been broken by life and it's turbulent twists and turns. By the very virtue of the uplifting smile plastered across his stupidly optimistic face he easily set himself apart from the sad old drunks that filled the bar stools.

His presence here was almost offending.

Whoever this pony was, one thing was clear: The stupid bastard had no idea what he was getting himself into.

“Hey, Cultural Studies?”

A voice, not his own, derailed his train of thoughts and brought him back to reality. The voice's owner Mr. Happy Go Lucky now stood beside him and stared inquisitively at him.

“'Beg pardon?”

“You're in my Cultural Studies class, right?” The pony asked again. He gave a soft smile and took an uninvited seat beside him. “I, uh, usually sit in the back, on the days that I do go. But, you're always up in the front. You must really like that class?”

“Oh... yeah. Right.”

“Stormy.” He offered, extending a hoof towards him.

Reluctant, but never one to seem impolite in the face of a stranger turned fellow scholar with similar academic interests, he accepted the hoof with his own.

“Gentle Strokes.”

Stormy politely waved over the bar mare and placed his order: A double Buck Daniels. On the rocks. The bar mare offered her same inviting smile, then went about fixing him his drink.

“So, it's a Friday night on a big campus. There's got to be literally hundreds of better things to do and, you're just sitting here all alone?” Stormy inquired.

“Mhmmm.” Gentle Strokes groaned out in response.

“And how's that working out for you, chief?” Stormy's response came with an attached shit-eating-grin that provoked an indescribable emotion in Gentle Strokes: as mad as he wanted to be at this pony and his presumptions, he faltered to admit that he was right; It wasn't doing him any favours being alone on a Friday night.

In spite of this Gentle Strokes felt it necessary to defend himself.

“Is there something I can help you with, Stormy?” He wasn't sure what Stormy was shooting for, but he knew from experience that he didn't want to get caught up in the middle of it. Camden students were ruthless and without mercy when it came to toying with simple folk like himself. Their tactics to break a pony's psyche went outside of the boundaries of a pony's Mareanda Rights. It was like they all got off on making a pony feel as miserable and broken as they could.

To that extent, he suddenly felt caught in Stormy's crosshairs. If there was one thing he didn't like above anything else, it was being a target. He may have been simple, sure, but, he wasn't going to be some eccentric debutante’s verbal chew-toy for the night. At least, not if he could help it.

“Well, honestly; I come here sometimes to get away from all the 'razzle dazzle' of campus life.” Stormy said with a genuine smile “I've seen you sitting, alone, for like, three weeks. I just figured you could use a friend, or something?”

“Much obliged.” Gentle Strokes, sarcasm heavy in his tone, gave in solemn response.

The truth was that he was more than looking forward to a night of judgement free drinking, self pity and, more than that, quiet dignity but, here entered Stormy like some higher power sent by Celestia herself to test the limits of his psyche. He was an unruly force of nature who aimed to bring Gentle Stokes out of his funk and into the real world he wanted so desperately to escape from.

What an inconsiderate jerk.

Gentle Strokes was never a pony to stand for--let alone sit beside the living embodiment of--these kind of things. In that moment he made it a personal mission to defend, to his very last breath, his right to self imposed exile. He didn't need some self righteously optimistic pony to tell him how to live his life. He had two overly concerned parents who wrote him letters three or four times a week to do that for him.

“And how come you aren't back on Campus? I figure'd a pony like yourself would be at Brawny Brawler's?”

If all else fails, why not fall back on misdirection?

“What, the 'Freaks and Geeks' thing?” Stormy began with a laugh, “Hey, If I wanted to hang around with a bunch of self centred, drunk, homophobes, I would have just visited my family for the weekend.”

The sentence ran through Gentle Strokes brain twice. The first time it was met with his usual sense of disinterested resentment: Ignore this colt and everything he had to say until he shied away in defeat. That way, he won and Stormy lost, and that mattered, somehow.

The second time however, one phrase in particular stood out Homophobe. He hadn't read the dictionary before, but he also wasn't ignorant enough not to understand the proper definition of the word; Homophobe: The act of disliking, disapproving, condemning or shaming a colt's abnormal sexual orientation.

The cogs in his head working overtime, Gentle Strokes was hit with a very sudden realization.

“You're a... er...”

He had trouble finding the right words. It was, in truth, the first time he'd ever met one of them; A Colt Cuddler. That's what they called themselves: Colt Cuddlers. As in colts who didn't like mares. They were colts who liked other colts.

He was a long way from Dodge Junction.

“Gay?” Stormy offered in nonchalant response.

“Um... yeah.” Suddenly Gentle Strokes felt silly. Best to think of a quick response and not run the risk of seeming like another ignorant hick. “I'm sorry. It's just you seem so...”


He didn't have to say the word for both parties to understand that it was the one that he meant.

He couldn't get a good read off of the look on Stormy's face, it was too neutral to really tell if he'd taken extreme offence or not. Then, he slighted for a brief second. His face turned upside down with panic and he desperately patted his cheeks, moving down towards his chest.

“Oh, Celestia!” he groaned, faking a lisp on the 'C' and 'S' in 'Celestia'. “I must have left my fairy wand and all my glitter at my other boyfriend's house.”

“Hardy, har, har.” Gentle Strokes droned out as one note as he could. He didn't want to properly admit it, but he did feel a tinge of guilt about the situation. He hadn't meant to offend Stormy but, clearly that ship had sailed for long forgotten coasts and he was now stuck with the baggage.

“Hey, I'm sorry. It's just...well, I've never met a...uh...” He paused momentarily to clear the tickle in his throat “A...colt cuddler before.”

The word felt uncomfortable on his tongue.

Despite all the trials and turmoil he imagined landing himself in, Gentle Strokes seemed to come out of this ordeal clean when Stormy gave a kind, understanding smile and a whole hearted chuckle.

“Seriously? You've never met a stallion stuffer before?” Stormy chuckled, staring earnestly at Gentle Strokes as if he were some kind of circus sideshow.

Come see The Ignorant Hick. He's a pony trapped outside of contemporary society. Virtually lost in a sea of scholars, artists and political correctness. Watch him fumble his way through a conversation out of his comfort zone. Laugh at him as he makes one social faux pas, after another.

“I'm sorry but were you raised on a farm or something?”

Gentle Strokes gave a heavy, guttural, groan in response.

Was it really that obvious?

“Oh, sweet Celestia!” Stormy laughed. “Don't tell me you were?”

Something about Stormy's tone of voice rubbed Gentle Strokes the wrong way. Here he was, becoming the target of yet another pretentious, too-smart-to-know-when-to-shut-up, art student at Camden. If he had a bit for every time in the past three months he'd been in this same situation, well, he wouldn't even have to be at Camden.

A surge of anger and contempt ran through his nerves. He felt defensive, aggressive and standoffish. It was a rare feeling in him, one that hadn't been unearthed in some time. Regardless, he found himself acting along with the impulses in his body.

“What if I was?”

He could feel himself straighten his spine. His shoulders popped forwards and the rest of his larger farm pony body followed suit. He wasn't ever one to pride himself on it but, he could look intimidating when he wanted too.

Apparently, this was one of those times.

Seeing Gentle Stroke's grow, the intimidating look in his eyes and the furrow in his brows, Stormy's face fell flat and he suddenly stopped laughing.

For a few minutes, there was the most uncomfortable silence never heard in Saltee's Tavern before that night. Not a single hushed whisper was uttered in that time, the place was dead silent. If a pin had dropped in that moment, it would have been smart enough not to make a sound at all.

Awkward didn't begin to describe the atmosphere, now.

Stormy swallowed back a lump in his throat and bowed his head, weakly. His dropped face fell further and he quietly kicked his lower hooves against each other, while his upper hooves gently cradled the glass tumbler his Buck Daniels came in, swirling the ice cubes. Out of the corner in his eye he glanced up at Gentle Strokes, then spoke.

“Hey... look, I'm really sorry.” He forced a smile on his face, then continued. “I really didn't mean to offend you. I... kinda run my mouth sometimes.”

Gentle Strokes remained quiet. There was a look on Stormy's face: browbeaten and earnestly imploring some kind of social reprieve from him. It made him feel uneasy. Maybe this colt was different from the rest? Maybe, he did feel bad about poking fun at the simple farm pony with no social grace or high class elegance?

Maybe Gentle Strokes was wrong about him?

“Can I buy you a drink?” Stormy offered, trying out an inviting smile that almost broke past the saddened eyes he had on. "As like a peace offering or something?"

Sometime, during their brief chat Stormy had downed his drink and Gentle Strokes, now staring at the bottom of an empty pint glass himself, realized he must have done the same.

All things considered, the hurt look on Stormy's face, and the modest attempt at a friendly smile he was offering looked genuine. For a brief second, Gentle Strokes thought about just saying 'no' to his proposal, then asking him to leave, but, that felt rude and unneighbourly. He felt like he owed Stormy this favour; to let him give him a second chance at a first impression.

Well that, and, Gentle Strokes was never a pony who could turn down a free drink.

“Yeah. Sure.” He said, smiling at Stormy. “Anyone can buy me a drink.”

Stormy flashed a warm relieved smile back at him. His ability to bounce back almost instantaneously almost astonished Gentle Strokes

“Ok. Alright!” Stormy was practically bouncing with renewed vigour and a foal like charm, now. “How about we make this interesting?”

"How's that?"

"Waddya say to something a little stronger than Buckweiser?"

Gentle Strokes grinned. Stormy was beginning to make a great second-first impression on him.

Stormy turned his attention to the bar-mare, who's interest must have been heavily invested in their conversation, and waved her over. When she approached he leant forward, his muzzle met her right ear and he gently cupped a hoof to cover his mouth as he whispered something into it. A short second later she leaned her head back with wide eyes and a look of disbelief on her face. Stormy nodded his head, with a smile. She just gave a loud 'huff' and shook her head before returning to the far end of the bar.

A minute later she reappeared with a pair of half glasses filled to the brim with a curious brown/gold liquid. Stormy smiled as she set them down before the two and slid her a hoof full of bits.

Gentle Strokes stared curious at the brown/gold shaded reflection of himself in the half glass of whatever it was. He knelt his head down and took a quick whiff. His nostrils found revolt at the smell and, his eyes watered slightly. Right off the hop, he could tell that whatever these shots were, he'd probably need more than salt and a lime to chase it with.

Gentle Strokes gripped his glass firmly and swallowed back his discomfort, fear and any reservations he might have had. Farm pony or not, there was nothing more foul and rotten to toss back like a shot of bottom shelf gut rot. Especially, when these 'shots' looked suspiciously like very generous doubles.

Stormy, on the other hoof, looked like he was more than willing to accept the challenge. A grin; like an asylum patient spread across his face and rose high up on his cheeks. He gripped the glass tight, and impatiently.

Gentle Strokes gave an inward groan; they'd come this far, and it seemed that there was no going back now.

“Salute.” Stormy offered, raising his glass in the air.

“Gesundheit.” Gentle Strokes smirked, following Stormy' lead.

The glasses met at the brim where a soft 'clink' was heard. Then the bottoms fell to the bar counter. And, in less time than he could ask himself 'Was this a good idea?' both colt's had tossed back their poison.

Gentle Strokes fought back the urge to physically express his body's rebellion against the contents of the glass. He tried to take his mind off the battle being raged in his stomach by instead trying to figure out the chemical composition he'd just shot back; Was the burning in his tongue the product of a fine paint thinner? Did the uneasiness in his eyes account for a touch of lye?

The bottle it was poured out of itself was probably some stereotypically cliche thin at the top, round at the bottom jug with a perfectly mouth sized nozzle and three black 'x's' placed over top a crudely painted Skull and Bones on the side. Chances were Saltee and The Bar Made had probably even brewed it themselves in a bathtub in the back storeroom of the bar.

To his right, Stormy, who's eyes had been brought to a squint, knocked his head back, let out a quiet 'belch', which he'd politely muffled with a hoof, then threw that same hoof in the air, waving the Bar Mare over for another round.

Something in the 'not-so-subtle' region of his mind told Gentle Strokes that this was going to be one of those kind of nights.....


He wasn't sure when exactly he'd gotten locked into the drinking contest he was currently losing against Stormy, but it seemed, almost every four or five minutes over the past two hours, either Stormy or Gentle Strokes was throwing a hoof full of bits on the table and ordering something stronger and cheaper than what the other had ordered before him.

Now well into their second hour of the most melodramatic live display of How To Get Cirrhosis Of The Liver and neither pony could see straight (Gentle Strokes would have made a joke about how Stormy never really saw straight to begin with, but, it seemed redundant).

Stormy, lifting his head sluggishly from the table, tapped around at his waist. Reaching for a saddle bag that he must not have realized was on the back of his chair. A few minutes of helpless searching around the bar for it, and Gentle Strokes had squeezed all the fun he could from the situation. He reached into the saddle bag and gripped a small box, which he imagined was what Stormy was looking for, and tossed it gently on the table.

Stormy turned to look at Gentle Strokes and cocked an eyebrow inquisitively. He spotted the pack of cigarettes, lifted one out with his teeth and pushed the pack towards Gentle Strokes, who shook his head silently.

Stormy shrugged and lit his cigarette.

Watching Stormy light his cigarette, Gentle Strokes was hit with the ninth or tenth sudden realization of the night; He must not have been paying such close attention before, but now, for whichever reason, he noticed that Stormy was far from an ugly pony. In fact, at the risk of sounding like....well, he imagined how a colt like Stormy might make it sound, he'd go so far as to say he was in fact quite good looking. Not that it meant anything. Stormy was a Colt Cuddler. Gentle Strokes was as straight as an arrow.

Or a spear.

Or any other phallic object.

He tried to drown the thought out of his head with the last sip of their latest round and looked around the bar for some form of visual compliment in the way of a pretty mare. Someone that would take his mind, and vision, off of his companion. He was upset to learn his feminine company for the night was restricted to The Bar Mare, and on top of being Saltee's... concubine, she was hardly a looker.

He turned back to Stormy who, with the cigarette clenched tightly in his teeth, had found his attention drawn by a coaster that he was aimlessly spinning on it's edge.

Gentle Strokes felt an uncomfortable chill run up his spine. All impulses in his body firing away, he realized the longer he was company with Stormy the more likely it was he did something downright uncharacteristic of himself. He wasn't sure what that something would be, but it felt warm and soft to think about what the worst case scenario of himself enjoying the company of a drunk, gay, and apparently dastardly handsome colt for the evening could be.

Maybe now was a good time to call it a night?

With Stormy preoccupied twirling the same coaster on it's edge and trying to blow smoke rings, this moment was probably the best to sneak out unannounced. He pushed himself off of the bar stool.....and totally forgot the effects that mixing hard alcohol and, much harder lounging had on motor skills.

His lower hooves felt weightless and asleep, but it didn't matter, he had to leave now. His first step towards the door was fine. But, on the second step he somehow managed to catch a still very much asleep front right hoof on his awake back left hoof. He pulled forwards with his front hoof-which picked that exact moment to give out-and he felt himself stumble and fall face first to the floor.

After an embarrassingly loud 'thud', all eyes were suddenly drawn to him.

He felt a lot more than stupid at that moment.

He tried to pick himself up and dust himself off, but apparently, the floor had decided to change density. No longer was he walking on hardwood floors, but rainsoaked marble, apparently.

He lost his footing, and slipped again.

He tried to correct himself; Third time's the charm, right?


Again he slipped, fell, and, got up.

By his fourth attempt and failure he groaned and gave up.

He made a mental decision: Of all the places he'd slept in his life (In a barn in the dead of winter. In his Aunt and Uncle's house during mating season. Inside a Hen House.) the floor of the bar didn't seem so bad. It was warm enough and, if he were lucky, he could ignore the 'Barnyard' noises that Saltee and The Bar Mare would make later that night (Which, unfortunately he couldn't say about the time he'd slept at his Aunt and Uncle's.)

“Easy there, cowpoke.” He heard Stormy mutter with a chuckle as he felt a very soft hoof wrap around his chest and pull him to his hooves.

“M-must be something they put in the drinks?” He heard himself slur.

This was getting bad. Real bad. The kind of bad where after he ran away from Stormy as well as his own totally non-existent inner demons. He'd never be able to show his face in Saltee's tavern again. And, maybe even consider quitting drinking... but, that was getting a little ahead of himself.

“Yeah, it's this crazy new thing called 'alcohol'.” Stormy responded, sarcastically. Stormy probably didn't need to look around the bar to feel the curious, inquisitive stares bearing down on him. There seemed no better time to leave, than now. “Why don't you call it a night? You look like you could use a good nap.”

With one hoof ever-so-gently draped over his shoulder, Stormy began to lead Gentle Strokes through the exit.

“I can walk my self home!” Gentle Strokes shouted, incredulously. He broke off off the warm embrace and began trotting quickly ahead of Stormy, who stood behind watching Gentle Strokes's exit with bemused curiosity.

There was a certain rhythm to Gentle Strokes exit that Stormy picked up on, but that Gentle Strokes himself seemed unaware of. He'd take a few steps forward, make a quick dodge to the right (totally on purpose, of course), then straighten himself out. A few more steps forward. Slight slip backwards. Straighten up, again. Shamble a few more steps forward.

Gentle Strokes was getting nowhere fast, but, at least he was heading nowhere in the right direction.

“Campus is the other way, dude!” He heard Stormy shout out from behind him.

Gentle Strokes stopped dead in his tracks and, shamefully, gave a loud groan.

“Are you sure you can make it home?” He heard the stupid, persistent pony behind him ask.

He turned to face him.

The curiously amused look he'd worn on his face was now replaced with a genuinely concerned one.

Gentle Strokes almost felt bad, but, then he remembered who he was running away from, and why.

He lifted his head pridefully and spun around on his feet, tripped, fumbled around for a brief second, then straightened himself out and began walking the right way back to Campus.

“I'll be fine.” He grudgingly shouted over his shoulder.


From a distance, Stormy watched Gentle Strokes leave with a smile. He wasn't sure exactly why he did it, but, when he was sure Gentle Strokes was a proud distance ahead of Stormy, he took off after him.

After all, somepony had to make sure that this silly farm pony got home safe.

The End Of The World

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The End of the World.

Stormy woke up late one morning with a colt's hoof wrapped firmly around his chest and a stranger's white/gold face nuzzled deep in the gape of his neck. He wondered, silently to himself, about when he had let his life get so out of hoof?

He thought about just where he'd gone wrong as he casually snuck his way out of yet another stranger's bed; A drunken romp in the sack with a cute stallion was nothing new to him (Hells, it was almost unusual for him not to wake up like this), but somewhere down the road the thrill of a steamy one night stand had run its course. Now, these types of morning -- waking up hungover, stinking of sweat, booze, regret, and, more than that, feeling emotionally unsatisfied -- certainly weren't helping cement the idea that his life at Camden was taking him on a brighter, more positive track.

There was certainly something to say about a colt who found that waking up in bed next to a random stallion, morning after morning, had become less a thrill and more of a bad habit: Stormy just wasn't too sure what exactly it was.

Maybe he should have taken a psyche course this semester?

“Good morning.” he heard an almost inaudible moan come from the bed behind him.

Well, it had been...

“Mhmm,” Stormy offered back, staring not at the stranger's body behind him but the view of the main campus this stranger's dorm room offered. “Looks pretty cold out, though.”

The colt in bed behind him gave a very much effeminate giggle, followed by the kind of contended sigh that only a sexually satisfied colt cuddler could give.

Stormy took a seat sat on the edge of the bed and felt a comforter covered hoof run gently along the small of his back, stopping midway between his tail and flank where he felt a gentle squeeze, followed again by that same giggle.

“Are you busy today?” The voice behind him practically begged. “We could go grab breakfast?”

“Well, actually...”

Somehow this colt (Why not call him Mr. White/Gold? Seeing as how Stormy couldn’t remember his name to save his life) seemed naively unaware of what he'd gotten himself into when he first approached Stormy the night before. By asking him for a drink, Mr White/Gold had signed himself into a contract which, perhaps not as clearly as he'd intended it to, stated that come morning they would part ways, and maybe if the sex was good enough they could continue to see each other come some other lonely, horny and drunken nights in the future.

But that was it.

It was with Stormy's, admittedly, twisted sense of logic that he knew he couldn't say 'yes' to this proposition. (Again, not that he would have wanted too, anyway.) Anything involving another colt like the one in bed beside him outside of the bedroom was how attachment started. And it went without saying that, that couldn't happen.

“There's a lecture on poetry by this author I really like; Dr. Gonzo," It was hardly a lie worth telling and, you didn't have to look hard to see the sad excuse for a lack of commitment through the crater sized holes in the story.

Still, the body underneath the covers in bed shuffled to a sitting position. He took his hoof off of Stormy's flank, and pulled the covers towards his body. Hiding his naked form.

“Oh,” Mr. White/Gold forced out after a prolonged awkward silence. “I... understand.”

Clearly he didn't.

If Mr. White/Gold was in anyway hurt by Stormy's uninviting attitude at least he didn't show it. (And, yes, that was sarcastic. Thank you very much.)

“Well, are you going to be at The End Of The World party tonight?" asked a very intrigued Mr. White/Gold "Maybe I'll just see you there?”

Oh, shit. That was tonight wasn't it?

“Yeah." Stormy drawled, chewing his lower lip. "I think I'll make it out for that.”

He got up off the bed and took a good sober look at the colt he'd just spent the night with; Honestly, he wasn't bad looking: He was a head shorter than Stormy and thin in a way that told Stormy he was either an artist, or more likely, a hopeful model. Maybe that's why he'd let Stormy use him last night? Maybe, Mr. White/Gold somehow thought, that Stormy's major was in something stupid and idiotic that involved making clay sculptures of overeager pillow biters, and not something more dignified like writing haiku’s or comparing bad poetry.

Again, totally sarcastic.

Mr White/Gold's body seemed to help sway his argument. He had definition, not exactly tone but a body worth its place in the slideshow. He hadn't spent hours sweating in a gym to get those fillylike hips, nor that flat and tight upper chest. Most likely, they came from a diet that probably consisted of some of those caramel cream latte bull shit things they sold at Star-Bucks, decaffeinated, artificially sweetened diet cola, top shelf brand vodka with a dash of lime, green bean and vinaigrette salad and, maybe on occasion, a totally organic, low carb bran muffin to help smooth the cleansing process.

The important part, to Stormy, was that of the two of them; Mr. White/Gold was certainly the more feminine. He wore his mane long and straightened with one side cut to fall over the eye. It amazed Stormy that even after a night of being restlessly screwed, his mane hadn't lost that pampered touch. He would bet any amount of bits that inside Mr. White/Gold's bathroom there was more money's worth in shampoos, conditioners, gels, dyes, and hygiene products than what he'd ever have to spend on a semester at Camden.

Typical first year colt cuddlers.

Stormy was dragged out of his awkwardly obsessive mental deconstruction of Mr. White/Gold by his voice squeeling “That is so great!”.

Mr. White/Gold tossed the covers away from his chest and shot up in bed. He moved to Stormy and wrapped his hooves tightly around Stormy's back, gently tackling him down onto the bed with him and nuzzling his face into his mane, gently pressing his lips against his throat in a series of kisses that slowly turned into gentle nibbles, then hungry little bites. Mr. White/Gold's morning breath smelt like a few glasses too many of white wine, shots of grapefruit vodka, and the filthier parts of Stormy himself; It was somewhat bothersome how much more erotic that was to him than he'd want to admit.

While enjoyable, the embrace itself made Stormy somewhat uncomfortable to the idea that maybe this pony didn't understand the rules of a one night stand.

“So, uh, I'd better get going. The lecture's in about a half hour.” Stormy said, breaking off the embrace by pushing the still biting his neck Mr. White/Gold away from his body. Mr. White/Gold's made a pouty little face, his lower lip biting his upper one and a sensual, inviting look in his eyes. Tempted as he was to have another go at Mr. White/Gold, he knew that would only lead to trouble.

Stormy gave a soft smile, a wink then got up off the bed and moved towards the door. Along the way he picked up his tie, shirt, vest and dinner jacket from the floor, which lay beside Mr. White/Gold's sweat stained schoolcolt shirt that he'd worn the night before.

“Oh, ok.” Mr. White/Gold giggled. “I'll see you at the party, though. Right?”

Not if he could help it.

“Yup.” Stormy lied.


Stormy never made it to the lecture by Dr. Gonzo, not out of his general apathy towards his lazy lifestyle, but mainly because it never existed in the first place. In actuality, the first thing he did the second he walked outside the door of his sexual conquest's room was grab a cup of coffee from his favourite coffee shop on campus -- Monk's. Because Star-Bucks was a load of overpriced horse apples -- in preparation for his return to his own dorm.

While Camden certainly offered a level of perpetual craziness on campus at all hours of the day. There was a specific type of craziness he needed to properly prepare for. That craziness had a name: Jagged Horn. Who happened to be his roommate.

Entering his dorm room was like playing a game of chance. At any given time, on any given day, there was a fifty percent chance he could be walking into a morbid display of Camden's seedy underworld; Come home on a Monday after an eleven A.M. class and you could find three, sweat soaked mares passed out on the floor. Empty cans of whipped cream. An orchards worth of exotic fruit, and ping pong paddles coated in every kind of bodily fluid. Come home on a Friday after a four P.M. Class and you could find half the Hoofball team, a hooker -- Escort was a generous term for a mare who boasted having the 'loosest throat in all of Equestria.' -- and a pile of stained linen sheets which would need to be burned to be properly disposed of.

Coming home that day, however, was a surprisingly calm affair.

Jagged Horn. With his apple red coat, jet black mane, natural good looks and namesake serrated horn planted in the midst of his forehead, lay upside down on two's shared pleather couch. He was staring with slacked eyelids at a pair of white tailed squirrels running along the branches of the barren oak tree outside their window.

“Ahoy hoy.” He practically drooled out, sluggishly, hearing Stormy enter. “Sup?”

“Hey.” Stormy offered back. “Are you, uh... you, feeling alright?”

Jag (Which he preferred over Jagged Horn) still had himself transfixed by the scenery outside their window. A twisted and somewhat laboured smile began to form on his lips.

“Some... mare I hooked up with last night, her roommate...she has, like, crazy panic attacks. High anxiety I think. She can't handle... the pressure, I guess. So, this shrink she's seeing on Campus.....hooked her up with......these awesome anti-depressants. I took the bottle from her...bathroom when I was saying...bye to her roommate.”

And that was Jagged Horn summed up in one broken sentence. He was scum. A low life. He had a penchant for chemical self depreciation and a growing dependency on under the counter drugs -- The kind that you needed a doctor’s name poorly scribbled on an Rx Paper to get ahold of -- to cure his non existent symptoms. Pain killers were his favourites -- Valium, Diazapam or any other of mother's little helpers -- but he'd just as easily settle for a hoof full of anti-depressants. When a pill bottle read ‘Do not exceed ‘X’ in one day’, Jag would pop twice that number and wash them down with a swig of straight bourbon. To Jag, warning labels were more like suggested serving sizes.

His inability to form a properly flowing sentence without long pauses between words almost worried Stormy, but then again, after living with Jag for the better part of three (almost four) semesters and seeing the abuse his mind, body and soul could take, Stormy reconsidered his worry.

“I've been... pretty wrecked all day. I missed a few classes... maybe a test, too.” Jag said with a chuckle. “But dude... I feel great.”

“Can you believe some people actually come here to learn?”

“Yeah, well, eggheads don't go home with perfect tens, dude.”

He did have point.

Jag exhaled a deep breath slowly. His body slacked as he sank deeper into the futon, and the most satisfied smile Stormy had ever seen in his life formed across his lips.

“You want... some?” He offered. He tried to reach for the nearly half empty pill bottle that sat on the table in front of him, but his hoof went entirely limp and fell onto the couch. “I wouldn't take more than one... they kinda sneak up on you.”

“I'm good.”

“Your loss.” Jag hummed.

He managed to turn his head towards the marble counter where a combined mess of the two's paperwork, textbooks, folders, assignment sheets and, more recently, envelopes and letters were stacked.

“I picked up the mail.”

Stormy, never taking his eyes off of Jag's totally and completely wrecked form glided towards the two distinctly separate stacks of letters atop the counter. With his mouth he grabbed his share of the mail and took a spot on the couch beside Jag, before beginning to sort through the mass of letters and envelopes.

The first letter in the pile was easily distinguishable from the rest. It was sealed with red wax in the shape of The Family Crest, and addressed not to a 'Mr. Stormy' or 'Student Number: 93S-234' but simply; 'Son.'

Letters from his father were nothing new and certainly nothing to look forward to either; at least, the ones which didn't contain cheques in them. This one felt like it didn't, so he tossed it atop a stack of countless other unopened letters from his father. Sentimentality was the only thing keeping him from throwing them out. At least, that's what he kept telling himself.

The second letter was an envelope, which contained yet another issue of PlayMare Magazine. The product of a well thought out -- and by this point almost twice annual -- gay joke by Jag.

Jag moaned out a chuckle absentmindedly, as he spotted the offending envelope. Stormy chuckled too and tossed it onto his bed. For later.

The next few letters were pretty standard: The prince of the zebra nation had allegedly been usurped from his throne by his subjects and, with a few goodwill bits from Stormy's account he could reclaim his throne and, more importantly, reimburse Stormy more than one-thousand percent his initial investment. Now, Stormy would have been an idiot not to accept that offer, but, then again who really wanted to be rich, anyway? He certainly hadn’t applied to an arts school to become a millionare.

Besides; there was royalty in Equestria who needed his bits much more than some foreign prince ever would. At least, that was what the next letter made clear: Student taxes were a donkey's flank. Despite the political science major he certainly wasn't, it seemed strange that a thriving monarchy needed money from starving artists to survive.

The final letter in the pile was the only one that struck him as odd. It was addressed to him, but with the added handle of 'Mr.' in front of his name, and the return address read from the school, specifically The Faculty of Arts.

Uh oh.

Curious, he opened the letter to find a quill and ink note from his creative writing professor stating simply to meet him in his office. The letter also gave his office hours as noon to two-thirty P.M.

The very last thing that Stormy wanted to do in all of Equstria on a Friday at Camden was go see one of his professors, but he also hadn't been to his creative writing class in nearly three weeks. He had lackeys who kept notes for him, and there was no mandatory attendance aside from exams, so why even bother? Then again, if he didn't show up today, he might receive more letters from his professor in the future. And, it went without saying that, that was a hassle he didn't want to be privy too.

Stormy checked the clock: It was almost One-Thirty now. If he hustled he could make it to his professors' office by Two. If he didn't, and took his time, he could still probably make it there in time.

He opted for the latter.


Stormy arrived at his professor's office at two thirty five. Five minutes late, sure, but the detour to the best coffee shop on campus was more than worth it. No-Name brand coffee -- or worse than that fair trade coffee -- certainly weren't going to cut it. Not today. No, today he needed a strong beverage to see him through this trial. Unfortunately, the bars on campus didn’t start serving until four, so today black coffee with an unhealthy dose of aspartame was going to have to sub in.

He entered the office without knocking and found his professor, quite literally, muzzle deep in a cartoonishly over sized book. Hearing Stormy’s hoofsteps into his office broke his concentration from the book and brought it onto him.

His professor was a kind enough pony. Timid at times, but always gentle and soft spoken. He was roughly his father's age, maybe a few years younger, with a solid white mane and a prematurely greying coat, with hints of it's youthful black shining through. He wore a pair of horn rimmed spectacles and a pastel three toned suit that looked like something a used cart dealer would wear. This was accented by an ever present red bow tie.

“Oh, Stormy. I'm glad to see you received my letter.” His tone was inviting, as was his body language.

Smiling at the younger colt, he silently invited Stormy to take a seat in one of the two leather arm chairs that sat before his desk. Stormy returned the smile, politely, and took the seat furthest away from his professor.

The older colt stood up, taking a second to readjust his tie and run a calm hoof through his mane. He made his way over to an oak coffee table which held picture frames of himself and famous Mares and Colts of the literary world. One of them, Stormy noticed for personal reference, happened to be Doctor Gonzo/Bongo/Whooves.

“Now, I'm sure you already know this but, your father and I were classmates when he attended Coltlumbia.” He began as he made his way back towards his desk. He took his seat, then gently laid his face onto his hooves, which were neatly perched on the desk, and stared intently at Stormy.

“He's... mentioned it before, yeah.”

“Your father was... *ahem*, is a brilliant colt, you know?" He paused, taking a moment to gauge Stormy's reaction, perhaps? Then continued "He's worked hard for what he has, and where he's ended up is a result of that hard work.”


“You also have an older brother, if I’m not mistaken?”

It didn't take a total and complete moron to figure out where this conversation was going.

“Yeah. Blue Skies.”

“Is he also attending Camden?”

“Actually, he graduated from Coltlumbia. Two years ago.” Stromy's teeth bit down on his tongue so hard at the mention of his brother, (And more importantly, his success) that he found it surprising he didn't draw blood. “He's working for a firm in Manehattan; P. & P., I think? He's into 'Mergers and Acquisitions', or something like that.”

“Oh, my. Your father must be proud of him?”

The gleam in the older colt's eyes grew. As did Stormy's discomfort with the situation.


"Stormy, I'd be lying if I said you didn't come from a very successful family and, I'm sure your father has many expectations of you...”

Here's the kicker.

“Your grades are slipping, Stormy. I can't imagine it's only in my class and I'm sure your father has something to say about it.”

Professor Whatshisface leaned closer to Stormy, smiling as he did.

“You have great potential. I've seen your better work, and it's very impressive. You could be head of the class, if you just applied yourself.”

His father's words sounded strange coming out of his professor's mouth.

While Stormy had heard this song and dance a million times before, it felt different, now. It was somehow more heartfelt and encouraging, coming from his professor, than upsetting and forceful coming from his father.

“Are you doing alright, son?" His professor asked, cocking an eyebrow. "If there's something troubling you? Or something happening on campus that you need to talk to somepony about? My door is always open for you."

He leaned in closer to Stormy. His hooves moved forward on the desk until they were gingerly touching tips with Stormy's.

A wave of discomfort and familiarity washed over Stormy. He'd been here before, only here was wearing a much different face this time. He'd felt this same gentle kindness from countless strangers on campus, and, many more back home.

It usually ended up with somepony offering to buy him a drink.

Was he being... hit on?

“I've heard a few student's talk about you, Mr. Stormy. Mostly rumours, I'm sure...” His tone was suddenly filled with implications which Stormy didn't want to bother trying to figure out. "Perhaps, we could discuss your troubles over dinner?"

Now, that made things a lot less subtle.

Stormy swallowed back his discomfort and stared blankly into the eyes of the colt across from him. His professor had the same inviting look, only now it had an underlying, and disturbing, hint of foal-like flirtation.

Professor Whatshisface was totally getting off on this. The sick, twisted bastard.

Stormy furrowed his brows into a glare and grinned.

Play the offensive.

“What rumors would those be, sir?” he asked, feigning innocence to the situation at hoof.

“Well, erm...”

His Professor looked uncomfortable.


"Did you hear the rumor about that college professor in Cloudsdale who got disbarred from teaching because The Dean found out he was banging one of his first year students for a passing grade?" Stormy began with a grin. "It's a shame when ponies with an ounce of power abuse it. Don't you think?"

His professor bit his lower lip and Stormy could have sworn he saw him break skin as he did.

“So, listen; If there's nothing else...?”

“Oh... oh yes. Of course! I'm sure you have... classes to attend.”

An unspoken and mutual understanding seemed to be reached. Neither was comfortable, sure, but, Stormy could expect at the very least, a passing grade with the added bonus of never again having to attend his creative writing class again.

Some gifts did come wrapped up in neat little bows.

“And a good day to you, sir.” Stormy offered with a grin.

Flushed and discomforted, his professor seemed too stumped and psychologically confounded to offer a response as he watched Stormy trot out of the room.


Back in his room, away from the crazy found on Campus, Stormy lay on his bed. Across from him, Jag was silently rolling in the sweat stained mess of bed sheets, blankets and pillows that had once been his bed. He was, hopefully, either coming off of the non prescription medication or, reaching a new height of the drug. Either way, he'd been silent for the past several hours since Stormy had returned.

“Hey, Jag?”

“Y' buddy?” Jag asked, breaking his longest running silent streak all semester.

“You think you're gonna sober up for the party tonight?”

“Dude, I don’t even know.” Jag paused and took an exasperated breath.“I’ll be there, though.”

“Rock 'N' Roll.”

“Hey, Stormy?”


“You wanna be my wingcolt, t'night?”

Jag had stopped molesting his bed sheets now, and seemed to be having an otherwise unobtainable level of pleasure running his front hooves along his lower hooves, smiling madly as he did.

“Sure, bud.” Stormy offered back. He took a pause to light a cigarette with a lighter he'd stolen from the convenience store on campus and inhaled deeply.


Jag had a reputation on campus as a stud. This was well earned and deserved. Stormy could recall too many times that he'd come home from a party to a sock worn firmly around the door handle; discrete code from one roommate to the other that a mare (or multiple) was/were having a sleeping over and entry, of any sort, was not permitted. Much of Jag's success with mares came from using Stormy's sexually non-threatening gayness to strike up conversation with a mare, figure out her likes and dislikes, then Jag would take it from there.

“Dude, I wanna tap that cute barista who works at that coffee shop you like. She's got that, innocent, pure 'I've never seen one up close' kind of personality, you know? I'll bet she gets really freaky in bed.”

Stormy felt conflicted: He knew her, not by name or anything, but, she'd served him plain black coffees with a neutral smile almost every day for the past three months. From what he could tell, she was a sweet, kind and gentle mare. Certainly not anywhere close to the very particular breed of mares Jag surrounded himself with.

Naturally, Jag would want to screw her. It was practically his nature to seduce, corrupt and then destroy pretty and innocent mares like her. He'd gotten to a point in his career where it was almost an art; He could pick a mare from across campus, use his natural charm to find out enough about her from her friends, roommate or, even students in her classes, and from there, form a comfortable connection with her. After that, it was all just a game of finding buttons on her to push, when to push them, how hard or how soft, then, naturally, pushing those buttons too far and never, ever, giving it a second thought.

Jagged Horn was a total monster like that.

Stormy would have felt a lot worse, if it wasn't the exact same thing he did himself. Only with guys. Then again, at least he tried to be interested in them.

“She's pretty cute, I guess.” Stormy offered back.

“Hmm, yeah.” Jag agreed in a sluggish drawl. “She's got a great ass. Pretty eyes too.”

He turned to Stormy, his eyes glazed and wide, and smirked.

“What about you, Stormy? Do you have a butt buddy for tonight?”

Images of a silly farm pony sitting alone in a bar called 'Saltee's', who he'd introduced himself to one Friday a few weeks before ran through his head. Who couldn't be attracted to Gentle Strokes? He had an air about him that seemed so uncharacteristic of Camden. It was refreshing, really. That alluringly simple drawl that rolled off his tongue when he spoke. His quiet, even minded temperament hidden behind the intensely self-pitying shield he wore. His cutely naive lack of concern about Stormy's 'condition'.

His proud and secure heterosexuality.

He wondered if he would even show up tonight? It seemed unlikely, seeing as how when they'd met he'd been doing his best to avoid parties like The End Of The World. But, stranger things had happened. Hells, stranger things had happened in that very room.

“No, not really.”

“That's too bad, dude.” Jag grumbled. His face fell for a second, then lifted with a smile. “I'm sure I can still find you something to park your pecker in tonight, though.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“Dude, you've got a body count almost as high as mine. And, you've got, like... scientifically speaking, one tenth of the population I have to work with to boot.”

Jag sure did have a wonderful way of making a pony feel better.

“Shouldn't I win some kind of award for that?” Stormy groaned.

Jag grinned and chuckled lightly.

“I don't know,” He coughed, “But, that's an award show I'd love to see.”


The End of the World party was, for all intents and purposes, just another opportunity for Camden students to get together, drink, frolic and go home with total strangers. The End of the World aspect of the party had no real purpose. It was just a title. Just like how Freaks and Geeks had been a title and just like how Winter is Coming had been a title.

Just like how every other on-campus mixer had a title that meant absolutely nothing.

Tonight, Stormy found himself in the furthest corner of the over crowded frat house, gently gripping a red plastic cup filled with a mix of Gentlecolt Jack -- They never had proper name brand liquor at these types of parties -- and cola, mingling with two pretty mares that Jag had dumped on him while he tried to find a pony who was holding.

If Jag had any one particular personality flaw... well, who was he kidding? Jag had many personality flaws: an over inflated ego. A self imposed desire to spread V.D. to every girl in Equstria. A diet that consisted of sugary cereals for breakfast, sugar with coffee and cream for lunch, and prescription pills mixed with booze, for dinner. His most towering flaw -- in this particular moment however -- was having parents who had never taught him to 'just-say-no'.

“It's just, like... I love my family. I really do. But, they're so backwards, you know?”

Stormy caught the tail end of the conversation between the silver coated mare, with the auburn mane, and her friend; An indigo hued mare with the moss coloured mane.

“Ugh, tell me about it; My mom still thinks that all zebras speak in rhymes. She's so totally hick!

“Hey, what was your name again?” Ms. Silver Coat asked, pressing a hoof forcefully into Stormy's chest.


“Do you know what I mean... Rocky?

“It's not Rocky, Crimson. He said his name was Cloudy.”

To be fair between the loud music and the half heard voices that surrounded the three, it was almost impossible to focus on the conversation, but it didn't seem impossible to imagine these two mares were too preoccupied with their own selves to bother listening to him.

There was hardly a reason in the world that he could come up with for staying company to these shining examples of art students but, decency being what it was, he needed an exit strategy: He managed to down his half empty drink and politely excused himself from the deeply intellectual discussion and moved towards the fully stacked bar.

He pushed his way through the crowd and kept his eyes to the floor until he reached the bar. Grabbing a fresh red plastic cup from the stack on the table with his left hoof, and the bottle of Gentlecolt Jack's with his right.

Where the Hells was Jag? And, who the Hells was he to leave him here with these mares?

“Hey!” He heard an uncomfortably familiar voice ring through the crowd. At first he wasn't sure if it was directed at him, but the unwelcome caress of a hoof through his mane and along his back more than reassured him.

Mr. White/Gold was back.

“Oh, hey.” Stormy greeted, smiling.

He turned away from Mr. White/Gold and poured himself an incredibly stiff drink from the bottle of Gentlecolt Jack's. Neglecting to add the cola: He didn't need mix for this one.

“How are you doing?” Mr. White/Gold asked as he pressed up against Stormy's body. “I was worried you weren't going to make it tonight.”

Stormy tossed his drink back then poured himself another.

“Doin' fine.” He returned with a drunken grin.

“This party is so... drab.” Mr. White/Gold groaned. “Wanna get a breath of fresh air?”


He was running out of polite excuses to offer Mr. White/Gold, and, save for brutally assaulting this pony and sending him to the infirmary in a full body cast, he wasn't entirely convinced that he understood the simple fact at hand: Stormy just didn't want to talk to him. Mr. White/Gold was clingy, a little obsessive and, maybe even in love with him and Stormy didn't need that.

Not tonight. Not ever.

“You look really hot, tonight.” Mr. White/Gold grinned. "Are you sure you don't want to get some air?”

Stormy felt Mr. White/Gold's hoof, which had been intrusively running along his back, slowly move lower down his body. Moving ever closer towards his.....


He expected. Well, he wasn't sure who he expected.

He turned around and met eye to chest with a delightfully mud coloured Earth pony. Staring up, past the few strands of majestic gold that broke the mold and stuck to his face, and into the warm, inviting magenta eyes of Gentle Strokes.

Fate had a nice way of showing Stormy that it loved to see him happy.

“Hey, Strokes.” Stormy spoke gently. He turned his attention away from Mr. White/Gold for the time being, and focused on the colt who really mattered at the moment. “I didn't think I'd see you here, tonight?”

“Yeah,” Gentle Strokes groaned. “My financial aid check came kinda late and the bank’s holding off putting bits into my account ‘till Wednesday. I figured, I could put up with some bad electro music and a room full of robotic ponies as long as I could get a few stiff drinks out of it.”

He grinned at Stormy and fixed himself a Gentlecolt Jack and ice. Stormy grinned back and took a sip of his own drink.

Why did he feel like he was forgetting something?

Stormy felt a tug at his shoulder blade and turned around to face Mr. White Gold.

Oh, right...

“This is my friend...” Normally he would have felt bad about not knowing a stranger's name during a forced introduction, but, Mr. White/Gold was certainly no stranger at this point, and the introduction was being extremely forced on Gentle Strokes.

It was his fault, really.

Mr. White/Gold looked hurt that Stormy couldn't remember his name and mumbled something that sounded like “White Mane” under his breath.

The look in Gentle Stroke's eyes said two things. (1) That he seemed to understand, or at least, attempted to understand the situation between Mr. White/Gold and Stormy, and (2) That he was incredibly uncomfortable being the unwilling third wheel on the cart.

“Well, uh, it was nice t' see you, Stormy.” He coughed as he attempted to leave. He turned back to look at Stormy, and paused. There must have been something in the look (Stormy had long ago mastered the art of ‘pleading puppy dog eyes’.) because he groaned and moved back towards Stormy.

“Say, uh, while I gotcha here, Stormy.” He faked, taking a sip of his drink. “Y'think I could steal you for a minute? I wanna pick your brain about the latest chapter in cultural studies.”

Gentle Strokes had such a straight poker face, that if he hadn't said the last two words with an air of pretentiousness, Stormy would have genuinely believed that he actually did want to review notes. At a party.

“You don't mind, do you?” Stormy turned and asked Mr. White/Gold. His face wore a look of total and complete resentment, but he begrudgingly nodded acceptance.

“Just come find me after, okay?” Mr. White/Gold sing-songed, gently brushing his left hoof along Stormy's lower hip and giving his flank a quick pinch. He winked at Stormy as left, trotting off towards the back of the party.

Gentle Strokes lips turned upwards in a true shit-eating-grin.


“So.. I take it, that's your other coltfriend?” Gentle Strokes questioned.

They were standing now on the second floor balcony overlooking the courtyard. They were practically alone now; a Unicorn, passed out and leaning against the railing, with a lampshade worn over his horn and phallic symbols shaved into his coat was their only other company at the moment, but he didn't seem in a talking or listening kind of mood.

“Huh?” Stormy asked. He took a second to light a cigarette, and inhaled deeply.

“The other night?" Gentle Strokes questioned. "You, uh, joked about having 'another coltfriend.'.”

“Oh, yeah...”

Stormy exhaled a cloud of smoke through his nostrils. This was followed by an awkward silence.

These kind of breaks in a conversation with a colt were new to Stormy; With any colt, or, at least a colt who was most certainly not straight, it was easy to keep a conversation going: Talk about him, not yourself. Inflate his ego, not your own. Make him feel like he's taking you home, not vice-versa.

Talking to straight ponies he was somewhat interested in was proving difficult.

Gentle Strokes's body stirred and he ran a hoof along the railing on the balcony.

“I'm sorry about the way I acted,” He mumbled “The other night.”

“How’s that?” asked Stormy, taking a quiet contemplative drag of his cigarette. Truthfully, aside from his obvious discomfort at being care taken by a very much gay and drunk colt, nothing about his actions struck him as obviously rude or apology worthy. “You didn't seem rude to me. Really.”

“Nah, I felt pretty sore about it. I mean, I can't imagine I gave you a proper first impression: You walk in and see this sorry lookin’ colt, sitting all alone, drowning in self pity in some rat hole bar.” He paused and nervously dragged his hoof along the back of his neck. “And, I come out swinging tryin’ to defend myself. I’m sorry.”

The soulful expression on his face as he told the story: His eyes staring away from Stormy and his mouth perpetually biting his lower lip in discomfort, made Stormy somewhat uneasy.

“Dude, don't worry about it.” Stormy grinned. He was unsure if it was wise, or not, but regardless he placed a hoof on Gentle Stroke's shoulder. “Do I look like I'm flank-hurt about it?”

Flank-hurt?” He asked and cocked an eyebrow. Stormy just chuckled.

Silly farm ponies were pretty adorable when they were confused.

“Forget about it.” Stormy gave after a short chuckle. “Let's go grab a few drinks and, I'll charm the dress off of some chick inside for you.”

Gentle Strokes returned the chuckle and led the way back inside.


“Waddya think of that one, there?”

Gentle Strokes pointed a hoof towards the two mares; Crimson and Whateverhernamewas with the auburn mane, that Stormy had been stuck with minutes before.

Well, more specifically: Crimson.

Coincidence was both unusual and cruel that night.

“Her?” Stormy asked. “Uh... now, don't take this the wrong way, but I think her parents might have been related. Like, before they got married?”

Gentle Strokes gave a hearty laugh.

“Well, at least we've got something in common, then.”

Stormy stared mortified at Gentle Strokes, who's laugh only got louder.

“I'm yankin' yer tail, Stormy.” He said, patting a hoof on Stormy's back, “Dodge Junction isn’t that backwards.”

Gentle Strokes took the lead, moving through the crowd and towards the two mares standing alone in the kitchen, Stormy followed soon after.

“Evenin' ladies.” Gentle Strokes greeted, flashing a genuine and heart melting farm pony smile. “Enjoyin' the party?”

“Well, hello.” Crimson purred.


“Hey, it's Cloudy!” her partner, Ms. Auburn Mane, slurred. “Hey, Crimson. Cloudy's back!”

She moved towards Stormy and draped a hoof over his shoulder, pulling her face so close towards his that he could literally taste the Strawberry Skynoff on her breath. She went in for a peck on the cheek, but she stumbled slightly and her lips ended up smacking into his closed eyelid.

This one was a real charmer.

Almost instinctively, like she were following her partner's lead, Crimson followed suite. She wrapped a hoof over Gentle Stroke's shoulder and pulled his head down to hers. Thankfully, she didn't bother with a lip-locked embrace and instead settled for an affectionate nuzzle of their heads.

Stormy rolled his eyes. She couldn’t have been any less subtle if she had a mattress taped to her back and a sign that read ‘I lift my tail for cute accents’.

“I think your accent is really cute.” He heard Crimson purr into Gentle Stroke's ear, followed by her lightly nibbling the tip.

Called it!

Gentle Strokes face light up. His eyes widened in surprise, then dropped to a casual and almost stoned squint. He smiled wide and gave a satisfied hum.

Well, at least Stormy had managed to get one of them laid tonight.

“Are you two gonna stand around and flirt all night? Or, are we going to... *hic*... take some shots, already?” Crimson's partner barked.

She removed her hoof from around Stormy's shoulder and moved towards the kitchen counter where a half empty bottle of Strawberry Skynoff sat beside a short stack of shot glasses.

“Whaddya say?” Gentle Strokes asked his partner. His eyebrows gave a charismatic wiggle. Stormy's eyes continued to roll. Crimson giggled like a total slut.

“Well, if you insist, Mr. Cowpony.” Crimson grinned, followed by her -- honest to Celestia! -- batting her eyelashes innocently at him.

She led the way, her tail playfully brushing the side of Gentle Stroke's increasingly red hued cheeks.

Stormy groaned to himself and followed the two soon to be buck buddies.

Crimson's friend poured the shots, sloppily. Unless the counter top was a participant, in which case, he/she/it was already miles ahead of the foursome. When she was done, she slid them to each participant. Gentle Strokes accepted with a gracious smile, as did Crimson. Stormy, begrudgingly, smiled too.

Salute.” Gentle Strokes said, raising his glance. He glanced over at Stormy and offered a knowing wink.

Flashback to a night a few weeks ago and turn the tables. It was kind of cute, actually.

“Gesundheit” Stormy offered back.

Crimson, and... 'Clover?' (for some reason that sounded right) shared a curious look between them, shrugged off any presumptions they might have had and raised their glasses.

“Bottoms up, darlings.” ‘Clover’ slurred.

All four tossed their drinks back...

...when the most wonderfully unexpected thing happened.

It started as a small cough from 'Clover', followed by an 'adorable' little 'burp' and then, a waterfall of a greenish brown liquid erupted from her throat, out of her mouth and sprayed the floor at their hooves.

With morbid curiosity Gentle Strokes, Stormy and Crimson all watched as 'Clover' became a projectile vomiting punch-line.

'Clover' fell to her knee's, her front hooves cupping her face and began to weep. Instantly, Crimson was at her side, her face pressed closely to 'Clover's' and her hooves wrapped tightly around her body in a hug. She began whispering 'It's ok, baby. It's ok.', doing her best to dodge the green/brown liquid seeping through 'Clovers' hooves.

To Stormy, personal success never looked so undignified; he'd cock-blocked Gentle Strokes and, gotten a good laugh out of it.

Stormy's gaze met Gentle Strokes’. Both colts were straight faced, until Gentle Stroke's resolve broke and a smile built up on his face. Stormy was right beside him on that one. And, truly, he would have felt horrible about laughing.........if Gentle Stroke's hadn't started it.

As both ponies broke into an absolutely inappropriate fit of laughter, Crimson glared daggers at the two of them. Gentle Strokes gave her an empathetic grin, then gently grabbing the remainder of the bottle of Skynoff, he bolted back into the crowd dragging Stormy closely behind him.


Back of the party, across the floor from the bathrooms, the dance floor and furthest from the crowd (and also the wrath of Crimson and ‘Clover’) Gentle Strokes and Stormy sat against a wall. In-between swigs from the bottle, they were absentmindedly discussing Stormy’s Creative Writing class, or, more honestly, Stormy’s Creative Writing professor.

“But, he’s got a wife and kids. Doesn’t he?” Gentle Strokes asked, passing the bottle to Stormy.

“Shit, I didn't know that.” Stormy replied. He paused for a second to shoot back a more than generous amount of Stalliongrad's greatest (And only notable) export and wiped a hoof across his mouth. “But, he definitely tried to pick me up today.”

“And, you’re sure that’s not just your completely un-inflated ego talking?”


Stormy took a second to think of a real witty comeback.

“... shut up.”

The bathroom door across the way from them opened suddenly and out walked Jagged Horn, followed by some mare who was, specifically not The Barista. She wiped a hoof across her mouth, spit on the floor and popped a few breath mints.

How charming.

Jag had a delighted smirk on his face, one which told a far greater story than his words ever could. He spotted Stormy, and Gentle Strokes, and gave a friendly head nod before beginning to walk over to them.

“Dude, the salt here sucks!” he shouted over the music when he reached them. He rubbed a hoof against his nose and gave a loud ‘sniff’. “I think I just spent eighty bits on a gram of Sweet N’ Low!”


Salt, in it's purest form, holds many properties similar to alcohol. In many dry counties where alcohol can't be found outside of bathtub produced poisons, a brick of salt will be readily available to fill that void. It gives the licker (That's how one ingests bricked salt.) the euphoric feeling of alcohol, for a short time, without any of the less than fabulous short and long term side effects. Liver damage. Motor Control. Beer Goggles. Hangovers. That sort of thing.

That being said, in the last several decades recent scientific breakthroughs in regards to salt have been found. More specifically, the realization that Salt, when cooked with a few of your friendly industrial strength household cleaners, strained, refined to a powder and then cooked once more with an entirely separate set of chemicals, is found to have an entirely different, and much more powerful punch. A jolt is given to the central nervous system giving the user the euphoric feeling of hyper alertness. A chemically induced burst of libido and self esteem are also common.

The same chemicals used to turn run of the mill 'Table Salt' into the powerfully addictive 'Sniffing Salts' are also used to make Napalm, Thermite and everyone's favourite Mustard Gas. These lovely chemicals come from fun little things like battery acid, quick dry cement mix, phosphorus (found in signal flares) and over-the-counter cough medicines.

In many dry counties, and, in that same vein, every single city, town, hamlet, valley, suburb, inner city and everywhere else in Equestria where populations are present, Sniffing Salt is very much illegal. There's a heavy fine associated with ownership of it, and a heavier jail sentence associated with selling of it.

On, Camden, however, neither of those things happened to matter.

The More You Know


“I’ll bet the salt’s not the only thing that sucks, here!” Stormy shouted back, nodding his head in the direction of the mare he’d been with. She was on the dance floor now, switching back and forth from rocking her body along to the music and grinding up against other mares.

Jag laughed and continued rubbing his nose. He spotted the bottle of Skynoff Vodka and grabbed it, taking a long and powerful swig, most likely to deal with the unpleasantness of the drip.

“Shit, dude. She’s going out with... what’s his face? That, colt from Las Pegasus.”

“That’s two of his that you’ve tagged, Jag.” Stormy offered back.

Jag and The Colt from Las Pegasus had been friends at the start of the semester, because they weren’t much different, personality wise. They both liked the same kind of mares (The ones who buck on the first date.). They both went to the same parties, and, they both had noses like vacuums. Their friendship ended when Jag slept with The Colt from Las Pegasus's marefriend and, then drukenly bragged about it the next time they saw eachother. One black eye later, Jag had found a new best friend; A Unicorn named Rumblejack, and The Colt from Las Pegasus faded back into obscurity. A background character in both of their lives who’s fifteen minutes of fame were long over.

And, speaking of...

The Colt from Las Pegasus emerged from the crowd on the dance floor with a scowl on his face. Just like every other time Stormy had seen him on campus, he was wearing a pair of Oatley sunglasses (This time inside, at night and most likely not in an ironic sort of way) and, a backwards Wonderbolts Cap. He had the body type of an out of practice Flight School reject; his deep blue wings were larger than average, but without the frequent use they needed to stay healthy looking they'd lost a bit of colour and the once strong pattern of feathers that a stronger Pegasus would have, they'd thinned. His body, like most Pegasus, was thin, agile and light. His rapidly worsening salt addiction had aged him somewhat prematurely, deep bags set under his eyes (Which was probably why he wore the sunglasses all the time) that you couldn't notice unless you stood up close to him.

In five years, if he kept abusing salt and continued to take his wings for granted, he'd lose half his wing's feathers, his ability to fly and after that, probably his life; A pegasus who couldn't fly was like a Unicorn who lost his magic; a freak. An outcast and a loser.

When he spotted Jag, The Colt From Las Pegasus's scowl deepened, he popped his shoulders, tightened up his spine and advanced aggressively towards the trio.

Things were about to get interesting.

“Hey, Choke ‘N’ Stroke.” Stormy greeted with forced obnoxious cheer. Gentle Strokes, who must have been very much confused by this entire ordeal, cocked an eyebrow.

Stormy would have explained to Gentle Strokes how one afternoon, The Colt From Las Pegasus’s ex marefriend approached him, drunk and crying while she was looking for Jag. The story went; apparently, she learned that she was pregnant with either The Colt From Las Pegasus’s bastard, or Jag's. (Though Jag swore it couldn't have ever been his because he'd 'wrapped his rascal'.) She needed to know if Jag had enough money to deal with it, because The Colt From Las Pegasus certainly didn’t. The next two hours found Stormy comforting her while she sobbed, drunk and described her extremely graphic and just as disturbing, sex life with The Colt From Las Pegasus.

Among a psychology textbook’s worth of warning signs that he might be sexually deranged (He cried before, after and during intercourse. He greatly encouraging cuddling post coitus.) She’d found it the most discomforting that he couldn’t get himself off unless she tied a belt firmly around his neck and tugged as hard as she could. On the belt.

Choke ‘N’ Stroke, as a nickname, came afterwards and stuck with him.

“Go screw yourself with a cactus stallion stuffer!” He shouted at Stormy, who gave a grin and wink in return.

The Colt From Las Pegasus pushed past Gentle Strokes and Stormy, and approached Jag, who smiled broadly back at him.


“You little junkie! If I see you talking to my filly again I will beat you harder than this,” He paused to turn towards Stormy, “queer, beats your dick!”

“I have zero clue what you’re talking about!” Jag grinned back at him. “Really! No idea what you mean by that! I just came from doing a few lines of bucking NutraSweet in the bathroom, though. I think, if you’re gonna kick any one's flank it should be Sweet Deals’ for being the worst dealer on campus!”

“You. Are. A. Gigantic. Retard. I just saw you two leaving the bathroom together!” The Colt From Las Pegasus offered back, apparently stunned at Jag’s perpetual stupidity, which seemed surprising. “Now, she’s going all filly fooler with some chick on the dance floor.”

“That sounds like one of those ‘good problems’ to me.” Jag, again grinning, shouted back with a shrug of his shoulders “Why don’t you bring them back to your room? I’ll let you borrow my belt.”

The Colt From Las Pegasus’ threw a roundhouse hoof with the drunken grace of a Manehattan Wino. It connected with Jag’s cheek and rocked his head almost a full ninety five degrees. His body followed, and as it did, he lost his footing and fell to the ground.

Stormy was on his feet and charging at The Colt From Las Pegasus when he stopped dead in his tracks: Already leaps and bounds ahead of him, both mentally, and physically, Gentle Strokes had grabbed the hoof The Colt From Las Pegasus threw at Jag, gripped it tightly and forced it behind his back. He kicked his lower left hoof at The Colt From Las Pegasus’ lower hooves, tripping him, and, with his hoof still holding onto his opponent’s, forced it behind his back. He straddled his back so that his body weight was holding his body on the floor, and and using his one free hoof, he forced The Colt From Las Pegasus’ face against the floor.

“Now, you’re gonna say ‘sorry’ to my friends. Get up. Forget this ever happened and walk away. Got it?” He shouted into his ear.

Holy shit.

The Colt From Las Pegasus struggled, trying to break free. Gentle Strokes forced his hoof further up his back and the Colt From Las Pegasus began to groan. After a few more tries, and his hoof getting to the point where, anatomically, it shouldn’t have bent, he gave up.

“Buck! Alright, fine!” He shouted in defeat.

Gentle Strokes gently lifted himself off of the other pony. The Colt From Las Pegasus got to his hooves, shakily, and gave an entirely uncompromising glare at Gentle Strokes. Gentle Strokes returned it with one of his own; his furrowed brow, gritted teeth and flared nostrils said volumes more than words could, and realizing this The Colt From Las Pegasus's face dropped. He grunted heavily and mumbled an apology to Jag.

With his head hung low, he trotted off past a leering crowd of onlookers.

The walk of shame.

Tomorrow morning everyone in the know on campus would be talking about what happened; Gentle Strokes would be a folk legend. Colts would buy him drinks, or do keg-stands, or beer-bongs with him. Mare's who wouldn't have batted their eyes at him before would suddenly want to have his kids. After tonight, anywhere Gentle Strokes went on Campus, someone would know who he was. Meanwhile, The Colt From Las Pegasus would probably kill himself.

College was funny.

A Hangover Sent Direct From The Hells Themselves

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A Hangover Sent Direct From The Hells Themselves.

Well, here he was again; Waking up in unfamiliar territory with a rhythmic pounding in his head, bloodshot eyes he could barely keep open, a pain like a dagger to whatever was left of his liver, and foggy memories of the night before.

But what else was new?

Signs of textbook acute alcohol poisoning aside, he was barely surprised and, less than that, worried about his current disposition; At this point in his life with the amount of liquid sunshine it took for him just to feel normal he could count this morning’s pain, discomfort and regret as a blessing that he was still alive and on top of that, still feeling something.

The truth was that by this point in his life his blood was probably toxic enough that a blood donation stood a good chance of having a higher alcoholic content than most cocktails; His breath... Hells, his breath could probably be bottled and double as an industrial paint remover.

To say his life here at Camden was better suited towards self destruction than self improvement was the understatement of the year.

When did he let things go so wrong?

It was apparent now that this place. That Camden. That everything he did here. For every reason he thought he had for doing them. For every time he had said yes when he should have said no. For every drink he’d used to dull the pain of his existence. For every drink he’d used to turn a frown upside down. For everything he was and, more than that, for everything he wasn’t; He realized now that every single thing he’d done here was probably going to kill him.

Then again, maybe he was only fooling himself with this latest epiphany. If he wasn’t killing himself with booze and liver failure here at Camden, he would probably be killing himself with back breaking labor and sober reflection back home. If the long nights he couldn’t remember were going to be the knives slashing his throat at Camden; What were the longer days he didn’t want to remember back home? Gentle kisses to his heart? Unreciprocated pats on the back he didn’t deserve? Thanks and cheers he didn’t need?

It seemed pretty obvious now that, if he was going to do anything. If he was going to move on. If he was going to get on with his life. He was going to have to do it without the use of liquid courage.

Twenty minutes into a hangover sent direct from The Hells themselves, and he was back on the road to a better life.


It was then and there that sobriety, or, at least sober situational awareness took reins. He took a moment to appreciate his surroundings and acknowledge them. He was here... in a stranger’s room. In a stranger’s bed. With a stranger’s naked body gently curled up beside him.

Twenty one minutes into his newfound sobriety and he already needed a drink.

All things considered, it had been a good idea.

The stranger’s body in bed stirred sleepily and gave a quiet groan. Aside from a grey coat and hints of a black mane, she was too hidden by the comforter wrapped around her body for Gentle Strokes to realize who he owed an apology too for his quick and up-coming abandonment.

Maybe it was better that he couldn’t remember most nights after five P.M., if this was how he was going to wake up from time to time?

The stranger in bed stirred again, this time rolling onto... his side.

Oh, Goddess no!

Sluggishly snoring, his mouth wide and open with his tongue hanging out was stupid Mr. Good Time Pony.


A thousand and one emotions coursed through his body in that moment; He felt broken. He felt hurt. Betrayed. Depressed. Suicidal. Ponicidal. Unclean. Uncouth. Shameless. Horrific. Monstrous... And then, oddly, warm and fuzzy inside.

He almost wanted to smile as he stared at Stormy’s unconscious body. Watching his chest rise and fall, as his body attempted a snore that came out lazily. He almost wanted to smile, until it dawned on him that if he was here, now. With Stormy. In a bed.....with a night’s worth of events he couldn’t fully remember and a hangover he could do without something must have gone horribly wrong last night.

That dirty feeling again. The kind you couldn’t get rid of with soap and a cold shower. This moment. Him. Stormy. Them. Right here. Right now. In this bed. This was years of therapy to forget. This was the start of an entire life’s worth of re evaluation. This was...

Words lost all meaning. The only thing he could think to do was make a quick and hasty retreat back to his dorm, shut the door, bolt it (Double bolt it.), hide away and pray to a higher power that he didn’t have to deal with this.

Yes: To deal with waking up next to a colt in bed.

Abandoning his newfound, and evidently unnecessary sobriety was looking more and more like a comfortable coat to wear.

He slighted in his mental conundrum for a brief second, and his body acted totally involuntarily. He ran his right hoof through Stormy’s mane. Why? He didn’t know. It must be the aftereffects of his lingering drunk from last night.

Yup. That must have been it. Cleary he, in a sober state of mind, would never have done that.

“Mornin’.” The body beside him moaned softly.

Panic; like being caught by his parents with a PlayColt magazine in the outhouse that one summer after harvest, crept over him.

Now he had to deal with the situation.


What else was there to say?

Stromy’s semi-conscious body stirred again; this time rolling onto his side and towards him. His left hoof lifted, straightened and landed on Gentle Strokes’ lower thigh, gently rubbing the extremely tense muscles.

It bothered Gentle Strokes how comfortable he felt in this position.

“I... I have to go.”

No statement sounded more reasonable. This was not the place for him, so he had to leave. He had to run away. He had to escape. To forget that this had ever happened and then to move on with his life like it never had.


Weak? Upset? Disappointed? (And perhaps, understanding?) All these emotions were carried in Stormy’s tone.

Even half way asleep and, probably just as hungover as Gentle Strokes was, Stormy still maintained that air of flighty.....gayness? There was the slightest tinge of acceptance in his tone, that made Gentle Strokes feel a little uncomfortable with his decision.

“I’ve got... a class." He grumbled. "Or... I...”

Ok, so a reasonable, logical, excuse was out of the question. Honestly though, who could blame him? Picture yourself in his hooves: harsh sobriety tearing through his veil of alcohol induced nirvana. Him, being a once, presumably straight colt waking up in the bed of an outspoken and promiscuous Colt Cuddler. With foggy memories of the night before.

It seemed pretty obvious that an exit was mandatory.

“But... it’s a Saturday?”

Stormy’s response came off more confused than it did needy, or hurt.


To Stormy, the irony of the situation; being the other colt -- the one who got abandoned after a steamy drunken buck session -- was certainly not lost on him.

“I’ve got... study hall.”

It was Gentle Strokes’s turn to offer an evasive lie. See, even if he were king egghead on campus -- Which he certainly wasn’t -- and, even if he was attempting straight ‘A+’s’ across the board -- Which again, he wasn’t -- study hall, on a weekend, at Camden, given out as an excuse to leave a romantic partner's room after waking up was, well, clearly just an excuse to leave his current situation.

To Stormy this was probably heartbreaking, but he'd survive...


To Gentle Strokes however, this was just another night to write off. The unfortunate end to an evening spent downing far too many drinks, at a party he’d wished he’d never gone to with too much sexual frustration.

Yup. There was nothing Freudian or psychological about sleeping with another colt. It was just a one big drunken, horny mistake that meant absolutely nothing about him as a pony. He was still straight. Stormy was still gay. The grass was still green. The sky was still blue. Life moved on.

Gentle Strokes slid out of the bed and headed silently towards the door. In brief moment of weakness, he paused with his hoof on the doorknob and stared back at Stormy. There was a look about him; his face sunken (Which could also have come from a night of liver abuse and binge drinking) his eyes dampened (It was awfully bright in the room, too) and his head hung low like a foal in the corner of his classroom wearing a dunce cap.

For the briefest second in his recollection, Gentle Strokes felt like a monster for what he was doing.

Here was Stormy, an innocent bystander caught up in his unresolved personal demons. It wasn’t fair to drag Stormy into his lifetime's worth of regret and shame. He didn’t feel good about it. In fact, he felt worse about doing it than he’d felt about any of the other poor decisions he’d made over the past three months of his life, but, at least he had the rest of the day/week/month/year/lifetime to feel like an asshole about it.

Without a word, he opened the door and slipped into the hallway.


After his quick and hasty retreat, Gentle Strokes found himself wandering aimless around Camden. He didn’t want to go back to his room. Not after whatever had happened last night. Not because it wasn't a safe haven for him to sink into. Because it was. But chances were if he did he'd be walking into the scrutiny and cat-calling of his roommate (Who he never really liked to begin with).

Truthfully, it wasn’t like Au Revoir hadn’t himself ever spent a night in the same metaphorical boat that he was on now. It was just that, that boat was flying different sails and was heading in a different direction, was all. The thing was; Au Revoir’s late night rendezvous were the stuff he would/could proudly boast about. Whereas, right now; Gentle Strokes didn’t exactly feel proud enough about anything that had happened over the last twelve-hours to do the same.

In that vein; Gentle Strokes found himself lost in thought and drifting through Camden. Hallway after hallway. Field after field. Building after building.

Totally and completely aimless.

For the time he was content following this endless path. It kept him busy. All he had to do was keep his head down, stare at the ground and focus on one thing: Putting one hoof in front of the other. He didn’t need to think about his morning. He didn't have to think about how if Au Revoir knew where and how he'd spent his night, that by now half of Camden probably knew.

Right now, it was just one hoof in front of the other. Right hoof. Left hoof. Back right. Back left. Right. Left. Right. Left.

Rinse. Dry. Repeat.

After a few hours of pointless questing he found himself in The Theatre Department’s auditorium: The Black Hole. A place where ponies of all creeds who were bitten by the acting bug came to life on a twelve-by-twenty foot solid oak stage, three nights a week during runs of plays, and every Tuesday, Wednesday between 2:30 and 5:00, and most weekends in their down time.

Today. Saturday. Weekend rehearsal of some classic (in the loosest sense of the word; age -- more so than talent -- it would seem) Shakes Spear play.

Many a pony would assume, and that many would be incorrect in that assumption, that because he was raised on a farm, and in Dodge Junction, he had no proper education in and appreciation for works of arts that didn’t involve Cowponies at war with Buffalo Herds over land. Or, a brave Cowpony saving his hometown from evil cattle ranchers. Or....well, generally anything Cowpony related. Again, they (Whoever they were.) would be wrong in their assumption. In fact, it was a curiosity with more modern works of art (Which, in his opinion far surpassed the overrated much beloved work of Shakes Spear) that had brought him to Camden.

Well, sort of.

In his personal opinion, the silver tongue (tightly hidden in cheek) of colts like: O’Scar Wild, or better than that the philosophical underlying issues brought from quill and ink, to the stage of authors like Or-Son Welles, (Who’s standing masterpiece was the play adaptation of a script he’d written called Citizen Cane) far outranked Shakes Spear in terms of not only intellect but, wit, charm, pacing, character development, plot and also set pieces.

Not that any of it mattered here. No one would ever ask him to compare these works he was fond of, and, he wouldn’t want to share his thoughts in a place like Camden anyway.

In the furthest reaches of the auditorium, far from any potential prying eyes, Gentle Strokes kicked his lower hooves up on the empty chair in front of him and took a seat and, for the first time that day he began to relax. That was, until he spotted an uncomfortably familiar face in the crowd.

Trotting around onstage. wearing an outfit ripped straight out of any Canterlot designer's nightmare was Stormy’s wannabe coltfriend; White Mane (or whatever his name was).

He felt that same pang of guilt, discomfort and shame rush up his spine. Cold sweat began to build up and dampen his coat. Of course it made sense that on a campus of thirty thousand registered students, four hundred active professors, two thousand plus staff members and a non-stop barrage of visiting townies he’d have to keep running into the same five or six faces over, and over, and over, and, always in the least comfortable time and place.

The phrase ‘Murphy’s Law’ entered his mind.

Thankfully, White Mane didn’t spot him. Apparently, he was too wrapped up prancing around on stage (perhaps, ad-libbing? Not too many Shakes Spear plays involved prancing, or, at least not the ones he’d skimmed through.) wearing some ridiculously pompous and overinflated outfit.

It was that moment that Gentle Strokes quietly decided to make a hasty, and stealthy getaway for the second time that day.


So, it seemed that indulging in his personal hobbies wasn’t something he could find solace in today, and it just made sense that the gallery would be as filled with as many pretentious, hipsters who hated his art as it was any other day of the week; it went without saying that he needed to find a new rat's nest to crawl back into.

Habitually, Saltee’s Tavern was that rat's nest for him but, he was now three hours off the sauce by the approximation of the clock atop the U.C. Building and he felt he should try to keep up with his sobriety.

At least for the day.

Logically, if he wasn't going to follow his normal habit of getting good and liquored midday to escape his problems, he was gonna have to find a new vice. Drugs were out of the question (File that under 'Sobriety'....and he also didn't know anypony on campus who would have any, either.) and the only other thing he could think of was nature's favorite hangover cure; Coffee.

And there he was. At Monk's Coffee Shop. Him. The barista before him and a short exchange before he found himself with his coffee.

“Good morning.” The Barista offered.

She smiled warmly. He returned it and offered a reply.


Today, the word of the day was 'Simple'.

“Oh, hey... I know you." She offered back excitedly. "You beat up that Colt from Las Pegasus last night, right?"

Gentle Strokes grunted his response.

"Wow," She breathed. "Ponies have been talking about you all day."

Word travelled fast around Camden.

“Oh, boy.” He offered back. His tone as dry as his mouth felt at the moment.

It wasn’t the best reputation to take pride in, but, it certainly beat being known as ‘The Yokel from The Boonies’ or ‘Au Revoir’s hick roommate.’.

“Look. I just want you to know that I think what you did. Standing up for your boyfriend and his roomate like that. Well... a lot of ponies wouldn’t have done that.” She spoke warmly and it sounded like she was being genuine. “It was really sweet of you.”

Maybe word travelled too fast around Camden.

“He’s not my boyfriend... ” He grumbled. The dryness in his tone replaced with defeat and detachment.

The Barista’s eyes lit up softly, then dropped.

“Oh..." She Paused. Her eyes squinted in what was probably disbelief and her right eyebrow lifted "Really?"

Gentle Strokes nodded.

The Barista frowned.

"I'm sorry, I just assumed that you two were... something. I mean, he did sort of jump your bones afterwards. And, you didn't exactly get dragged back to his room kicking and screaming, either."

She gave a sly grin after that. Gentle Strokes stifled a groan.

This whole sobriety thing was starting to feel like a stupid decision.

“I guess it was one of those nights, huh?” She kindly enquired.

“I reckon it looks that way.”

“This coffee’s on me." She offered. "That Colt from Las Pegasus is a total freak. I heard he got some filly in my Equestrian History class to choke him with a belt. In bed. I mean... who even does that?”

Suddenly, the nickname Choke ‘N’ Stroke made a lot more sense.

“Um... sorry, how did you say you took it?” She questioned.


There was no way she had just asked him that. Plus, his flank didn’t hurt so whatever had happened during his sleepover with Stormy was platonic cuddling at best (And, totally non sexual.) Although, if it had been anything more -- and that was really where he had to ask and answer the harder questions -- he would have most certainly been ‘The guy’ and Stormy ‘The girl’.

Not that, that was what had happened, though.

“Oh, geez!” She paused and slapped a hoof to her forehead. “Sorry. Phrasing. I meant your coffee? How did you say you took your coffee?”

This awkward moment brought to you by phrasing.

“Lots of cream. Lots of sugar.”

“Really?” she gawked, curiously “I would have figured somepony like yourself would be a straight up ‘blacker than black’ kind of pony?”

“Why’s? Because I have an accent?”

“Well... kind of, yeah.” She smiled softly and moved towards a trio of coffee pots.

“What’s your brand?” She asked, turning back to him. “Personally, I’d stay away from the Fair Trade stuff; I love supporting Buffalo Herds as much as the next liberal hipster, but those poor Buffalo cannot brew a decent cup of coffee to save their lives. Or evidently, their land. The Gryphon stuff is nice. It’s kind of strong, but you look like you could use that.”

“Yeah. Sure.” He offered in response.


She poured the coffee -- Extra large. Extra strong. Two generous scoops of sugar. Two strong spoons of cream -- Then gently slid it towards him.

“You know; you're the only customer I've had in a while." She paused. "While I have the time, do you wanna talk about it?”


No way.

Not happening.

Wasn't it obvious that he wanted to avoid it like when you ran into a former Royal Guard on the street who was missing a hoof and wearing an eye patch and begging for spare bits with a sandwich board that read something like 'Ned Bits 4 famlee.' or 'So Hungry.'?

“Sure.” He gave in solemn response. “Why not?”


Three strong coffees, a decent caffeine buzz and an eye jittery sugar high later, and Gentle Strokes felt comfortable enough with the conversation to break down at least a few of his emotional barriers.

“Do you even like him?”

The Barista had been asking him these kind of intrusive questions over the past hour like she were some kind of Dime Store Detective interrogating him. 'Do you think he likes you?' 'How does he make you feel?' How do you feel about him?'

When did it become mandatory to have a Psyche Degree to make a latte?

“I know it’s kind of silly to ask but you two did spend a lot of last night......uh....you know? Being....close.”

He hardly hesitated with his response.

“Yeah. I do. Maybe not that way, but he is a really nice guy. I just don’t want to hurt him.” Gentle Strokes gave with a grumble as he dropped his head onto the table.

The Barista smiled at him.

“He comes in here a lot. We’re not really friends or anything but, he’s nice enough to me." She paused and gently swiped a lock of her mane away from her eye. "It’s the customers who leave decent tips, like him, that make this minimum wage crap worth it.”

They shared a quiet and simple laugh. Gentle Strokes gripped his coffee cup a little tighter, and picked his head up.

“I’m not very good at this kind of stuff.” He admitted softly. “I mean even with mares.”

“Well,” She took a pause; ran a hoof along the table while the other rubbed her chin, then spoke again. “if you’re really not interested in him you kind of owe it to him to let him know.”

“Yeah...” Somber response from Gentle Strokes.

The Barista gave a quiet laugh.

“I’ve taken one psyche course this semester and it’s already paying for itself.”

He gave a soft chuckle and felt resolution shine through. Once aimless, at least now he had purpose: Find Stormy and, do whatever it was he was going to do. Granted, it wasn’t a very good plan. In fact, it was hardly any good at all. Still, it was something more than what he'd started off with and he could just play it by ear like he usually did.

His muscle memory -- unlike his actual memory -- was clear enough from last night that he could most likely backtrack his way to Stormy’s dorm. It was about a stone's throw from his own building and about a twenty minute walk from Monk's. Now all he had to do was find Stormy.

The hunt was on.


Staring at the door of room twenty one twelve, Gentle Strokes felt choked. What was he going to do? Knock? (Well... that much was obvious.). Then what? Invite himself in and try to explain how a lifetime of self loathing had led to his alcoholism (Which, he’d kind of cured himself of) and then, how that alcoholism had led him to completely and totally disregarding his apparently insecure heterosexuality long enough for a totally gay one night stand? And, on top of all that, that maybe he might also like Stormy as more than a friend? Or, that maybe he didn’t?

Maybe he should just start with knocking?

So he did, and, like what usually happens when you knock on a door, seconds later it opened. Only, he wasn’t staring at a -- he could only imagine, bloodshot eyed, tear dampened, grey coated Earth Pony -- but, well an equally bloodshot eyed, apple red coated Pegasus. Jagged Horn. Stormy’s roommate. Only, he could imagine that his bloodshot eyes weren't from a day of crying into a pillow.

Gentle Stroke's nostrils pilled up with a distinctively skunky aroma as a billowing smoke cloud slowly escaped through the open doorway.

“Oh, shit...” Jag droned out. His eyelids were slacked halfway shut and there was a doped smile on his face as he stared at Gentle Strokes. “You’re pretty early, bro.”


Total and complete mental paralysis. Gentle Strokes could practically feel the contact high radiating off of Jag’s body.

“You’re dropping off the ounce of Trottingham Hay, right?” Jag questioned. “‘Cause I’m down to my last quarter of this Bud Light and that’s not gonna last me much past the rest of this album.”

Ok. One of the two of them was definitely missing something here? Jag had mistaken him for a drug runner. That much made sense. What didn’t make sense, was how Jag hadn’t recognized him as the pony who had saved his flank no more than eighteen hours ago. He wasn't that stupid.

Was he?

“Oh, wait. I know you!” Ok, now it was sinking in. “You’re uh... Gentle Slaps, right? Stormy’s butt-buddy?"

Gentle 'Slaps' nodded.

"Oh, shit dude. You totally made Choke 'N' Stroke your bitch last night!"

Jag paused and ducked his head out of the doorway. He searched the hallway for a few moments, then with his head still ducked stared up at Gentle 'Slaps' with a foal-like smile.

"Wanna help me finish this quarter?"

Just because he’d sworn off alcohol, didn’t mean he had to swear off all intoxicants.


Twenty minutes into a Pinks Floyd album -- Dark Side Of Nightmare Moon. The B-Side with the heavier stuff -- and two grams short of a quarter. That's where they were now. Both of them on the futon. Neither of them speaking. Not in a rude way or anything like that. It was just... the moment felt nice enough as it was.

Wait, what was happening again?

Gentle Strokes was no stranger to fine herbs. Back in Dodge Junction any farm hoof worth his weight needed a little something to help start their day, carry them through it and then, end it off. Most ponies used booze (and he wasn’t ‘not’ one of them) but, the ones from out of town. The ponies from places like Ponyville -- or where ever -- they mostly used herbs. Only, they mixed it with tobacco in hoof rolled cigarettes and it was never as powerful as this stuff.

“Hey, Slaps?” Jag broke the silence.

The entire room looked like a team of arsonists had been perpetually lighting, extinguishing, relighting, extinguishing and relighting fires for the past half hour. The towel under the door was hardly air-tight and it seemed odd that no one had--An R.A, or some Egghead from across the hall--had called them out on it. Yet.

“What’s up with you, and Stormy?”


“I mean, I kind of think I know what happened between you two last night." Pause to pack a bowl. "You bucked, right?"


"But Stormy was all like... 'Time Of The Month' moody, all day." Jag sighed. "So, what happened; You couldn't keep it up or something?"


"You know, for a colt cuddler, Stormy is pretty cool. We don’t always see eye to eye, and I like to rip on him for being gay. But it's to rustle his feathers, you know? I’m pretty sure he’s been stealing lighters from the convenience store on campus, which, isn’t like a personality flaw or anything. I think he just likes to do weird stuff sometimes...”

“Well, actually...”

“Nah man. He’s really not as bad as I’m making him out to be. I mean, he smokes a bit, and he’s kinda bucked a lotta colts... well, not like a lot of a lot. Just a few. Or, like, actually, none! Well, I guess you guys hooked up so there’s you. But no pony else! Seriously. He's not that kind of colt cuddler.”

“See the thing is...”

“He’s got a good heart. I don’t know what his family’s like or anything but I’ve kinda... well, read a few of the letters his pop sent him, and that guy seems like a real douche. He’s always telling him he ‘Should have gone to Coltlumbia’ and that he’s a disappointment and stuff. Total douchebag, really.”

“Yeah see, that’s kinda why...”

“I think he likes you, dude. I mean, of the small population of colts that he’s brought home, he’s never been this upset about one of them leaving in the morning. Plus, he was totally eye banging you at the party last night. He never does that. Ever.”


“...And, you know, for your sake, he’s also really into, like, poetry and stuff. Which is kinda lame, but, I mean you know. I think that’s his major, actually. Hey, now you have something to talk about, right?”


“...Well, I mean, that is if you two do anything. Shit, I dunno. I don’t even know if he’s the ‘dating’ type. I think he went out with this colt a while ago. But, that was like first year, and I’m not exactly sure how that ended...”



An abrupt pause and Jagged Horn seemed to piece together how moronic his rant had been.

“Did Stormy say where he was going?”

“Ugh. Sorry. Just, ignore me. My 'whole thing' is that I crave attention..."


“Huh?” Jag paused, then his eyes widened in realization “Oh, yeah. My bad, dude. Uh, he said something about some bar: ‘Salters’ or, ‘Stanlee’s?” I don’t know if that helps?”

“Yeah.” Gentle Strokes lifted himself, which took a mild bit of effort present situation considered, and moved towards the door. “And, uh... thanks?”

“No problem.” Jag grinned. Paused to think, then spoke again. "If you see a Zebra with a fat saddle bag in the hallway just tell him to knock before he comes in?"


It was only a matter of time before he’d end up back at Saltee’s tavern. Only, this time he wasn’t here to drink himself numb. No. Today he was at Saltee's wearing the coat of a brand new pony. He'd reinvented himself in the past howevermany hours and he wanted to show Stormy.

He entered the bar and drank in the scenery. It was a Saturday -- almost a quarter past six -- and Saltee’s was as hopelessly deserted as it ever was. The same sad old drunks filled the same sad old bar stools and booths. Only, this time, in their midst was the newest addition to the fold.

Slumped over a duo of empty tumblers, idly twirling the ice cubes in his third, was Stormy. His mane was a mess. Loose strands of black clung to his face with a combination of fresh and dried sweat. Deep black/purple raccoon rings had set under his eyes, and the dead somber look in his eyes led Gentle Strokes to believe that he looked about as bad as Gentle Strokes felt.

This wasn’t going to be easy.

Then again, anything in life worth doing the proper way never was.

He approached wordlessly. He would like to have said something to add some kind of melodramatic effect but the truth was he didn’t exactly know how to approach Stormy.

Drunk or, at least drunk-ish Stormy could be victim to any number of extremely irritable emotions seeing Gentle Strokes. He could explode in his face with anger and malice. Drunkenly venting to a company of equally broken ponies about how Gentle Strokes was the reincarnation of some demon for abandoning him like he had. Or, he could just as easily create a makeshift knife out of a tumbler smashed against the bar counter and make repeated stabs at his throat until he felt relieved enough to sit back down and light a cigarette.

Either way. Gentle Strokes deserved what was coming to him.

On his way to Saltee’s he’d come to a decision. About himself. About Stormy. About the two of them. About how he felt about them being ‘the two of them.’ He wanted -- on top of apologizing profusely -- to make Stormy happy and he had an idea about how to do that.

It wasn’t a comfortable idea at first, and he was a little more than worried that based on everything that had happened over the past six or seven hours Stormy might be a little less receptive to what he had to say than he might have been if Gentle Strokes hadn’t callously abandoned him. That seemed pretty clear.

At first it seemed totally out of the blue. He'd started the day uncomfortably, and all he wanted to do was get as far away from Stormy as he possibly could. Then, the more he thought about it, and reflected on it the more he realized he was only lying to himself; Not once did find the idea of sleeping with a stallion so revolting it made him ill. Just uncomfortable, and even then, that might have been more the ‘shock and awe’ of a one night stand. For all he knew, if he’d woken up in bed beside Crimson instead of Stormy he could have had the same reaction.

He didn’t have to fool himself any more. He didn’t need to stare at his reflection in a mirror and say it out loud to himself a hundred and one times to accept it. He didn’t need to be reflective and attend support groups to come to terms with it. The plain and simple truth was, after everything was said and done, and the dust settled: He liked Stormy.

He was attracted to Stormy.

He was gay for Stormy.

Now, all he had to do was make that as clear to Stormy as it was to himself, and then, see where it led from there.

Still silent when he finally reached him, Gentle Strokes took a seat beside Stormy and softly offered the first and only thing that came to mind.


Stormy turned to him and smiled, softly.


An air of awkward silence filled the bar. It wasn’t like there were any lively or spiritually uplifting conversations happening between one sad old drunk to the other around them. More of the same “I should have told her how I really felt....” or “You know, I really could have been a somepony?” sad, melodramatic, murmurs that could be heard in any other bar, in any other town in any other part of Equestria.

The same thing could be said about the conversation they were about to have.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Stormy asked, taking his turn to break the awkward silence. His smile brightened a bit and he waved for The Bar Mare.

“Um,” Gentle Strokes stopped to clear his throat (Yeah, try doing that about a million more times and see if it makes this situation any less awkward.) “I’m actually trying to dry out a bit, so maybe just a soda or something?”

Stormy’s little smile sunk a bit, and he returned his gaze to his drink, then back to Gentle Strokes.

“That makes sense.” Softly. Almost a whisper. That same fake smile growing wider. “I guess after the morning you had and all...”

Thank Celestia the bar mare came with a glass of ginger ale when she did. Celestia bless her supernatural knowledge of which drink the customer wanted to be served, and when, without ever having to have been said a word too. Apparently Unicorns weren’t the only ponies with natural magic; portly looking bartenders outside of Camden seemed gifted in it as well.


What was there to say? How could he start a conversation like this off naturally? How could he tell the pony that he’d less than ten hours ago woken up too next in bed, after a gay one night stand, who he then coldly abandoned without a proper reason, or excuse, that, despite all the above, he’d actually spent the better part of his Saturday coming to terms with his feelings, and now wanted to share them with him?

Now seemed as good a time as any to launch into a long winded monologue about his life.

“When I was a still a foal, back in Dodge Junction; My dad... Well, he used to push me to be the best pony I could be. Because, in Dodge Junction you need to be the best pony you can be to survive. I spent the first fourteen years of my life training for what I thought was going to be my life. I worked ten, sometimes twelve, hour days from the day I could buck a tree until I came here, working, sweating, and bleeding. In the cold. In the heat. Day in and day out. I did it because I thought that’s all my life would ever be: Work. The farm. My family and Dodge Junction.

I never thought I’d look at a sunset one evening and think to myself that it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and that I wish there was a way I could hold on to that moment forever. I never thought that the general store would have paints brushes and easels hidden away in the back, or that I’d get a Cutie Mark in something other than farming, either.

I never even thought that I’d like painting. It was just... some stupid idea I had in my head. Just a little hobby to take my mind off of things at the end of the day. I never thought about applying to an arts school. I never even thought about going to college, hells, I barely made it through high school. But, I tried and, I got accepted to Camden. I earned enough money working twice as long and hard as I’d ever worked before, for an entire year just to get here. And, I did it all because I thought it would make me happy.”

He paused, briefly to take a sip of his soda. He glanced at Stormy, whose sullen and drained look had been replaced with one of interest and intrigue. It brought a smile to Gentle Strokes’ face.

“When I came here I was just a stupid yokel from the boonies. No one knew where Dodge Junction was on a map, even my geography professors had a hard time pointing it out. All these art students would laugh at my hick accent, and, all these mares would go out with me for a week until the thrill wore off and they moved on to the next exotic pony. My roommate was... well, my roomate is a total jackass. He doesn’t try to understand me and, I don’t try to understand him; We’re not even friends. I don’t even think that I have any friends here. I spent the better part of the last three months just....being alone. I had no one. No drinking buddies. No eggheads to copy notes off of. No one to talk too. All I had was my family back home. I wrote to them, and they wrote back, but it wasn’t the same. I never used to drink, at least, not like I did here. I just needed something in my life.”

Eyes wide and brows raised in interest. Stormy was clinging to every word wrapped in history, lore and misery that came out of Gentle Strokes mouth.

“And then I met you. And you forced yourself into my life. Not to poke fun at the dumb hick, and laugh at him and his stupid accent, but... because you cared. I needed that. I needed a friend. I needed somepony and you were more than that pony. I just didn’t know it... then.”

Gentle Strokes paused and turned to Stormy. Their eyes locked and he felt himself do something that three months ago -- Hells, three weeks ago -- he wouldn’t have ever done before in his life. But, now, sitting here and staring into Stormy’s soft gentle eyes; it felt right.

He placed his hoof gently atop of Stormy’s and cupped it, softly.

It wasn’t even that romantic. It wasn’t a passionate kiss that would sweep him off his hooves like in some bad romance novel his mom would read. It wasn’t a confession of love shouted from the rooftops of the tallest building. It wasn’t even all that much...

But, it was a start.

“Sometimes," He stopped, licked his lips and continued. "Sometimes you tell yourself a lie for so long that you start to believe it.”

Stormy. The look on his face was absolutely absurd. He looked like a foal getting an early Hearts Warming Eve present. His eyes were wide. His pupil’s looked like a cat getting a belly rub and a smile that was so soft and genuine built up that it made everything Gentle Strokes had said, and done seem so worth it.

“Would you... like to have dinner with me, Stormy?”

Every single drunk, The Bar Made and, maybe even Saltee himself were all probably knocked a few octaves deafer as the victims of the loudest (And happiest) ‘YES!’ ever shouted in Saltee’s Tavern.

Al's Freyed Dough and Rave-E-Ollie

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Al's Freyed Dough And Rave-E-Ollie

Sitting alone at a table for two, Gentle Strokes anxiously toyed with the top button on his plain white collared shirt and wondered if he was too overdressed for tonight? Nell’s wasn’t exactly the kind of high class elegance he imagined Stormy might be used to for a first date, but, it was more than uncomfortably exotic to a pony like himself and, he felt waves of discomfort wash over him as he internalized that fact

Back home in Dodge Junction, asking a mare out and, the date that came after, didn’t exactly follow the same courting rituals it seemed that most other rural areas in Equestria did. It was much simpler: find a mare you thought was pretty, ask her to a mild west dance and, if you could keep up with her rhythm and she enjoyed the dance enough, she would take the reins and invite you to dinner at her place where you could meet her parents, then find out how and through whom in the small community, you might know each other.

Of course, Dodge Junction was a much simpler place than Camden and, he wasn’t courting a mare, either.

He was courting a colt.

It was eight-twenty now, and he’d asked Stormy to meet him for eight-thirty when they’d parted ways at Saltee’s a few hours ago. Quite honestly, Gentle Strokes had never really made it a habit of being punctual but, since this was a first date, and, he did in fact care about Stormy he’d come a whole half hour early and been nervously downing cups of ice-water with neat little sliced lemon wedges since then.

As anxiety got the better of him, he began fretting over every detail of his outfit, pondering what Stormy might think about it, and how he would look compared to him. What if Stormy showed up dressed more casually than he did? That would make him seem like he was trying too hard, right? Then again, what if he didn’t and, he showed up in a three piece suit? Would that make him look underdressed and grungy?


It was like he hadn’t spent the last two hours trying to fix himself up to look presentable; After a long and introspective shower where he mentally walked himself through the proceeding events of the night, he’d spent a longer time in front of his mirror; combing his mane a thousand and one ways, but, it always came out looking just the same. After that he’d tried to pick an outfit; He’d never been one to needlessly spend time on his appearance, usually he didn’t even bother wearing clothes out (And, lot’s of ponies didn’t either so it wasn’t like it was weird or anything). In fact, of the two roommates who shared the same dorm room, Au Revoir was more of that kind of pony. He could spend an hour and a half picking a beret to go with a scarf, or three hours trying to get his hair to look exactly like it had at the party the night before because some mare said it looked nice.

Au Revoir was preppy. Gentle Strokes was simple.

So, why was he so worried right now?

He sighed quietly and continued toying with the top button on his shirt. The shirt felt like it was trying to strangle him, but, if he undid the top button that would probably make his outfit look too casual, and then when Stormy showed up in his impressive three piece suit, he’d not only feel stupid but look the part too.

Trying to distract himself, he took a glance at the menu and found all the more reason for panic. Nell’s was Gryphon owned and themed, so naturally he’d expected some kind of Pony to Gryphon culture shock. What he didn’t expect was that he, apparently, had to learn an entirely different language just to understand what he was going to sound absolutely ridiculous ordering: Hor’ Dourves? Soup De Jours? Plates de Principales? He felt like he should have had Au Revoir come along with a date of his own just so he could get a proper translation of the menu.

He grumbled a groan, folded the menu and stared at the clock.


It was now only two minutes until tonight went totally wrong and his best made plans fell apart at the seams.


He wondered if, in the two minutes until Stormy showed up, he had enough time to cut some kind of deal with the waiter and kitchen staff to bring him a simple iron grilled bean-burger, an order of fresh cut hay fries and, a side of ketchup? Then, he wondered just how hard the staff at Nell’s would laugh at him for even suggesting ordering something so barbaric and uncultured.

Stare at the clock.


One minute until showtime.

His shirt still felt too tight, and suddenly he was wondering if the dampness in the material was his imagination, or, if he’d managed to drench his entire shirt in a terrible fear sweat.

If he rushed, like, really ran as fast as he could there and back, he could probably still make it back from dunking his head in a sink full of ice cold water to calm his nerves in time to catch the disappointed look on Stormy’s face as he walked out after he caught a glance at the sweating, stinking, poorly dressed mess that he probably was at the moment.


The shirt really was trying to kill him but, if it couldn’t, he was probably going to have to finish the job himself after he walked home alone, at the end of the night.

Eight-thirty on the clock, now and there in the doorway, under the arch and pillars of the entrance, being shown his table by the Maitre D, was Stormy with a goofy sort of smile on his face.

Instant and total relief washed over Gentle Strokes as he watched Stormy being led to the table by a hostess; He wasn’t overdressed in a three-piece, nor was he underdressed in anything casual, in fact, he looked like a perfect combination of the two (Smart-casual) in a solid white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a black vest over top and a tie worn loose around his neck.

Gentle Strokes took that moment to undo the top button of his shirt.

Stormy’s face light up as he approached the table and, Gentle Strokes, always the proper gentlecolt, stood up to pull his chair out for him. He wasn’t sure if that was a thing a colt did for another colt, but Stormy’s cheeks did turn a slight crimson as he took the seat offered to him, so he must have done something right.

Gentle Strokes took a pause and thanked Celestia his mother had the decency to teach him proper pony etiquette. He might not have enjoyed the countless lessons on proper sitting form (Top hooves under the table, and, when they have to come above, never to rest on the elbows) and dining policy (Start with the fork on the outside and work your way in. Always fold your cutlery into an ‘x’ when you’re done with your meal, etc, etc) but, in this moment the adorable little smile on Stormy’s face made it all worthwhile.

“You look very handsome, tonight.” Stormy grinned up at Gentle Strokes.

Gentle Strokes’ turn to feel his cheeks change hue.

“Thanks...” He mumbled.

Stormy continued to smile up at him.

The two took a quiet minute to examine the menu. Gentle Strokes propped his up on it’s side to form a makeshift fort, hiding his body so that Stormy couldn’t see him scratch his head as he tried to make sense of what he was reading.

In a whisper, he tried to sound out the syllables to the phrase ‘Linguine à la sauce aux aubergines au parmesan’--whatever that meant--and looked for a single word he could identify; Well, ‘Aubergines’ was a fancy way of saying ‘Eggplant’, so he knew it had vegetables in it, and, ‘Parmesan’ and ‘Sauce’ were pretty self explanatory: Cheesey sauce. ‘Ling-Wee-Nee’, that was a stumper, as was figuring out what the hells an; ‘Aux’, ‘La’ and, an ‘Au’ were.

He dismantled his menu/fort for a second to to take a peek at Stormy, who had already folded his menu, apparently, having been able to make much better sense of the menu than he had done, and, was now waiting patiently for Gentle Strokes to come to a decision on the menu.

Gentle Stroke nervously reassembled his fort, and stared with renewed vigour at the completely illegible text before him; for every word he understood there were three or four ‘Au’s’ ‘Le’s’ and ‘Aux’s’ in between. At this rate--and without a ‘Nell’s Restaurant’s Purposefully Confusing Menu to English’ dictionary--he could be there all night, sounding like a pre-school foal in a spelling bee while he tried to read his order to the waiter. And, he’d still probably end up with a plate of snails or frog legs.

“Are you ok, Strokes?” Stormy’s soft, concerning voice broke through his intense focus on the phrase ‘Incluse avec le repas’. "You're being awfully quiet?"

Gentle Strokes gnawed on his lower lip and again tore down his menu-fort.

“Oh, uh... yup, yup.” He faked, forcing a comfortable smile. “Just, um... havin’ a hard time deciding, is all. It... uh... all looks so good.”

Stormy smiled, that knowing smile, at him and Gentle Strokes almost swallowed his tongue when he felt a soft hoof run slowly along the fur and skin of his lower calf. In that moment, any and all stress washed away as the warm feeling of close and personal contact with Stormy washed over him.

“You know: you look really cute when you’re trying to act serious.” He heard Stormy say; He could imagine the happy-go-lucky grin he wore on his face, but, as his eyes were staring blankly at the ceiling he couldn’t actually see it. “But, you’re even more adorkable when you make that face.”

If he could have seen himself in a mirror, Gentle Strokes would have noted that, ‘that face’ was absolutely ridiculous; his eyes rolled into the back of his head, eyebrows as high up as they could go and his mouth, slackish and totally agape with his tongue hanging over the left side of his mouth.

He took a slight second to reform his face, then smiled sheepishly at Stormy, who returned it with a sly grin.

“Are you ready to order?”

Gentle Strokes took one last, quick glance at the menu, scanned it for the most ‘English’ sounding name he could find and folded it back up.


Their waiter, a gryphon, approached having either spotted the closed menus, or, alternatively, eavesdropping on the two.

“What can I start you gentlecolts off with?”

Stormy, thankfully, took the opportunity to order first, saving Gentle Strokes the embarrassment of having to decide whether he should risk ordering for him or not.

“I’d like to start off with the soupe à l'ouest d'arachide Canterlot.” The foreign words seemed to spring to life off of Stormy’s tongue. His accent was impeccable and almost mirrored Au Revoir’s. “With the Vinaigrette Salade de haricots, and a glass of your house red.”

Culture, class and sophistication seemed to exhume off of Stormy as he finished placing his order. Who would have ever guessed that the same pony who could drink a colt like Gentle Strokes under the table, and who had shot back doubles of Gut-Rot-Moonshine like they were water could be so... charmingly sophisticated?

Suddenly, he felt pressure build up as the hawk-like eyes of the waiter -- and the gentler, more sparrow-like vision of Stormy -- were turned to him. He took a brief second to break down, into tiny itty-bitty syllables the one thing off the menu he’d decided on ordering, repeated them in his head about two dozen times, then decided to speak.

“I’ll just have the... erm... ” Sound it out. “The, uh... Wahl-dorf’s salad... thingy?”

The waiter starred unimpressed and, Gentle Strokes felt his spirits sink. He’d tried, at least. But, those words were like something out of a stupid Egghead’s Masochist Encyclopedia! He didn’t even want to see how embarrassed Stormy must have looked; His first chance to really impress him and he totally blew it trying to order a salad made by some stupid Griffon named Wahl-dorf!

He managed to peel his eyes off the floor and, with an inner strength, glanced up at Stormy, who was ear-to-ear with a goofy smile. Sensing something was troubling Gentle Strokes, he reached a hoof across the table and gave one of Gentle Stroke’s trembling hooves a reassuring squeeze.

“Strokes... ” He began. “I just want you to know that, that was the cutest thing I’ve ever heard a pony say in my entire life.”

Gentle Strokes suddenly felt very confident the date was off to a good start.


It was a little after their meals had come, now and both Stormy and Gentle Strokes had been locked in conversation since the time the waiter had trotted away from the table. Over the course of their conversation they had come to a few mutual conclusions, among them; the idea that playwright: O’Scar Wild’s best script-to-play adaption was not his wildly popular ‘It’s Important To Be Earnest’, but instead an earlier, and often overlooked piece of fiction, ‘The Diary of Dorian Grey-Hooves’. They had also decided that the latest album by Canterlot’s DJ-Pon3 was rubbish (And was probably rushed as the final album in a seven album contract she’d signed with her now former record label) but that her upcoming collaboration with another famous Canterlot musician named Octavia was probably more likely to showcase her musical talents (And, also the rumor that the two musicians were in fact dating.) and, after careful examination of the evidence, that both Jagged Horn and Au Revoir were probably the two worst roommates either Pony had ever had in their entire lives.

After a quiet chuckle about the fact, it felt like a good time to take a pause and return to their meals (Which neither had really touched, yet.)

Staring down at a neat assortment of sliced apples, mandarin oranges, grapes, lettuce and pecans, Gentle Strokes stabbed a fork into his Waldorf’s Salad, (Which luckily, also came with a side of garlic toast and some kind of creamy noodle dish that Stormy had called ‘Al’s Frayed-Dough and Rave-E-Ollie’ or something like that.)

A full grape, half a pecan and a mandarin orange slice impaled on his fork, he placed them in his mouth and prepared for the worst... and was pleasantly surprised to find that Waldorf’s salad wasn’t even that bad. In fact, it was actually quite good. It didn’t taste much like any kind of salad he’d ever had -- usually they were plain old lettuce and spinach mashed together, or, when his mother made them, lettuce and spinach mashed together and floating in a sea of ranch dressing -- but this was really good. He took a few more bites of his salad and then moved onto his Al’s Frayed-Dough dish. He hadn’t really ever been much on pastas to begin with, (Usually, back home any ‘pasta’ he’d eat would be of the ‘Macaroni and Cheese’ variety) but, he knew enough to know to spool a small amount on his fork, to avoid the risk of slurping up any wayward noodles and looking silly while doing it.

Al really did know how to make a good ‘Frayed-Dough’: These noodles, they were a tad too thin, but all the same, simply delicious, and, the creamy pasta sauce they were coated in was great! How word of Waldorf’ or Al’s cooking had never reached Dodge Junction was beyond him, but he was certainly regretting having lived his entire life without ever tasting their amazing cooking.

Cheddar-cheese bean burgers and golden hay fries had just been usurped from their spot on the top of his list of favorite foods.

He reached a hoof towards his glass of ‘Cabinet Saving-On’ wine. He wasn’t about to get blackout drunk on a bottle of wine (He wasn’t fifteen, and this wine didn’t seem like the fortified type, either.) so, it wasn’t like he was failing his newfound sobriety, but, Stormy had ordered a glass with his meal and Gentle Strokes felt like it was rude not to do so himself. Besides, it wasn’t even like the wine tasted all that good; most wine’s, and this one in particular, tasted like strong cider that someone had left out in the sun for way too long, (Then bottled and sold it at quadruple the price.).

“So, Strokes.” Stormy began as Gentle Strokes swallowed a dainty enough sip of his wine that he didn’t have to pretend not to enjoy it. “What’s Dodge Junction, like?”

“Oh... well, uh....”

He was stumped. No one had ever asked him about home before and, he didn’t really know what to say about it; it was flat and dusty; the houses were charmingly rustic; and, everypony knew everypony else by name. There was more, but those three bits of information were the first to come to his mind.

“It’s nice.” He said as a faraway look built up in his eyes. “Everypony looks out for everypony. It’s a little quiet and, it’s not really all too much to look at, but, I like it.”

“It sounds nice.” Stormy smiled. “Have you lived there your whole life?”

“Yup. Me and about ten generations of my family before me.” He offered with a proud grin. “What about you? Do you like living in Manehattan?”

“Yeah." Stormy replied confidently, a gleam in his eyes and as a small semi-smile played across his face. "I mean, it does get all kinds of crazy sometimes, though.”


“Yeah, dude. The streets are just filled with ponies. Every day and every night. And, they're always in a hurry. Everypony is always in a hurry. Plus, there’s always something happening you know?”

City life.” Gentle Strokes offered.

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it. We get all these tourists who come from places like Cloudsdale, or Canterlot to see The Sights, and, there’s always like a stupid flash mob doing some kind of improv show in the middle of the street or something.”

“Flash mob?”

“Yeah, these like, wanna be actors, who couldn’t get into Camden, will get together in huge groups and go around with boom boxes doing synchronized dances, or faking marriage proposals and stuff.”

“Really?" Gentle Strokes clung to every word Stormy that was bemoaning in his sentence. It was all so fascinating and exciting. At least, more so to Gentle Strokes than Stormy, it seemed. "That kind of stuff happens in Manehattan?”

“Oh yeah, all the time.” Stormy paused and took a sip of wine. “You can’t buy a pack of cigarettes and a carton of milk without something stupid and crazy happening to you in that town.”

“Sounds a lot more interestin’ than Dodge Junction.” Gentle Strokes began, pausing to also take another teeny-tiny sip of his wine. “Heck, you could watch your dog run away for three days, ‘cause it’s so flat, and folks would probably call that entertainment.”

Stormy chuckled softly.

“That doesn’t sound too bad.” He said, interrupting his chuckle “It actually sounds kind of homely.”

“Oh, if that’s your idea of homely, then, you’d probably love it.” Gentle Strokes grinned. “You should come visit sometime. We’d love to show a Big City pony like yourself some Southern hospitality. ”

Stormy gave a gentle laugh then flashed a smile at Gentle Strokes.

“Who knows;” he began “Maybe I’ll come visit sometime?”

Both ponies shared a friendly laugh.

“How about your family?” Gentle Strokes asked, steering the conversation to slightly more serious grounds based in a standing curiosity he’d developed for the younger colt over the night. “Are they all in Manehattan too?”

“Yep, my dad and my brother.” Stormy paused. “My dad’s like, about to retire I think, but, my brother’s some Walls Street hot shot; He works for this really high class firm; P.&P. It’s the place all the ponies who go to Coltlumbia instead of Camden want to end up.”

“And, your mom?

Stormy took a pause. An unclear and despondent look built up on his face, and Gentle Strokes felt like that might have been the wrong kind of question to ask.

“She... well, she was from Canterlot, actually.” He swallowed back an emotion that was unidentifiable to Gentle Strokes, then continued on with his story “Most of my family lives out there, and I used to visit every summer for a while when I was a kid. Then, I dunno, things just kind of fell apart. My older cousin joined the Royal Guards, he’s like a captain now or something, and then my other cousin, she became Princess Celestia’s protege, if you can believe that?”

“You’re kidding?”

“I wish.” He said with a half-hearted chuckle. “She sure makes me look like one Hells of a black sheep, by comparison.”

“I think you’re doing just fine, Stormy.” Gentle Strokes offered encouragingly. He took pause to stare reassuringly into Stormy’s soft eyes, and smiled. Stormy met his gaze and returned it.

“Thanks, Strokes.”

The two sat in silence for a few minutes, idly picking at their meals and stealing glances at the other. It was nice, Gentle Strokes thought, getting away from the humdrum wonder of Camden life, finding a nice quiet little place and sharing it with somepony he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with. Hopefully, Stormy felt the same way, but everything about the night so far hadn’t persuaded him otherwise.

“So, Jag told me your major’s in poetry?” Gentle Strokes questioned. Stormy stared up from his meal, made a face like he’d just licked the bottom side of a cart’s tire; eyes squeezed near to shut, mouth a little crooked, then spoke.

“Well, kind of; I’m more undeclared at the moment, really.” He admitted, paused for a brief second, then continued “But I do kind of enjoy it. I dunno, poetry is kind of sissy, though.”

“Nah, I don’t reckon so.”


“Lot’s of folk wouldn’t really consider me the ‘artistically cultured’ type, but I’ve read a few poems by Poe, some by Blake; ‘Tyger Tyger’ being my personal favorite actually. I think poetry sounds mighty sweet when an author can get it right.”

Stormy looked delightfully astonished, he opened his mouth to say something, closed it then gave a gentle ‘humm’ as he stared dreamily into Gentle Strokes’ eyes.

“You really are a pony who never ceases to amaze, Strokes.” He said after a short time of staring at him. Humbled, Gentle Strokes smiled politely and felt himself run a hoof through his mane.

“Thank you kindly.”

“What do you major in?”

This time it was his turn to take a prolonged pause. He didn’t rightfully like to explain his major, because, well, truthfully it was widely private and personal; painting, his artwork, the private dance he shared with his brush, easel, paints and his imagination. They were always between him, and them, alone.

But, he felt like he should share with Stormy.

“Um... painting, actually.”

Stormy’s eyes light up and a sarcastic little grin built up on his face.

“And I thought they called you 'Gentle Strokes' for an entirely different reason.” He teased.

Gentle Strokes felt his cheeks brighten as he caught on to the implication. Gentle Strokes: Phallic objects and stroking. How had he never heard anypony make that connections before?

“Do you have any pieces in the gallery?” Stormy asked, bringing Gentle Strokes out of his embarrassed blush.

“Er... well, actually.....”

“Because... I don’t want to be intrusive, but, I’d love to see one.”

He stared at Stormy; his eyes were wide and inviting and he looked genuinely interested. It had been a long time since Gentle Strokes had shown anypony other than one of his professors a piece of his work. The last time was.....well.....he didn’t really want to think about her right now, but it had been a long time.

“I reckon I could show you one or two.”


The gallery was like a home away from home for him. When he was here, with his art, he didn’t have to think about Camden. He didn’t have to think about stupid self obsessed ponies who hated him. He didn’t have to think about his roommate. He didn’t have to think about anything but the image in his mind that he was trying to breath life into on his easel; and, they were usually images from home, anyway. In a way, being in the gallery and creating works of art was his escape from Camden and his mental regression back to home. It was comfortable. He liked it and he liked his art.

Evidently, so did Stormy.

“Strokes... this one is so... I mean... it’s just...”

He was staring now at one of Gentle Strokes’ latest pieces; a simple scene: a farmhouse, two stories tall with those crooked wind torn rafters, that tall old oak tree with the tire swing behind it and a sea of desert nothingness surrounding the place. The sun, Celestia’s sun, half set in the backdrop casting a golden/red glow around the house. The sky was dull, and hypothetical, a few simple clouds basking in the glow of the sun. It was honestly nothing spectacular.

Home captured imperfectly in an unfinished piece.

Stormy stared intently at the image before him and a soft smile built on his face, Gentle Strokes couldn’t be too sure, but, it seemed that from the form his smile had taken, he might just understand a little too much about the scene captured in his artwork.

“It’s beautiful.”

Stormy turned to Gentle Strokes, their eyes met and although Gentle Strokes had, had his reservations about showing Stormy his unfinished pieces, he felt totally relieved by the look Stormy was giving him; his eyes so soft and gentle, his smile just right.

In a daze, he watched Stormy glide towards him--transfixed by that silly little smile on his face--until he was directly before him, smiling up and staring into his eyes. A delicate hoof ran through his mane, and, like some kind of cat, he felt himself become completely submissive to Stormy’s touch; his shoulders slacked, his neck followed and he gave a contented sigh as Stormy brushed him.

That very same sigh was silenced when he felt his head pulled towards Stormy's, and a pair of lips hungrily press against his own.

Now, he’d had a few marefriends back home in Dodge Junction, not quite as many as the next pony, but enough and, Stormy’s kiss was nothing like kissing any of them. His lips weren’t as soft or feminine, and there was no lingering taste of value-brand lipstick that came attached with it. In fact, Stormy’s kiss was rougher, more forceful and had a subtle Cabinet Saving-On wine -- as well as his after dinner Port -- taste to it; somewhat fruity and a little bit more than that intoxicating.

Gentle Strokes' first (sober) kiss with a colt and he liked it enough to go back for more. He brushed his right hoof through Stormy’s mane -- earning a soft moan that he could feel against his lips -- and with the other pulled Stormy tight against his body. Stormy’s body, smaller and more lithe than his own felt just right pressed up against his own. The feel of the well groomed fur on his chest, as Stormy ground his body, lustfully, against Gentle Strokes was utterly delightful.

This must be what Cloud Nine felt like.

Stormy's hooves met together in a mutual goal; massaging, in opposing directions, their way through Gentle Stroke's mane; one upwards and, the other downwards and, Gentle Strokes suddenly felt quite greedy that he was recieving as much pleasure as he was, and Stormy was not. Suddenly, he wanted to make it up to Stormy. He gently ran his right hoof from it's very comfortable place -- holding Stormy's body -- down towards a much more risky area on Stormy's body. His hoof gingerly brushed against the soft supple flesh and fur of the right cheek of Stormy's flank, and, when he was sure that he hadn't gone too far (Stormy didn't show any signs of wanting to stop him) he gave Stormy's sexy little plot a playful *Pinch*

Stormy's mouth opened in an attempted moan, but Gentle Strokes silenced it with a lustful vengeance; he rolled his tongue atop Stormy's waiting one and, in a move that even shocked even himself, his brave tongue did battle with Stormy's.

They were making out now.

If anyone had been in The Gallery at that time of night, that’s certainly what they would have called it. Watching these two colts standing beside Gentle Stroke's unfinished masterpiece which had inspired this little 'love session', both upright with their hooves busy exploring each other’s body. Their mouthes affectionately melded together as they shared a subtle passion that neither had felt in what seemed like eons. There was more to this than just lust or desire. This was something else. Something from the heart. Something genuine and real. At least, that was the idea that each colt wished was going through the other's mind.

Two colts, making out and maybe in love?

If it had been almost a month ago, and, if he’d been less sober and more cynical, Gentle Strokes would have totally shied away from all of this; the passion, the ‘love’, the gentle embrace, but here, with Stormy in his hooves and their deep kisses growing more passionate and lustful by the second, he could only thank the heavens that he wasn’t the colt he’d been not more than a month ago.

It felt right.

It felt right and, Stormy must have felt so too because he widened his exploring horizons, his hooves, which had dropped down from his mane and began fondling every inch of Gentle Strokes strong and muscular shoulders, his back and neck, suddenly dipped even lower as he began exploring further south. His left hoof began tracing Gentle Strokes' belly and, finally reached down there. Just as it did, Stormy pulled away and smiled, cockily, up at him.

“Jag’s out for the night.” He moaned with his sexy little self-confident grin. “And, I’ve got the whole place all to myself.”

Gentle Strokes bit his lower lip as hard as he could and gently bowed a head when he felt the hoof that had gently been spiraling his special place, dip even lower and begin fondling things. He gave a low, primitive growl that surprised even himself, then a smile.



Back in Stormy’s dorm room.

It was kind of nice to be there in more sobering terms, laying patiently in bed, the covers draped over his frame while he watched a drunk-on-passion (and maybe a few too many glasses of wine) Stormy fool around with the record player. He’d grab an album from the milkcrate containing his collection, stare at it for a short second, then shake his head and place it in the back. He did this for about ten to twelve different albums until he found one, which Gentle Strokes couldn’t see, that fit his fancy. He placed it on the record player, turned it to a respectable volume and dimmed the lights on the lamp that gave the room it’s light.

The soft melody of smooth jazz: something by John Colt-Train, maybe? (Though, more probably a Felonious Monk record), hummed out of the record player as Stormy slowly, and gracefully, made his way towards the bed; his hips swayed, slowly and sensually to the gentle beat of the album and a contented smile built up on his face when he reached the foot of the bed.

“Do you like Sammy Hayvis, Jr.?”

Sammy Hayvis, Flank Sinatra, Deano Martini and a motley crew of others who made up the Rat Pack were part of his parent’s era of music; big bang tunes with lyrics sang in a soothing, velvety voice by alcoholic crooners. They were part of an era of music, glitz and glamor, that had long passed in Equestria, but, their music stood the test of time. The mention of anything Rat Pack, Big Band and pre New-Wave era music conjured up memories of simpler times for him; On the few days of down time he’d ever shared with his father back home in Dodge Junction, his father would put on a Rat Pack album, pour himself a glass of bourbon and just sort of mellow. Sometimes, when the twins were out on a playdate, his sister was busy studying and he himself should have also been preoccupied, his father and mother would share an old fashioned dance to a full length Flank Sinatra album.

To put it nicely, that about neatly summed up his length of experience with Sammy Hayvis, Jr. Still, the gentle ensemble and, watching Stormy’s body move along to the accompanying music, he found a new-found interest in it.

“Sure do.”

Stormy smiled up at Gentle Strokes, he lifted his body onto the bed and crawled, slowly, towards Gentle Strokes until he hovered a few inches over his body, staring down at him with a fully realized craving in his eyes.

“Are you sure you wanna do this?” He asked as he leaned his head down to take a gentle bite at Gentle Strokes’s ear. His teeth gently nibbled the flesh of his ear, before Gentle Strokes felt the warm moistness of his tongue teasingly taste the flesh of his inner ear. Gentle Strokes fought back a shudder as a chill crawled up his spine. This was replaced with a relieved sigh as he felt Stormy's hoof run under the covers and return to it's most comfortable place of the night; that place. The one just below his naval and between his legs.

The things Stormy could do with his hooves.

For a second -- in-between the moments of bliss, when he could do nothing else but take complete and absolute pleasure in what Stormy's skillfull hoof was doing to him between the sheets -- he thought about what Stormy was asking; it was certainly unconventional to go to bed with somepony you'd only had a first date with. Then again, nothing about their relationship was exactly conventional to begin with. They’d met in a bar: That sort of followed convention. They’d hooked up at a party: That was also somewhat conventional...ish. They were two colts dating: That was unconventional (And highly frowned upon in several areas in Equestria, as well.) They were two colts dating after they’d had an awkward drunken one night stand; that was also extremely unconventional.

Despite all this, the idea of sleeping with Stormy that night seemed far more conventional now that he was lying in Stormy's bed, with Stormy's off and on licking his ear and nibbling at his neck, and his left hoof giving Gentle Stroke's own hooves a good run for the position of 'Best Practical Concubine.'

“Well, we’ve already come this far...” He grinned up at Stormy, who returned it. He leaned his head upwards and pressed his lips against Stormy’s neck, taking a dainty little bite while he was there. A moment later, he began moving his gentle nips from his neck, to up his throat, then stopped -- teasingly below Stormy's lips -- on his chin.

“You’re such a dork.” Stormy teased.

“Yeah, but ain't that what you like about me?”

Stormy went silent for a second, then made a little pouty face.

“...shaddup, Strokes.”

Gentle Strokes couldn’t resist the opportunity to lean up and kiss Stormy.

“You talk too much, Stormy.”


Stormy, with his body curled up in the warm embrace of Gentle Strokes muscular hooves, was the first one to wake up that morning. After a quiet yawn, a smile built up on his face as he tilted his head back to get a good look at Gentle Strokes.

He felt relief wash over him as he realized that, sometimes, a pony did get his cake and, got to eat it too.

Mental introspection time; last night had been a blur, but, unlike their first time, a good and sober blur. It wasn’t necessarily the best sex of his entire life (And it had also been a very, very long time since he’d let himself be ‘the girl’ between the sheets, too), but it was also far from the worst. In bed, Gentle Strokes had certainly lived up to his namesake. He was gentle and delicate. Stormy liked rough and turbulent. Though, the only 'virgin' mistake he'd made the entire night was coming unprepared to do the deed (Fortunately, Stormy was always prepared. There was little cigar box hidden under a pile of socks in his dresser which was filled with the proper ‘application liquids’ and ‘sheathing devices’.) Gentle Strokes reminded him of vanilla; not everypony's first choice at the Ice Cream Shop, but, available, dependent and with a well earned reputation that kept it popular.

Personally, Stormy had always liked rocky road.

Still, despite all these facts Gentle Strokes had one thing that set him apart from all the others potential vanillas in Equestria; his heart. He was eager, never too eager, and also with just the right amount of adorably humbled bravado to ask Stormy if he was doing something wrong. Or right (Which, most times he certainly had been.). That gave Strokes more than just brownie points in his books. In fact, listening to Gentle Strokes moan his way through the phrase “I'm not hurting you am I?” as he bit the back of Stormy's mane and slapped a hoof against his flank was probably the highlight of the night.

Well, except for the sex of course.

Stormy chuckled as he pushed his body deeper into the embrace. Sleepily, Gentle Strokes tightened his grip around Stormy's chest -- pulling him in tight -- and nuzzled his mouth into the back of Stormy’s mane.

The machine gun fire of a camera’s shutter flashing open, close, open, close for about an entire roll of film’s worth of time, and the fireworks display of a brighter than Celestia's sun flash going off like a private lightning storm above their heads startled both sleeping bodies instantly awake.

Standing beside them, with an outdated camera worn around his neck, like the goddamn paparazzi was Jagged Horn, grinning ear to ear as he screamed “Work it baby!” and “Oh yeah! You’re a tiger, Stormy! You’re an animal!”

"Jag, what the shit?” Stormy, livid, screamed as he bounded up in bed. Jag just continued grinning and snapping photos of the two.

Where the hells did he even get a camera?

“Oh dude, this is total spank bank material if I ever saw it." Jag laughed. "You guyths look thoo cute!” He played up a lisp in his voice. “I should sell these to PlayMare, dude! They can run an entire feature on you two, make it the 'Opposites Attract' issue or something."

“What the hells is your problem?”

“My problem? MY PROBLEM?" Jag screeched. "I came home from an all night salt binge ‘cause my brain’s all twisted up like I’m half retarded or something, and all I wanted to do was take an eighteen to twenty hour cat nap. But, I gotta come home to find you guys just bucked. Again. Or whatever this is.”

He might have been mad, or he might have been kidding about being mad. It was always hard to tell with Jag.

“You guys didn’t even tie a sock on the door. How the Hells was I supposed to know?”

Jag feigned an innocent smile then set the camera down on the coffee table and hopped onto the foot of the bed with them. He started bouncing at their feet, like a foal the morning before he went away to Flight School, and then, after a short minute of this annoying display of lunacy, he fell onto his back at the foot of the bed and spoke again.

“So, you guys wanna turn this into a threesome?" He stifled a laugh, then stared at them inquisitively "We can make this all kinds of weird.”

With his two lower hooves, Stormy gave Jag’s body a kick that could rival any Donkey’s. Jag flew off the bed and crashed onto the floor. A short second later he got up, straightened himself out and was back in his groove. Grinning at them.

“Relax, Stormy. I was kidding.” He groaned. He climbed into his own bed and pulled the covers tight over his body, turning away from them. “I’ve done enough experimenting at college without having to sleep with another colt, anyway."

As Jag settled himself in for his usual post-substance abuse hibernation, he left behind an air of awkward silence that spread quickly throughout the room.

That was until Gentle Strokes broke it, as best as he could.

“Never a dull moment, eh?” Gentle Strokes joked in an innocent and earnest attempt at lightening the mood.

Stormy would have been a lot more upset in that moment if Gentle Strokes massaging hooves hadn’t found that exact spot on his back; The one that gave his mood a complete and total 180 degree turn around. Instant and total pleasure pulsed through his body as he gave out a low-guttural purr.

“I reckon I’m just gonna have to get used to all this craziness?” Gentle Strokes hummed, continuing to pleasurably re-sculpt his way through knots and seams in Stormy’s back with hooves that could earn their place in any massage parlor in Equestria. “You know; Seeing as how it’s part of the ‘Dating Stormy’ package and all.”

Stormy was too busy purring like a fat house cat to bother with a response. He did manage to achieve a few higher octaves in his purr when those Celestia-blessed hooves found his core, though.

“I’ll just take that as a ‘I’d be delighted to be your coltfriend, Strokes.’?” Gentle Strokes laughed.

If he could have, Stormy would have gave back an enthusiastic ‘Yes! I’d really enjoy that.’, but instead he just continued his pleasure-purr. If this was a shape of things to come, Stormy could probably stand to continue seeing Gentle Strokes every day for... well, probably the rest of forever.

For the time being, what he had with Strokes was probably the best thing to happen to him in a very long time and he had every intention of making it, whatever 'it' was that they had, last as long as he could.

Dead Poet's Society

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Dead Poet's Society.

Ode to a Silly Farm Pony.

He carries himself on pride filled hooves

The way any good farmhoof would,

He’s tough, although inherently nice:

Like, a cat who is afraid of mice.

He smells not like lavender, nor thyme

And it’s really hard to find words which rhyme,

With the smell of my silly farm pony

Which is of.....morning mist?


P.S. Buck it, I tried....

Stormy Weather.

Like the weather he’s named after,

He’s careless, reckless, though wrapped in laughter

He’s the single best part of a day,

to a pony who recently realized he’s gay

For the cutest colt this side of Baltimare

And I’m glad it’s with him, my bed I share.

-Gentle Strokes.

P.S. That's how poetry is properly done, Stormy.

P.P.S. How is this your major?

Humbled Rebuttal.

Thanks again for showing me,

What it means to really be

embarrassed and humbled by

An admittedly very handsome guy

Cheesy doesn’t even begin to

Describe these poems I write to you

Seriously, If Jag ever got hooves on this

The school would forever be in fits

of manic laughter, taunts and jabs

Till I hid away like a hermit crab

….and took you with me.


P.S. I know it doesn't rhyme at the end, but sue me. Just call it 'Post Modern.'.

Every Morning.

I watch him turn, I watch him toss

A dreary dreamscape he cannot cross

His face is pained and filled with woe

Stormy, what troubles you so?

He says he’s fine, though soft and defeated

My wish was it were an ail that could be treated

There’s a stack of letters that go unread

From a father who gives him dread

Poor, poor, Stormy is this your trouble?

Can’t I make it never double?

-Gentle Strokes.

Family Matters.

My father’s rich, you see

and my brother successful

Which to a pony like me

Can be quite stressful

Regardless I’ve found personal wealth

with a colt who’s just my type

Better than riches and good health

Is knowing my body fits his hooves just right.


P.S. I changed the rhyme scheme from 'Clerihew' to 'Cinquain' because that's what we're going over in my class now. Personally, I think poetry sounds better as an 'A.A/B.B.' kind of poem, over a 'A.B/A.B.' type, but that's just me.

This Is Getting Silly.

I get you must practice for your class

But, do I really need to make an ass

Of myself all the time

By writing silly words in rhyme?

I must admit, it’s getting even harder

knowing you use writing these as barter

In exchange for sex

...um, and that’s a hex?

-Gentle Strokes.

P.S. Wanna grab dinner tonight? Or do I have to ask you out in a poem now?

Sorry, Strokes

I know it’s getting kind of lame

Playing this stupid sexy game

that I call ‘Incentive Studying’, but

Once I get an ‘A +’ from the nut

Who calls himself my poetry prof

All night long, my salad you may toss


P.S. Dinner sounds great. Nell’s?

Capital ‘G’ ‘A’ ‘Y’

Yeah. I’m not going to try to

Write a poem or anything

I’m just going to come outright and say it

I found your stupid poetry journal hidden

In your sock drawer when

I was going to borrow some lube

for this chick I brought home who was

really into...um, never mind

forget I said that.

Anyways..I just wanted to let you know

that it’s really, really, really

really, really, really



-Jagged Horn

P.S. I ate that leftover salad from Nell's that you had in the fridge....


Shut up, Jag!

-Stormy/Gentle Strokes.

Less Than Zeroes

View Online

Less Than Zeroes.

Jagged Horn.

Sitting in Sweet Deals’ apartment one lazy Tuesday afternoon. There were the four of them: Sweet Deals--who was the supplier otherwise none of the other three would even attempt to put up with him--Rumblejack, his roommate Shadowflask? (Or was it Shadowdash? Shadowflash?...Something like that.) and, of course, Jagged Horn.

Beside him on the leopard print couch was Sweet Deals. In the faux-leather recliner across from that, Rumblejack and, in the velvet armchair beside that Shadow....flash? (Yeah. That’s it. Shadowflash. Had to be.)

On the glass coffee table was the only reason the three art students would ever have for putting up with the intolerable ramblings Sweet Deals was prone to; a translucent zip-loc bag with nearly half an ounce of sniffing salt. Beside the bag, three thick lines cut using Sweet Deal’s comically oversized--and in the context of the three’s company non threatening--bowie knife. He claimed that the knife was for cutting tangerines, but there were rust coloured stains along the blade that brought a certain doubt to these claims.

Thanks to an emotional outburst from Sweet Deals over a punchline he didn’t understand, the knife was now one with the table, standing like some kind of twisted obelisc in the glass, creating a series of lightning shaped cracks that ran along the table’s surface.

They’d been here for a few hours now, killing time in between classes or whatever, and the mood had gotten quiet and an air of tension had resonated after Sweet Deals’ little outburst, and now, everypony sat nervously waiting for somepony else to clear the air so they could start back up again.

Sweet Deals stepped up to the plate.

He got up from his seat and bent down to the table’s level. Pressing his muzzle firmly against the glass, and moved his face towards one of the thicker lines. He inhaled a sharp breath, plugged a nostril with his hoof and with one quick and loud ‘sniff’ dragged his nose over fattest line on the table. In a heartbeat it hit him; His head shot backwards, his eyes rolled back and, for a quiet, almost sobering minute, everypony just stared in silence as he remained stuck in that pose. That was until his head shot back down, his eyes rolling back to normal with it and spoke.

“Tight! Tight! TIGHT!”

He leapt to his hooves, startling everypony in the room, and reared his body upwards and onto his hind hooves. A second later and he began throwing viciously uncoordinated kicks in Shadowflash’s direction; A wild display of improvised martial arts that lasted longer than it was funny, and became stale and old, and then he calmed for a moment and brought himself to a pause.

“I told you faggots this shit was the bomb!”

Shadowflash looked revolted and stared desperately at Rumblejack, who just smirked and shrugged his shoulders. Shadowflash, evidently, hadn’t been doing any lines and from the few times he and Jag had ever hung out, it was pretty clear that he was the ‘abstaining’ kind of pony. He was more of a morbidly curious onlooker than a clear and present user in these types of situations. Just another art student who ‘slummed it up’ with ‘ruffians’ like Rumblejack and Jagged Horn to draw inspiration for his pieces. If he’d ever considered lowering himself to the level that Jagged Horn lived on, this display of salt induced lunacy probably wasn’t going to make him rethink his position.

“It’s too quiet in here!” Sweet Deals shouted as he finally settled back down in his chair. “We need some music! We need tunes!”

He turned to Rumblejack and threw a hoof in the direction of his expensive sound system.

The whole setup was pretty elaborate: there were two turntables as Sweet Deals dabbled in DJ’ing. (Which was a nice way of saying he’d scratched more than his fair share of classic albums to death.) Four towering speakers twice the size of any pony in the room. Two different record players and an ‘energy converter’ that, allegedly did something more than cost a small fortune.

“Throw on... shit,” He took pause, then continued on. “Throw on that new Poison Jam song. It should be in the second player? It sounds bucking amazing out of these new speakers!”

Rumblejack searched aimlessly for the remote, and Sweet Deals quickly grew impatient. He raced towards the sound system, flipped on the first record player, then the speakers, the ‘energy converter’, and waited for it to warm up. He tapped his right hoof impatiently against the floor and his grin turned into a scowl, which continued to grow until the moment he slammed a hoof against the machine.

In their chairs, all three bodies bounced backwards in shock and semi-panic, once again. Sweet Deals turned to face them with a frown and spoke.

“Why is it that you pay a couple thousand bits for a decent sound system, right? And when you wanna listen to some classics, you know? When you wanna hear that song! That bucking song that’s stuck in your head and it’s driving you crazy ‘cause it’s stuck in your head. And you wanna hear it now! Like ‘right now’, right now! Suddenly all this expensive shit, never. Bucking. Works!”

He punctuated the last three words of the sentance with by slamming his hoof against the record player in a form of absolutely moronic and defiant ignorance.

Three hooves which would have easily knocked any of the three other ponies in the room out later, and the machine had taken enough of a beating. Fearing for it’s life, the speakers gave in and spat out a monstrous amalgamation of loud and terrible noises that none but Sweet Deals had ever heard before.


Sweet Deals turned the volume up to eleven so that the bass shook the house, paintings hung on walls slapped hazardly and Sweet Deals seemed quite content. He bolted back onto the couch, nestled himself comfortably in the chair, and then smiled at them like nothing abnormal and emotionally scarring to present and sober parties had happened.

“That’s surround sound!” He shouted over the noise “5.0. Double certified! That’s the best money can buy!”

The others just nodded politely, pretending that any of the technological bullshit he’d just babbled made sense to them. They waited a few seconds for him to wind down, but he didn’t. He continued to discuss the specs of his new sound system for a minute, then with a different type of passion and intensity he changed the subject.

“So, yo, it’s a big club night here in town! We could hit Whiskey Dix? It’s ‘Mare’s Drink Free’ night! You guys wanna hit the skins? Go out? Get some tail or somethin’?”

It was Rumblejack’s turn to do a line now and he nose dived towards the table. Pressing a nostril against the glass, like Sweet Deal’s had done, he smiled up at his roommate and, a millisecond and one loud ‘sniff’ later, another thick white line disappeared from the table.

His reaction was more or less the same as Sweet Deal’s; his head shot back, slight pause, then back down.

“Yeah! Oh, buck yeah!” He shouted and began some kind of impromptu jig in his seat; upper torso moving backwards and forwards while his top hooves did a poor impression of ‘The Wave’. A short time later, when he was done, he turned his attention to Sweet Deals.

“I dunno about Whiskey Dix tonight, dude. Once we, like, wrap up here......No offense, by the way. Me and this,” He took pause to point an accusing hoof towards Jag, who smiled sheepishly. Politely waiting for a lull in the conversation to do his line. “, lazy flank gotta hit the gym! The plan is. Now hear me out cause it’s genius. The plan is to get ripped by Winter Break so we can all go up to Canterlot and try and score some ‘High Society’ Unicorn tail. Like, I’m buff now, right? Tell me that I’m not buff? I lift! I mean, like, I pump iron! But I wanna get like ‘Super Jacked’, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah... I feel you.” Sweet Deals turned towards Shadowflash. “What about you, chief? You wanna come out? Get some tail? Wait... you know it’s not a gay bar, right?”

“But, I’m not gay...” Shadowflash -- calm and reserved -- responded.

“Oh, wait. I’m losing the plot here!" Sweet Deals groaned, jumping into the fray "Aren’t you this dude’s-” he paused to turn to Rumblejack who sat on the edge of his seat, paying extremely close attention to the conversation. “-faggy roommate?”

“Who, Flashy?" Rumblejack asked, bolting to his roommate's defense "No, dude. No! You're thinking of Jag. Jag has the fag roommate: Stormy. He’s in cultural studies.”

“Wait, we have a ‘Cultural Studies’ course?”

“Yeah," Rumblejack sighed. "That guy Stormy’s in it.”

“Shit... my bad.” Sweet Deals apologized to Shadowflash, who frowned and shook his head.

For all anyone knew he could be lying. Well. Maybe not lying. Jag had seen him with talk with a couple dozen mares at a few parties. And often ones he’d gone home with too. But, Colt Cuddler’s did that sometimes; took mares home not to screw them, just to like split a bottle of white wine spritzers and do each others makeup, or whatever they did. Platonic sexless sleepovers with pretty mares. What a stupid way to spend a night. Gay or straight.

The quiet pause in the conversation was time enough for Jag to take his turn. He knelt down to the table’s length, and, unlike Sweet Deals and Rumblejack, used a rolled up bill from his latest trip to Monk’s Coffee Shop (like usual, to see The Barista who was madly in love with him.) to rail his line.

His head shot back and his brain felt like it was on fire. Good Salt, it stings your nostrils at first. After a while you sort of get used to the sting. But, not all the time. And, never with really strong uncut salt like this stuff. Wherever and whomever Sweet Deals had gotten it from, they hadn’t cut it with baby laxative or baking soda; This stuff was pure (or as pure as he’d probably ever see at Camden) and it kicked like a Mule with it’s balls in a vice (The literal kind, not the fun metaphorical kind.)

The drip came next. That gross build up of mucus. Phlegm. Saliva. Whatever. This came after any good (or bad) line and was thoroughly unpleasant. Of course, after that, it was the sweet and gentle embrace of euphoric bliss.

Pleasure washed over him and that invincible feeling came with it; He felt like the smartest guy in the room. And he was. And it was great knowing it. But, he wanted to let everypony else know it too. But first he just wanted to enjoy this great song!

Ok, it was over. Good. Great. BUCKING AMAZING! Now he could talk. Now he could share his wisdom. ‘Cause he was a genius! And they all needed to know!

“O’Scar Wild was a faggot!”

Great interjection! Relevant. Informative. Witty.

Totally sweet.


Three pairs of eyes stared quizzically back at him and panic crept up his spine. Oh, shit; That wasn’t funny. Oh shit; That’s why they were just staring at him. Oh shit; Was he thinking this....or saying it out loud? Was he talking? Could they hear him?

“Yeah, dude.” Shadowflash grinned. “We can all hear you......”

Oh shit. That was bad. That stupid, probably gay jack off! All artists were gay and he had to be too. He was probably a bucking bonafide Pillow Biter. Wait, hadn’t he seen Shadowflash hitting on Stormy at a party? Yeah. Totally. Come to think of it. He’d seen Shadowflash leave with Stormy at a party. That settled it: He was a total Colt Cuddler. And, a bucking jack off to boot.

“Dude. We can still hear you...” Shadowflash gave out weakly. “And, I’m still not gay.”

“Oh, crap! I shouldn’t have said he was a Colt Cuddler! Oh, Crap! I definitely shouldn’t have called him a jackoff! Oh, Crap. I definitely am still talking out loud... aren’t I?”

All three pairs of eyes staring at him nodded.

“It's too hot today...”


It was little past an hour since he’d left Sweet Deal’s place and now Jagged Horn was faced with every salt user’s nightmare: The comedown. The horrible overwhelming depression that came when the drugs wore off and the smiles turned back into frowns. His were always the worst. Each time, his mind would take him to places he’d rather not go to. Deep seated psychological dilemmas that he used drugs in the first place to bury, would suddenly resurface because of them.

He thought about his parents. And then, how he didn’t actually have parents because they died in that horrible anvil/semi-retarded Mailmare related accident when he was eight. He thought about his short time in the orphanage because none of his self centered aunts or uncles wanted to take him and his sister in. He thought about all the times he had to fight other orphans for food. He thought about his sister and, her son. And how her son was going to grow up without a dad, like he did, because the bucking jerk off who knocked her up ran away when he found out and started a new life Celestia Knew Where, probably getting more impressionable mares like his sister pregnant and then running away. He thought about how there was probably going to be a generation of foals and fillies who would grow up never knowing that each of their absent fathers was actually the same single jack off.

Then. A different mental heartbreak began to follow these thoughts. He thought about his time here at Camden. How he hadn’t been to a class in a month. How he constantly missed tests and papers and essays. How he was failing three of his four classes, and how the only reason he was passing the fourth was because he occasionally sold a few grams of salt to his professor in exchange for a passing grade.

What was he even doing here at Camden?

He needed to take his mind off of this. He needed a ‘pick me up’. Anything, really. Well, not just anything. He needed something chemically designed to that effect. And he knew where to get just that thing.

An instant plan of action came to mind. Rumblejack’s roommate, Shadowflash (Who wasn’t a colt cuddler evidently.) had these pills. Antidepressants. The really powerful kind and these little wonders were just what he needed to get over this hump and, probably carry him through the rest of the day.

So, he set off for Rumblejack’s.


He was sitting now in Rumblejack and Shadowflash’s room, sipping a glass of strong moonshine which Rumblejack had said was (A) Safe to drink, and (B) Something like 180 proof and had an alcohol content of 60%. Apparently he had an uncle that sent him shipments of this bathtub brewed gut rut from a town called Apple-Dooza.

Rumblejack was passed out on the couch beside him with his hoof gently draped over his eyes and snoring loudly. If he hadn’t been he would have left Jag in total silence with his roommate who he’d hours earlier accused of being gay, and was now planning on stealing prescription medication from.

Did that make this situation ironic?

“So.. did you hear that ‘Choke ‘N’ Stroke’ tried to kill himself?”

Shadowflash turned his attention towards Jag and offered a sad smile.

“Hey, uh, can I ask you something?” Shadowflash started, changing the subject.

Whatever came next didn’t really matter. For all he knew, Shadowflash was going to tell him he was the living embodiment of a creature from a different universe transported to Equestria and into the body of a fully grown Colt or something? Either way, he had a full glass of moonshine--and two bottles of the stuff on reserve--to deal with it.

Go; fire away Shadowflash!

“How long have Stormy and Gentle Strokes been going out?”

That was anticlimactic.

“Like, a month or so?” He paused and took a sip of his drink. “Why?”

“Oh, no reason.” Shadowflash mused “It’s just.., I’ve got a few pieces in the same wing of the gallery as Gentle Strokes and I always see him and your roommate together. It’s like they’re inseparable. It’s actually kind of... I dunno... nice I guess.”

Way to be a buzzkill!

That was a bit unfair. He was happy for Stormy. Really, he was. It was just that ever since he’d slept with Gentle Strokes and decided to become a couple about it, the two of them had spent every second of every day together.

Now, it wasn’t like he hated coming home from a mid afternoon salt binge to find his gay roommate on the couch--that they both shared--making out with his gay colt friend. He wasn’t a homophobe. And, it wasn’t like he found it cringe worthy when Gentle Strokes would come over with a bag of groceries and cook some kind of romantic cowpony meal on a hotplate. It was just....well, the Honeymoon phase of every relationship was always the worst; It was a place where Proud Colts turned into Weak Mice. He hadn’t been to a party with Stormy in as long as he could remember and he’d had to replace him as a best friend (for the time being) with Rumblejack who....well, actually fit in as a replacement pretty well.

Suddenly he thought of The Barista. How she was madly in love with him, and how he’d never acted on that before. The word ‘lonely’ never came to mind, because he wasn’t. He had friends at Camden. Dozens. Maybe even hundreds. And, by his count, he’d probably banged half the school’s female population. He wasn’t lonely. Still, he felt, for whatever reason, that it was a good idea to approach The Barista for some kind of buck buddies situation.

So, after he went about procuring some of Shadowflash’s Pick me up pills, washed a hooffull of them down with a glass of moonshine and let them kick in, that’s exactly what he was going to do.


These pills. They were amazing! Absolutely awe inspiring miracles of modern science. He’d never felt so good in his life. The sun was shining, and the grass was green (Well, under the half a foot of snow that was), and everything about today was just lovely.

He’d been riding this amazing high for almost an hour now. Frolicing up and down Camden’s cobblestone streets and occasionally complementing some random mare on her winter coat and getting a blushing smile in return, or, spinning his body around a lamp post and belting out the lyrics to Berry Coltilow’s ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ as loud and obnoxiously as he could at groups of grumpy looking eggheads studying at tables in the courtyard.

He was on his way to Monk’s coffee shop now, his body swaying along with the rhythm of a song in his head and, offering every stranger he met on the way a friendly ‘Good day to you, sir/madame”.

Why hog all the joy in the world to himself?

Oh, Celestia bless this day, all of Equestria and all the ponies, Gryphons, Zebras, Camels, Bunnies, Turtles, Owls, Puppies and Kittens in it.

Life was great!

He entered Monk’s with a loud and cheery “Glad tidings to all!” and a beaming smile. A few eyes met his, then quietly turned away. Too shy to offer a reply. But, who cared? He was doing fine and he wasn’t going to let a few grumpy nihilists ruin his high.

With a smile and a tune whistled through his clenched lips, he approached the counter and locked eyes with The Barista. She rolled hers at him, frowned, grumbled something about how she thought her day couldn’t get any worse (She had such a great and colourfully sarcastic sense of humor!) then approached him.

“What can I get for you, sir?”

She was so cute, the way she pretended not to know his name. The way she pretended to be annoyed by him. Could it be any more obvious that she was in love with him?

"I'll take a grande of your finest Orange Mocha Frappuccino!” He belted out, giving her a hearwarming smile from the bottom of his heart.

She grunted and moved towards the fancy machines behind her.

A short minute later she handed him his drink and he slid her a bit wrapped in a napkin that had his room number and the time of day that they could meet up for some drama free sex.

The Barista unwrapped the napkin, gave a heavy sigh as she read it and threw it in the garbage (Probably in one of those ‘Destroy this evidence because it’s top secret information’ kind of ways.)

“Hey?” He grinned. She looked at him curiously and waited for him to finish his thought. “How come we never hooked up? You and me?”

“Really?” She offered back with an adorably mocking sense of ignorance “Are you seriously asking me that?”

“Yeah. I wanna know.” Jag grinned back. “I mean we’re both good looking. I like you. You obviously like me. We should just do it?”

“You had sex with my roommate.” She droned in response. “Twice. And, you cheated on her with her best friend.”

Oh, now that was an ego boost. He’d totally forgot about his almost threesome with Crimson and Clover. Well ‘almost’ in the sense that once he couldn’t convince Clover that him screwing her and her best friend was kinky, he just decided to move on to her best friend.

“So what?”

“Ohmygoddessthisdaycannotgetanyworse.” She grumbled. She looked at him, staring at him with those cute little eyes of hers, and spoke again. “Can you please take your little Orange Mocha Fag-achino, find a rope somewhere on campus and hang yourself, now?”

She had such an adorably twisted sense of humor.

He gave a hearty chuckle, smiled at her with his same winning smile and spoke again.

“Offer still stands. Just uncrumple that napkin and you’ll know where to find me, babe.”

With that he set off for home, riding his high the whole way there.

Au Revoir.

“Merci beaucoup.” Au Revoir offered, choosing the more exotic translation of ‘Thank you very much’ to the dull, and very much unsexy sounding original.

The Barista blushed profusely as she gave him his espresso. Just for fun, he gently brushed his hoof along the backside of hers, reaching with his other hoof towards the tip jar. Her blush grew as she felt his hoof on hers and she got so swept up in being in love with him that she didn’t notice him grabbing a hooffull of bits from out of the jar and placing them in his saddlebag.

“You.....you have a very nice accent.” She quietly mumbled. He gingerly took a sip of his espresso and inwardly swallowed his distaste for her own accent. It was so regal. So plain. She was so plain. She was pretty, sure. But, she made it so obvious that she was into him that it wasn’t even challenging.

All it took to get mares to sleep with him was to ask them out in a language they didn’t understand (He would start off in dialect they would understand and throw in phrases like ‘Because I’d like to use your flank like a drum kit all night’ or ‘Because I think you would also go for seconds in the morning’ near the end. Under the veil of his accent they probably sounded like ‘Because you have the most beautiful face I’ve ever gazed upon’ to their untrained ears). Then, on their first (and only) date he would get them drunk on the cheapest wine (with the most exotic and foreign sounding name) that the restaurant they dined in served. When that was said and done, he would politely ask them if they wanted to come back to his place to hear his poetry.

They never said no.

Before he’d learned that, during his second week at Camden, he would have had, had sex with The Barista a hundred and one times by now. But, like with most mares at Camden, the thrill of Le Jeu just wasn’t there. The Game cannot be boastfully won by one player, when the other doesn’t understand the rules.

He needed a challenge.

She was still staring at him with her head neatly perched on her hooves as he took a seat in the booth across the way from her. He continued to take gentle, quiet and contemplative looking sips of his espresso. ‘Accidentally’ making eye contact with her every now and again just to watch her blush and turn away.

There was the slightest bit of an ego boost that flirting with her offered, though, other than that momentary smile it brought to his face he didn’t even consider it a compliment that she was madly in love with him.

Mares at this school practically begged him to sleep with them. For every Domestic Beer swilling, hoofball playing, colt on campus who could bed a mare after comparing the works of Shakes Spear to modern day poets like Blake, or Whitmane, he could romance ten. He was too good. Too good for Camden. Too good for the feminine student body. Too good for Le Jeu.

He reached into his H’Armani saddlebag and withdrew the mandatory textbook from his Cultural Relevance of Shakes Spear class, a pad of parchment, a Gryphon feather quill and a small bottle of ink. He opened the book randomly to page two hundred and two (To appear as if he’d been deeply engrossed in the class and, not just taking it for an easy credit and for the added sense of ‘cultural sensitivity’ it gave him.) and, dipping the quill in the ink began idly doodling a cartoon of himself bucking The Barista.

He had two hours to kill before his next class: Introduction to Nursing. A class he’d only taken for the obvious reason of being the only straight colt with the best chance of appearing as such, while still retaining a soft approachable sensibility to mares in the class. It, like every other class he’d taken this semester was an easy credit and a chance to hook up with some extremely self conscious mares.

Normally, on a Tuesday like today, after Cultural Relevance of Shakes Speak he would have just spent the time off in his room fixing his mane, or deciding which beret went with which scarf best. Appearance was everything. He couldn’t retain his exotic foreign status if he looked like every other hipster on Campus. And since every not Foreign pony on Campus had decided that during winter they would also wear scarves and berets (which he had actually been doing all year), it would only stand that he had to distance himself from them as far as he could. Everyday was a struggle in fashion for him.

He would be back in his room if, it wasn’t for the chance he had of stumbling upon a vulgar display of romance between his yokel roommate and the roommate of the annoying junkie.

It seemed ever since Le Fin Du Monde Party a few weeks ago. When he stumbled upon his roommate nestling on the couch with (What was his name? Stumpy? Rocky? Stormy?), lip locked and tentatively stroking his mane with his hoof, the two had forged some kind of romantic relationship. Which seemed odd. Gentle Strokes was a loser. He was an ignorant hick, firstoff. A sad, pathetic drunk secondly. And thirdly, every mare he’d ever brought home had dumped him a week later. But he never once thought he was a Colt Cuddler. Colt Cuddler’s, well, back home at least were never so....stupid.

His colt friend was alright. He wasn’t nearly as bad as his idiot roommate, at least. And, if it hadn’t been for hearing stories of his sexual exploits from colts in his Introduction to Nursing class, he could have just as easily been mistaken for straight. But why, of all the infinitely more attractive, emotionally stable, skinnier and more feminine Colt Cuddler’s at Camden, he had to chose the one pony on Campus who shared a room with him was a towering flaw in his personality.

He wasn’t exactly revolted by their sexuality, more so, their rambunctious sex life. Every other night, when he came home with some random mare from some class, or party, Gentle Strokes had already beaten him there and hung a sock on the door like some kind of ‘Go Buck Yourself’ to him and his date.

So, now. Instead of walking in on his roommate and Stormy flirting while they studied for their Cultural Studies exam. He was going to sit alone in a booth at Monk’s, draw crude pictures of himself screwing The Barista (and maybe even leave a few behind for The Barisa to have fantasies about) and survey the crowd that came and went.

Couples came to Monk’s all the time because it offered a more romantic atmosphere than Star-Bucks could. If he were lucky, he’d find some Egghead couple where the mare was extremely out of the colt’s league and ‘Eye Bang’ her. He would gauge how she reacted then, if he felt it right ‘accidently’ drop a napkin with his room number and contact info for her as he got up to use the bathroom.

It didn’t always work. But every now and again he would get a letter from somepony who’d found one of his ‘accidental’ napkins and have decent sex. The risk was well worth the reward.

Taking another sip from his espresso he went back to shading in patches of his scarf on the picture he’d drawn of himself pulling The Barista’s mane with his teeth and slapping her flank with his free hooves. All the while smiling gently at her.

White Mane and Piper.

*Bang* *Bang* *Bang*


White Mane just giggled as he continued to comb his mane. He liked how it looked now, mild parting to the left so that his bangs almost covered his left eye. But, it still wasn’t perfect enough for him. If only he could remember how he’d made his hair look that night.

*Bang* *Bang* *Bang* *Bang*

“I’m seriously going to pee myself if you don’t open that door, dude!

He just continued to giggle. His roommate was such a dork, but, he made it work in a way that was also kind of cute, so he didn’t mind living with him.

“Just give me a minute, Piper.” White Mane sing-songed as he continued to brush his hair to the left.

“You’ve been in the bathroom for almost an hour.....wait, are you just combing your mane?”

“No. I’m priming myself, you silly colt.” He responded as he stared at himself in the mirror. He looked good. Great even. Still, a few more tries wouldn’t hurt.


Well, that type of slander was uncalled for.

Just because Stormy had, had a few dates with that grassroots cow pony, and they cuddled all the time on the couches in the art lounge, and they shared coffee at Monk’s a lot, and they went home together after every party he’d seen them at, didn’t mean they were dating. It just meant that he was trying to make him jealous.

And, it was working.

“I don’t understand you dude; You sleep with a colt one time. He totally gives you the cold shoulder every time you see him after that and finds himself a colt friend, and you’re still totally obsessed with him?”

“First off.” White Mane began, “He does love me. He’s just playing hard to get. Secondly; we didn’t sleep together, Piper, we made love. And, thirdly: What would you know about love? You’re still a virgin!”

He felt mean saying it, but, he wasn’t going to listen to Piper totally slander and poison the name of the colt who loved him.

“Dude... ouch.”

“Oh, that was really mean. I’m sorry Piper, I still think you’re the best roommate ever, don’t worry.”

Behind the door he heard Piper shuffle his hooves.

“Can I just come in? I won’t mess with your flow......I just really need to pee, dude.”


Sometimes Piper was absolutely unbearable and demanding.

“Alright, fine" White Mane sighed. "Just do what you have to do, then let me finish up, okay?”

“OhthankCelestia!" he heard Piper chime as he turned the doorknob and rushed into the bathroom. He stood over the toilet, lifted himself onto his rear legs, then paused.

“Dude, turn around. I can’t go when you’re staring at me.”

“Sorry..." White Mane laughed, "I just never noticed you had that spot on your left flank before, Piper.”

Piper’s face turned beet red and he bit his lower lip. Piper was like that; goofy and adorable. He was always blushing and acting weird whenever White Mane would comment on how good he looked in a shirt, or if he said he liked the way his mane looked, or if he asked Piper to help him pick out an outfit.

“Piper, your face right now is so adorable.” He squealed. “I could just eat you up you silly little colt!”

Piper’s blush deepened and he bit his lower lip.

“Dude..." He groaned. "Shut up."

White Mane giggled and went back to combing his mane thinking about Piper the goofy egghead.

It took a few hours, but, eventually White Mane had managed to get his mane looking exactly like it did that night. Thankfully, somehow Piper and that big egghead brain of his had remembered what he looked like , which made sense; Piper did help him prep-and-groom himself that night and many others like it.

Big Sigh.

The way Piper always helped him out was so sweet. He was the best roommate in all of Equestria. How no mare could see that, and why he never showed any of them that side of him was beyond him. Silly Egghead Piper. How was he ever going to find a pony to love him, like he had, if he didn’t throw himself out there?

“Hey, Piper?” He called to his roommate.

Piper sat at his desk, working on homework, or an assignment, or something. The second he heard his name called, his attention was focused on White Mane.


“How come you’ve never had a girl over before?”

Piper’s face dropped for some reason and again he made that cute ‘I’m so adorkable’ face; gnawing on his lower lip as hard as he could while his cheeks flushed.


“I’m sorry, it’s just; you’re a really handsome colt. You have such a great personality. You’re so loyal, and charming, and very smart, too.” White Mane said, then gave a giggle. “You deserve a very special somepony. I just hope you find her.”

Piper’s face continued to contort itself, his blush deepened and he looked like he was going to cry. He slammed his head into his book and gave a loud and deep groan, then mumbled something that sounded similar to “I hate my life!”

White Mane giggled, quietly to himself, then stared at the clock.

It was 11:45 now.

Oh, Dukes it was Eleven Forty-Five!

He was going to be late!

“Oh, Dukes!” He leapt to his feet. “Piper, I’ve got to run and see if I can catch Stormy before his Creative Writing class! I just know today will be the day! Let’s finish up this talk when I get back, ok?”

From where his face was buried in the book, White Mane heard Piper grumble and groan.

“Oh and, Piper?” White Mane prosed. “Before I go I have something very important to ask you.”

He raised his head and turned towards him his eyes widened, he smiled up at him and just stared waiting for White Mane to speak again.

“Are you sure my mane looks exactly like it did that day?”

That was when Piper broke down into tears.

White Mane would have asked him what was wrong, but, he really did have to run if he was going to make it in time.


White Mane just wasn’t having a good day. He wasn’t fast enough to make it to Stormy’s class to catch him before he got in, so, naturally, he’d had to slip in and sit in the back and wait for an opportunity to catch him on his way out.

He scanned the backs of the heads of every colt in class, there were thankfully only about forty, forty-five students at the most in his class, and most of them seemed to be Mares, so it wasn’t like it would have been too hard to spot Stormy. Un-thankfully, Stormy didn’t seem to be in that class that day, so he’d had to sit there, and listen to a lecture on Creative Writing for an hour and a half.

He noticed, about half way through the class, that the Creative Writing professor seemed to be taking glances in his direction. At first, he wasn’t sure if it was him he was staring at, or the exit door behind him. But, after about the seventh time their eyes met, he was convinced it was him he was staring at.

That couldn’t be good.

What if he realized White Mane wasn’t actually in that class? What if he was mad that White Mane was stealing free information from him? What if he reported him to The Dean? What if The Dean nullified his scholarship? What if The Dean nullified his scholarship and he had to go back home, with his tail tucked between his legs, and admit to his parents he’d kind of messed up?

Oh, Dukes. He really screwed up this time!

When the class ended, he tried his hardest to sneak out with the crowd. That was, until a gentle hoof tapped him on the shoulder, and he spun around to be face to face with the Creative Writing professor.

Oh, Double Dukes!

“Excuse me?” The professor began. His voice was soft and gentle, and White Mane felt relief wash over him. “I’m sorry to bother you, but, I’ve never seen you in my class before. Are you sure you’re in the right one?”

Make up a lie. Make up a lie. Make up a lie!.

“Oh.. well... um,” He shuffled his hooves and bowed his head.

Goodbye Camden. Hello working at McDolans.

“It’s alright, son.” The professor continued, patting a hoof gently on his shoulder and rubbing it. His touch was warm and relieving and the stress seemed to vanish as he felt the gentle hoof rub his shoulders. “I think I understand; you’re probably here to sit in and experience the majestic wonder of Creative Writing, right?”

Sure, that worked.

The professor chuckled and, graciously invited White Mane to follow him, which he did. He stopped at his desk and pulled a chair out for White Mane to sit on, which he did. The professor followed soon after in his own chair, then planting his head on his hooves, spoke again.

“Creative writing is, I believe, the most liberating and satisfying experience a young colt can have at your age. Writing, in any form, is so wonderful; it lets you tap into your imagination. You can scale mountains, explore seas, ride the wind, and you never even have to leave your room.” He paused, bringing with him an air of comfortable silence throughout the room. He smiled up at the younger colt, and White Mane happily returned it. Then, just as he’d stopped, he started again. “I want you to do me a favor, son; I want you to close your eyes and imagine something that makes you happy.”

White Mane, complied. Something about the older colt’s tone was so inviting and proud, it made him want to listen to him. He shut his eyes tight and visions of a grey coated colt filled his mind’s eye; Stormy and him. Him and Stormy. Them. Them, sharing a picnic lunch under a tall oak tree. Them sharing another night of passion. Them; Stormy and him. Him and Stormy. Again, and, again, and again.

Heaven on Equestria.

“Now, clear your mind.”

White Mane did. No more Stormy. No more passion. Just a sea of white empty nothingness.

“Imagine you’re a Royal Guard in Celestia’s army. You’re a new recruit, and Celestia has just asked you to be her personal body guard. How does that make you feel?”

Proud. Strong. Confident.

He must have been smiling quite happily, because the next thing the older colt did was comment on how happy he looked.

“That, son; that feeling you’re feeling right now, that’s the power of Creative Writing and imagination! It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?”

White Mane nodded.

“I’ve never felt so...”

He didn’t have the words to finish his thought.

Creative Writing was amazing. This professor, his professor, was an absolute genius.

He opened his eyes, and stared at the older Colt. He was smiling, wide, and for the first time he noticed that his hooves were touching the tips of his own. He liked the the touch. It was warm, soft and gentle. So was his professor’s smile.

“Would you care to discuss the course over dinner, tonight?” He asked.

What was he doing tonight?

Well, he had his first shift at Monk’s, which he got because he knew Stormy frequented there, but, well, Stormy seemed like a distant memory to him, now. Just yesterdays news. As far as he was concerned, he was doing absolutely nothing that night. Nothing but having dinner with this handsome older colt and sharing in his sage wisdom, that was.

White Mane nodded enthusiastically.

Mocha Roast.

She was born ‘Mocha Roast’ to parents who ran a coffee shop back home in Baltimare. The destiny defining mark on her flank was of a perfectly brewed cup of coffee. And, quite honestly, it was just a matter of time, and probably more than that, dumb luck that she’d end up working at a coffee shop.

Dumb Luck was a stupid bucking asshole!

When she needed to find a job on Campus to help pay for her education, it had to have been ‘dumb luck’ that the only two options she had were either a low paying job pouring cups of coffee at Monk’s Coffee Shop, or shredding bits of silk and lace from her body in front of crowds. Looking at it now; compared Monk’s, the idea of getting naked for gangs of drunk, horny frat colts who went to Camden, drunker and hornier professors who taught at Camden, or colts old enough to be her grandfather, stripping was still probably the lesser of two evils. At least she’d still keep her dignity.

Her shifts were long, the pay was horrible and, the customers; oh Celestia the customers. Because Monk’s was the only of ten coffee shops on Campus that wasn’t a Star-Bucks, and because every single hipster, indie student had to dismantle the corporate infrastructure one locally owned and supported espresso at a time, she got the assend of the worst kind of students Camden had to offer.

Today was no different.

Her shift today started at Nine, A.M. and, thankfully she didn’t have class on Tuesdays, or she might have actually done something fun and productive with her day otherwise. By noon she’d she’d been asked to play three local band’s demo tapes over the sound system so, from the looks of it, it was going to be that kind of shift.

It only took seeing him come in; Jagged Horn, the stupid, idiot, moron, asshole, junkie, loser roommate of that kind of cute coltcuddler who came in from time to time for her to realize that she was right about her predictions.

Today was going to be a real slow drag.

Jagged Horn came in every now and again and when he did, he always ordered something fruity and exotic, maybe because he thought it would impress her? Today had been no different; An Orange Mocha Frappuccino. The kind of item hidden at the bottom of the menu because it took three of five machines to make and had enough sugar to put a pony in a diabetic coma. So, naturally he had to order it.

Normally--and today was no different--after getting his Frappe Latte, or his Orange Mocha Frapachino, or his Pumpkin Spice Creamed Coffee, or whatever, he’d just stand there, drinking it and flirt a bit.

At first, it was kind of flattering; he would call her pretty and sometimes she’d even flirt back with him. It wasn’t like she ever thought about following through, she’d heard enough about him to know he wasn’t much for monogamy. She knew about his substance abuse problems, and how he was really just an idiot behind the good looks and borderline charm. Still, it was usually a good way to make her day go by a little faster.

Then she found out he’d slept with her roommate (who was absolutely the worst as far as she was concerned) and her opinion on him as a kind of cute and quirky little nuisance was forever swayed; now he was nothing more than a dangerously annoying little cockroach that she didn’t even want to waste the time trying to squash.

So, that had been the first four hours of her shift and, as she was counting down the minutes left in the hour of her fifth; the hour after the halfway mark, another regular happened to walk in and, her day brightened.

Au Revoir.

She was embarrassed to admit that she’d learned his name from a classmate of hers, because, she didn’t exactly have the nerve to approach him. He was so....charming, and handsome, and his accent. Oh, Goddess; that accent. She could listen to him read the menu at Monk’s all day if she had too. The way the word ‘Espresso’ rolled off his tongue as he ordered sent jolts of electricity coursing through her veins. She could hardly maintain her composure as she fixed him his espresso. She felt a little silly, doing it, but she even made a small little heart shape with the foam.

When he spotted it, he flashed that ruggedly handsome smile; and, in that silky sweet voice offered up the most wonderful sounding ‘Thank you’ she’d ever heard: Merci Beaucoup. The word floated into her ears on wings of grace and elegance.

She felt his hoof gently stroke against hers when he went to pay. It was probably an accident, but he smiled at her afterwards and she almost felt herself grow faint. It didn’t matter that he was three bits short of the price of the expresso (she could just take it out of her tip jar later) because, he made a point of sitting directly across from her while he studied.

That warm feeling in the pit of her stomach grew whenever she’d look up and catch a glimpse of him stealing a glance at her. When their eyes met she felt weak in her knees. He really was pure sex appeal personified.

Suddenly, the desire for her shift to end melted away. She could do this all day; stand there, with her head perched on her hooves and just stare at him. Unfortunately though, it seemed he couldn’t be her eye candy as long as she’d like; a little under an hour after he settled in, he folded up his textbooks and left. As he did, however, he dropped a paper. She rushed over to it, greatly considering chasing him, but, realizing if she didn’t, and this paper was of any importance it would be a great excuse to seek him out and find him.

Without looking at it, she folded the paper and placed it in her pocket.

Now to deal with the next several hours of her shift.

One P.M.



Bigger yawn.

One Thirty.

Why couldn’t she be asleep right now?

One Forty-Five.

How much caffeine was in a large double double?

Two P.M.

There was too much caffeine in a large double double.


The eye-jittery high of the double double had was starting to wear off.


Why was she still here?

Two-Forty Five.

How many bits were in the tip jar?

Three-Fifty-Five now, and relief washed over her. In a few minutes the trainee--White Mane, the freshman, colt cuddler she’d met in that acting class she’d dropped this semester who begged her for the job like she was doing him a favor, and not a personal injustice--was going to come in and start his first shift. A half an hour of showing him how to use the machines, and he’d be a certified barista himself and she could finally get away from there and start her day.

She planned out her day accordingly; leave work, head home and hopefully Clover would be out, whoring herself to visiting townies in exchange for a ticket to the Vinyl Dash/Octavia concert at the end of the week--She had two tickets herself, but she found a certain bent appeal in keeping that a secret from Clover. And, who knew: maybe she could get lucky and find a cute colt to share the other ticket with? Maybe it would even be Au Revoir?--If good fortune were shining on her, and that was the case, she could spend a few quiet hours reading, maybe write a letter home, or call her mom and get lectured on how Camden was turning her into a ‘Filly Fooler’ because she hadn’t brought a colt home all semester. Then, she could listen to the latest gossip from her roommate, and find out what was happening on campus that night.

Four-O-One on the clock now and White Mane was late.

This did not bode well with her.

Finally, at Four-O-Five. a frantic and panicked looking blur of golden/white rushed through the front doors and stopped in front of her, presenting itself as her trainee; White Mane. He gave an exasperated sigh, plopped his upper torso, woefully, onto the counter and, with his right eye closed and left eye cracked open and staring at her, he spoke.

“I’m so, so, so sorry I’m late,” He managed in between sharp breaths. “But...I kinda need the day off.”

A twitch overtook her left eye, and she could feel a vein spring to life in her forehead.

“Excuse me?”

“Well...um...you see.” White Mane recomposed himself to resemble the form of the innocent and doe-eyed coltcuddler he normally was; ear to ear goofy and love struck smile on his lips, his left hoof nervously prodding against the ground below him, while he stared up at her. “I met this absolute stallion.....and he asked me to dinner, and I think he might be ‘the one’, and....”

“But....this is your first shift?”

“I know, and I’m so, so, so, so, soooooo sorry that I can’t make it.”

He gave her those big, saucer eyes, and his lower lip started to quiver. The twitch came back, stronger than before and to the point where her left eye blinked open/shut.

“You’re helpless....” She groaned, defeated.

“Um.....so, does that mean I can have the day off?”

“Seventy bits.”


“You can have the day off if you give me seventy bits, and, you owe me for the rest of the semester.”

White Mane beamed and leapt to his hooves, he rushed behind the counter and wrapped his forelegs around her in a tight hug, all the while repeating a cheery mantra of “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” and “Oh, you’re the best!”.

She should have felt proud, knowing that she was giving a love struck colt a chance at happiness and, better than that, getting paid to do it; but, the defeated feeling of being trapped in the minimum wage hell for another couple of hours was overwhelming. She didn’t know why she said ‘Yes’ instead of ‘No’, maybe it was a subtle desire to spare the younger colt from a fate worse than death, a job that would eventually crush and tarnish his little innocent soul until he was as bitter and cynical as she was. Or, maybe she just wanted the extra money? Either way, she was stuck now, for the next....six hours, and somewhat regretting her only good deed of the day.

The hours passed slowly, minutes seemed like days, hours felt like decades, and when the last couple left Monk’s and she was ready to call it a day, she was so drained that the only thing left to do was relax. Crawl into bed, ignore whatever horror story her roommate had to share with her about hooking up with some colt who was into getting candle wax getting poured on his nether bits, or who liked to be called a ‘Filly’ in bed, or was going to make her walk funny for the rest of the week, and just mellow. There was a bit of Trottingham Hay leftover from the sack the art student with the weird smile had left at her place, and she had a half bottle of cough syrup, so it was an internal struggle to decide which she was going to use to fall asleep tonight, but that was a mental struggle for later.

Then, she remembered the note from Au Revoir, and, with a smile and a newfound skip in her trot, she locked up the safe, counted the bits in her tip jar (She actually made more in tips than she had working her shift, and White Mane’s. Somehow.) and unfolded the crumpled bit of paper.

Total and complete disgust followed; there was the striking visage of her, laying flat on her stomach and her face contorted in a pained grimace, while above her, Au Revoir, more muscular in the image than in real life, rode her like a cheap whore.

A jolt of pain overtook her, and she crumpled the paper.

For a brief second she considered unwrapping the note from Jagged Horn, taking him up on the offer and somehow getting back at Au Revoir and his sick twisted mind by doing it. But, it didn’t matter. Au Revoir was an asshole. Jagged Horn was an asshole. White Mane was an asshole. Clover was an asshole. Her job was shitty. Camden was a terrible place, and, ponies who worked hard and kept their noses clean never got ahead in life.

Dark thoughts followed her all the way back to her room and when she got to the door, she found a sock tied firmly around the knob. The sound of a Huey Lewis and The Hooves album came between the barnyard noises of her roommate and some nameless colt going at it, and she wondered just where she was going to sleep tonight.


“Hmmmm, you’re so good at this.”

“Well, you make it so enjoyable to do.”

“But....like....Oh Goddess, right there!”

“You’ve got a lovely moan, babe.”

“Hmmm, thanks." Slight pause. "Seriously though, how are you so good at this?”

“I had lots of practice.”


“Yup. I used to do it with my ma all the time back home.”

“Your mom? Isn’t this a little intimate?”

“Nah, it’s Dodge Junction, Stormy. Nothin’s ‘too intimate’ down there....”

Stormy lay, belly down and face ground in a pillow, on his bed with Gentle Strokes straddling his back. The smell of lavender and jasmine from the scented candles filled the room, the soft light they gave flickered and cast shadows against the wall and there was a John Coltrane album humming in the background.

Just another evening for two lovestruck colts, really.


A hoof beat against the door startled both ponies to their senses, and Gentle Strokes stared down at Stormy with a bemused curiosity.

“I thought you hung a sock up, babe?”

Stormy scoffed, frowned, then nodded.

“I did.”

“Well, if it’s Jag, I’m not going to ‘not’ beat him senseless.”

“Wouldn’t bother me....”

And then the door slammed open, and instead of the idiot junkie with a head full of drugs and searching for a half a gram of salt he’d left behind that they’d expected, in marched the most curious sight either of them had seen all semester: A mare. A pretty mare, in fact. A pretty mare with a broken frown on her face and daggers in her eyes. She didn’t take pause, not to stare at the two curious colts watching her or to explain herself or what she was doing. She just trotted past them, angrily huffing under her breath, then plopped on the couch. With her she carried a saddle bag and from it she pulled out a half empty bottle of cough medicine, ear plugs and a blanket.

“Uh...can I help you?”

Stormy was the first to speak, though not breaking his position of laying flat on the bed. She turned to them, rolled her eyes at the sight she saw, then spoke.

“Listen; your idiot roommate,” She started, pointing a hoof accusingly at Gentle Strokes. “, is a disgusting pervert!”


“And, your idiot roommate,” Hoof thrown this time at Stormy, “ is a stupid asshole junkie! My stupid roommate is getting bucked loud enough that I could hear it from down the hall, and I know for a fact that it’s one of your stupid roommates who’s doing it. Or some stupid townie. Or maybe that stupid Colt From Las Pegasus....”

“Yeah, but.....”

“I just need a place to stay, for tonight.” It was still an angry tone of voice, but it had hints of pleading carried with it. She turned back to them, and gave them a sympathetic look, before speaking again. “I know, I know. I shouldn’t have just barged in, and I didn’t mean to interrupt, but, I’ve had a really long day, and I already drank half this bottle of ‘Nite-Quil 4 Foals’.....”


“Thanks.” She offered and stuck an earplug in one ear. “I brought ear-plugs and a blinder so you two can get back to, well....you know.....I just need a place to rest for a few hours”

“....we weren’t bucking....” Stormy grumbled under his breath, but, by then The Barista had already put the second ea plug in and laid down on the bed. A few quiet and tense minutes later, she was asleep and Stormy stared up at Gentle Strokes.

“That was....kinda weird....”

“Mhmmm.” Gentle Strokes agreed with a quiet hum.

“You know, now that she mentioned it,” Stormy started with a hungry gleam in his eyes and a grin on his face, he rolled onto his back, grabbing Gentle Strokes around the waist and pulling the surprised colt ontop of him. “Wanna screw around?”

Gentle Strokes lifted himself slightly from atop Stormy’s body, turned his head to The Barista, then back at Stormy, he grinned goofy, and bent his head to Stormy’s neck, taking a gentle nibble past the fur and into the flesh with the intent of leaving a mark.

“You silver tongued devil.” Gentle Strokes moaned against Stormy’s throat. Stormy gave a quiet groan as one of Strokes’ soft hooves pressed against his flank and his little love bites got progressively more aggressive.

Bright Lights

View Online

Bright Lights.

Top floor of The Cart-Lyle; His Father’s penthouse. Staring idly at the bright lights of the big city and blowing smoke cloud after smoke cloud against the fibreglass window. He’d watch as the little white death clouds crashed against the glass, flattened, then spread. Sometimes the smoke clouds would cling to the vapor trail his breath on the faux-glass left behind. But, mostly, they didn’t.

Stormy had been doing this, wasting time in his life for a good three hours and a half pack of cigarettes now. Somewhere behind him His Father was sitting in the faux-leather couch, bouncing back and forth between discussing his plans for his upcoming retirement and lamenting Stormy’s decision to go to Camden, as, opposed to Coltlumbia. Like he had and like his brother had.

“Honestly, Stormy.” His Father began, again, “You must really want to flip bean-burgers at McDolands for the rest of your life.”

His Father, quite sunken into the leather couch, gave an unreciprocated laugh and continued.

“I’ll bet, with your BA you would make a great assistant manager.” Emphasis on the word ‘Ass’ in assistant; As in ‘I wasn’t disappointed enough in you to begin with so let’s drag that out in the open and take it from there.’

Another smoke cloud against the window. Stomp the cigarette out in the crystal ashtray and... light another cigarette.

“Do you really think you’re posed to become some Shakes Spearian writer, Stormy?” His Father started, then continued “Because, I remember those little Daring Do adventures you used to write when you were younger, and they would have been a lot more impressive if you’d been born with an entirely different debilitating mental illness. Say, an extra chromosome perhaps?”

Heavy drag from the cigarette. Feel the burn of nicotine as it gently spread more black filth, tar, cancer, whatever, to the lungs.

This feels good.

Coming home was a great decision.

“Well, at least you’re in good company at Camden. I bet you’ve already had your way with a decent size of the art fag crowd? I assume that is... *cough* a great source of pride for you?”

Maybe Gentle Strokes was thinking about him? Maybe he wasn’t? Maybe he should have stayed on campus for the break? Maybe he should have gone with Jag to Baltimare? Or with Brawny Brawler and his friends to Trottingham? Or... no, Strokes wouldn’t have wanted him in Dodge Junction anyway.

“Can I at least pretend to think you’re passing all your classes, Stormy? I’d really love to find out I pulled all those strings to get you into Camden for you to just buck it up. But, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it if you did.”

Plan out the rest of the night; If Blue got off work in an hour, and in the off chance that Sapphire was half way ready by the time Blue got home from P.& P. , he could meet them at Horsia’s for dinner, by, maybe six-thirty? Maybe seven? Or, seven-ten? (The reservation was for Seven but fashionably late was more his style) Plus, dinner couldn’t be longer than an hour or so. Maybe if they had a few drinks afterwards it’d be a little past eight by the time he was done and then he just had to find a way to kill the rest of his night.

What new clubs were there in Manehattan? What old clubs did he used to like? Who were his friends back then? Did they still know who he was? Did Gentle Strokes miss him? Did he care? Did Stormy care?

“You know that once you graduate you’ll just move back home. It’ll be Harrow all over again. Only, this time I won’t have to find out you got kicked out of Manehattan’s most prestigious boarding school because you decided that being molested by your english teacher was something that would greatly improve the social standing of your family,”

Assuming dinner ended at eight, or eight thirty and he had the energy in him to continue on with his night and not just take an elevator to the roof of the Equestrian State Building and jump off of it -- giving some poor street cleaner a shitty start to his day -- he would have enough time to grab some cheap drinks at some East End pub, make a few friends and then find out where the real action was happening in Manehattan.

“... and that wasn’t enough, for you, though? Do you know that I still have friends... Hells, work associates... who talk about you and him? I mean, it’s like you do this to hurt me?" His Father paused and sighed. "I can’t see a reason why somepony like you would go out of his way to want to be a sodomite? It doesn't make sense! Is it because I never hugged you growing up? Or, are you looking for a father figure in your life? Because, that’s something I’m sure you could talk to about with a therapist.. if you don't already? I bet you just lay on his sofa with a box of tissues, and cry about how I locked you out of the house all weekend that one winter? Oh poor little you.”

Running a hoof through his mane, over the thick patchwork of indented flesh, where skin had once existed -- Now, a physically unappealing scar, almost invisible to the eye, but apparent on closer inspection -- it reminded him that his opinion on anything his father had to say was entirely unnecessary.

“... just like your brother.” Slight pause. “Are you even listening to me you twinkle hooves? Or, are you off in fairy land?”

Stormy turned to face His Father and smiled, softly.

“Yeah. Of course.”

“Mmhmm.” His Father groaned. “And, do you have any thoughts about any of this? Or, would you just like to keep staring at me like a retarded slack jawed yokel all night?”

Running a hoof this time on a different scar -- Opposite the side of the first one, behind his right ear and slightly past his shoulder. Invisible under his coat unless you knew what you were looking for, or gently ran a hoof over it -- Stormy was reminded, again, that it was better to play stupid than be stupid.

For whatever reason, he slighted.

“Duh? Wuzzat, now?” He offered back, doing his best bucking slack jawed yokel.

His father furrowed his brows. His body clenched. Muscles bulging. Nostrils flaring. Stormy felt himself flinch. His father smiled, leaned forward, and poured himself another drink.

Stormy felt something but wasn't sure what it was. Defeat? Upset? Drunk?

Who cared?

Maybe Gentle Strokes was thinking about him? Maybe he wasn’t? Maybe Strokes missed him? Maybe Stormy missed him? Maybe Stormy wanted to be with him? Maybe he wanted that right now? Maybe he wanted to be curled up beside him? In Strokes’ bed? In Stormy’s Bed. It didn’t matter.

He felt lonely.

He stared at the clock; If he stayed here any longer he’d have to physically test the durability of the shatterproof windows. But, Horsia’s was only a half hour’s walk away, and chances were that his name didn’t hold enough sway in this town to convince the Maitre’D that he was in any way related to Blue Skies, who held the reservation. Which meant he couldn’t even get into the lounge.


Even a few more glasses of Johnnie Trotter Blue wouldn’t make this exchange any more pleasant -- Or maintainable -- and then, before you knew it some street vendor’s cart would have a Stormy sized dent in it.

But, what could he do?

The walk to Blue Skies’ apartment at The Roslyn was almost an hour, and, even if he waited to ambush his brother in the lobby, there was still the chance that Blue would just skip going home after work and instead head to Sapphire Stone’s condo. Or his mistress’s place. Or just pick up an escort and take her back to a work associate’s place in case Sapphire Stones was waiting for him at his place.

Maybe Blue was just running up and down the streets outside P. & P., belittling homeless ponies by dropping change in front of them and then picking it up and complaining about being clumsy? Maybe, he was embarrassing some hipster couple on their first date by cutting them in line at an ATM and withdrawing ten times what either would earn in a month just to spend it on Imported gryphon cigars, a new Rolex and a pair of Oatley sunglasses.

All the hypotheticals going through his mind must have taken more time than he’d intended it to, because, staring at the clock now; it was only an hour and a half until their reservation at Horsia’s.

Just grin and bare it.

By this point in his life that was pretty much a mantra: Just. Grin. And. Bare. It.

Rinse, dry, and repeat.


Horsia’s; Seven Forty Five. He was fashionably late, but, what could they expect? He was a motherless child.

Then again, so was Blue Skies by that logic.

He entered the restaurant to odd stares and gawks and felt underdressed in a loosely worn three-piece. He’d made the purposeful decision to wear a vest, and a tie; the whole works. But, maybe it was because he was an arts student that all these lawyers, stock traders, bankers, politicians, celebrities and colts of power could smell the fear and loathing on him.

Stormy approached the Maitre’D; some uptight, snobbish looking older colt with a pencil thin moustache who probably shared the same accent as Gentle Stroke’s roommate and who was probably so uptight his stool samples were noodle thin; like strands of hair.

Gross. Why had he gone there all of a sudden?

“Your name, sir?”

“Stormy. Table of three?”

The Maitre’D glanced up from, what he could assume was the guest list he’d been intently focusing on and stared curiously at Stormy.

“Something wrong?”

“Well... a simple mix up, perhaps?” The Maitre’D replied with a curious glare “I have you down as a Ms. Stormy. My humblest apologies.”

So it was going to be that kind of dinner with his brother.



Blue Skies was already seated, and drinking, at the fanciest table in the entire restaurant -- quite naturally -- and beside him was Sapphire Stones, his fiance. When her eyes fell on Stormy she smiled sweetly and blinked towards him when as he approached.

Blue Skies gave a knowing wink and nothing else.

“Sorry I’m late.”

Placeholder introduction. He had nothing to say to Blue Skies. Blue Skies had nothing to say to him. This was familiar obligation that forced them together tonight. Nothing more.

“Oh, it’s absolutely fine, dear.” Sapphire Stones spoke, killing an air of uncomfortable silence before it had a chance at life.

Celestia bless her good heart. How Blue Skies managed to convince her he was a decent creature, and, not, a disgusting wolf in sheep’s clothing -- Cloaked in a six thousand bit H’Armoni suit, an eight hundred bit rolex and a pair of two-hundred and fifty bit oatley sunglasses -- was beyond him.

Tonight, Blue Skies entire ensemble -- dinner jacket with matching pants from Perseus, a white H’Armani dress shirt, a plain red tie from Nygard -- cost more than most ponies would ever make in a month. Some, a year.

But, that was just Blue being Blue.

“We’re just so delighted you decided to have dinner with us. I was just telling your brother that it has been absolutely too long since I last saw you. Wasn’t I, dear?”

Stormy took a seat opposite Blue Skies and Sapphire Stones, and smiled at her, then returned a stone faced glare with his brother; Blue’s resolve slipped slightly and he grinned, predatorily, at Stormy, who just rolled his eyes.

“My, my, Blue. Hasn’t your brother gotten so much more handsome since the last time we saw him? Oh, you must work out Stormy? Please tell me you don’t get a body like that without working out? I’d simply die.”

A smirk on Blue Skies face formed at the mention of the word ‘die’, as it usually did when morbid or disturbed words or phrases came into discussion.

“And where are my manners? Blue, be a darling and grab our server. You poor thing. You must be absolutely parched?”

Blue Skies tossed his hoof up in the air and towards a server. A total hardbody. Pretty face. Tight, attractive body. The kind of server who worked weekends and evenings and ived in a one bedroom flat in the West Side she could barely afford and spent her days auditioning for plays and musicals on Broadway she'd never get a part in.

If Sapphire Stones hadn’t been there that night chances were that Blue would try, and succeed, in getting her number. Then, most likely, buck her at a later date.

“How may I help you, sir?” The server asked. Her tone was flirty and, like her intent focus, was aimed at Blue Skies and nopony else present at the table.

“We will absolutely perish......if you don’t bring us some refreshments.” Sapphire Stones demanded, stealing Blue Skies’ thunder though he seemed unphased by this and simply smiled and grinned at another morbid word tossed into casual conversation.

“Let me guess, Stormy; you’ll be having a glass of Vagrant’s Choice, or some other gut rot bourbon?”

The first sentence his brother had spoken all night and Stormy was wholly reminded why he’d found the silence so comforting.

“Oh, bourbon sounds absolutely attractive tonight. I think I’ll have something with bourbon in it. Cocktails are very in right now, after all." Sapphire smiled at the waitress. "Do you make a Crystal Island Iced Tea?”

“Dear, a Crystal Island Iced Tea is made with everything but, bourbon, whiskey, rye or scotch.”

“It most certainly is not!”

“No, dear. It-most-certainly-is.” This correction was forced roughly, through gritted teeth. “I assure you.”

“You are being absolutely difficult tonight, Blue Skies. A Crystal Island Iced Tea is gin, rum, vodka and tequila... and bourbon.”

This unpleasant back and forth between his brother and future sister-in-law could go on -- quite literally -- for hours and, as much joy as Stormy enjoyed watching Blue squirm in his seat, and be so humiliated in front of not only himself but also their server, Sapphire Stones had been right: he certainly was parched.

“I’ll have a double Johnnie Trotter Blue.” Stormy paused to glare daggers into his brother's eyes, and grinned. “On ice.”

Blue Skies bit his lower lip. A nerve in his forehead sprung to life for a millisecond and his left eye twitched so subtly that if Stormy hadn’t been looking for it, no one would have ever known it had happened.

Adding ice to a glass of Scotch that cost eighty bits was almost as unprofessional as if he’d asked for it mixed with cola -- which, he’d been tempted to do, but, it also lost much of it’s flavor that way.

Blue bit his lower lip hard enough to draw blood, then forced a smiled, turned his attention to the server and spoke. “Just... bring the bottle," he sighed. " Two tumblers and ice.” He turned to his fiance. “And, a Manehattan for my lovely fiance.”

It would take years of therapy for the server to ever understood the display she’d just been witness too and knowing - -or, in spite of this -- she offered a warm smile, took down their drinks and trotted towards the bar.

There was a certain joy Stormy found in making his brother order a bottle of scotch marketed at roughly three-hundred and fifty bits, but, accounting for the inflation common to restaurants -- and especially Manehattan’s most prestigious and, infamously overpriced restaurant -- the bottle would most likely come out to be double -- if not triple -- the price of all three of their meals tonight.

This brought a new kind of smile to Stormy’s face and, he could only imagine the inner strength it took Blue Skies not to excuse himself and scream into a stack of towels in the bathroom.


Twenty minutes into their meals, and, thankfully, the majority of the conversation came from Sapphire Stones. Every five or six, name dropping and brand listing information dumps either Blue Skies would get annoyed and correct -- or just flatly belittle her -- or Stormy would answer as neutrally as he could, a question about his time at Camden.

Now was one of those times.

“So, dear... ” Sapphire Stones’ turn to talk, once again. “ do you have a fillyfriend back at Camden? It’s so unfortunate to see you so handsome and so... alone.”

Blue Skies could hardly contain himself and gave a snicker, then a loud, dramatic “Ha-ha-ha.”

Stormy felt himself grow uncomfortable.

“It’s... complicated?”

“‘Complicated’ because you like to, oh, I don’t know; take it up the flank?” Blue Skies -- shit eating grin and all -- pondered.

“Blue! How can you say such awful things about your own brother!” Sapphire Stones shouted. Offended, she still had the good sense to take more pacifistic actions than Stormy would have -- In that moment the salad fork that came with his Waldorf Salad looked like it might be more comfortable off the table, and, perhaps, resting deep into Blue Skies’ right eye.

“Because, dear. My little brother is a shameless, tasteless colt cuddler.” Blue Skies offered back. He turned to Stormy and did a gag-take, then downed another tumbler of Johnnie Trotter, neat.

“Honestly, Blue. I know there’s sibling rivalry -- Believe me, I have it in spades with Ruby -- but, that is just a truly dreadful accusation.”

“Oh, please! I have had the uncomfortable misfortune of walking in on my brother, ” Blue paused, took a drink, swallowed back his discomfort, and continued “ riding a horribly young looking colt who I think used to work at Perseus.”

“For Celestia’s sake, Blue! We are in a public place. Can you not let your silly little rivalry go and be civil?” Sapphire Stones, horrified -- more likely from the prospect of having some pony of pmportance overhear her being party to a conversation about sodomy, colt cuddlers and riding than the actual conversation itself -- shouted.

“I’d say it was absolutely uncivil of him to use my apartment to host some... revolting display of sexual depravity.” Blue Skies paused to down another tumbler of Johnnie Trotter, then continued. “But, I suppose that’s what I get for taking you to The Gryphon Kingdom for two weeks, leaving my younger brother a key to my apartment instead of somepony with more taste and coming home a day early because ‘We had to catch the early boat to Equestria or you’d miss your session with Dr. Floyd.’ and, Celestia knows a session with him you book years in advance, before your problems even exist.”

“Blue Skies! If you are going to keep talking so... uncivilly, I. Will. Just. Leave.”

She was probably serious but, more than likely she imagined that her thinly veiled threat would get Blue Skies to stop taking jabs at Stormy.

It wouldn’t.

“I’d be so lucky.” Blue grinned. He turned to her, looked her dead in the eye, and with a smirk began again. “Dear, I do apologize. I shouldn’t have said that MY BROTHER,’” He announced, waving his hooves around and drawing attention to himself, Sapphire and Stormy, both, who looked entirely uncomfortable. “ IS A PILLOW BITING, STALLION STUFFING, COLT CUDDLER!”

Not surprisingly, all eyes in the restaurant were drawn on them. Sapphire Stones looked like she was about to cry. Stormy, just took a sip of his drink and bowed his head.

Blue Skies with a genuine smile plastered across his face, glared daggers at Sapphire. Then Stormy. Then Sapphire again before returning to his drink.

“I. AM. LEAVING!” Sapphire announced. She stood up, almost knocking the table over in the process and made way for the door. She stopped at the door to see if Blue Skies had followed her but he simply remained in his seat, smiling at her. He waved mockingly while with an overly melodramatic ‘huff’ she exited.

Blue's gaze returned to Stormy, his smile widened and he perched his head on his elbows.

“She’s absolutely mortified.” He said with delight. “I would thank you but, I feel a colt of your disposition might consider that a come on. And, there are some barriers I’d rather not cross with you, Stormy." He paused to stroke a hoof under his chin, smiled, then spoke again. "Though the thought of me choking you, not sexually, but perhaps to death? Well, it just fills my heart with glee.”

“You’re twisted.”

Blue Skies just smiled.

“So, has dear old dad told you he plans to move?” Blue Skies asked, changing the subject -- which he was prone to do at the drop of a hat -- with a smile.

“He mentioned it a few times.”

“Hmm. I imagine that was somewhere in between the long winded rants about you, Camden, sodomy and how ‘Coltlumbia is still an option.’ ?”

“Something like that, yeah...”

“You’re so... drab tonight, Stormy." Blue sighed. "Seriously, lighten up baby brother. Let your mane down. Light a joint if you have too. It’s a dinner, not a funeral for bucks sake.”

Blue Skies paused, took a sip of his drink and Stormy followed his lead.

“Honestly though, I have no idea what goes through that colts head sometimes. He want’s to leave all this. Manehattan, sell his place at The Cart-Lyle and move to that stupid hick town where Twilight ended up.”

It was entirely unusual for him to bring up their cousin, in fact, it was entirely unusual for Blue to bring up either of their cousins.

“Twilight isn’t in Canterlot, anymore?”

“Where have you been?” He paused, smirked, then continued “Oh wait, that’s right; Stallion Stuffer Academy. No Stormy, Twilight isn't in Canterlot anymore. She moved to some really yokel town; Ponyton? Pony Village? Candyland?” He paused, stroked a hoof under his chin then mused “I suppose Celestia just got tired of her. Kind of like the rest of us did twenty two years ago.”

“Geez, I’m glad to hear there’s no love lost between you and them.” Stormy eye rolled.

“Oh, what? You think because Shining and I got into that little scrap when we were foals after he watched me drown that puppy in their bathtub that I hold a grudge against all of those conceited, self absorbed, horn-heads? ”

“And, this is you telling me, that you don’t?”

Blue didn’t respond; He’d lost his attention with the conversation some time ago, and was now stared around Horsia’s curiously. His eyes lit up when he caught the gaze of a pony, a colt, across the way, who smiled, excused himself from his table and approached their own.

“Blue Skies, you little cub scout!” The pony announced, slapping his hoof against Blue’s awaiting one “I didn’t think they’d let such a goody little two hooves like you in a place like this. What’d you do, suck off the Matire’d?”

“Careful now, Price.” Blue interjected. “You’ll give my little brother here some mental images to go home and clop to later.”

“I didn’t know you had a younger brother?” The colt asked. His attention peaked and he smiled warmly at Stormy. “I assume he’s Coltlumbia Alumni as well?”

There was a shine in the newcomers eye now; like he was about to be make an acquaintance with a member of a very exclusive club that he also belonged too.

Blue Skies gave a dramatic groan, plopped his head on the table and spoke.

“He wishes.” He paused, smiled, then lifted his head and continued. “Stormy is actually a Camden student.”

The shine in the other colt’s eye withered and died. He frowned, adjusted his tie and drew back a hoof he was halfway finished extending towards Stormy. He turned to Blue Skies, for, what? Acceptance? Acknowledgement? For something. Then back to Stormy. Back to Blue Skies. Cracked a smile, and spoke.

“Well,” He grinned. “I suppose Manehattan could always use a few more cultured dishwashers.”

He laughed. Blue Skies Laughed. They bro-hoofed again as he shook his head at Stormy. After a few more words about ‘Camden’, ‘dish washers’ and the 'lowest common denominator of the population’ he politely excused himself back to his table.

This was about as good time as any for a cigarette it seemed.

Stormy began lighting a cigarette with the wax candle at the centre of the table, but was stunted when Blue Skies reached into the pocket of his H’armoni coat. For a second he considered the idea that his brother was actually going to have the decency to light a cigarette for him, and it made him feel odd inside, but instead he withdrew a phallic shaped cylinder, unscrewed the lid and shook loose a single cigar; one from The Gryphon Kingdom if he had to place a bet on it.

Blue lit he tip of the cigar with a solid gold zippo, then obnoxiously blew a thick smoke cloud towards Stormy, smiled, placed the cigar in the crystal ashtray and smiled, again.

“Still a chain smoker?” He asked. “How... very artsy of you.”

“Still a few screws loose?” Stormy countered, “How delightfully eccentric of you.”

“So listen, what do you have planned? Tonight I mean? I don’t want you tagging along with me when I go attend this inane CD release party. I’m sure it’s more your scene, though. Some Mare: DJ Pon-4? Or, DJ Boastfully Dyke! She’s put out this new absolutely obnoxious album. I’m sure you already have a copy of it? It’s totally your kind of music: Loud for the sake of loud, and all that...”

“Actually,” Stormy paused -- Not faltered. Paused -- In truth he hadn’t actually planned that far ahead; he’d considered a bar or two, but in the face of his brother he felt defensive and boastful “I’m going to... Tunnel?”

“Oh, of course you are.” Blue grinned “Now that it’s deader than that puppy you could most likely get in. Apparently some Zebra salt dealers got into a scuffle the other week and trampled each other to death. Not surprising from a race of barbaric warrior descendents.”

Racism notwithstanding, Blue Skies had a point: If Tunnel was dead like he said, and more than that, if Blue Skies wasn’t impressed with his obsessive name dropping of once popular nightclubs around Manehattan, what was he going to do tonight?

“There’s this new club, a friend of mine’s filly friend -- she loves to open clubs with her daddy’s money -- just opened a few months ago. It’s a little more your style. Very ‘colt friendly’, if you know what I mean?” Blue mused “I’ve never even stepped a hoof in there. But, I hear it’s... interesting.”

Stormy didn’t want to admit that it actually, sounded like a decent time. What better way to bring himself back up then by being admired by colt’s all night, He could at the very least swing a few free drinks, get a nice ego boost, then call it a night.

“Sounds... fun?”

“It’s called. Oh, Celetia, it has a really faggy name...” Blue paused and rubbed a hoof against his forehead; trying to find the strength to continue. “... The Crazy Horse. Honestly, as if your kind could draw any comparisons to Horses: Equestria’s ‘lost great civilization.’.”

He sounded like he was doing a bad imitation of the back of a museum pamphlet.

“So, The Crazy Horse?”

“Yeah. It’s... in.”

“Cool.” Stormy smirked. Super casual. Don’t let Blue Skies have the benefit of knowing he was right about this. “Rock ‘N’ Roll.”


The Crazy Horse left a lot to be desired. Since he’d left for Camden three -- almost four -- years ago the Colt Cuddler/Filly Fooler club scene in Manehattan had certainly gone downhill if tonight’s venue was the latest Manehattan had to offer.

Camden’s LGBT Student Mixers were more fun than this.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad time; Fifty to sixty sweaty, fit, attractive, bodies pressed up against each other on a dance floor. Grinding. Groping. Touching. Flirting. A hundred or so more bodies packed into the lounge/bar area. There was also a second floor, no dance floor, but with a balcony that overlooked it, with more bodies packed into that.

All in all. The Crazy Horse was nothing quite unusual for Manehattan. The crowd was the same. The bodies that bumped into him -- many less than accidently -- were the same. The bouncers -- thick, built, zebra’s and gryphons -- were the same. The music was the same deep thumping bass that droned out of two large cannons on the dance floor.

Nothing about The Crazy Horse was any different than any other Colt Cuddler/Filly Fooler or general ‘I’m Only Here To Get Laid’ Club in Manehattan. It just had the added benefit tonight of having Stormy in attendance.

Stormy sat far in the back, at the bar, idly playing with a coaster advertising a pack of cigarettes that he didn’t smoke. The last sip of his latest Buck Daniels on the rocks went un-drank and even though he was buzzed, he felt an emptiness grow inside him.

He just wanted to be back on campus. Back at Camden. Maybe back with Gentle Strokes? Ok, most definitely back with Gentle Strokes, and most definitely in his warm embrace. Laying beside him, his hoof absentmindedly playing around with his mane, his warm breath -- exhaled softly through his nose -- rustling the coat along his back.

Stormy still felt alone.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

His attention was drawn to an orange coated pegasus. He was a few years older; fit and attractive but, also very much desperate looking.

This pegasus was dressed nicely and, a lifetime ago Stormy would have said ‘yes’ based on his smile: Innocent, but still with a hidden agenda behind it -- the kind of smile that made Stormy want to earnestly explore the limits of this pony.

But that was a lifetime ago and this was now.

He thought about Gentle Strokes. He thought the two of them. Him and Gentle Strokes. Gentle Strokes and him.

Were they a couple?

They had slept together. They talked. They dated. They spent nights fueled by coffee and books, and passion... and love? Could you call what they had love? Were they even dating? Was Gentle Strokes in love with him? Was he in love with Gentle Strokes?

Staring into those eyes. Soft. Gentle. Baby Blues.

Stormy bit his lip and gave a reply.

“Sorry, I was just leaving.”


View Online


The train came in breathless, with passengers restless and none more so than Gentle Strokes. The trip; from Camden to Dodge Junction, was a day and a half scenic detour of snow basked valleys, fields of yellowed dead grass and the occasional hay bale to break up the monotony of empty nothingness that the landscape provided. A thirty six hour slow burn through Equestria with nothing but quiet, sober thought to keep him occupied; and his mind was certainly offering that in spades during his time travelling.

Somewhere between Apploooza and a town called Ponyville, he’d kind of self diagnosed the sweaty mane and rapid heartbeat as nervousness--or, hesitation at the very least--and it only made sense that this came in regards to visiting his family. He hadn’t seen them; Ma, Pa, The Twins, Clem, even Huck, in almost a year and the last time he’d written to them he’d been a mess of closeted emotions with a hoof trembling from the tail end of his latest bender. Now, he was, well, he was gay, and in a gay relationship with a colt--and what a colt at that--but, if he knew Dodge Junction--and he did--it went without saying that he might only consider subtly hiding his insatiable lust for stallions and keeping it to himself. Dodge Junction wasn’t exactly known for it’s Alternative Lifestyle tolerance and he had no desire to turn a family reunion into a coming out party.

As self doubt and mental anguish plagued his mind, he started counting the number of hay bales between Ponyville and Dodge Junction. After the two hundred and thirty third bale, the train pulled into Dodge Junction and Gentle Strokes couldn’t have been left with any less of a resolution to his struggles.

Knowing, or in spite of this, he shuffled with the rest of the passengers off of the train until he stood in the half crowded train station, eagerly--and half nervously-waiting to see which family member had decided to meet him. Nights were drearily cold in Dodge Junction, and in that moment he was thankful for the scarf he wore tight around his throat that Stormy had bought him a few weeks prior. It was kind of silly, clinging to the scarf like it were some kind of metaphysical representation of Stormy, but, it was more than just the scarf’s fabric that warmed him when he did; it was knowing who bought it for him to keep warm that felt the most comforting.

Over the next few minutes the bodies in the train station slowly piled out, colts and fillies--mostly earth ponies--attached themselves to families and friends and wandered into town, and when they did, he was left standing alone with only his luggage and one other body in the train station; an earth pony, wicked navy grey coat, light brown mane chopped to a crew cut and a scornful look on the mess of mismatched fur of his face. He cocked a head towards Gentle Strokes, huffed something under his breath and broke off from the wall he leaned against, moving towards him.

“You look a little lost.” He announced as the space between the two got smaller. His voice was weathered and raspy, like a record scratching or rocks thrown in a quarry. “Need some help, boy?”

Gentle Strokes said nothing, just stared at the colt. Before he knew it he was right before him, scowling and raising a hoof. He tossed it forward, Gentle Strokes slighted for a second until the hoof graced the side of his neck and he felt himself pulled into a hug, which he returned.

“So, the prodigal son returns.” The colt said as he broke off the hug. “It’s good to see you, Gent. Your folks were busy so they told me to come pick your lazy flank up. Hope you don’t mind?”

Gent. He hadn’t heard a pony call him by that name in almost a year. Back at Camden he was either “That Pony Who Beat Up The Colt From Las Pegasus” at parties, “The Hick.” inbetween classes and behind his back, or just “Strokes", whispered into his ear from the pony he liked. It was kind of comforting.

“Nice to see you too, Huck.” He offered back, as Huck shouldered one of his two saddlebags and gave a grin. “How’re your folks?”

“Oh, you know my family,” Huck said with a chuckle. “Pa’s living up to his reputation as the town drunk and when my Ma’s not kicking his good for nothing flank to the curb she’s doing the same to me.”

There was a slight pause, before he turned to look at Gentle Strokes and spoke again.

“And look at you,” Huck chuckled. “Thin as a chain smoker and...what the Hells are you wearing? Is that a scarf?”

Gentle Strokes felt a twinge of embarrassment shoot up his spine, subconsciously loosing the offending article of clothing around his throat.

“Yeah...” He gave in a somewhat ashamed response. Huck gave a throaty, raspy, laugh then rolled his eyes.

“Geez. Camden, eh?” Huck grumbled under his breath. “Well, you might wanna take that off before we get into town. It kinda makes you look a little ‘Fru-Fru-Fruity’, if you know what I mean?”

So far he was sold on his decision to not bring up his newfound lust for stallions.

Gentle Strokes gave a sigh and undid the scarf, tossing it into the saddlebag. Huck smiled and when Gentle Strokes was finished zipping up the bag, led the two out of the train station and towards town.


The walk was nice and quiet. At night, the dusty road between town and his home was eerily quiet and devoid of life. It was cold, and without the scarf, Gentle Strokes felt the desert chill win him over and his teeth chattered, just slightly. Huck, was quite the opposite; he seemed naturally at ease and Gentle Strokes wondered if it was just his being away for as long as he had that made him uncomfortable to the climate, or if he’d always been this way.

Things in Dodge Junction hadn’t changed too much in the months he’d been gone; a few stores had painted their walls--Mr. Turner had finally gotten around to painting over the graffiti on his wall that read ‘Rough Trade’-a new shop had opened at the end of the street--a second barbershop--and there were a few more homes than when he’d left, but overall it was still very much the same dust and dirt hamlet of a town he’d left it.

There was only a little comfort he found in that.

After a strenuous twenty minute trek through the outskirts of Dodge Junction, they’d arrived; home at last. If Dodge Junction had remained more or less the same, home had never looked any more recognizable in his life; not a single inch of the porch was different, the love seat beside the door still hung from the roof and dipped slightly on one side, the door’s hinges were still stained and rusted and the screen scratched to Hells and back--with the doggy door still unlocked and open for Duke. It was fair to say that walking through the front door today wouldn’t be any different from walking through the front door exactly a year ago. Only now, he’d have something to say when his mom asked him how his day went.

“You gonna stand there and reminisce all day, Gent?” Huck asked from beside him, giving him a playful nudge on the shoulder. “Your Ma made Mac ‘N’ Cheese for dinner and I know there’s bound to be at least a plate worth of leftovers that you’re gonna wanna sink your teeth into.”

Huck rushed ahead and Gentle Strokes followed behind, taking a few quiet moments to admire the scenery, before entering the house after Huck.

“Hucklebuck! If you’re back here, again, without my son I will tan your hide something fierce!” The feminine voice of his mother shouted from the kitchen. The smell of boiled noodles, cooked veggies and, if he wasn’t mistaken, fresh baked cookies hit his nostrils and it took everything in his power not to float towards the smell like some kind of Pegasus.

“No, Ma’am, can’t say he is.” Huck shouted back. “I did find a hungry little hobo at the train station though. I thought I’d offer him a meal. You know; bein’ neighbourly and all.”

“Listen to me, Huck. Just because you’re my sister’s only born boy doesn’t mean I won’t tan that flank of yours with the biggest, baddest spoon in my drawer for bein’ such a smartass!” His mother shouted, her voice drawing closer until she stood in the doorway from the kitchen to the entry way. Her eyes lit up when they fell on Gentle Strokes and she gave a loud, delighted, squeal.

In the few seconds Gentle Strokes had before he was wrapped in a tight embrace by his mother he studied her figure; she looked as lively and vivacious as she ever had, if even a few pounds lighter--in the appropriately right places, hips, thighs and stomach--her orange coat glowed and her blonde mane flew behind her.

Gentle Strokes felt a pair of lips pepper his cheeks, both of them, with platonic kisses from his mother as she squeezed tighter. To his right, Huck grinned a light hearted smirk.

“Oh, Gent,” She said when she finally let him go. “Look at how thin you are.”

Gentle Strokes blushed and ran a hoof across his mane. He didn’t feel thinner, but, then again, he’d noticed that he lost a bit of his muscle and girth after the second month at Camden, so it probably made sense that he’d be a little smaller. Either way, his mother smiled up at him--she’d always been a few inches shorter, but now he felt almost dauntingly tall--and he felt comfortable.

“Huck, why don’t you go round up the twins, this time of night I reckon they’re up to no good anyhow. I think Clem’s in her room reading, too. You tell ‘em that Gent’s back and that if they don’t come and give their big brother a hug they’re gonna spend the entire week wishing they had.”

“Yes Ma’am” was Huck’s response as he trotted upstairs.

“Where’s Pa?” Gentle Strokes asked, noticing both his physical absence in the home and his name secluded from the list of bodies Huck had been tasked to gather.

“Oh, you know your father,” His mother began, leading him into the living room and taking a seat on the worn down green couch across from the fireplace. “Working his hooves to the bone I imagine. Miss Jubilee certainly does her part to make sure her hardest working family is well kept, but, even still your father’s been pulling more hours as of late. It breaks my heart when he comes in at night and doesn’t even have the time to grab dinner. He just sorta plops in bed and passes out.”

Something inside of Gentle Strokes stirred awake, some emotion he hadn’t felt in eons but couldn’t really recall the name of; embarrassment mixed with sorrow, shame mixed with heartache, pain mixed with acceptance. He knew that his absence would have caused a stir in the home, but he’d never imagined it would cost his father as much as it seemed he was paying; a day on a farm started at sunrise, and if he was working well past sundown that meant he was working nearly a fourteen hour day, six times a week, just to pick up his slack.

This unclear emotion didn’t exactly sit right with Gentle Strokes, who just bit his lower lip and took a seat beside his mother.

The clatter of pairs of hooves descending the staircase brought him out of his funk and he stared up to see the twins; two foals, boys, each the spitting image of a younger version of himself, only with inverted colours--brown manes and gold coats--and behind them, Clementine--just barely past ‘legal’ and still with that sensible air of education and excitement carried on her face. If the twins were anything like him, than Clementine was his polar opposite. She was a bookworm, well versed and probably the smartest character in all of Dodge Junction by his count.

She lunged at him, even sitting as he was, and nuzzled her head against his chest when she hugged him. He ran a hoof along her mane, and cupped her cheek, lovingly, and with his free hoof gripped both twins and pulled them tight to his body; this was a kodak moment if he’d ever lived one.

“We missed you.” His sister said, seeming to steal the words from everypony’s mouth.


An hour had passed since they’d sat down and during that time he’d been doing his best to answer questions about his time spent at Camden to a captivated audience. Clementine was the most curious, she sat on the edge of her seat, head resting in her hooves and just hummed in a mix of appeased excitement and curious intrigue whenever he answered a question she asked.

If anypony else was listening, she was inhaling knowledge, and in it’s own way, this brought a smile to his face; Clem had always been the brightest--Gentle Strokes certainly wasn’t dumb, but Clementine was ‘book smart’--she could do fractions in her head, she knew Pi to the fifteenth decimal and it was hard to find her outside of school without her face hidden behind some kind of Dickinson. or S. Thompson. novel--and her clinging to every word he said like he were some kind of prophet sprouting wisdom, filled him with delight. He’d always expected her to go places, and if hearing heavily watered down tales of his life at Camden brought her any closer to breaking the family tradition of having the mare of the family become a lowly housewife to some farm owner he’d be more than ecstatic.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said about his cousin Hucklebuck, who rolled his eyes and fought back an urge to, perhaps, say something from his heart which stood to make Gentle Strokes uncomfortable.

Regardless, Huck seized an opportunity--an awkward silence brought about when Gentle Strokes mother asked him if he was seeing anyone on campus, when he bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood--to turn the conversation towards himself.

“Well, things have been good around here too.” He boasted, taking a minute to sip from a tumbler of Gentlecolt Jack, grinning then setting the tumbler down. “I mean, we’re all doing alright.”

With all eyes drawn to Huck, he successfully stole the spotlight from Gentle Strokes--who certainly wasn’t complaining about it, he’d have done everything short of running scared and embarrassed into the night to avoid bringing up the fact that the ‘pretty mare who served coffee’ wasn’t in fact his girlfriend, but rather, a girl, he knew, who served him and his coltfriend coffee--and so no one complained when he continued.

“My folks have things at the store pretty much down to a science, so I’ve been helping your family out with work.” He smirked. “Course, I can’t quite keep up with your dad; that colt can buck cherry trees like nobody’s business, but I do alright.”

“You do more than alright, Hucklebuck. You’re damn near keeping this family from going under.” His mother offered with a proud grin in Huck’s direction. “If it wasn’t for your cousin we probably wouldn’t have made it through the winter.”

Gentle Strokes felt something inside him twitch; all his pride escaped his body and he suddenly felt utterly stupid boasting about his time spent surrounded by bohemian ponies with borderline personality disorders.

Had things really been that bad without him?

“Yeah, Huck even turned down a job for us.” One of the twins, who was probably Bucky--but he could shamefully never tell them apart to save his life--said, leaning backwards and gripping Huck’s lower hooves in a hug. “Plus, he helped Duke chase the rabbits in the garden away.”

The Twins beamed with some kinda aura, a golden glow of the kind of kinship he used to share with them that now, Huck, had seemed to take, and the pit in Gentle Strokes stomach grew. He huffed, inaudibly, and fought back apprehension. He was happy, for his cousin, for his family, but, hearing that he’d been dethroned as, well, himself in the family, was upsetting.

Huck, however, didn’t seem to mind, he took another sip of Gentlecolt Jack, grinned, then winked at Gentle Strokes. It was friendly, there really wasn’t a sinister edge behind it, but even still Gentle Strokes felt resentment shine through and said nothing.

“It wasn’t much of a choice.” Huck said in reference to the job in ‘Appleooza’--whatever that was. “Folk down there had some kinda squabble with some Buffalo; you know how they can be, but they squared it out and now the head of a farm down there’s lookin’ for any willing bodies to pull some shifts.”

“Oh, don’t be so modest.” His mother chived, batting a hoof against his leg. “Your cousin got offered three square meals, a cot and a roof over his head but he turned it down to throw us some extra bits. He’s a real sweetheart.”

At that, Gentle Strokes felt the weakest he’d felt in months; he knew they’d suffer without him, prayed they wouldn’t, but hearing they were taking charity from his cousin and that he’d turned down an offer for a better life to support them didn’t particularily fill him with glee.

Again, he huffed resentment--this time at himself--under his breath and faked a smile.

“That’s... awful kind of you, Huck.” He forced.

Huck, genuinely, smiled and brushed a hoof through his short mane.

“It really wasn’t all that much.” He grinned, “Plus, the feller who runs those farms down there; Something or other Apple, well... they say he’s real light on his hooves.”

“What’s that mean?” One of the twins--the other one this time--asked innocently while Gentle Strokes bit his lower lip as hard as he could without breaking skin and flesh.

“Well, um, it means he fanci...” Clem began, only to be interrupted.

“It means he’s a faggot.” Huck finished for her, with a scowl as he took a sip of Gentlecolt Jack, and a little part of Gentle Strokes died inside.

Internally, Strokes was as defeated as he’d been in a long time. Seeing no one, not even Clem, put up anything in the form of protest to a word which, a year ago would have meant nothing to him, but now was practically the antithesis of his entire identity, be tossed so casually into conversation really made him uncomfortable.

Maybe he should reconsider coming out to his family. Indefinitely.

“That’s one way of putting it.” He mumbled under his breath. He drew no ones interest -- save for a quick, sympathetic, glance from Clem -- then bowed his head in a private shame.

So his family didn’t mind the casual use of a term of endearment for, well, colts like him; Colt Cuddlers. That was kind of a problem. After all; he was a ‘faggot’ by that logic.

At Camden, it never really seemed to phase him like it did here. At Camden, with Stormy, he was just...Gentle Strokes. They were together, and they were happy like that. But, that also meant he was, well, gay. And that meant, when Huck insinuated that some farm owner in a town he’d been offered a job in was somehow less of a pony than others for his sexual orientation, that it also meant that he was less of a pony than others for his orientation.

Suddenly, Gentle Strokes missed Camden.

“I mean, they say this feller-” Huck paused, then shook his head in some form of protest to where his mind was going with his train of thought “-they say he’s trotting around with one of the Wonderbolts! A... colt even! That, ‘Soaring’ one! Can you believe that? I mean, say what you will about celebrities, but two colts; an Apple farmer and a stupid Wing-Back? Celestia! Might as well just hook up with a filthy zebra!”

There was an air of understandable silence that followed and Huck, drawn into an angry frenzy, seemed to realize this and calmed himself; his features, brow furrowed, mouth in a semi-stuck scowl and his buggy eyes, all fell flat and he uncomfortably licked his lips, exhaled a sharp breath of air then put on a cheeky smile.

“Sorry, I'm sorta...” He groaned. “Sorry.”

That seemed to set everything right and all was quickly forgiven; the tension escaped the room and suddenly, and confusingly to Gentle Strokes, they were back in the swing of things like they’d never missed a beat. No one questioned why Huck felt the need to bring Zebras, Pegasi and Gays into the conversation and give all three parties a negative spin, it just..didn’t happen.

Confused, upset and somewhat hurt, Gentle Strokes tried to pick his spirits up.

Thankfully, divine intervention allowed the front door to swing open and a tired, humbled body walked in through the door frame.

The last few months looked like a lifetime on his father: His coat had always been that same bleak, smoke grey it was now. But the body underneath was thin and frail. And his mane? As far back as he could remember his father's mane was always a distinctively combed, ink black. That's how it had been when he'd left, anyway. Now what was once a proud display of youth was an unkempt patchwork of mostly greying--some black--strands that shot in all different directions.

His facial features had also aged considerably. Deep black bags had formed under his baby blue eyes, almost like a racoon. Gentle Strokes noticed, mostly for personal reflection, that his once strong jaw had grown slack over time. This almost made him frown.

He turned to him, gave a soft smile, then spoke.

“It’s nice to see you son.”

It was simple, but, then again his father had never been much for words or actions. The smile on his face--almost naked to an untrained eye--was more than enough for Strokes, who broke off the couch and moved towards his father. When he stood before him, now looming uncomfortably above his form, all his father offered was his hoof, which Strokes took with his own and, with his father’s other, he gently patted him on the shoulder.

“Let’s have a drink.”


Sitting now, quite uncomfortably in his father’s study, with his father offering him a drink and Huck, now on his third of the night, and his father both staring down at him like refusing said drink was some grand offence to Celestia herself, Gentle Strokes hesitantly accepted and craddled the brown liquid in the clear glass tumbler with an uncertain ease.

It had been a while since he’d had ‘a drink’, he hadn’t entirely defeated his alcohol issues back at Camden, but with self interest--and the help of a caring stallion--he’d certainly curbed it to a healthy and respectable ‘weekends only and never to the point where he’d wake up in anypony else’s bed but Stormy’s.

And now, here he was, again; staring at a half full glass of Gentlecolt Jack about to share some kind of moment with his father and oldest cousin. He’d have felt a lot more dishonest taking a sip if Stormy had been beside him, but, then again, if Stormy had been beside him, he’d also have felt less uncomfortable about lying through his teeth about all the ‘tail’ he’d tagged at Camden.

His father was an honest man, and since he’d met Gentle Strokes mother he’d never stared eyes at another mare with ill intent, yet, before that, he’d been a good looking colt in a farming town in a town full of ugly colts who worked on a farm; he’d been a prime example of a ‘wild child’ a good time junkie who loved women nightly and drank daily. He’d certainly calmed himself of both habits over the years, but if there was one thing in particular he enjoyed it was boasting to the two colts he considered his closest kin about his youth.

This was one of those times.

“I remember,” He started, staring reflectively into the glass he held in his hoof, then smiling and continuing. “Cherry Valance--She used to run the farm before Miss Jubilee came around--and her and I used to spend more time rolling around in barns and hay bales than either of you have worked in both of your lives.”

He gave a chuckle, smiled then took a sip of his drink. With a head nod he turned the conversation towards Huck, who grinned, and spoke.

“Spring Song!” Huck laughed. “Now, there was a mare who could suck the bend out of a river.”

This had been the conversation for almost an hour now; mares around town that Gentle Strokes knew and whom both other colts in the room had slept with, which both were now boasting about like they were some kind of trophies. Gentle Strokes sat nervously, just waiting for the axe to fall and, for either his father, or Huck, to ask him about who he was sleeping with at Camden. Then, he wondered curiously if he were drunk enough to create an obscene lie, or if he’d just come out with a full blown confession about having spent the last two and a half months of his life in the company of a colt.

Either way, two sets of eyes were now turned on him.

He downed the drink in a long gulp, swallowed hard and decided that tonight, he was going to let the booze do the thinking.

“I’m seeing a mare on campus.” He found himself saying. “She’s... something else. I mean, I’ve never met any mare like her.”

Well, it certainly wasn’t a complete lie; Stormy definitely wasn’t like any mare he’d ever met. Mostly because he was a colt. But, just because he’d neglected to add that this ‘mare’ came equipped with something extra between her legs, and also that ‘she’ was a ‘he’, it didn’t mean he was a liar. He was just bending the truth a bit.

“Good for you, son.” His father said, smiling. He leaned over to slap a hoof on his shoulder, and shook his son without resistance. “It’s about time you found somepony to make you happy. I remember how you used to just jump from one mare to the next, but, if she makes you happy, then she’s alright by me.”

Well, he said that now...

“So, what’s she like?” Huck asked, twirling the ice in his drink. “I mean, what does she do?”

“She’s...” He felt uncomfortable reffering to Stormy as a ‘she’ but for the same of the conversation and his own status in the home, he could live with it. “She’s a, er, she’s into poetry..and, uh, she likes writing, books, movies. She’s got a great smile, and a really good sense of humor and she’s gets me like, well, nopony else that I’ve met.”

This-everything he’d just said--was true about Stormy, even if he had to throw him under the metaphorical cart by lying through gritted teeth about his gender to please his family.

“Nah, Gent! Who cares for personality?" Huck laughed. "What’s she like in bed?”

Of course, it had to be Huck to ask, with that stupid, earnest, grin and those inquisitive eyes. He didn’t mean to be the asshole he was being, it was just the situation, but still, Gentle Strokes found it hard to keep up the charade. The more he drank, the looser he felt, the looser he felt the more he wanted to just...say it. To admit that he was seeing the most wonderful colt he’d ever met, but, then he remembered who he was talking to and decided that a few more white lies couldn’t hurt.


Great. Fantastic. Adventurous. Kind. Sexy. Imaginative. And, very much into the idea of putting Gentle Strokes before himself. Were all things he wanted to say. Instead he just mumbled “Pretty good.” under his breath and poured himself a drink.

Neither his father, nor Huck, looked worse for wear and he realized he could do this forever; lie to them without either of them finding doubt in his claims, but, where would that get him? He could be as straight as they’d want and need him to be, but, in the end he really wasn’t. He was a closet case; just like he’d been, maybe unknowingly, for his entire life and maybe, intentionally now, for the rest of it.

He downed another drink and decided to change the subject.

“What’s happening in town?”

With that, Huck gave a sly grin, and turned to his father, who returned it.

“Well, since ya’ asked.” Huck began, getting up from his seat. “Me and a couple of the boys from work decided to throw y’all a party for your homecoming. It’s not much, but, you might like it Mr. College Boy.”

Gentle Strokes got up with the help of Huck’s hoof, and stared at his father, who shrugged and urged the two into the hall, then, out the front door.

“It’s at The Great Ball Of Fire.” Was all Huck said before the two set off.


The Great Ball Of Fire was a bar just a stones throw outside of town. Far enough away that the loud southern themed music blaring from the speakers wouldn’t wake anypony up, but close enough that the townsfolk could all stumble their way home at the end of the night. A two story building that offered cheap drinks, live music and kinship with your neighbors.

That’s what it had been when Gentle Strokes had left at least, now, drawing closer to the wail of electric guitars and ruckus cheer, Gentle Strokes was somehow reminded of a more abusrd frat party at Camden; ponies, entirely of the ‘Earth’ variety, loitered around the outside, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes, while bright light shone through the windows above them. The music was loud--something that sounded like Skynyrd but just as easily could have been The Allmane Brothers--and just drunk enough for the proceeding events, Gentle Strokes felt a rush of comfortability run through his spine.

This was the Dodge Junction he remembered leaving behind almost eight months ago.

He felt at home here.

Both colts entered through the solid stainless steel doors and were met with a sight that even back at Camden, ponies would have found electrifying; more than seventy bodies piled into the two floors of The Great Ball Of Fire and not a single one of them looked anywhere near sober. There seemed to be an equal proprtion of mares to colts, and, it somewhat bothered Gentle Strokes that those mares looked suspiciously underdressed (Unless the theme of the night was ‘Come in your behind closed doors lingerie’ in which case all of them looked right at home)

“Ladies and Gentlecolts, the prodigal son returns!” Huck screamed to the crowd with drunken charm. Somehow, it caught the attention of more ponies than he’d expected and the next thing Gentle Strokes knew he was being tugged by his shoulders and dragged towards the bar, where shots of Tequila, lemon wedges and Buckweiser chaser was already awaiting him and the three or four bodies who had pulled him along.

To his right, a colt he vaguely remembered working with for a week on Miss Jubilee’s farm. This was either Plum Tuckered, or Tuckered Plum--but he knew that folks called him ‘Tucker’ regardless--to his left; Saddlesore, whom he’d worked with for years. Both looked delighted to see him and the next thing he knew he was firing back a shot of tequila and chasing it with the Buckweiser. After that, he was being pulled by Tucker, Saddlesore and Huck to the centre stage, where he was shoved into a chair and the lights began to dim.

A spotlight shone on the velvet curtains, the music stopped, a record changed and what had been either Skynyrd or The Allmane Brothers suddenly turned into a slow, sensual, Berry White album and the curtain started to draw back to hoots and whisltles from the crowd.

A beautiful mare, fully naked and alternatively covering her form with an overly large fan that she drafted a breeze over her body with, took centre stage and moved sensually towards Gentle Strokes, blowing kisses and winking her eye at him, she was followed by two equally gorgeous--and naked-mares doing the same.

The crowd was in an uproar of hoots and hollers, and Gentle Strokes could feel Huck’s squeeze tight on his shoulder.

Drunk and uncomfortable, Gentle Strokes waited, not eager, but neutral and curiously, to see what happened next.

The leading mare reached the stage, and descended the velvet wrapped staircase that led towards the chair he was sitting in. Standing before him, towering over her in what every other colt in the room must have considered wondrous and exotic naked glory, she tossed aside the fans, wrapped her hooves around his shoulders, and stepped, slowly, onto his lap, taking a seat and locking eyes with him.

Gentle Strokes had never felt more conflicted in his life.

This was a lapdance, from a beautiful mare, and he wanted no part of it.

The hoots and hollers of the crowd behind him suddenly became muted. All he could hear was his own heartbeat--firing away like a train engine--he could feel her, as her hooves graced his shoulders, his neck and then stroked his face. Her flank grinding against his lap. He could feel it but, he didn’t like it. This, whatever anypony else wanted to call it, was doing nothing for him and he tried his hardest not to show it.

Why the Hells did Huck have to do this to him?

She leaned her face against his and he felt a slight chill as the fur of her face brushed his, and her mouth found his ear. She bit down, not hard, nothing more than a nibble, then whispered “Your friends say I’m yours tonight.”

That was when Gentle Strokes realized exactly what this was.

She unlatched herself from his lap, stroked a hoof along his chin, and, then, to his surprise, leaned forward and captured his mouth with her own, sliding her tongue between his lips and, in front of a crowd of almost complete strangers, giving him the most passionate kiss he’d ever gotten from a stripper/hooker.

She broke off a minute later with him still in awe, then shook her flank, seductively at him as she trotted to the ‘Members Only’ door.

The lights came to life, the return of loud rock music followed and Gentle Strokes sat perplexed as ponies around him leapt right back into the shenanigans the bar had been just before all of this had taken place.

He got up from the chair, stared for a brief second at the ‘Members Only’ doors, and all the implications that came with them, shook his head and headed for the exit.

He didn’t need this tonight.

A few paces outside and he was ready to call it a night, when he felt a hoof grip his shoulder and spin his body around so that he came face to face with Hucklebuck, who looked uproaringly upset for some reason.

“Where the Hells are you going!” He shouted, pressing a hoof into his chest forcefully. “You gotta date waiting for you!”

“I...” Gentle Strokes paused, then realized he didn’t honestly need an excuse for this situation and continued. “..I’m not about to buck some hooker, Huck. I... have a girlfriend!”

“She’s not a hooker, Gent. She’s an escort!” Huck shouted.


“Yeah, well, we spent a lot of bits to make sure you had a good night. Don’t just walk away like an asshole!”

“I have a girlfriend.” Again, he repeated the lie. “I’m not gonna cheat on her!”

“And you need to take your balls out of her purse, little cousin! She ain’t here holding your hoof, is she?” Huck argued back, angrily pressing his chest against Gentle Strokes. “What’s a matter, you don’t appreciate all the time we put into this or something?”

“It’s not like that...” Gentle Strokes mumbled under his breath, shuffling his hoof along the dirt path. “I..just...don’t want to have sex with her, Huck.”

“Geez, Camden’s changed you, huh?” Huck said, taking a step back from Gentle Strokes and lighting a cigarette. “Before you left you’d be kissing my hooves to get a chance at a mare like that!”

“Hey, that’s enough!” Strokes argued back. “Just because I’m not gonna throw away a good relationship to buck some whore doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what you do, Huck!”

There was a moment of silence that passed where Huck just glared daggers at Gentle Strokes, inhaling cigarette and exhaling smoke, before he spoke.

“You think you know what I do?” he shouted. “You think you have any idea what me and your family have been doing while you’re off at Camden? Let me tell you something, Gentle Strokes, you’re a regular asshole! You know that? A real piece of shit! You run off when your family needs you the most to go to some Faggot Art School and spend your time rolling in the sack with some fancy pants little whore and think that makes it okay for you to look down on the rest of us working our hooves to the bone. Buck you, Gent!”

“I didn’t say that!” Gentle Strokes shouted back. This was heated, and if he knew Huck, he wasn’t liable to wind down until he said what was on his mind. “And, you know I don’t think that, either!”

“Oh, no?” He took pause to throw his cigarette at Gentle Strokes, who dodged it and continued to glare back at his cousin. “Look at you; you spend a few months with Wing-Backs, Horn-Heads and Dirt Stripes and suddenly you’re Mr. Liberal? You think any of those pansy-asses care about you? You think you’re anything more to them than a joke?”

Huck took a few breaths while he waited for a response that he knew was never coming, then calmer and more collected, he continued.

“They ain’t your kin and they ain’t your blood. I’m sure your little girlfriend thinks you’re mighty cute right now, but when she drops you like a bad habit you think you’re gonna be strong enough to take that? I tried to make you a proper colt, Gent. And I ain’t gonna watch you turn into some love-struck puppy dog for a mare who’s just using you. Ain’t nopony ever gonna care about you like your family, Gent. You just remember that.”

Gentle Strokes was left confused, upset and hurt when Huck wrapped his hooves around him and pulled him into a hug that should have been comforting, but only stood to add to his growing insecurity.

Huck trotted back to The Great Ball of Fire and left Gentle Strokes standing alone outside. He hadn’t ever considered the idea that maybe Stormy would get tired of him. And what then? What happened when Stormy moved on? Found a better pony? A better lover? Then Huck would have been right, and if he was right about that, Huck was probably right about everything else.

His family was suffering from his absence; Huck was picking up his slack, his father looked on death’s door and none but Huck and his intrusive personality were careless enough to say anything about it. How was he supposed to feel about that? How could he go back to Camden knowing it meant one less meal on the table if he did? How could he consider skipping another class to hang out with Stormy in the art lounge when it meant that his dad had to work an extra day of the week?

How was he supposed to feel like he was making the right choices when everyone he cared about was suffering because of them?

He grumbled a sigh and staring at The Great Ball Of Fire, he decided to push those thoughts out of his mind and find somepony inside who would buy him a drink instead.

Deep Purple.

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Deep Purple.

“You're home late.” The first words out of his father's mouth as Stormy entered, or more appropriately, stumbled through the front door to his home.

Picking himself up from the floor, he was met with the familiar sight of his father, sitting in his favourite chair-the coffee black recliner which was probably a decade or so older than Stormy himself-with a freshly lit cigarette clenched tight between his pursed lips. His face obscured by a cloud of ghostly white smoke, he uttered a gruff, arresting, order to his son.

“Sit down.”

“Hey... Pop.” Stormy slurred, not bothering to make eye contact with his father. Instead he found himself gazing at a freshly hung portrait; A pony in business attire: a white collared shirt and a red and black striped tie. His mane slicked back, framed glasses covering his eyes and his hooves pulled midway through his mane in anguish. It was odd to see this particular picture hanging, because, for almost an entire decade before today, it had been hiding away along with a library of books, a closet worth of clothes and an earnest fortune in jewelry, in one of almost a dozen boxes marked “Mom.” that had been stowed away in the farthest reaches of the old home's attic. Stormy didn't bother questioning why his father had bothered to hang it. He didn't even care. It was just curious to him, was all.

“Why don't I save you the trouble and slap myself around tonight?” Stormy glanced back, casually, at his father.

“I said sit down, shitbird.” His father repeated.

Stormy didn't have to be told twice. It was easier, and wiser, for him to sit down then to make his father get up and, hesitantly, he took a spot beside his father-in the more modern green and black rocking chair-and drew a cigarette from the pack that sat on the coffee table in front of them. His father pushed a half melted wax candle towards him, and Stormy with the cigarette clenched between his teeth, used the lit wick to light it.

He took a long drag and felt the familiar comfort of that wonderful little slice of cancer tickling his lungs, followed a few moments after by the slow, deliberate exhale of a thick cloud of carcinogenic smoke through his nostrils; like some kind of dragon.

With a headrush and a forced cheeky grin he sank deep into the chair and prepared himself for a verbal lashing.

“What are you about?” His father asked, his tone drenched in disappointment. “You've been here for almost a week and all I've seen you do is piss away your inheritance on booze like some kind of bucking peasant. If you don't like it here why don't you just go back to Camden?”

“It's not that I don't like it here.” Stormy countered, cheekily grinning at his father. “The homeless ponies on the street are all really kind, you know? And, the fact that you can never really hear yourself think over the sound of all the bloody tourists, it’s so lovely.” He took a dramatic pause to stare his father dead in the eyes while he finished his thought. “No wonder you wanted to move to Ponyville to die. I bet that place is so boring it makes you wanna kill yourse-”

Before he could even finish his sentence he was cut off by a practiced punch; a right hoofed jab that caught him in the centre of his face, rocking his head sideways and leaving his mind a fuzzy mess. Still, Stormy recovered quickly. He rubbed a hoof against his swelling cheek, then smirked.

“Geez, Pop. I haven't had a love tap like that since I was a little foal. You're getting soft in your old age.”

He braced himself for a stronger repeat....

...but it never came.

“What is wrong with you, son?” His father asked, defeated. “When you were younger I used to see the world in your eyes. Just like your brother. You were smart. Smarter than most of the other foals your age. That's why I sent you to Harrow. But you bucked that up, didn't you? Just like you buck everything else in your life up. And you want to know why; Because you're a loser. You're a screw up. A reject, and a queeny faggot to boot! You could have done something with your life. I mean something real. Not some Arts Degree 'I Wanna Be A Writer' bullshit, but something that matters. But instead you just ended up......like this.”

His father gave a heavy sigh and Stormy felt his eyes grow damp. An emotion familiar to him but nameless built up in the pit of his stomach. What was it; Resentment? Contempt? Depression? Desperation?

“You remember when I was younger?” Stormy began and turned to his father, who was staring quizzically back at him. He nodded slowly before Stormy continued “Yeah, before mom got sick? When you, Blue, Mom and I used to be closer? When I used to run into your bedroom during thunderstorms and hide under the covers? Or, how you used to make pancakes for breakfast every Sunday morning?”

If his father did he hid it well. Stoic and stern faced he simply gave an exhausted sigh and stomping his cigarette out in the crystal ashtray on the coffee table, got up from his chair. With deliberately drawn out steps, he trotted towards an impressive mahogany cabinet where a bottle of Glengoolie Blue, and a collection of glass tumblers sat. Fixing Stormy, and then himself a drink, he set them both on the table and sat back in his chair. All without saying a word.

“That was before you started drinking, you know?” Stormy finished. He lifted the glass. In the light of the overhanging lamp; the murky brown liquid that reflected his image seemed almost taunting. Still, he took a modest sip, then a second, set it down and lit another cigarette.

“Blue's going to make The Equestrian Five Hundred this year.” It wasn't uncommon for his father to change the subject like this, especially when emotional subject matter got brought up. If Stormy had been any more invested in studying psychology, he would note that this was a classic form of misdirection (Which had the loose definition of; changing the subject to suit one’s personal disinterest or dissatisfaction with the current conversation.) “Why don't you do that, Stormy? Get out there and find an honest job? Instead of acting like a prissy little fruitcake all day?”

An uncomfortable silence followed his father’s speech. First, Stormy took a purposefully annoying slurp of his Scotch, then his father took a quiet, contemplative one, and then nothing else was said between them. They sat like that for a while; drinking in uncomfortable silence. The only sound in the room coming from the clinking of ice on glass and the occasional crackling burn of tobacco and paper followed by an exhausted exhale of smoke.

Stormy finished his drink faster than his father and felt disappointed when he realized it did nothing to quell these feelings building inside of him. For a minute he contemplated pouring himself another drink, to see what, if anything, it would do for him, but the idea of sitting with his father any longer was entirely unappealing and the thought quickly dashed out of his mind. Instead, he set the empty tumbler down on the coffee table, stomped out his latest cigarette and quietly left the room.

Half way into the hallway, he dared to stare back at his father-who hadn’t even bothered to glance up at his retreating form as he trotted out of the room-and then felt empty inside.

The pit in his stomach grew. Suddenly his legs felt weak, like they could give out any second. The wetness in his eyes was threatening to....leak, and didn't show any sign of stopping. This emotion was running wild inside him, waging war with his finely tuned self defences. Stormy, for the first time in a long time was feeling.

And, it bothered him.

This 'feeling' was trying to dictate his actions. It was telling him to do things. To drag himself upstairs, lock himself in his room, crawl underneath his covers and then, to let go: To let the wetness out. To leak. To break down. To kick, thrash and cry; Until someone heard him. Until someone responded. Until someone cared.

Laying naked in his bed, the sheets pulled to his waist and staring blankly at the ceiling tiles--counting the infinite amount of dots and holes that lay before him--he felt his eyes grow heavy. His mind started to drift, filled first with the wonder of what a silly farm pony in a town called Dodge Junction was doing, and then somewhere else. Somewhere far darker...


The next thing he knew he was running down the foreign and alien looking streets of Manehattan. He was a foal again. His coat was damp. It was raining. His left eye was shut tight and throbbing. He didn't know where he was, or where he was going. He only knew two things: His mom was gone. Not gone away on a trip to Canterlop or Fillydelphia, like she did from time to time. But Gone gone. The kind of gone you don't come back from.

That was thing number one.

The second was that his father was gone too. Not in the same way mom was gone, but, just that...his father was gone, and now some strange and angry colt was wearing his coat and mane and pretending poorly to be him.

His father had never shouted at him before. Not like that. His father had never said so many nasty, horrible things about him before. His father had never laughed in his face about how he didn't love him. How he’d never loved him. How he was a mistake. Riff Raff. Rubbish. Garbage. Trash.

His father had never raised a hoof to him in his life. His father was better than that.....wasn't he?

Stormy was less than a block from home when he stopped and realized that no one was coming for him. He’d expected his father to come rushing out the front door mournful, with an apology on his tongue and a warm hug. But that didn’t happen. Not for the entire hour that Stormy sat waiting in the rain, staring hopefully at the door and dying a little inside each time a pony who was not a member of his family exited The Cart-Lyle.

By the second hour, Stormy gave up hope that anyone even noticed he was gone.

Things were different now and Stormy wasn’t stupid enough to ignore this. His mom was gone and his dad was angry about it. That seemed pretty clear. In fact, his dad was angry enough about it to throw a hoof at his youngest son over something as stupid as a dropped glass of grape juice and how it would stain the carpet. Stormy realized all of this when he saw the fire burning in the eyes of his father, that same fire in his eyes burned when he loomed over him, his hoof drawn back, coated in crimson that reflected in the light. Blue, leaning forward in his seat, peering at Stormy on the floor and laughing like some kind of maniac.

Stormy tried getting to his hooves and felt resistance in the form of a hoof pressing against his chest. His father was pushing him down, snickering with that half smile on his face. His father mouthed something, but, whatever it was Stormy couldn’t hear it over the sound of Blue slamming his hoof against the table and his howling laughter.

Anger, and shame, coursed through his veins and Stormy tried harder to get to his hooves, but again felt himself getting pushed down by his father--then that throaty chuckle. Stormy turned his head to see Blue almost wetting himself, holding his sides and that obnoxious, twisted cackle drowning all other sounds in the room.

His father’s hoof pressed deeper against his chest and he began grinding it into the flesh of Stormy’s body like he were putting out a cigarette. Stormy, for the first time in his life felt comfort in Blue’s twisted laugh beause it drowned out the sound of his father telling him he was nothing. That he meant nothing. That he’d always meant nothing, and that Colts like him never mean anything to anyone.

The crackle of a log burning in the living room drew his father’s attention, and the second his foot left Stormy’s chest, the young foal grabbed the opportunity for an escape. He could have broken records with how fast he was on his hooves, dashing through the halls, then out the door and away from the laughter and abuse. He ran down hallways and stairwells, through back exits and fire escapes until he was three houses down and stood staring back at The Cart-Lyle, soaking in the rain.

He hung his head and kept his eyes to the floor so he didn’t have to meet the curious gazes of anypony else in the building, he just shuffled quietly into the elevator, pressed a hoof the the button labeled ‘P.’ and for a quiet moment enjoyed the sound of Muzak playing softly from the speakers.

When the elevator reached the top floor, the first thing Stormy noticed when entering the penthouse was his father; laying almost dead in a recliner in the living room, his eyes shut tight and with both hooves rested on the hoof wrests.

Stormy fought every impulse in his body that screamed ‘Let it be.’ and carried out a long standing gut reaction to the situation he found himself in.

He grabbed a blanket from the linen closet and slowly approached his father. By this time of night his father was far too gone to ever even do much more than snore obnoxiously loud anyway. Gently and delicately, Stormy wrapped the blanket around his body, tucking it underneath his waist, chest, shoulders.

Stormy smiled softly at his father, who curled into the blanket snug and safe, then trotted out of the room.

He passed Blue in the hallway to his room; he was still grinning, and when the two locked eyes, he muttered something that sounded like “Nice eye, queer.” under his breath.

Climbing into bed, alone, Stormy pulled the covers over his head and tried to count sheep.


Now, back in his present, laying in the same bed almost fifteen years later, Stormy untucked himself from the bed and wandered out into the hall; his jaw was still sore, and the swelling on his face had grown.

Just like when he was a foal, his father had passed out drunk in the armchair and, just like when he was a foal, he crept to the closet, grabbed a blanket and wrapped it gently around his father’s waist, only, this time his father stirred. Panic crept up his spine and, his heart almost stopped when his father gripped his hoof and pulled him towards him; his eyes popped to life, his emotionally dead face followed and a look of resentment and contempt wore strong.

“Don’t touch me.” He slurred, angry. Stormy just sighed and drew his hoof back. His father huffed something obscene about him under his breath when he turned away, and, in the moment of hesitation that came with it, he felt his father kick a hoof into his rear, catching him off guard and knocking him off balance. He fell face first to the floor with a loud thud.

Picking himself up, he ignored his father chuckling as he left the room.


Stormy woke up around noon with a headache and a kink in his neck. Crawling out of bed, he cracked his neck, gave a soft yawn and cringed at the sore and stretched feeling in his face that came attached with it.

Making his way slowly to the bathroom, he paused to stare at the visage of his wounded reflection in the mirror. His father’s hoof had left an impressionable lump on the side of his face; his cheek was swollen like some kind of over prepared squirrel in winter, and there was a thick, deep, purple ring underneath his half squinted eye.

Stormy just sighed, splashed his wounded features with cold water, and after gently toweling his face dry fought the urge to slam a hoof into the face of his broken reflection.

A half hour later, after a cold shower where he scrubbed himself clean of any physical signs of last night’s shame and embarrassment, he was back in his room and dressing to hide the eggplant coloured bruise on his face. He dug some baggy black hoodie out of the closet and pulled it over his body, tossing the hood over his head. Absentmindedly searching the pockets he found a packet of sugar, a few Wonderbolts trading cards tied together with an elastic band and realized it must have been a long time ago that he’d worn this hoodie.

He cracked a soft smile while he rifled through the old roster of The Wonderbolts Starting Team; Soarin grinned at him, then Rapidfire, Spitfire and a few faces of trainees who apparently hadn’t made the cut because he didn’t recognize their names; Rainbow Dash? Lightning Dust? Thunderlane? He chuckled and threw the cards on a desk, replaced them in his pocket with a pack of cigarettes and left the room.

His father’s penthouse seemed delightfully void of his father’s looming presence and he felt comfortable enough to enter the kitchen to fix himself a snack--A Waldorf Salad if there were any apples in the fridge and Walnuts in the pantry, if not he’d settle for a nice Sweet Apple Acres apple. There was a note on the fridge from his father that said he was now half an hour late for a lunch appointment with Saul Goodmane; the family’s estate manager and attorney, at Arcadia.

He shoved a braeburn apple into his pocket, just incase Saul only wanted to meet for drinks grabbed a lighter off the kitchen counter and headed downtown.


Stormy had finished a cigarette, given his apple to a hungry looking beggar on the street and safely trotted through two back alleys without incident (Which was a new personal record for him) by the time he got to Arcadia. He found Saul waiting in a private booth, a half finished Mojito in front of him and two empty highball glasses with slowly melting ice cubes, and soaked mint leaves beside it.

Saul, like everypony associated with his father, brother and by extension, Stormy himself’s family fortune, was every bit the definition of a true Manehattan character; he wore loud and expensive suits that matched his colourful personality; today it was a navy blue blazer from Perseus, lime green tie and a plain white collared shirt underneath. His ginger mane was combed tight against his yellow coat.

He bounced out of his seat and onto his lower hooves when he spotted Stormy. Extending his upper hooves outwards, waiting for some kind of awkward embrace--a tight hug that would last a little too long and leave Stormy mildly uncomfortable--from his youngest client.

“Hey, there’s the kid!” He rang ecstatically, tossing his hooves around Stormy’s waist and pulling him against his chest. Like Stormy had expected, the hug lasted a little too long and the pungent aroma of spiced rum that wafted from his accountant/attorney’s breath stung Stormy’s nostrils.

“Drinking on the job?” Stomy mused lightheartedly as he broke off the lingering hug and took his seat. “Can’t you get disbarred for that these days?”

“Hey, it’s Five O’Clock somewhere in Equestria right?” Saul chuckled, finishing the last few gulps from his current mojito, then tossed back a mouthful of ice cubes. He crunched them obnoxiously loud, swallowed, and winked at Stormy. “Besides, this is a total tax write off; I’m putting this lunch down as a business expense. So, feel free to order the most expensive thing on the menu. I recommend the carrot bisque.”

Stormy grinned and melted back into his seat, when a the rush of black sheep uncomfortability washed over him. He stared around at the other bodies filling chairs in Arcadia; the entire place looked like some kind of bird sanctuary; the colts in their black blazers, sports coats and dinner jackets were the Hawks, sharp eyes darting from ‘Hawk’ to ‘Hawk’; judging the brands of designer clothes they wore. The trophy wives, girlfriends and mistresses of these ‘Hawks’ were the Peacocks; wearing impressively coloured cocktail dresses and sipping Bellinis and Manehattan’s out of Champagne Flutes and forcing laughs.

He felt uncomfortable, and when he counted the tenth pair of eyes stare judgmentally at him, Stormy removed his hoodie and exposed the previous night’s shame to a restaurant filled with Manehattan’s finest.

“Geez, Stormy. That’s some shiner you got there.” Saul mused with an honest sort of worry carried in his tone. He offered a soft smile and Stormy felt little comfort drawn from it. Saul grinned, then finished his thought. “I’d hate to see the other guy.”

“Yeah... gay bars.” Stormy lied with a grin. “What can you do?”

“Yeah, I hear the slap fights can get a little out-of-hoof.” Saul chuckled back. This; making light cracks at Stormy’s expense was all in good nature and just one of the many other facets of ‘charm’ that Saul offered along with his legal expertise. “And, here I was thinking that you colts were supposed to cuddle?”

They shared a little chuckle; just a quick quiet laugh between the roughest definition of ‘friends’ that the dictionary held; they were close, or as close as a client/attorney privileges let either get, still, Saul cared about Stormy (or so it seemed) and Stormy counted the older colt among a short list of ponies in Manehattan who actually cared about his well being.

“So, how the Hells are you, kiddo?” Saul asked, shooting a hoof into the air and trying to grab the attention of a nearby server. “You know it’s been six months since you sent me a letter? When your pops told me you were in town I set up a little meet and greet so I could see how my favorite client was doing.”

“I’m doing alright.” Stormy gave back in honest reply. It was true, he certainly was doing the textbook definition of ‘Alright’. He was passing all his classes--even if that was through the intervention of a seedy professor on Campus who owed him a lifetime of favours for keeping quiet about his malicious intentions with certain students on Campus--he hadn’t been kicked out or--as far as he knew--failed a class all semester, all that, and, he was in a quite comfortable accommodation with a colt as well.

“That’s good to hear, Stormy.” Saul smiled softly. He finally managed to catch the attention of a server, a Pegasus colt with a thin gold moustache and a bit of a lisp, and ordered for Stormy; Vinaigrette Salad with sliced baby carrots and crushed feta cheese.

“Thanks.” Stormy quietly mumbled in response. The server, the kind of cute pegasus, gave him a flirtatious grin and Stormy offered a platonic one of his own in return. “Things are...pretty good. Yeah.”

“Well, I’m proud of you Stormy.” Saul chimed in. He gave a broad drunken smile and leaned forward in his seat, resting his head on his hooves. “You know...and, don’t tell your brother I said this, but I always thought you were your parents’ brightest son.”

Stormy felt a little warmth inside him start to burn and he actually cracked an earnest smile.

“So, kiddo, you still laying colts like your pop used to lay bricks?” Saul chuckled. “Goddess, if I had your good looks when I was your age I’d be doing the exact same thing...well, only with mares.”

Stormy took a pause. This was the first time anyone back home had even feigned interest in his relationship status in as long as he could remember, and, since Saul was certainly not his father or his brother, and had no intentions of using his answer as an insult against him, he felt comfortable enough to answer truthfully.

“Well, actually...” He began, staring into curious and concerned eyes. “I’m...kinda seeing a colt right now.”

It felt nice to admit. Saul wasn’t a member of his family--more of a family friend who showed a platonic interest in his well being--but he was as close to the kind of pony who could accept this information and be happy for him.

“Stormy that’s great!” Saul piped. “That’s fantastic, kiddo!”

Stormy, for the first time since he’d left Camden, felt himself filled with a certain sense of pride.


Their server, the same pegasus who’d taken their order, returned with Stormy’s salad, a fresh Mojito for Saul and a double of Buck Daniels--which Saul must have ordered in front of Stormy’s face and metaphorically behind his back--which he gently set before Stormy with a warm smile. Stormy ignored the fact that the cocktail napkin laid underneath his drink had a name and address written down on it.

“Goddess,” Saul croaked. “How long has it been since you’ve had a proper coltfriend? He’s gotta be something special, eh?”

Oh, if Saul only knew...

The desire not to be sitting across from Saul, and instead, laying naked in a bed, with a farm pony’s hoof trailing lines in the fur of his chest, lips and teeth gently nibbling his ear, overwhelmed him. Still, he smiled up at Saul and thought up an appropriate answer.

“It’s been awhile I guess..” He mused. Saul just smiled with him.

“Well, don’t forget to send me an invitation to the wedding.” Saul chuckled and took a sip of his latest Mojito. Stormy, slightly embarrassed, played around with his salad, impaling carrots on his fork and using the butter knife to decapitate the helpless vegetation.

“Celestia, kid! I haven’t seen you get red faced about a colt in...well...ever!” Saul’s throaty shout that was a few volumes above a proper ‘indoor’ voice and seemed to attract the attention of more than just Stormy--a couple at the next table actually peaked a curious eye towards them, which Stormy glared away. “You know you have to tell me about him now.”

What was there to say? Strokes was the polar opposite of all the kinds of colts Stormy had ever seduced, been seduced by, and/or slept with in the longest time. He was fun and joyful; with a specific type of character that was earned through years of repressed thoughts and quiet, simple mindedness. There was an intense fiery passion hidden in him that Stormy did his best to tease, flirt, kiss, croon, cuddle and screw out of him. And, on top of all that; he had the good fortune of thinking Stormy was quite possibly the best he could ever do.

Sitting here, thinking about Strokes and just what he meant to Stormy, he could only imagine that somewhere in Dodge Junction, no matter what he was doing; some kind of spiritual mysticism would cause Strokes to stop in place, pause and wonder why he’d suddenly been filled with the desire to toss a grey coated colt onto a bed, turn out all the lights, hang a sock on a door and lose himself to lust.

“I...really like him.” Stormy admitted softly. “I know how stupid this sounds, Saul, but I...kinda miss him. You know?”

Across from him, Saul grinned ear to ear and some stupid looking twinkle built in his eyes, which, for a slight second Stormy almost thought looked like some kind of tear building, but, that wasn’t likely to happen to a colt like Saul. It was probably just the low lighting. Or a reflection from his butter knife bouncing off his eyelids.

“Wow, Stormy....” Saul breathed, and without hesitation, continued. “I don’t know if you’re aware of that but that silly feeling inside you is what the kids these days are calling ‘love’.”

Love. That was a laugh and a half. Stormy didn’t love Strokes, they were just really, really, really great love...ers. Just because they shared a friendly, sexy and romantic bond that took precedence over the even more amazing sex they had; that didn’t mean it was ‘love’, it just meant they found something that worked and stuck with it. They hadn’t been...doing whatever it was they were doing long enough to call it ‘love’. Love was one of those things that old married couples who fed birds together at the park had. The kind of emotion shared between two ponies who’d been together forever shared with each other. Not two colts who’d known each other for the better part of five--almost six--months and, who really only started being intimate for about half of that time.

Nope. This wasn’t love that he felt for Strokes. Saul was just being overdramatic.

“I don’t know if he feels that way about me.” He found the words fumble out of his mouth even if his brain hadn’t made him utter them. It must have been some subconscious slip of the tongue.

“Oh, kiddo...” Saul, again smiling and that stupid shimmer in his eye growing stronger with the change in conversation. “You’re like some kinda silly school girl for him, aren’t you? Let me ask you; When was the last time you felt like this? For anypony?”

Stormy thought about it and it honestly bothered him more than he’d like to admit that the warmth he was feeling inside hadn’t resonated in him for a long time; he tried putting faces to feelings; he’d picture the face of a colt--any colt he’d slept with in the past five years of his life--and not once did they draw any comparison to how he felt when he thought of Strokes. Strokes, with that proud, broad and stupid grin on his face. Strokes with that tousled blonde mane, rustled chocolate brown coat and that....magnificent body.

His cheeks felt hot and Stormy stared around desperate to see if anyone else noticed that the air conditioning at Arcadia suddenly seemed to stop working; No one seemed to notice if it had and suddenly he felt defeated.

“Stormy. This...thing you’re feeling. This little emotion in you that seems weird, and strange and foreign, it’s called ‘love’, kiddo. And you’ve got it bad for him!” Saul repeated the idea like a second time was going to make it stick with Stormy. “I’ve had enough ex-wives to know that this isn’t just a lust for a hot stallion, either. I mean, I don’t get that same ‘I can’t wait to get back to Camden to put my dick in him.’ sense you usually have when you talk about colts and....Wait.” Slight pause for Saul to cock an eyebrow “You are the one giving it to him, right?”

Embarassed, Stormy huffed and mumbled “It’s complicated.” under his breath. Saul just laughed.

“I kinda always wondered about that to be honest.” Saul started up again. “I guess...Well, you always seemed a little too masculine to be the mare, but I guess if it makes you happy? I mean, not that it’s any of my business...”

“Why did you call me here?” Stormy piped up in a desperate attempt to change the subject. Suddenly any topic in the world; even a lecture about proper spending, account balancing, tax loopholes, shelters and evasion, seemed like a nice change of pace.

“It’s nothing serious, really.” Saul began. “Your pops wanted me to have a few choice words with you about your account. There’s good news and bad, actually.”

“Let’s hear the bad news, first.”

“Well, your father decided to...uh, well, he’s going to cut you off, Stormy.” Saul sighed. “I tried telling him that wasn’t such a good idea, but, he figured since you’re graduating this year, that you’ll be more motivated to find a job or something if you have to work for it.”

That seemed a lot like his father; using harsh encouragement and the right--forced--motivation of a lack of external, unearned, funds to encourage his rebellious, hellraiser of a son to finally get off his metaphorical ass and do something with his life.

This idea wasn’t entirely mean, and it had a sort of...positive edge to it, it just seemed a little harsher than need be was all.

“The way I see it, your dad cares enough to try and encourage you. It’s not exactly the positive encouragement I’d use, but, it’s something. The good news is, er...it’s not exactly ‘happy’ good news, but you still have some money left from your mother’s inheritance. Unfortunately, your brother, who’s being a real mule about it, hired his own lawyer to try and take a bigger slice of the pie she left for you and him. It’s a shame really; your brother doesn’t need that kind of money nearly as much as you do and, honestly, I think he’s just doing it to piss you off.”

So, Blue wanted to steal his inheritance? That wasn’t surprising; even with his impressive salary, the quarterly bonuses and the under the table deals, his greed--or perhaps that inner desire to see Stormy suffer for no real reason--was so strong in his brother that he’d spend more money than he’d ever make trying to take whatever he could from him.

“So...what does this mean, for me?” Stormy asked, quietly aware of the answer himself.

“It means...once you graduate this year you’re on your own kid. I...I’ll help out in any way I can, I mean, I know a few ponies who’d be willing to offer you a great deal on a place here; and a few more colts who work at The Walls-Street Journal who could get you a job in the mailroom. You can work your way up, right? But...all the money you have in the world is whatever’s in your account and there’s not a whole lot of that left.”

This was disheartening, but, not too surprising.

“Why..don’t you go back to Camden, Stormy? Have as much fun as you can, while you can, and I’ll try and talk your brother’s lawyer out of this stupid cock-and-balls show he’s putting on: He’s a friend of a friend, so hopefully he’ll settle for some kind of out of court settlement and you’ll be able to keep more than a fair share for yourself, but, until I do...just...keep in mind that you might be left high and dry?”

“Yeah...” Stormy mumbled quietly. Saul offered a sympathetic smile; a thin, soft, little thing that spread slowly across his lips.

“Listen, Stormy. This colt you’re seeing; he clearly means something to you, even if you don’t see it. You’ve only got about a month or so left at Camden, why not spend as much time with this guy as you can and don’t worry too much about any of this.”

Stormy pondered this; where was Strokes? Probably still back in Dodge Junction, visiting the family he rarely spoke about. Did he bother to tell them about him? Did he sit across from his dad, or his mom, or his whoever, and tell them he met a cute colt at Camden and have them embarrassingly describe their sexual friendship as some kind of love bug bitten relationship?

Maybe he did love Strokes, and, maybe he missed him enough to call this little vacation away from Camden quits, take the earliest train he could back home and hope to catch Strokes lounging casually in the art lounge, or the common room of his dorm, or the cafeteria, or wherever.

Maybe, that’s what Stormy was going to do.

A few more hours of sitting and casually conversing with Saul passed and with it came the decision to flee, immediately, from Manehattan and crawl back to Camden. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that visiting Manehattan was detrimental to his mental health, and the more he sat and talked with the only pony in Manehattan who he could tolerate, the more he realized his place was at Camden, and so was the colt he maybe, sorta, liked, a lot.

This was what inspired Stormy to leave on a train back to Camden that night.


He spent the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening, tracking down a one way ticket back to Camden. It was harder than the he would have thought to find the last item on his self-imposed personal quest but, he’d managed to scalp one from an off duty train conductor for a wickedly over inflated price. Afterwards he picked up a few keepsake items--a few bottles of cheap bourbon to go with a new double pouched saddlebag, a carton of Kamel Kools from Saddle Arabia at a corner store and some tacky Manehattan souvenirs; a snow globe of the island, and an ‘I Luv Manehattan’ shirt for Strokes. Then, returning to his father’s penthouse, he cracked a bottle of Gentlecolt Jack, poured a drink on the rocks, dragged the record player into the master bathroom and, half drunk, he slipped into a warm, comforting bath while White Rabbit played on repeat.

A banging on the door interrupted him, and he quickly hopped out of the tub; the filth of a day running errands in Manehattan mixed with the trail of water he purposefully let build small puddles on the marble floor before he made it to the door.

“For Celestia’s sake; turn that down, Stormy!” His father--quite naturally--shouted from the opposite side of the doorway; slamming his hoof against the door. Maybe it was the booze, the knowledge that he’d be back at Camden in less than a dozen hours, or, maybe he just wanted to piss of his father one last time while he could but, for whatever reason, Stormy just grinned and turned the volume up before slipping back into the bath.

There were going to be verbal--most likely physical also--reprocussions to his actions, sure, but in that moment he was proud of his minor accomplishment. One last ‘Screw you, dad’ before he left.

He felt like a kid for doing it.

After a few more ice cold glasses of bourbon; sometime between when he’d sank and almost drowned in the tub, and when he got tired of hearing lyrical allusions to Through The Looking Glass, Stormy got tired of his little stress easing soak and decided to get out of the tub and dry himself off. He was drunk now, but the kind of drunk that was more in the body--legs heavy and light at the same time, his eyes half lidded and the goofiest smile he’d felt in ages on his face--than in the brain. Right now, staring at himself again in the mirror, he didn’t even mind that the bruise had grown to almost double the size it had been earlier in the day; the purples darkened and his eye squinted almost shut now.

He just grinned.

His bags were in the hallway by the door and he’d been smart enough to triple check to make sure he didn’t have a reason for writing to his father about something stupid like his favorite jacket, his teddy bear (The Green Meanie), or his I.D.. Now, all he had to do was navigate the halls, body drunk and mind sober, and avoid his father.

What should have been an easy, accomplishable task was made a little more difficult with the knowledge that the divine forces of fate at work truly and dearly liked to see him suffer. There, standing in the doorway with the meanest, drunkest, scowl on his face and blocking his escape was his dear old dad; a glass of something strong and pungent clutched in one hoof, and a belt with a studded buckle wrapped firmly around the other.

The glass came first; Stormy didn’t even realize it, but it left his father’s hoof and whizzed a few inches from his head, then shattered against the wall, and in the time it took for Stormy to watch this, a belt buckle attached to a fist connected with the bruised side of his face; the pain wasn’t much worse than the feeling of disorientation that came when he was on the ground.

His father loomed over him with a truly menacing presence and Stormy almost worried that this time he’d pushed him too far? That this was the time he fell down and didn’t get up again.

This uncomfortable thought was corrected when he extended a hoof towards his son; imploring him to take it.

“Next time when I tell you to do something,” His father’s voice rang in his ears, “You do it.”

Yeah, yeah...Whatever.

Stormy batted the hoof away from him and got to his hooves on his own. He pushed past his father until a hoof gripped him by his shoulder, swung him to face his father and he felt himself get pushed hard and heavy against the wall.

“You wanna hit me pop? Well, go ahead!” Stormy choked out, starring in the cold, dead eyes of his father. “Get it all out. ‘Cause, I’ll be back at Camden in a few hours and then you’ll have to find another little faggot to push around.”

Then something completely different happened. His father had done a lifetime’s worth of truly awful things to him; he’d beaten, kicked, punched, spit on, lashed, lacerated, slapped, humiliated and brutalized his youngest son and, while none of that was entirely pleasant, Stormy was used to it.

This was different.

His father’s hoof found Stormy’s head, and he slowly brushed through the mess of his mane, past his ears and then trailed it along Stormy’s trembling spine. He moved a step closer to him, grinning like a wild animal all the while.

Fear and paralysis overtook Stormy and he stopped breathing; he felt a hoof touch his waist, grip the flesh of his side and squeeze tightly.

He cringed.

“You’ll come back.” His father breathed heavily as he leaned forwards. “You always do.”

The fear in Stormy was arresting. His limbs hung heavy, his back slacked and his lip quivered as he just stared into his father’s eyes, completely helpless.

“You keep telling me that you hate me and that you want to get as far away from me, and Manehattan as you can. But then...if that were true, why do you keep coming back?”

The cold hoof in his mane began to pet him, brushing past his skull, and down his neck. The hoof touching his chest dipped down to his waist, circled around his spine and gripped, tightly at the flesh of Stormy’s body.

All the inner strength Stormy had in the world suddenly slipped away, he swallowed hard and turned his face slowly away from his father’s.

“You keep coming back because you love it.” his father answered in a harsh whisper. “You keep hoping and praying that one of these days I’m going to have some kind of spiritual awakening and come begging for your forgiveness, and then we’ll have a little faggy circle jerk, where I hug you, and you cry into my shoulder and I tell you how sorry I am for being a bad father.”

Stormy glanced back at his father and choked up. His father’s face drifted towards his throat and he pressed himself closer; their bodies just inches from touching. The second Stormy’s mind told him that the next move his father pulled was going to become the most morbid display of abuse his father had put him through, he stopped moving. For the most intensely quiet minute of Stormy’s life his father just stared blankly at him, then, his lips spread into a smile and he laughed.

“You little queer, you were getting off on that, weren’t you?” He boomed, he grinned for a few minutes, still nearly touching against Stormy, and then his face fell flat.

“You’re pathetic...”

Stormy felt dirty, ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted with himself. He stared up at his father and with all the strength he could scrounge, he furrowed his brows and huffed angrily.

“Get off of me!” He screamed, only, it wasn’t just him screaming, it was the scared and angry foal inside him screaming too; the one who’d taken the brunt of fifteen years of abuse and needed to vent.

Trembling hooves pressed into his father’s chest and he pushed him away, hard. His father stumbled back for a step and Stormy darted towards the door. When his father recovered he didn’t move, just watched the fleeing form of his youngest son with a bemused curiosity.

“Why do you have to be such a bucking asshole!” Stormy shouted back at him as he slung the saddlebag that carried his luggage over his back. His question went unanswered, his father just shrugged nonchalantly, shook his head and watched him as he darted out of the door without looking back.

Alone in the building’s stairwell, Stormy fell against the wall and slumped onto his bottom. He ran a hoof long across his face and slammed the other as hard as he could against the wall at his back; once, twice, thrice--he stopped counting after the tenth time.

After a while it didn’t hurt anymore.

Pulling himself together, he checked his train ticket and realized he had a deadline to meet and that trains in Manehattan didn’t wait for the sad little sob stories of abused little foals who couldn’t reconcile with their fathers.


At the train station, he shared a cigarette with a wino who told him a story about waking up on park bench in Central Park with a hangover and a one way ticket to Las Pegasus. Comfortable with the idea that this wino was more safe, and less lucky, he helped him finish a bottle of Rabid Dog 40/40 hidden in a paper bag and, just drunk enough not to care, he gave him a pack of cigarettes for his generosity.

The ride back to Camden wasn’t very long, but Stormy was grateful that by this time of night the train was mostly deserted and he didn’t have to spend the entire ride ignoring advice from ponies who lived through the ‘Golden Age’ of Equestria and fake smiles when they showed him pictures of ugly grandkids in the infinite folds of a pleather wallet.

Sitting alone, with his drunk wearing off, he stared solemnly out the window and counted the hours before he’d be back at Camden.

Electric Feel

View Online

Electric Feel.

Standing in front of the solid oak door with the numbers ‘2-1-1-2’ in acrylic metal drilled into the woodwork, Stormy felt at home. Throwing caution to the wind, Stormy swung the door open and a sense of panic and discomfort struck him in return. The room was empty and rank with an unquestionable back alley ambience that caught Stormy off guard: There was evidence in the room of the abuse of every single recorded narcotic known to Ponykind since Princess Celestia had banished her sister Luna to the moon over a thousand years in the past.

Apple cores, honey dew rinds and crushed coconut husks rotted on the floors and floated in the puddle of rust coloured water that led back to the bathroom where the toilet had been taped shut and the sink was overflowing.

The halogen bulbs in the lamps and overhead lights of the room had been replaced with cheap, tacky Hearth’s Warming Eve themed ones. They flickered on off giving the room a sleazy feel; like the locker room of a strip club during the holidays.

Even in what little light was still left in the room, Stormy could tell that Jag had taken it upon himself to use and abuse Stormy’s personal space for his own nefarious purposes. His bed was the first of Jag’s victims; the sheets had been torn off, leaving a naked mattress peppered with black holes burned in from the thirty or forty cigarette butts, half smoked joints and the sole signal flare. The entire mess had spilled from the towering mound of tobacco, narcotics, paper and plastic that had apparently once been an ashtray.

The posters and framed pictures had all been torn off the walls and both mirrors were smashed. They were replaced with crude, hoof painted symbols that were of an indeterminable language; bright neon green circles crashed against light blue triangles. A series of mismatched and backwards letters that almost spelt the words ‘Help’, ‘Death’ and ‘Free Dumb’, stained the walls. Dried ketchup (or blood) and crusted mustard were smeared along the walls in places where paint wasn’t.

His roommate, however, was nowhere to be found. Jag, that foul and rotten bastard, had apparently been living elsewhere. Everything valuable of his was very much missing from the room, and all that remained of his roommate’s presence was a black duffel bag on his pristine, perfectly made bed. The bag was overflowing with miniature, single use bars of soap, shampoo, mouthwash and conditioner that all read ‘Hotel Hills-Ton’. Underneath what was clearly a raid by his roommate on a room service cart in the hotel he stayed in while on vacation, were plain whiet T-shirts and two distinct ziploc bags filled with pressed gel caps.

When he returned, Jag certainly had a lot to answer for.

There was an old saying in Equestrian Lore dating back longer than Luna’s banishment; ‘Speak of Discord and he shall appear.’.

This was certainly not true for Jagged Horn.

Confused, tired, angry (and mildly impressed,) Stormy took a seat on Jag’s bed and shook a single cigarette loose from a fresh pack. If the R.A. hadn’t lifted a hoof to stop Jag from turning the room into a study in the pitfalls of absurdity, he certainly wasn’t going to complain about Stormy’s smoking. Again.

Now all he had to do was wait for his roommate to show up.


Three hours later, Stormy was fishing the last cigarette out of the pack and looking between the clock--which showed six thirty seven in bright neon red--to the door. As if his life were some fantastically overrated sitcom, the door swung open and a blur of maroon and black stumbled through the open doorway, fell flat on his chest--while still somehow keeping the bottle of wine clutched in his right hoof over his head--and a pair of pleading puppy dog eyes stared up at Stormy.

Behold: The majestic Jagged Horn, in all his glory.

The next few moves Jag made were entirely silent and bordered on eerie; the brightest, most blissful smile formed on his face as he leapt to his hooves, then onto the bed. Wordlessly, with his left hoof--as he clutched in a stranglehold a bottle of cheap champagne in his right--Jag pulled himself into a hug with his roommate, nuzzling his chin, cheeks and mane into Stormy’s neck.

Laughing, Stormy pushed Jag off of him and he fell backwards onto the bed. He brought the bottle to his lips, cradling it like a child in his hooves. He bit hard into the cork and then tore it out with his teeth. The bottle exploded, coating him with foam and liquid. Jag just laughed, sipped from the bottle then slammed it onto the nightstand.

“I love you, Stormy!” He roared as leapt at Stormy and tackled him onto the bed and again nuzzled his roommate. “Welcome back.”

Again, Stormy pushed his roommate off of him.

“Jag, what the Hells?” He asked as Jag’s laughter died down. “This place looks like shit.”

Dopily, Jag stared around the room; his eyes scanned the destruction and he snorted a laugh.

“Oh, right. That.” He swallowed. “Yeah, I threw a party the night I got back, and then...I dunno, it just sorta happened. I’ve been staying with Rumblejack and Shadowflash the last few days. I was gonna clean the mess up before you got back, but...”

Jag shrugged and reached across Stormy’s lap, grabbing the pack of cigarettes and fishing the last cigarette out for himself. He lit it, super casual, then leaned against the wall and started trying to blow smoke clouds.

“I didn’t think you’d be coming home so early, Stormy.” He peered at Stormy, then his eyes dropped when they found the bruised cheek. The welted eye, and the look on his face that betrayed his feelings.

“Oh, geez. That bad?”

Solemnly, Stormy nodded and Jag hooked a hoof around his shoulder, pulling his roommate to him, letting him rest his head on his side.

“Your dad’s a dick...”

It was said with the best of intentions, but even Jag’s foalish innocence didn’t sugar coat the weight the words carried with them. Jag gave a soft smile and hugged his roommate a little closer.

“Yeah,” Was all Stormy said.

He turned to Jag and smiled, genuinely.

“How was Baltimare?”

At this, Jag’s mood brightened and he shook with anticipation on the bed.

“Oh, fantastic, dude!” He exclaimed cheerfully. “I met this total smokeshow zebra at this bar at the train station. We had a few drinks, did a few bumps in the bathroom,” He paused to poke at his nostril to accentuate the point “, then we went back to her place for a bit of the old slip ‘n’ slide.”

“Was she any good?” Stormy inquired, peaking a curious eyebrow. His own experiences with zebras, at least sexually, was limited to an experimental one night stand back in Manehattan, but, Z had a charm about him that certainly spoke volumes about zebras males.

How their female counterparts stacked up was still up in the air.

“Oh, hoofs down the best blowjob I’ve ever had.” Jag said, beating his chest in pride. “And...she let me put it in her pooper, too.”

“Well, that’s...something?” Stormy mumbled.

“Yessir.” Jag grinned. “Anyway, after sex we were lying in her bed, and she’s going on and on about her family, how she has a cousin in some forest near Ponyville. How her cousin only speaks in rhymes cause she comes from ‘The Old Country’, or whatever. Then, she tells me about her drug dealer brother and how he got picked up by the guards for assault, right? She tells me he was keeping his stash at her place while he’s on trial, so the guards can’t pick it up and use it as evidence, but, get this...”

Jag paused here to fish one of the two fat ziploc bags with the multi colored pressed gel caps inside. He opened it with his teeth and shook loose two dragon tooth sized pills.

“...I stole it, Stormy. I stole the dude’s entire stash!”

Stormy stared down at the bag. There looked to be hundreds of these little pills in the first bag, and the second bag didn’t look any lighter.

“Holy shit,” Stormy breathed realizing what he’d just heard; here was Jagged Horn’s tremendous return to Camden; ripping a drug dealer off of thousands of bits worth of potentially dangerous narcotics and not batting an eye about it.

At least Jag hadn’t changed much during his time away from higher education.

“I know, right?” Jag’s grin grew, he gripped one of the pills in his hooves and twisted it open. “I got on the train and headed back to Camden before she could realize what I did.”

“You don’t think she’ll find you?”

“Nah, probably not.” Jag shrugged. “I told her my name was ‘Miguel’ and that I went to Coltlumbia. I think that’s why she slept with me?”

“Classy.” Stormy chuckled, then peered down at one of the pills and the gold powder inside it. “What is it?”

“This is Candy Dust.” Jag answered. “It comes from some kind of old school zebra voodoo, or something. ”

“What does it do?”

A gleam built in Jag’s eye.

He grabbed a plate from the night stand and poured a small pile of the gold powder out of the pill, then straightened it into a line using the edge of his hoof. “This shit makes pure sniffing salt seem like ginger beer, dude.”

Jag leaned his head down and pressed at the base of the golden powder. In a flash, the bulk of the line disappeared as he dragged his nose along the plate. Trace amounts of gold powder remained on the plate and Jag lapped it up using his tongue.

Rubbing his nose violently, he grinned at Stormy.

“You can smoke it, snort it, pop it in a pill or even shoot it up your veins...if you’re stupid, I guess...”

“Talk about easily approachable marketing design.” Stormy drawled.

“Yeppers.” Jag nodded. “You get this, totally kickass euphoria for about three hours if you pop the pills. It only lasts about forty, forty five if you snort it, though.”

Excitedly, Jag licked his lips and clenched his teeth tight. His eyes popped, eyebrows raised and it occurred to Stormy that his roommate was now fully under the effects of some new miracle designer drug. He faced Stormy, still licking his lips, then moved slowly towards him.

For a brief second Stormy feared his roommate was about to do something that he’d have to console him about for the rest of the semester, but, then he just pressed his face into Stormy’s chest and started nuzzling himself into the fur.

“Your fur is soooo soft.” He purred. “No wonder Strokes spends so much time here cuddling with you.”

It was unintentional, but that came as something of a low blow to Stormy. He hadn’t been back at Camden for more than twelve hours and already the longing for the gentle caress of a silly farm pony’s hoof on his body was overwhelming.

Good one, Jag.

“Have...you seen him?” Stormy asked down to the straight colt nuzzling his face into his chest.

Jag peered up at Stormy and shook his head ‘No.’ quietly, then went right back to running his face against Stormy’s body. Upset, but trying not to ruin his roommate’s seemingly unbreakable spirits, he gently pushed Jag away from him and got off the bed.

“I’m gonna catch a breath of fresh air, I think,” He was lying. “This place is kinda...hazy.”

“Cool, cool.” Jag mumbled almost incoherently.


Standing outside Gentle Strokes’ door was a familiar thing for Stormy. Usually, his nights with the older colt followed a similar trend of inviting himself inside his boyfriend’s room, one of them throwing the other onto a soft bed and then the private, intimate dance the two did between, on top, and occasionally not at all involving, the sheets.

This was different. Today, he was knocking on the door curious to see if Gentle Strokes was even at Camden or lost a million miles away in a town called Dodge Junction. Insecurities aside, Stormy realized pining wasn’t going to get him any closer to finding out the answer to his quarry and so he knocked on the door and a minute of anticipation later, it swung open to reveal Au Revoir.

Stormy had never really been too close with Au Revoir. Before he’d started seeing Strokes, Stormy had run into him at a few of the same parties, and eaten breakfast hungover in the same cafeteria. They might have exchanged a few words between them, but, if they had, Stormy couldn’t remember if they were pleasant or not.

After being with Strokes, Stormy’s relationship with Au Revoir hadn’t exactly blossomed into the same kind of kinship he shared with Jag. They shared a few more words that still only barely touched the definition of ‘sentences’, but, that was really it. They were no more or no less on the same scale of friendship they had been before Stormy had started sleeping with his roommate.

Personally, he didn’t count the colt as the same curse that Gentle Strokes seemed too. He just seemed like a regular, boring, old hedonistic heterosexual with a talent for picking mares on campus with loose morals and a lower sense of self esteem. Sort of like...Jagged Horn, only, Jag would never be caught dead wearing a beret or smoking a clove cigarette.

“Hi?” Au Revoir stared at him quizically.

“Uh...is Strokes around?” Stormy pondered, trying to play down the desperation betrayed in by his quivering stance and the almost pathetic tone to his voice.

Au Revoir’s face fell a bit. He stared down at the floor, exhaled a sharp breath of air, then stared back up at Stormy.

This didn’t bode well.

“Maybe you should come in?” Au cleared a path for Stormy’s entrance.

This didn’t bode well at all.

Stormy sat on Gentle Strokes bed and felt comfortable for the slightest second. This washed when Au Revoir turned to him, a letter, opened, but folded, clutched in his teeth and an uncharacteristic frown on his face.

“He... sent me this a few days ago. You might want to read it for yourself?”

He passed the scroll to Stormy, who didn’t have to even read it to know it wasn’t bearing good news. He didn’t want to read it. Really. Hypothetical situations were brewing in his head and none of them were optimistic.

Reluctant, Stormy stared down at the rolled scroll when curiosity got the better of him. He unrolled the parchment and read along with the words;


Sent to: Au Revoir. Centerfield Building. Room 2452.

From: 43 McDowell, Dodge Junction.

Dear Au,

I’m writing to let you know that I won’t be coming back to Camden this semester. Something came up here, and my family needs me to be here more than I need to be out there. It’s shitty, I know, but it has to be done.

I’ve already sent letters to all of my profs letting them know, and they’ve V.W.’d me from all my courses. I’m hoping that once things settle down here I’ll be able to come back and finish my year, maybe this summer, but until then I’ll be back here in Dodge Junction.

I know we weren’t exactly the best of friends, but I’d hate to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth about me. So, if I ever did anything that pissed you off, I’m sorry. (I’m especially sorry you walked in on me and Stormy that night after The Dress To Get Bucked party. I still swear that I hung a sock on the door but that’s neither here nor there, is it?)

Take care of yourself, Au.

P.S. Please, don’t tell Stormy I sent you this, okay? I promise I’ll write to him when I know what to say, but I just can’t figure out how to tell him right now. I just don’t want to hurt him.


This...had to be wrong? It had to. There was no way this letter was anything but some kind of cruel prank by Au Revoir to get back at him for walking in on them after The Dressed To Get Bucked party. That, or, maybe there was some kind of miscommunication in the letter? Could it be code? Maybe it meant he was in trouble in Dodge Junction?

Or? Or? Or?

Stormy fell back on the bed and closed his eyes.

Or, maybe Gentle Strokes was actually staying in Dodge Junction and didn’t have the balls to tell him?

“How long ago did he send that?” The words sort of just fell clumsily out of his mouth, like someone else was speaking for him, or something.

“...I’d say, a week?” Au Revoir stated simply. “He had a few colts come and ship most of his stuff back a few days ago. I thought he would have written to you by now?”

Stormy shook his head.

He’d been smart enough to know that letters left in his mailbox at Camden during his absence wouldn’t likely still be there upon his return. To remedy this, he’d had all of his mail forwarded to his father’s place in Manehattan. Judging by the time frame between when Au Revoir got his letter, and when Stormy should have gotten his, it clearly hadn’t been sent.

For all Stormy knew it hadn’t been.

This was his life: His father used him as a verbal and physical punching bag. His brother considered him and his entire life a waste. His mother was dead and buried. His room in the only place he felt comfortable calling home was trashed and his roommate was too stoned or just stupid to account for his responsibility in the matter.

He’d planned on seeking comfort in the hooves of the only colt for whom Stormy had any resemblance of feelings for, and instead he’d found an empty bed. It seemed pretty clear that Gentle Strokes had taken the easy way out and saved Stormy the heartache of a face to face break up.

And, what a kind and generous soul he was for doing that.

Without a word, Stormy got up from his seat on Gentle Strokes’s long vacant bed. He didn’t need to look at Au Revoir as he walked out of the room, his eyes stayed with the floor and watched one hoof fall in front of another.


This was Stormy’s afternoon; he wasn’t able to muster the strength to brave the crime scene that was his room, and other than Strokes’s place, there was hardly a hole at Camden that he felt comfortable seeking solace in. Which was what he figured he needed. That, and a drink.

So, after stopping for a few too many at Nell’s, he’d dragged himself to Rumblejack and Shadowflash’s place to find Jag. Which was where he was now; sitting on a couch, sharing the reason for the frown on his face with Jag, Shadowflash and Rumblejack.

“Dude, that’s so gay...”

Rumblejack shared his opinion with wanton disregard for present company; which included a very much gay Stormy, the straight Jagged Horn and, according to who you asked; potentially bi (or at the least bit curious) Shadowflash.

Noticing his poor choice in words, Rumblejack slighted then stared as kindly and apologetically as he could muster, at Stormy then frowned.

“I mean like ‘lame’ gay not, uh, like ‘you’ gay.”

Stormy rolled his eyes and lit a cigarette.

“Come on, ‘Jack.” Shadowflash, quick to take the defensive, slapped his roommate on the shoulder. “Try not to be such an ass, eh?”

“What? How am I being an ass?” Rumblejack, revolted, defended punching his roommate harder on his shoulder in revenge. “It sucks for Stormy. I mean, Camden has a million queer artists, but he had to fall for the one who shit on his heart. If anyone’s an asshole, it’s him!”

Powerful insight, Rumblejack. Riveting even. That psychology degree couldn’t be too far from his grasp now.

“Hey, come on now...” Jag, this time, interrupted with a soft smile aimed at Stormy. “Stormy didn’t come here to have you two jackoffs bring him down, right?”

He wiggled his eyebrows at Stormy then grinned.

“No...” Stormy offered back half heartedly.

“So, what’s the plan, then?” Rumblejack pondered. “If we’re not having a ‘Cheer up, Stormy.’ circle jerk, what are we doing?”

“Well, Brawny’s having that ‘Get On Your Knees and Glow Me.’ party over at Bel Air.” Shadowflash tossed into the mix. “And, Jag does have all those fun little party pills, remember?”

It didn’t take a genius to piece this puzzle together.

“Whaddya say, Stormy?” Jag asked, nudging Stormy’s chest with his elbow. “You down to have a little fun tonight?”

Stormy bit his lower lip; as a Camden student, who’d grown up in Manehattan and with a unicorn like Jagged Horn as his roommate, he wasn’t a stranger to narcotics. Quite the opposite; Stormy was as much a seasoned veteran of the psychic warzone that was drug use as Jagged Horn himself, he just didn’t like to make a lifestyle out of it.

Though, the sneaking suspicion that a night of illicit drug abuse would kill his foul mood and help him forget about stupid farm ponies in Dodge Junction who didn’t have the backbone to piss on his heart face to face.

With a grin and a mischievous little gleam in his eyes, Stormy nodded.

“Buckin’ aye.” Jag grinned back. He leaned his head towards a black and white saddle bag and grabbed one of the two fat zip-loc bags in his teeth. The pills, a sea of multicoloured gel caps, shook and rattled in the bag until, with his teeth, Jag opened the bag. Pressing his hooves together, Jag scooped out a rainbow coloured bundle of pills; nearly thirty. He let them slide out and fall to the table one after another, until his hooves were empty and the Ikea coffee table looked like someone had spilled a bag of skittles on it.

“Celestia, Jag,” Rumblejack breathed out, excited by the sight. “You weren’t kidding when you said you had enough to supply Camden for the rest of the semester.”

“Here’s the plan,” Jag started as he stared into the eyes of soon to be eager young pill popping fiends. “Each of us takes a bag with as many as we can fit into it, we go around Brawny’s and sell to whoever looks cool. If you see a mare, and she’s hot, you can give it to her for free if she offers you something in return.” He paused to offer a sly wink, then continued. “Otherwise, everyone pays ten bits a pop. At the end of the night, we split the take. I keep half of whatever you guys make, cause, why wouldn’t I? And you guys get to keep everything after that. Comprende?”

Rumblejack nodded, but Shadowflash and even Stormy seemed a little off put by the idea of peddling drugs which no pony present but Jag had heard of, let alone tried, and the quality assurance only he could attest too.

“We’re peddling drugs now, Jag?” Stormy asked, rolling his eyes at his roommate.

“You make it sound like I’m a drug dealer, Stormy. I’m just trying to make a few extra bits. You know, ‘Times are hard’, and all that...”

“Don’t you have like...a scholarship?” Shadowflash mused. “With a dining card and lodging paid for?”

“Hey...” Jag defended back, then paused and brought a hoof to under his chin. “Actually, buck it! So what, ‘Flash? All I care about is if you’re in, or out?”

“Yeah, you can count me out.” Shadowflash drew back and reclined in his seat. “I’m only here to get an arts degree, dude. Not spend the next ten to fifteen years of my life getting pounded by some zebra in a four by four cell.”

“Pussy,” Rumblejack grumbled, glaring daggers at this roommate.

“Stormy?” Jag asked. He stared at Stormy with faux sorrow in his eyes, but Stormy only offered protest in the form of a slow, steady headshake and a sigh under his breath.


Jag shrugged his haunches, then pulled two smaller zip loc bags out the saddlebag. He shoveled cupped hooves of pills into the bags until they were as filled and fat as the original bag, then tossed one to Rumblejack, who gripped it with his teeth and shoved it into a pocket on his shirt.

“Well then, kiddies,” Jag roared in excitement as he stared at present company with a childish gleam in his eyes, he rolled his hooves over the pills. “Let’s get lifted.”


Thumping bass from the pony sized speakers on the impromptu stage in the living room shook the house and knocked picture frames off of the walls. A DJ--who looked like Jagged Horn’s drug dealer Sweet Deals--spun remixes of old Vinyl Scratch tracks with a looped Octavia album. Ponies, Zebras, even Gryphon, bodies covered with reflective body paint, drunk and high on a new miracle designer drug supplied by a team of well trained junkies.

In the centre of all the madness was Stormy, with lime green and sky blue stripes around his legs and a pair of red faux wings painted on his back. Tonight, all inhibition had been swept under the proverbial rug and replaced with the same careless attitude that kept Jagged Horn blissfully satisfied from day to day. This was most likely from the drugs, however.

This was the ‘Get On Your Knees and Glow Me Party’, a triumphant and extravagant celebration for all the seniors (and even some of the more popular freshmen), who had braved the face of the break and returned to Camden with renewed vigor and a hunger in their hearts for the wisdom and wonder that higher education offered. Though, to the untrained eye, what it looked like was close to two h

Around him, ponies thrashed and ground their bodies against each other almost violently, to the sound that erupted from the speakers. Two hours ago, when the drugs had been calling the shots, Stormy had been one of them; but now, the Candy Dust was running thin and he felt tired, drained and sluggish. His mouth was dry and somewhere in the kitchen was a duo of tapped kegs, a few dozen bottles of unmarked liquor, fresh ice and a plastic solo cups.

Pushing past bodies--and occasionally having a hoof brush against his thigh or pinch the cheeks of his flank--Stormy made it to the kitchen. Compared to the dance floor, it was relatively empty; in the corner of the room, Jag was wrapping up another business transaction. A small ziploc baggy of pills went into the hooves of two young--probably underaged--mares, and in return, a small satchel of bits went into Jagged Horn’s backpack. The girls, both pretty blondes with thin, raver bodies and their faces painted with neon ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’, giggled when Jag asked them if they went to Camden, then shook their heads ‘No.’

The first mare; nearly identical to her opposite, popped the pill on her tongue, her partner followed suit. They shared a deep penetrating look into each others’ eyes until their faces drew closer and suddenly they were kissing, open mouthed and with hints of wild and violent tongues lashings that made small dimples in their cheeks.

Jag, naturally, smiled ear to ear as he watched this display unfold. When they finished, both girls drew away panting and blushing, and Jag asked if they wanted to come back to ‘his’ place for the afterparty. The girls giggled, again, and politely turned him down. Jag frowned briefly, then smiled again as he watched their bouncing cheeks as they trotted away.

His gaze moved past the empty doorway and fell onto Stormy, who he excitedly trotted towards with a sly grin. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of faux-designer sun glasses with orange rims and translucent red lenses. His mane, drenched with sweat, was held up by a tie tied tight around his head like a bandana and somehow, in the two hours since Stormy had last seen hide or tail of him since they’d went separate ways at the entrance to Bel-Air he’d managed to change his entire wardrobe; he’d come in wearing a sleeveless vintage Tee with ‘Freak Power’ written on it red ink and nothing else. Now, in it’s place, was a festive island themed button up; a silken red shirt with white peddaled flowers and bamboo buttons.

“Stormy!” Jag roared above the noise from the stereo and slapped his hoof across Stormy’s shoulder, pulling him into a hug and nuzzling himself into his roommate’s chest, his face pressing against Stormy’s cheek and his mouth inches from Stormy’s ear. “Dude, this is the greatest.” He whispered this into Stormy’s ear then quickly pushed Stormy away from him.

Stormy recovered to find Jag unslinging the backpack from his shoulder so that it fell to the floor. Just as quickly, Jag was on it; he leapt atop his bag and tore violently at the zipper, tugging hard with his teeth until the bag was open and then, with a nudge from his head, Jag shoved it towards Stormy.

Stormy peered inside the bag with a sedated curiosity. Countless gold coins shone bright from the overhanging U.V. lamp. By Stormy’s rough estimate, there were hundreds of the little circular bastards in Jag’s backpack; too many to count by hoof especially for a colt with a head full of designer drugs and a taste for strong drink on his tongue. Instead, Stormy zipped the bag closed and pushed it back towards Jag.

“Drink?” He pondered with a sly grin at Jag, who returned it.

They moved to the counter and Stormy fixed them a pair of drinks; a three second pour of Skynoff Vodka into a red solo cup, followed by a hoof full of ice and a full lime squeezed into each drink to kill the ache of shooting back what could easily be a six ounce ‘shot’. Touching the tips of their plastic cups, both colts slapped the cup to the table hard, then fired back as much as they could; Stormy, unlike Jag, managed to down his entire drink in two of the most foul and rank tasting mouth fulls of liquid he’d ever taken. Jag, on the other hoof, sipped until his mouth was full and vodka ran down his chin and dripped onto the floor. When he was finished, he refilled both cups--this time with Whiskey and Cola--then turned to face the crowd.

Stormy followed his lead.

“I’m rich.” Jag stated. It was simple, but effective. It got the point across and from the look of the plunder he’d amassed tonight, it certainly wasn’t a lie.

“Cheers,” Stormy chuckled and held his cup up to his roommate’s chest. Jag met it with his own, then both colts sipped, more cautiously, from their Whiskey-Colas.

“I’m rich. I’ve got a lifetime’s worth of drugs, I’ve slept with damn near every mare worth bucking at this school, but,” Jag paused and exhaled a sigh, then stared softly at Stormy. “I...I don’t have what I really want, you know?”

Curiously, Stormy stared back at his roommate, then offered an encouraging smile; inviting his roommate to share his thoughts. Jag having an intimate personal moment, was uncommon, and from experience Stormy could tell it came as a byproduct of the latest waves that came with drugs running wild through Jag’s system. Gone were the euphoric highs that Jag clung too, Stormy knew this because he’d had them come and go himself. Now, it was quiet, interpersonal connection time for Jag, and, also, probably Stormy. This was the time when both roommates would slink out of the party and spend an hour smoking cigarettes, drinking and just talking.

“Balcony?” Stormy suggested. Jag nodded and the two left the kitchen.


They found themselves on the second floor balcony overlooking the Camden courtyard and the dozens of bodies that filled the lawn outside of Bel Air. This was a secret spot where Brawny took impressionable mares (or, if rumor had it, colts,) to seduce them by claiming false facts about Camden and pointing them out with his right hoof, while his left rubbed their chests.

In this case, the balcony was a private spot where Jagged Horn, reaching the enlightened stage of his latest drug binge, was about to divulge some personal information with his closest friend, roommate and one sided heterosexual life partner; Stormy.

They sat opposite each other with their backs turned up against the oak railing and their drinks at the foot of their hooves. An opened pack of cigarettes sat between them, with a lighter beside it. Jag was peering, dramatically, off into the distance while Stormy lit his cigarette though he sprang to life, suddenly and turned to face Stormy.

“What’s up, Jag?” Stormy asked, pushing the pack of Red Apples towards Jag with his hoof. Jag shook one loose, lit it, inhaled sharply then on his exhale gave an exhausted sigh.

“I’m in love, Stormy.” He groaned.

Stormy had to stifle a laugh.

Jagged Horn was in love? This was going somewhere good.

“Oh,” Stormy coughed to stop himself from grinning, then straightened his face out and cleared his throat. “Who’s the lucky lady, Jag?”

“The Barista, Stormy!” Jag, huffed angrily. “Mocha bucking Roast!”

This was really gearing up to be a good one.

“You...are?” Stormy gawked, raising a curious eyebrow towards his roommate.

“Yeah...” Jag droned on to a bemused Stormy. His eyes fell a bit, and his smile wavered until it became a frown.

Stormy had seen Jag make this claim a million times before, and a million more times under the effects of sniffing salt or a whiskey bender. It seemed different this time, though; there was emotional weight and an added desperation to it that tugged at Stormy’s heartstrings. This was Jagged Horn being real and raw. This was the Jagged Horn that hid behind the veil of narcotic assisteted stupidity.

“Stormy,” Jag quietly mumbled into his hooves, then tore his face from the floor and stared up at him. “I’m serious.”

Stormy’s heart skipped a beat and sunk a little in his chest. There was the slightest tinge of hurt and anguish in Jag’s tone. It was a pain that up until now Stormy could have sworn simply didn’t exsist inside him.

“I know she doesn’t feel the same way about me, and I know it’s my fault, but...I really like her, dude.”

Stormy scooted towards Jag until he sat beside him. He didn’t flinch when he felt Jag lay his head on Stormy’s shoulder and instead pet his mane gently.

“What am I doing wrong?”

Stormy, serious intent in his eyes, stared at Jag and spoke.

“Do you want the truth? Or, do you want to just want me to say what you want to hear?”

Jag paused for a minute, like he had to seriously ponder the question. After a moment, he shook that idea from his head and nodded.


Stormy inhaled a sharp breath.

This wasn’t going to be something he enjoyed doing, but Jag did ask and Stormy did have an answer.

“You’re an asshole.” Stormy admitted softly. “I mean, that’s why most girls like you, because you just don’t care about them. But, Mocha’s not like most girls. You’re an asshole and that’s why Mocha Roast won’t like you back.”

Jag seemed to take this harder than Stormy had thought he would; for a few short minutes after the balcony grew deathly quiet while Jag sat looking pained with thought. He scratched at his chin with his hoof, craned his neck back, his head came with it, and he exhaled a slow breath of air. When his face came down he looked renewed, however.

“Oh, I knew that.” Jag admitted with a soft chuckle. “Dude, ever since I was sixteen I’ve known two things; one, I’m handsome as sin and two: girls like bad boys.” He took a second to take a long, slow, introspective drag from the cigarette, then exhaled the smoke through his nostrils and continued. “I meant, what about me doesn’t she like? Specifically?”

Stormy took a minute to ponder this; what could a mare with an I.Q. in the triple digits possibly find unattractive about a shameless drug addled, borderline narcissist with high functioning alcoholism and more than few screws loose in his noggin.

How Mocha Roast couldn't find him attractive was baffling.

“It’s...” He started, then watched Jag’s eyes grow in anticipation and realized the well thought out speech in his head about Jag and his (many) personality flaws would ruin his roommate’s mood and instead, sighed. “She’s just looking for a nice guy, Jag. Just a run of the mill colt to swoop her off her hooves and show her a good time, really.”

Jag’s smile widened to comic proportions. He got to his hooves and dusted himself off, then stared down at Stormy.

“Dude, that’s it?” He asked while he popped his shoulders back in then spit in his hoof and ran it through his wild mane, brushing the sweat drenched mess into a mock-pompadour. He adjusted his shirt, tightened the tie around his forehead then bowed towards Stormy. “I can do ‘nice guy.’ if that’s what she wants.”

“Jag, I really don’t think...” Stormy started only to be silenced when Jag pressed a hoof to his mouth.

“Say no more, Stormy.” He seemed almost proud. “I’m going to go back in there and woo the pants off of her. Yes sir! Just wait. In a few days I’ll be eating cherries off her flank and giving her the ol’ in and out.”

“Jag, seriously. I think you’re missing the point of what I was trying to...” Again, Stormy tried to curb his roommate’s enthusiasm, but, again, it came to no avail as Jag just grinned.

“I’ll catcha later, Stormy. I gotta go lay the groundwork with The Barista’.” And with that, Jag trotted with a proud and arrogant strut back into Bel-Air, leaving his roommate stunned, silent and alone on the balcony.

Stormy sat like that for a few minutes; alone and silent. The euphoria was waning now, but, something new was taking over; something harsher and more turbulent. A cold wind blew against his mane and a sudden, interrupting pain overtook his stomach. Bubbles of citric acid exploded in his gut, a sharp pain overtook his liver and he noticed he was starting to sweat.

He jumped to his hooves and leaned against the railing, and when the pain in him reached the breaking point he leaned over the railing and began wretching; with it came everything that had once been in his stomach. Stormy vomited, violently, over the balcony and onto the grass below until he felt empty and he sank back onto the floor, catching his breath.

Waves of isolation and discomfort overtook him. The drugs were doing terrible things to him now, his mind recoiled in horror to accommodate. A crash course in depression overtook his emotional spectrum. Gentle Strokes, His father, his brother, all the colts in his life who should have cared for him and couldn’t or wouldn’t.

With a heavy sigh, he dropped his body against the railing. A second, more powerful buildup of sick started to develop in the pit of his stomach and, again, he upchucked a potent mix of bile and alcohol.

Heaving, but recovering, he caught his breath just in time to hear the sound of the door to the balcony slide open. He turned his body to face who he assumed to be Jag, but was surpised to find the sight of a mare; a frown on her face and a serious, alarmed, look in her eyes. Standing before him on the balcony was Mocha Roast, and she looked upset.

“Wow,” she stated, moving towards him. “I actually came out here to punch you in the face for siccing your stupid roommate on me, but, you look like absolute shit.”

Again his stomach rumbled and, again, he threw up over the railing. Mocha looked sympathetic and moved closer.

“Oh Celestia, are you okay?” She asked as she stood beside him. Her hoof ran, comfortingly, along his mane. “You really look like you’re sick or something?”

“It’s...” Stormy grumbled, but instead of finishing his thought he fell to the floor and cradled himself into a tight ball. “...I’m bucked.”

Mocha sat beside him, still petting his mane.

“What’s going on, Stormy?” She asked, softly. Her hoof rubbing his neck felt so warm, so nice. He leaned against her, resting his face onto her shoulder and wrapping his hooves around her waist.

“He left me,” He stated, simply. “He went back to Dodge Junction to be with his family and left me here. Alone. He didn’t even tell me about it...”

The floodgates were open now. The feeling of letting it out, sharing his soul and the troubles that fogged his mind and strained his soul, all the pains that cut deep into him, was comforting; relieving almost. Knowing that there was someone to finally listen when he spoke was even better.

“I’m sorry, Stormy.” Mocha sighed. “Really, you two were good for each other.”

She said it comfortingly, but, somehow it seemed almost condescending. Stormy, however, gave a heavy sigh and grumbled.

“It’s not fair,” he stated. Mocha peaked an eyebrow curiously. “I finally found a colt who I liked. I mean really, really liked. I take a week off to spend time with the family I have who hate my bucking guts and treat me like shit, and I come back home and all I want to do is be with him and then he bucks off to the middle of nowhere.”

Mocha hugged him tighter and Stormy nuzzled himself into the warm comfort that her shoulder provided. He shivered, she ran a hoof down his back and he gave something that sounded a lot like a pitiful whimper, until he realized how stupid all of this was; here was him sitting on the rooftop of some frat house at Camden, sick to the stomach with a head full of drugs and a painful yearning for the warm comfort of a colt who’d left him.

When did he become such a drama queen?

“Maybe you should call it a night?” She asked. “Why don’t you just sleep it off, Stormy? You’ll probably feel better in the morning.”

“Can’t,” Stormy breathed into her shoulder. “Jag trashed our room and I don’t have anywhere else on campus to go.”

Mocha paused and stared down at him. Her smile picked up and she got a devious, playful look in her eye, almost as if she were scheming something quite serendipitous.

“I have a free bed,” she offered with a grin.


“Mmhmm.” She nodded, then her grin widened. “Plus, it would absolutely destroy my roommate if she thought I managed to ‘convert’ you.”

For the first time in the last hour, Stormy actually gave a whole hearted laugh. Mocha laughed with him, when the quiet laughter died down they both got up and left, together.


“Don’t forget to tie a sock around the door,” Mocha insisted to Stormy as she entered her dorm room. Stormy tore a nylon sock he couldn’t remember putting on himself, off of his hoof then tied it tight around the door handle.

“Check,” Stormy nodded back and trotted into the room. Mocha fell onto her bed. Stormy onto her roommate’s and both ponies lay in absolute silence for a few minutes, until Mocha broke it with a quandary towards her sleepover guest.

“Stormy, if you don’t mind me asking?” She urged. Stormy didn’t give a reply and she continued “You, um...you really like Strokes, don’t you?”

Stormy would have grumbled. He would have sighed, or groaned, or done a million and one things to avoid the question, but, he didn’t. He replied honestly and with as much integrity as he could muster.

“I’m in love with him.” He said and tried not to feel like it sounded too cheesy coming out of the mouth of a colt who had slept with more colts in his life than he could thankfully remember. But, it was certainly true; even if he hadn’t wanted to admit it before, it was probably true then and it was definitely true now. Absence making the heart grow fonder and all the cliches in the book had hit the nail on the head and now here he was, confessing to The Barista, of all ponies, that he was in love with a silly farm pony from Dodge Junction.

A silence followed this statement, neither pony spoke for an uncomfortable amount of time until, from the closet emerged a small orange and white kitten. It crawled into bed beside Stormy and nuzzled it’s face against his chest, gave a weak yawn then collapsed beside him.

“That’s Bubastis.” Mocha said. “She’s my roommate’s sad attempt at filling the gap in her heart, I guess.”

“Cute.” Stormy said, picking the kitten up by the scruff of her neck and placing her gently on his lap. The cat pawed at his chest.

“Stormy, you really love Strokes, right?” Mocha asked. The cat gave a purr. Stormy just sighed.

“Yeah,” He replied.

“Why don’t you do something about it?” She pondered. Stormy rolled his head to stare at her, and she met his gaze with a soft, playful smile. “I mean, unless you’re not a stallion enough?”

“Hey, don’t start.” He urged. “What am I supposed to do, Mocha? He’s in Butt-Buck Nowhereseville and I’m here, at Camden.”

“There’s a train station right outside of Barstow that he took to get there, Stormy.”

“So, what? I just ditch Camden and leave for Dodge Junction on some fantastically cliched, passion driven little quest like my life is some tacky romance novel? That just screams Fifty Shades of Creepy, Mocha.”

“Listen, Stormy. I don’t know what happened with Strokes in Dodge Junction. That’s for you to find out. But, I do know that the day after The End Of The World Party, a nervous, jittery little farm pony came to me for advice on how to ask you out to dinner.”


Stormy’s mind filled with the vision of Strokes; face red with blush, hooves trembling and scraping dust off the floor while he asked the resident psychology expert advice on how to ask out his first colt crush. Stormy smiled along with the vision.

“Yeah, it was painfully adorable.”

The cat on his stomach continued pawing at his fur. Mocha reached under her bed and pulled a heart shaped chest out. She dug out a small sack of Trottingham Hay and a pack of rolling papers.

“Do you mind?” She asked, Stormy shook his head ‘No.’ Bubastis gave a loud meow.

Mocha rolled herself a joint, a thin ‘l’ shaped little number, then lit it. She took slow, methodic, drags, then exhaled graceful little clouds. She passed it to Stormy who inhaled deep then exhaled little white circles out of his pursed lips. Mocha chuckled.

“You know,” Stormy started, passing her the joint. “, I think Jag really likes you?”

Mocha gave a low, pained, sigh then another drag.

“He’s pathetic.” She groaned back. “I’ve known a thousand and one colts exactly like him; he thinks he’s Celestia’s gift to mares, and the only reason he likes me is because I’m the only girl that’s ever said ‘No’ to him before.”

“Yeah, that’s all true.” Stormy admitted softly. He felt the need to defend what little remained of his roommate’s honor, and in doing so, at least trying to reach a mutual sense of understanding between Mocha and Jag. “But, his heart is in the right place. I’m not saying you two should do anything, just...you know, it’d make him feel like a million bits if you could try and treat him like an equal?”

“But he’s so...” She paused to run a hoof under her chin. “Stupid, Stormy. I think he might actually be mentally retarded.”

Hearing this, Stormy laughed harder and longer than he had all night and Mocha followed suite. The room filled with the sound of loud, unrestrained laughter that died down slowly.

“Granted, he’s a bit slow on the uptake,” Stormy chuckled. “But he really means well. Can’t you just try to try?”

Mocha sighed, again, then stared over at Stormy. The joint was done by now, put out in a clay ashtray that sat on her nightstand.

“Fine, I’ll treat Jagged Horn like a regular pony, if...” she paused here for dramatic effect, waiting for the tension to sink in with Stormy, then, when she was sure his curiosity had been peaked, she continued. “You go to Dodge Junction and win back your colt?”

“Why do you care so much?” Stormy asked. Mocha smiled and sat up in the bed, shuffling backwards into a bundle of pillows.

“I don’t know,” She sighed, then lowered her body onto the bed again. “You two are really good for each other. He’s a sweetheart and you...well, he needs you as much as you need him.”

“So that’s it, then?” Stormy asked. “I just hop on a train to Dodge Junction, and then everything is totally A-Okay between us? That doesn’t scream ‘Stalker’ to you at all?”

“Stormy, look. You really care about Gentle Strokes. You said it yourself. There are a million colts out there, but none of them are ever going to be him, and if there’s a chance you can sort this out why not take it?”

“Because it’s batshit crazy, that’s why!” Stormy grunted. “What about Camden? What about Jag? What about my education?”

“Oh, come on. You wouldn’t be here, in my room, arguing against it if you didn’t want to do it. You’re looking for excuses. Jag will understand, and I know for a fact that you’re seriously not going to let Camden hold you back. You haven’t ever before.”

Stormy grunted again. It really was a stupid idea; uproot himself from Camden, just after he got back and head to a town he’d never been to, all with the hopes of maybe winning back the colt he liked. The same colt who had dumped him through the grapevine and didn’t have the stones to tell him. But, if Stormy was anything he was a sucker for stupid ideas, especially when the reward was so very tempting.

“...Fine.” He grumbled as if he were trying to convince Mocha he was having serious issues with the idea.

“That’s more like it,” she replied and dimmed the lights to the room.

In the dark, with the covers drawn over their bodies and a kitten named Bubastis curled in Stormy’s lap, both ponies quickly found the Sandmare call for them. Stormy fell asleep with a smile knowing tomorrow was going to be the first step on a milestone, whirlwind adventure with an uncertain end and a prize every bit worth the risks he had to take.

Dodge Junction had a lot to look forward to in the coming days.

Love Minus Zero

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Love Minus Zero.

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

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

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

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


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

Sometimes knowledge wasn’t exactly power.

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

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

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

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

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

Today was an example of this.

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

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

Gentle Strokes gave a laugh and Miss Jubilee smiled.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Had he made the right decision?

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

He told himself this, but he never believed it.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gentle Strokes nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Mmhmm,” was his response.

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

“How was work today?”


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

This was interesting.

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

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

He moved towards the living room.

Or, it could be...Stormy?

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

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

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

Gentle Strokes tried to smile back, but it faltered.

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

Nothing came out of his mouth.

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

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

Two months seemed like a lifetime now.

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

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

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

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


“What the buck are you doing?”

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

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

“You can’t just...show up here.”

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

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

“First off, calm down.”

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

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

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

“I’m here to see you...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah...” Stormy grunted. “Exactly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer remained to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

This had been a long time coming.

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

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

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

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

Stormy nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody Wins

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"Everybody Wins."

It was dinner now at the Strokes household and Stormy sat eagerly drinking in his surroundings. It wasn’t that he’d never had dinner before. He'd had. And, it wasn’t that he’d never had dinner with his family. He’d also had that. What was abnormal was the dynamic of the dinner table. Everypony got along. This was something that Stormy hadn’t been a part of in a long time. Not since he’d spent his childhood summers in Canterlot. Before his mother had taken ill and passed, and for reasons he didn’t understand at the time -- and still struggled to now -- his father had cut off all ties with his family across the continent and exiled himself and his sons to Manehattan.

So it goes.

Now, seventeen years later, Stormy felt like a foal in a candy shop. Quietly, but with a whole-hearted smile spread across his face and up the sides of his mouth, Stormy watched the proper Equestrian family unit in action. He noted, for personal reflection that each member of the Strokes household played a role and acted as an appendage to a greater being. Gentle Strokes’ father sat at the head of the table -- the king of a kingdom that his hard work, blood, sweat, and tears had created. In the seat beside him was his beautiful queen and filling the ranks on the sides of the table were his children: his three princes and his single princess.

A pony with a bitter and jaded personality -- his father and brother came to mind here -- would see this as an ugly thing. Something to be mocked way up in the holds of their ivory towers. A low brow gathering of the working class and nothing more. Like many times in his life, Stormy was happy to find he didn’t share anything more than blood with his still living family.

Also seated at the table tonight, taking up ranks on the borders beside the Strokes family proper, were two guests to the household dinner. The first was Stormy, who even as an outsider had been accepted as a welcomed guest. The other was a colt named Hucklebuck who was a cousin to Gentle Strokes, his brothers and sisters, and nephew to Gentle Strokes’s mother and father.

Huck didn’t talk much and when he did it was to ask Stormy a question about his life. This was always followed either with a raucous laugh or a pause to take a sip from his drink, which was whiskey.

“How long did you say you were in town for, again?”

Huck was asking this to Stormy, who slighted for an answer because, truthfully, he didn’t have one. His plans had followed a simple linear path: get to Dodge Junction (Check) Admit his feelings to the colt he loved (Double check) and win back the heart of that same wonderful stallion (Check and mate).

He was ashamed to admit that was as far as he got in his plan. His ticket home was open ended. His classes at Camden had a voluntary attendance. His minions had all the notes he’d miss and he had high enough grades -- amazingly -- that a missed exam wouldn’t make him fail a class. He could be here for as long as it took.

“A few days.” Was his answer.

Huck gave a curt head nod, then like Stormy had counted him do twenty two times already, he raised his cup to his mouth and drank a little more whiskey. He set his glass down on the table and dropped his head onto his crossed hooves and leaned forward. The look on his face was tough to read for Stormy. He smiled with genuine kindness, but his furrowed brows and flaring teeth seemed offensive.

Stormy smiled it off.

“And,” Huck began. “Why was it y’all decided to come down to visit?”

Well, that was actually a pretty funny story, Huck. You see, as the story went ‘he’ -- as in Stormy -- was actually dating his cousin. Hilarious, right? Yeah, and somehow, in all the drama that came with being romantically attached to the wonderfully adorable farmer, ‘Gent’ had briefly unattached himself from Stormy and decided that farm life was his be all, end all. It only came naturally that Stormy just had to reassure him that he could live much more comfortably as a proudly open and comfortable in his own skin homosexual, than a closet case...

This, of course, he didn’t admit out loud.

“I invited him,” Gentle Strokes interrupted to Stormy’s great relief.

Gentle Strokes, who sat beside Stormy, gave his thigh a soft, relieving, squeeze under the table. This went unnoticed by his family, as did the goofy grin that spread itself across Stormy’s lips.

“Yeah, Stormy’s an A+ student at Camden and he needed a little time off.” Gentle Strokes lied. “I told him, since we’re such good friends, he might wanna catch Cherry Fest this year. You know; kick back and relax for a few?”

“Well, shit...” Huck chuckled, “I didn’t know you were moonlighting as a tourism pamphlet, Gent.”

“Huck!” Gentle Strokes’s mother chided. “How about some restraint for your colourful vocabulary?”

“Sorry,” Huck smiled. He turned back towards Stormy, grinned, then chuckled that same low, throaty and guttural sounding three note laugh. “I get a little carried away at times,”

Stormy nodded then lowered his eyes onto his plate and poked a fork into his cherrychanga.

“Stormy, honey.” Gentle Strokes’ mother spoke again. Her voice was soft and tender, much like he remembered his own mother’s being. Only hers had the slightest hint of southern belle for good measure. “Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?”

This seemed like a neutral request; just a simple something to take the edge off, keep the conversation friendly and flowing. It was certainly something he could talk about without risking outing their oldest son as a homosexual.

He raised his eyes towards the onlookers, smiled warmly, then spoke.

“Well,” he paused to think “I’m from Manehattan...”

At this a bright gleam built in Clementine’s -- Gentle Strokes’s younger sister -- eyes. It gave off the impression that it was an interesting subject to her, and suddenly Stormy found himself with a route to take his little life story.

“I was born and raised there for all my life. Uh, until I moved to Camden, I guess...”

“What’s it like?” Clementine asked with the boldest pair of eyes he’d ever seen a filly wear. She leaned forward in her seat and lowered her head onto her upper hooves for support. “Manehattan?”

Stormy smiled at her.

“It’s someplace else,” He started. “It takes some getting used too, for tourists. It’s noisy and ponies aren’t quite as polite as other places. But it’s home, you know?”

Clementine, the bookworm she was betraying herself to be, gave a content sigh.

“I went to Manehattan once.” Gentle Strokes’s father stated. His voice was calm but commanding, and Stormy got the sense that when he spoke it was wise to listen. “It was years and years ago. When I just turned eighteen. Me, and a few friends I had at the time saved up some money for the summer and took a train all the way down.”

Around the table, all ponies present sat on the edge of their seats, waiting for the outcome of his story.

“It wasn’t really what I thought it would be. It wasn’t bad in any way, I just remember the old picture shows used to make it seem like the city to be for an earth pony with money. I guess we just didn’t have enough.”

Heads nodded in response and Gentle Strokes’s mother pet her husband’s shoulder.

“The cost of living is a little higher up there,” Stormy said and gave a sympathetic shrug.

Gentle Strokes, his mother, father and Clementine nodded.

Huck gave a grunt, then glared towards Stormy.

“I take it y’all come from money?”

It was a rude -- but accurate -- assumption. Stormy nodded softly.

“Yeah...” He mumbled towards the floor.

Huck smiled like some kind of jackal, a predatory grin the likes of which he’d only ever seen on the faces of colts and fillies who wore their pride and ignorance like a badge of honor. Stormy stared into the eyes of his boyfriend, who smiled back at him. Stormy had to bite his tongue when he felt Gentle Strokes’s hoof rub up his thigh.

Huck raised a brow at this but said nothing.

“So, Stormy, since you and Gent are such good friends,” he -- Hucklebuck -- began again, leaning his face forwards and carefully studying the younger colt’s features. After a minute he drew his head back and finishing his thought. “You must know this wonderful mare he’s been going on and on about for the past couple of weeks?”

Stormy swallowed a lump in his throat.

“Um,” He said, rolling his tongue around in his mouth. Stalling for time.

He looked to Gentle Strokes, who sucked his teeth and bit his upper lip. He had certainly forgot to mention this to Stormy as something that fell under the parameters of ‘Topics my family will talk about.’

“Yeah...” Stormy licked his lower lip. “I totally know her. She’s... great! No, she’s fantastic! And, we all hang out together; Me, Gent, my roommate Jag, and... of course, her. Whose name is-”

He turned back to Gentle Strokes.

“...Mocha Roast!” The older colt blurted.

A moment of tension came with his admittance. Around the table ponies -- Gentle Strokes family members specifically -- stared from one another. The hoof on Stormy’s thigh pressed so firmly into him now that Stormy was certain there was going to be a welt there the next day.

“That’s a lovely name, dear.” Gentle Strokes mother smiled.

The pressing on his thigh ceased and Gentle Strokes gave a relieved sigh.

“She’s... amazing.” He coughed out the lie like he were choking on a piece of pie gone down the wrong hole. No pony seemed to notice -- with the knowing exception of Stormy -- and he continued, “I’d say she was... probably the best mare that I’ve ever dated.”

It would have cut deep into Stormy’s pride to find his boyfriend -- who sat directly beside him, stroking his thigh and brushing his lower left leg against his right one -- using their sole female acquaintance as his beard, but he was loving watching Gentle Strokes squirm in his seat a bit too much.

“She’s a really lovely girl.” Stormy added with a grin towards his boyfriend. “She works at this quaint little coffee shop and, I swear you can’t leave them alone for more than five minutes before they’re all baby talk and doe-eyed for each other...”

Gentle Strokes, nervous, almost sweating, gave a forced laugh and a much more forced smile. One which to everyone who wasn’t Stormy seemed legitimate, but to Stormy -- who’s thigh he was still petting nervously -- made this charade so very adorable to be a part of.

For Stormy, he could live -- for the time being -- with presenting Gentle Strokes as happily content in a heterosexual relationship for as long as he needed. Of course, there was the unspoken promise of making it up to him in a personal, intimate way, that kept him from giving it a second thought.

Eventually, the sexual tension was going to have to be dealt with, but Stormy could wait as long as it took if it meant he got a nice reminder of Strokes’ undying affection for him in private sometime later.

“How about you, Stormy?” Huck asked, sneering at him. “Do you have a girlfriend too?”

For the first time that night, Stormy felt the battle between outing himself and Gentle Strokes, and coming out as what he was in the eyes of everypony present; a raging, flaming, queer, take a back seat and a sort of cocky, malicious emotion take over. He’d had ideas about what Huck was. He’d dealt with ponies like Huck all his life. His father was like Huck. His brother was like Huck. Half the student body at Harrow private school for gifted colts were like Huck. Hells, there were more ponies like Huck in Equestria than he cared to get wrinkles over. Huck didn’t matter. His father didn’t matter. His brother didn’t matter.

Nothing mattered but the pony sitting beside him anymore. Cliche as it was, as long as he had Gentle Strokes, and vice versa, humoring a colt with an obvious grudge against him was an easy task.

“Actually,” Stormy smiled, clearing his throat. “I don’t.”

The hoof on his lap raced up to his waist and a sigh of astonished intrigue escaped from the mouths of Gentle Strokes’ mother, father and Clementine. As if somehow the thought of him; a fascinating stranger from Manehattan filled with curious wonder, who kept it private and selfishly hoarded it for himself, was a strange thing.

It was Clementine who spoke next.

“That just isn’t right.” She sighed wistfully. Her head fell. Stormy noticed, but said nothing. “You’re so... interesting.”

If Stormy was anything, it was shocked and awed. Clementine, who he’d pegged as a bookworm on the same page of the same book as his own cousin Twilight Sparkle, seemed almost disappointed hearing him lie that he was without love in his life.

A thought; devious and secretive, went through Stormy’s mind. Maybe Clementine was more like her older brother than he suspected; a bright rose growing through the cracked cement of her surroundings.

Only time would tell.

“I guess,” Stormy began. “I just haven’t found the right girl yet?”

He said this and felt awful with himself. He was lying to them. Lying to himself. He was aiding and abetting Gentle Strokes in the least healthy way possible. If he were braver, more forceful and less civic minded, he would have admitted all the things he was keeping secret then and there, if only to ease his troubled mind. But, he’d stare over at Strokes, then his father, mother, cousin, the twins, even Clementine herself, and realize he couldn’t.

That wasn’t his decision to make.

Dinner continued; questions were asked and answered and Stormy felt no better or worse for selling the lie of Gentle Strokes the heterosexual farm pony from Dodge Junction. Clementine remained on the front line, begging for answers to all the questions about higher education and life outside of small farm towns that she could get, and Stormy was more than happy to answer them.

Huck continued to stare with a pair of predator eyes at him.

Stormy paid it no ill will.

After all, what was the worst that could come from it?


Dinner was over now and Stormy lay flat on his back atop the fabric of Gentle Strokes’s bed. The older colt sat on the edge tracing ‘S’ shaped patterns in the fur of Stormy’s stomach.

This had been them for the last twenty minutes. After sneaking out of doing dishes -- a chore left to the twins who Stormy was told were quite capable -- they’d dashed back into Gentle Strokes’s room under the pretense of Strokes showing Stormy an unfinished painting. They were safe to be themselves here. There was the privacy of a double bolted lock and four inches of reinforced oak separating them from the curious, prying eyes of onlookers and family.

Things were quiet between the two; nothing groundbreaking was being said, just murmurs. Stormy would tell Strokes about how pleasant his family was in comparison to his own, and Gentle Strokes would humbly reply with a courteous ‘I know.’.

Which meant Stormy just had to spoil the mood by unearthing a thought he'd had in the back of his mind all night.

“You know,” he mumbled against his boyfriend's mud brown chest. “You’re going to have to tell them eventually, right?”

Gentle Strokes sighed. His hoof withdrew from Stormy’s belly fur and grazed his own chin, where it met it’s symmetrical counterpart. He pulled both hooves up his face, through his mane then fired them in opposite directions.

“I know,” Gentle Strokes said plainly. He turned to look at Stormy who found his face a monument to his distress. His eyes were lidded and hung low, his smile half assed and his cheeks were puffed out in anguish. “Its just...”

He stopped and it seemed he didn't have much else to say on the matter.

“Yeah,” Stormy smiled. He traced his hoof along Gentle Strokes’ back and felt eternal relief when the other colt gave a delightfully pleasing moan in response. “I get it.”

“How did... How did you tell your... family?”

Stormy leaned forward in the bed. This was a story that he wasn’t entirely convinced Gentle Strokes would love to hear, but, he had asked and Stormy most certainly had the answer. For every ounce of him that didn’t want to admit it, he knew he had too.

“I... uh, I didn’t, actually.” Clumsily the words fell out of his mouth like he were stuttering. “They actually kinda... caught me.”


Stormy sighed.

“After my mom died, my dad didn’t really have time for me or my brother, so he shipped us off to private boarding schools around Manehattan. My brother went to Le’ Joice and I got stuck in Harrow, It’s an... um... all male private school.”

Gentle Strokes hummed his acknowledgement of where the conversation was going.

“I was fifteen when I started to realize I was kinda... different, you know? I was surrounded by guys and suddenly everything with four legs, an ass and a package was starting to look good to me...”

Stormy grunted. This was where the story could either interest or entirely repulse his boyfriend.

“I had these feelings for one of my teachers. I know how awful that sounds, and, believe me I regret it now but... well... I came to him, and I tried to tell him how I felt, and... I don’t know what happened, we just ended up being together.”

“You... and your teacher?”

Gentle Strokes’s facial features contorted into a look of pure disgust; his brows sank into a glare, eyes squinted and his mouth fell flat.

“It was a long time ago, Strokes.” Stormy defended.

The older colt remained upset.

“Oh, come on!” Stormy grunted. “How many mares did you hook up with before we got together? Do you think that bothers me at all?”

“Does it?”

Stormy bit his lower lip and tried to imagine Gentle Strokes in bed with a member of the opposite sex. Him loving her the same way he loved him. Him on top of her; grunting, panting and moaning her name. Him sharing that intimate dance with somepony who wasn’t him.

“No,” he lied.

Gentle Strokes huffed. “So, what? You two just got together? Just like that?” Stormy nodded and Gentle Strokes grunted. “How old was he? How old were you?” Pause for Gentle Strokes to slap a hoof against his forehead. “That couldn’t have been legal.” Gentle Strokes, angry, fired his questions in rapid succession and didn’t look like he was going to stop anytime soon. “What were you even thinking?”

“You’re taking this kind of... poorly.”

“You think?”

“It was, like, seven years ago, Strokes. I didn't know what I was doing, alright? I was a stupid kid and all I knew was he... made me feel good about myself. I didn’t have a mom. I barely had a dad. My brother pissed on me any chance he could get and... there he was willing to care the way no one else did.”

“Oh, for Celestia’s sake.” Gentle Strokes grunted.

“Hey, you asked!”

The silence that followed made Stormy cringe. Neither Gentle Strokes, or he, himself, spoke. Instead, they sat and waited for something -- anything -- to happen to break the awful mood.

The walls in the house were thick, but not entirely soundproof, which meant when Duke, the dog, barked and the twins laughed, it startled both colts on the bed, who slowly realized how eerie the silence had grown.

Gentle Strokes reached his hoof over to Stormy’s shoulder.

“... I shouldn’t have yelled.” he said and rubbed Stormy’s shoulder, “I’m sorry.”

“S’okay.” Stormy smiled. “I’m sorry too.”

Gentle Strokes smiled back. Duke stopped barking.

“So... what happened?”

It was an earnest question to ask given the build up.

“We kept it up for a few months. It was tame, you know? We really, really cared for each other.... then, we just realized how wrong it was. I was sixteen... he was... older.” He noticed Gentle Strokes cringe hearing the word and felt defeated, but continued anyway. “Then... a week after we swore it was over... we, got back together and, uh... then we got caught.”

Still cringing, Gentle Strokes waited impatiently for Stormy to continue.

“One of the other teachers sort of, may have... found us out.”

“Goddess.” Gentle Strokes grumbled. Stormy’s eyes fell to the floor. He cupped his hooves together and hunched his body. He felt small and pathetic. This wasn’t by any stretch a crowning achievement in his life. It was stupid.

He was stupid.

“I never said I was proud of it...” Stormy said and sighed for what felt like the millionth time in the last hour of his life. “It was total gong show afterwards. He came clean about it, and lost his job. I got kicked out of Harrow.” Stormy sucked his teeth. “But, it wasn’t really until ponies started talking about it at around the watercooler at my dad’s office that he started caring. Suddenly, he was a laughing stock and I was a pariah. He sent me to a therapist for like six months to make sure that ‘I was okay.’.” Stormy paused, licked his lips then sucked his teeth, again. “Which might have been the only nice thing my dad ever did for me in my life...”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I don’t know.” Stormy stopped, cocked his face then exhaled a sharp breath of air. “You were bound to find out at some point. I just figured being honest and open was the way to go.”

“Hmmm.” Gentle Strokes grunted.

“You can tell me something too, if you want?”

“I’ve slept with eight mares.” He said. His voice was monotonous and without so much as a hint of instigation to it. This wasn’t a pissing contest to get back at him, this was clearing his conscious. “Most of them were in high school... a few of them were after. All of them were girls who live here, except for Sandy Shore. I slept with her my first week at Camden after a party.”

He reached his hooves to grip Stormy’s waist and moved his body sideways, so that he was overtop of him. Slowly, he moved his face down towards Stormy’s, then past it, so that his muzzle brushed fur on the side of Stormy’s neck with each breath.

“None of them made me feel like you do.”

He kissed Stormy’s neck.

“That’s so sweet I almost wanna hurl.”

Gentle Strokes pretended not to hear it and continued to kiss his neck. His soft lips nipped past the fur of his collar and onto the silken skin underneath. His hooves ran down the sides of Stormy’s waist until they reached his rear, then squeezed it hard. Stormy, yelped in surprise and sensual enjoyment.

Gentle Strokes kicked his legs out and humped his waist against Stormy’s, who did the same. Stormy tilted his face to Gentle Strokes’s and kissed him softly on the mouth. Gentle Strokes kissed him back.

This time it wasn’t a knock at the door that startled both colts aware and awake, but the shared knowledge that this couldn’t happen again. They couldn’t possibly manage to get away with a second frolic in the hay in the privacy of Gentle Strokes’s room without turning heads or raising alarms.

Just like that the mood was ruined.

This was when Stormy came up with a plan. He pushed Gentle Strokes off of him, so that the farmer landed an upset heap on the side of the bed. Stormy sat up and faced his boyfriend.

“I’ve got a queen size at my hotel room.” He said with a grin.

Gentle Strokes’s grin back was a silly and goofy looking thing.

“What do I tell my folks?”

“Tell ‘em you’re grabbing a drink with me. Doing some catch up, or whatever. We’ll toss a few back at your favorite bar and you’ll obviously be in no shape to walk home, so I’ll just be the good samaritan who let you sleep it off on the foldout couch in my hotel room.”

A quick and amazed chuckle came from Gentle Strokes.

“You’ve got this ‘sneaking out after curfew’ thing nailed down, don’t you?”

“I’ve been doing this long enough to pick up a few tricks.”

“Right.” Gentle Strokes said, slapping his hooves onto his lap. “Drinks at The Great Ball of Fire in an hour, then?”

“Yup.” Came his reply.


Sitting alone in a barstool at a dive bar. This was where Stormy was when the clock struck nine thirty. He was certainly drawing parallels between this night and a night more than half a year gone by in his life when he’d first met the colt he was meeting again tonight. It wasn’t the same bar. It wasn’t even at Camden. Still, the illustrious aura of sad old drunks and the dim mood of the place reminded him for all the right reasons of that night.

The idea that somewhere in Equestria, some horrific interior designer was making his living going from town to town and reselling the blueprints of his vision of a perfectly crafted watering hole scared Stormy.

He decided to take his mind off of it.

An hour and a half ago he’d said goodbye to Strokes -- a quick and simple peck on the cheek in private -- followed by a more formal set of goodbyes and thank yous to the family that had hosted him and given him a free meal, in public. They seemed sad to see him go, but it was late and though he didn’t admit it, he certainly had plans for later he needed to prepare for.

The first half hour of his time he’d spent grooming -- an extended shower with a full body scrub to wash the dust off. After that came picking an outfit -- a simple white button up with a black vest over top for style. Now, it was a matter of waiting for the doors to swing open and a very handsome colt to come strolling through and joining him.

At nine forty, while he sucked the liquor off the ice cubes in his second drink of the night, and still sat alone, Stormy suspected something was wrong.

With a horrible screech, the western themed doors with rusted latches to The Great Ball of Fire swung open. Stormy, excited, lifted his head up and stared across the horseshoe shaped bar to the sight of a member of the Strokes lineage. His face fell flat.

Strutting in with a gleeful, drunken kick in his step, was Hucklebuck. Not Gentle Strokes.

Two colts entered behind Huck. They stood like ancient marble statues in the courtyard of the royal garden -- chests like barrels of cider, calves like limestone columns and their faces plain and neutral. Their colours were bland and boring; one was beige, the other was black.

Their goose stepping across the bar was a curious site and almost scared Stormy.

This -- Huck being at the bar that night -- was more than coincidence. Huck’s eyes lit up when they grazed over Stormy’s body. He grinned, then uttered a few words to his companions and broke off from them. They grabbed a booth further away while he walked towards Stormy like he were gracing a red carpet. His steps were excited, his head swayed to and fro, and he had the proudest, most powerfully upsetting smile on his face.

“Howdy.” He greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm. He leapt, quite literally, into the seat beside Stormy, then plopped down to his level. “Fancy seein’ you here.”

“Evening.” Stormy greeted, tipping his empty glass towards the other colt.

Huck, impatient and filled with the same kind of confidence that a thousand frat boys at Camden came equipped to parties where sex, drugs and excitement were mandatory, slapped his hooves on the table in rhythm with the blues music playing softly through jukebox.

“I know my handsome face ain’t the one y’all were expecting,” He laughed, swirling in his chair towards Stormy. “But, Gent had to wrap up some last minute family stuff. That boy and burning the midnight oil go together like V.D. and a whore’s snatch.”

Stormy chuckled, and Huck laughed with him.

“Anyway, he told me to catch you here and letcha know he’d be running along as soon as he could.”

“That’s... awfully kind of you.” Stormy replied.

“That’s me.” Huck grinned. “A proper gentlecolt.”

Stormy smiled back.

Huck stared down at Stormy’s empty drink, frowned, then slammed his hoof on the bar.

“Tapper, you old decrepit bastard!” He shouted. This drew the eye of the bartender, who, for all intents and purposes, fit the bill of an ‘old decrepit bastard.’; a colt in his later years with a thin, frail, body, greying coat, patchy mane and a squint in his eyes. “How about you get off your lazy ass and fetch us two more of, uh...” Huck stared down at Stormy’s glass. “Whatever it is my amigo here is ailing his wounds with?” Turned towards Stormy. “What are you drinking, out of general inquiry?”

“Buck Daniels.”

Huck laughed.

“What are the odds? That’s my drink too.”

Ten o’clock on the nose, and no sign of Gentle Strokes. In his place was a cousin who had just offered to buy him a drink. There were thousands of reasons Stormy could use as excuses to say ‘No’ and patiently wait out the time between now and whenever Gentle Strokes decided to show, but that would have left him in an awkward spot -- especially considering Huck’s current, and presumed presence in the coming hours.

So, it seemed, having a drink on Hucklebuck was the lesser of two evils.

The drinks came; two square glasses half filled with brown liquid, and Huck raised his with the implications for a proper toast. Stormy complied. Glasses met at the brim, fell to the table and while Stormy sipped from his, Huck swallowed his back without hesitation.

The bar fell silent. Stormy stared at Huck but his mind drew blanks on topics of conversations. Huck didn't seem the sort to have any interests outside of what was between a mare's legs and how her backside might look bobbing up and down on his waist. He hardly felt bad admitting he wasn’t overcome with any strong desire to learn more about Hucklebuck.

Huck sensed his newfound companion’s growing resentment.

“You seem tense?”

Stormy took a sip of his drink.

“Oh, come on, Stormy.” Huck laughed, loud and throaty, then slapped his hoof against Stormy’s shoulder. “I ain’t so bad once you get to know me.”

He leaned in closer to Stormy. Close enough that Stormy could smell the whiskey on his breath and the smoke in his coat. His lips turned upwards and he grinned.

“I swear I don’t bite.”

Stormy drew back and finished his drink. He tapped his hoof on the bar for another, then again to repay the favour Huck had graciously bestowed on him. Tapper brought a new round of drinks over with a side of beer.

“On the house,” Tapper smiled softly. There was a sort of worry in his eyes as he looked on at Huck, who nodded. “Friends of Huck don’t need to pay around here.”

Huck shooed him away with a wave from his right hoof. The older colt bowed his head like a butler and trotted to the ends of the bar, away from Huck and his company.

“Cheers,” Huck said and smiled. He raised his glass into the air, begging Stormy to join him.

“Salute.” Stormy replied and met his glass with his own.

The irony that he was sharing a drink with a farmer from Dodge Junction at a dive bar, again, wasn't lost on him. The only difference was this time he wasn't trying to get into said farmer's bed.

Suddenly he missed Gentle Strokes.

“How long do you think Strokes will be?”

Huck smiled -- a devious smile like a foal sneaking his first glance at a mare’s backside -- and shrugged.

“I’m sorry your highness,” He mocked taking a bow, “I know peasants like me ain’t exactly the kinda ponies you’d like to rub shoulders with, but you’re gonna have to just settle for a while.”

“Hey, hey!” Stormy panicked, “It’s not like that!”

Across the bar the two living statues snickered and Stormy felt his face flush.

“Ah, hush that fuss.” Huck’s laugh was neither infectious, nor did it inspire feelings of comfort in Stormy. “I’m just dicking around.”

Stormy grunted and sipped from his beer. Huck grinned, wildly, and sipped from his.

“So, let me ask you something?”

Huck’s voice dropped to a serious, harsh whisper as he glared with a stone face into Stormy’s eyes.

“You and my cousin are real good friends, right?”

Stormy felt his grip on the bottle of Buckweiser tighten.


“How is it my cousin managed to scoop up some pretty little thing, and a colt who, if I’m being honest, is capable, well adjusted and decent enough looking, like yourself, just can’t find a girl?”

“How’s that?”

“Well, back at the dinner table, you made it seem like you were lonesome. I’m just trying to piece it together... to ease the mind.”

“I... uh...”

Stormy stared away from Huck and towards the clock.


Out of the corner of his eye, Stormy watched the forms of the two ponies who had entered with Huck saunter towards him. Their movements were quick and precise; steps were taken with practiced a calm earned throughout a lifetime of navigating fields of cherry trees. If they had been drinking at all, it didn't seem to affect them in any physical way.

“You were saying?” Huck begged.

They two strangers, completely silent, had finished crossing the dance floor now. The bottle of Buckweiser in his hoof was shaking, and so was the entire right leg that held it. Ditto for the left. His lower hoof tapped against the barstool.

“It’s um...” Stormy, stuttering, swallowed a lump in his throat.

Two gargantuan strangers with their bodies built from hard labour and their minds swallowed by indifference, staggered towards him. He could hear them plop down into the bar stools behind him but he didn't have the nerve to turn to face them. Not that it mattered, he could feel their eyes on him.

It bothered him that they didn't speak.

“I have a theory.” Huck stated abruptly. He slapped his hoof against Stormy's barstool and spun it so they were face to face. “Do you wanna hear it?”

Without a word or a whimper, Stormy nodded.

“See, as I see it you’re not with a mare because you don’t want to be with a mare.”

Huck raised a brow, waiting for Stormy to protest and when he didn't, Huck just chuckled.

“I think you’re a queer.”

And there it was: payoff to the mounting tension.

“Of course, where would a statement like that be without a hypothesis?”

It bothered Stormy that Huck knew how to pronounce ‘hypothesis.’. It took at least a fifth grade education to set up a proper science fair exhibit, and if middle school had taught Stormy anything it was that bullies with a fifth grade education had a passionate distaste for colts who liked other colts.

“My family is simple. They’re not dumb, they’re simple.” He said this and urged Stormy to follow his train of thought. “Maybe they didn’t see it, or, maybe they just didn’t want to, but sitting at that dinner table, watching Gent stare at you and that awful way y’all stared back at him... I could only imagine something... uncouth happened between you two?”

The screech from the bar doors came again, and again Stormy’s spirits lifted. Here came his saving grace; here came Gentle Strokes to put an end to this before it got way out of hoof...

...only for another pair of colossal cherry tree kicking farm ponies to come strutting through the front door.

Chairs and barstools became empty as a crowd of drunks shuffled out of the bar like prisoners on a chain gang; their heads hung low. One of the two colts who had entered slammed shut the door when the last drunk had exited.

This didn't bode well...

“I don’t know what happened between you and my cousin, and, I’ll be brutally honest here, it’ll help me sleep better if I never do. But, I know a pony in love when I see one and you certainly are that for him.”

“Strokes isn’t coming, is he?”

Huck shook his head ‘No.’. A few of the ponies around him broke their silence by snickering.

“Afraid not. See, I was supposed to tie Duke up for the night, but, uh... I guess I forgot.” Huck was beaming now, like this recent revelation was part of a carefully concocted master plan where all the pieces were starting to fall into place. “That dog's fat as a boar, but when he gets a taste of freedom he'll just run for miles. I’d say, if Gent comes at all tonight, it won’t be for another couple of hours and that gives us plenty of time to get to know each other.”

“So, this is... what?” Stormy squeaked to Huck. “A threat? Or, are you and your little hate rally just going to take me out back and beat the gay out of me?”

Huck laughed. It was loud and raspy and it hurt his ears.

“Nah, it ain’t like that.” He stopped laughing and his face fell flat. “I’m giving you a chance here, Stormy. You can walk out of Dodge Junction tonight. You take a train and go back to Manehattan, find your way home to Camden from there and we can all move on with our lives. You find some fruitcake to do indecent things with. Gent finds a nice girl, and you don’t show up to the wedding.”

“Everybody wins.” Stormy droned.

“I’d say it beats the alternatives.” Huck reminded. “I'd suggest you just keep your mouth shut. Finish your drink and walk out the way y'all came in.”

The bodies in the chairs around him laughed. Stormy didn't find it too funny himself. He stayed quiet, kept his eyes low -- away from Huck -- and on his beer. His hooves were still shaking when he raised the bottle to his lips, but they stopped when the bottle was empty.

“What if I say no?” He inquired, raising an eyebrow towards Huck tauntingly.

“You won’t.”

Stormy swallowed a wad of saliva and vile he decided not to spit at Huck’s face. He scratched at his mane until he found the wounds of battles he’d lost against another homophobes in his life. Huck certainly wasn’t his father, but they both existed in the same mental plane of logic and reasoning; Stormy’s father hated his son for being different. Huck hated him for the same reason. In a different word they could probably get together, get drunk and laugh about how much mutual disgust they felt about him and his alternative lifestyle.

“You know what I think?” Stormy asked to a confused look from Huck. “I think this is all because you can’t accept what your cousin is.”

“And, what exactly is my cousin?”

“Gay." Stormy laughed. "You know; a sodomite? A pillow biter! A stallion stuffer, a-”

“No!” Huck shouted and slammed his hooves hard on the bar table, shocking Stormy along with half the bar, “He’s just confused!”

“He didn’t seem very confused when we were going at it earlier.”


This question came from one of the ponies beside him. The same one, he noted, who held his head low as he came into the bar that night. Morbid curiosity was what made Stormy wonder why he wondered about the sexual escapades of Gentle Strokes, but right now didn't feel like the perfect time to bring it up.

“Your cousin is gay, Huck.”

“No. No. No. No!” Huck shouted, “My cousin is straight! He-likes-mares. He's always liked mares!”

Stormy just laughed.

“Get over it,”

Huck’s nostrils flared out and a grunt escaped from his gritting teeth. All around him the ponies he’d amassed as a scare tactic to chase Stormy out of his town were suddenly finding their motivation to rise to the call of duty a pointless task. He was loosing the interest of his crowd and he knew it, same as Stormy did.

“You little shit,” Huck growled. “You come into my town. My town! You dig your claws into the lives of my family, fill my cousin’s head up with your liberal, queer-ass bull shit, and you’ve got the balls to tell me to deal with it?”

“Pretty much.”

Huck smiled; it wasn’t a mean or cruel smile with hidden intentions, it was a simple, friendly smile. He broke it only to launch into a fit of laughter. His head fell backwards and the sound of his raspy, throaty, chuckle filled the otherwise silent bar. This went on for a few minutes until he wound down; his head came forwards, his hooves danced on the bar and he shook his head.

“That’s gotta be some pair swinging between your legs,” he mused, “I don’t think I remember when I met a colt with half the backbone you’ve got. I swear... you and me, we’re the unstoppable force and the immovable object meeting up.”

Stormy had no idea what he was talking about.

“Why... don’t we all just calm down a bit?”

This quarry, with modest concern and worry, came from one of the colt’s sitting beside Stormy. Both Stormy, and Huck -- surprised to hear somepony else join the conversation -- turned to face a colt peering at them questioningly; He was younger than the others with softer features and not an ounce of bloodlust present on his face.

“Kid’s got a point,” Huck grinned at Stormy. “Why don’t we catch our breath?”

Somepony to his side offered Huck a pack of cigarettes and he shook two loose; one for him, and the other he offered to Stormy.


Stormy nodded and plucked the cigarette out of Huck’s clenched hoof. Both colts shared a moment of calm. They sucked cancer and exhaled clouds of arsenic and other poisons.

“What am I going to do with you, Stormy?”

Huck wasn’t grinning anymore.

“Let me go?” Stormy mulled, “Let me run wild in your town while I sleep with your cousin and do all the faggy, fruity things together that we like to do?”

Huck seemed impatient. He licked his upper lip, exhaled out of his nose and sucked his teeth. He clicked his tongue, tapped the bar with his hooves and groaned.

“You should know,” He said, smiling, “ you did this to yourself.”

“Huck, don’t...” Tapper urged, but by then it was too late.

What happened next came so fast and so intense that it didn’t register in Stormy's brain for a minute after it happened; Huck’s right upper leg came to life. Veins pulsed, muscles bulged and the hoof that had been cradling an empty beer was swinging it at his face. Maybe it was because he’d been drinking, or maybe it was because he hadn’t expected this outcome, but Stormy hardly blinked as the brown glass cylinder met his forehead.

There was a popular misconception about being hit in the face with a bottle of beer. In the movies the prop glass would shatter to form a crude blade with a handle and sharp teeth. In reality, the soft flesh of Stormy's left cheek and the density of his nose weren’t nearly sturdy enough to break glass. It was curious taht the force applied was strong enough to break his nose, but not the bottle, but then again physics had never been something tried to understand.

His fall to the floor was fast. The world around him spun like the tail end of a whiskey bender, and the swan song of octaves he’d never hear again filled his ears. His sense of sound remained undamaged; he could hear the loud delighted laughter of ponies and a pair of hooves trot against the floor as they, and the body with it, got closer to him.

“Get up,” Huck ordered.

Stormy winced when he felt a hoof press against his side.

“Get. Up.”

Flat on the kitchen floor, holding his bleeding nose shut while he squinted. His father towered over him like a the turbulent goliath he was in private; all four of his hooves planted firmly on the sides of Stormy’s shaken body.

“Get up, Stormy.”

Stormy -- sixteen years old -- just shook his head.

“I said,” His father repeated, leaning his face down to stare his son in the eyes. The look on his face said ‘danger ahead’, but this was nothing new. “Get. Up.”

“Go screw yourself with a wine bottle,” Stormy grunted.

A quick, swift, movement came from his father; his front right hoof struck his son once again in the face -- knocking his head backwards. He bounced back fast and glared up at his father.

“Eat a dick,” Stormy grunted.

Hooves -- two of them this time -- crashed on his chest. Ribs shook, muscle tendons snapped in half and Stormy coughed.

“Get up!”

“Blow me.”

Broken. Bruised. Hurt. Stormy was tired of all of this; if his father wanted to take his anger out on him, so be it, but he wasn’t going to jump through hoops for him.

His father sighed and shook his head. He walked away from Stormy, sat down in a chair by the kitchen table and lit a cigarette.

“How did you end up like this?” He asked. It was rhetorical, since both colts already knew the answer. “Why do you keep making me do this, Stormy?”

Stormy lifted himself up and leaned his body against the wall.

“Obviously, I like it.” He snarled at his father. “I just love being a screw up! I love having you kick the shit out of me all the time. This time I just figured the way to do it this time was to get booted out of Harrow.”

“If you think you’re being funny...” His father warned.

“Who’s laughing?”

His father said nothing.

“What do you think your mother would think of you?”

Stormy thought about his mother. How would she take the news that her youngest son had got the boot from a prestigious boarding school for having an illicit homosexual affair with a teacher twice his age? Would she cry? Would it have crushed her heart to find her pure and innocent son had grown up to be a hedonist and a sodomite?

Would he even have done it if she wasn’t dead?

“He said he loved me.” Stormy grunted. “That’s more than you’ve ever said to me.”

“Is that what this is about?” His father asked . “You let him use you like a whore because he said he loves you? Stormy... that’s disgusting!”

He didn’t feel disgusting.

“What do you want to hear?” Stormy asked, laying his head against the cold stone wall of the kitchen. “I made a mistake, okay? I messed up!”

“That’s an understatement.” His father huffed.

“Shit happens.”

“Yeah...” Stormy’s father said. He took one last drag from the cigarette, then dropped it into a beer bottle on the table, cracked his neck and stood up in his seat.

Stormy already knew what came next.

“Shit happens.” His father repeated.

Each step of his hoof towards his son made the younger colt cringe. A colt could only tolerate so much abuse in one lifetime and that threshold was slowly being reached; he didn’t have to sit down and take this from his father. No pony should.

After that everything went black...

...and now he was back in reality. Huck was still standing over him. The colts in the bar were still laughing at him. Gentle Strokes wasn’t coming to burst through the front doors and whisk him away to safety him. Unless through some miracle Huck had a sudden change of heart and decided to let bygones be gone, he only had himself to rely on to get out of this mess.

And look how far following his instincts had gotten him so far.

“C'mon Huck, let's just leave him alone?”

It was the smaller farmer with the soft and gentle face who was coming to his aid. He looked young -- younger than Huck and even Stormy -- and his face was filled with worry. The others with him -- all far older than he was -- snickered and mumbled words that sounded like ‘Queer.’ and ‘Fag.’ under their breaths about him, but he seemed nonplussed. He was different from the crowd and he was as close to a friend as Stormy was likely to have in the bar that night.

“All we were supposed to do was scare him.”

“Yeah," Huck's voice was cold and soft. "He looks pretty scared to me.”

Hooves beat against the hardwood floor and booming laughter came from the crowd.

Stormy fought every impulse he had to groan.

“I... I can’t do this.” The colt sighed. “This ain’t right.”

“Oh, you wanna talk about right and wrong?”

Huck’s sudden fascination with morality surprised and intrigued Stormy. Especially considering that he was the one on the floor with what felt like the latest in a long run of broken noses, and Huck was the one who had given it to him.

“This holier than thou, pansy assed, queen is what’s wrong with Equestria!”

He couldn’t see them, but he could imagine the colts in the bar all nodding their heads in agreement. It was a dull and moot point; whatever Huck used as his argument against Stormy would only inspire confidence in his underlings. Logic and reasoning failed when colts with deeply rooted hatred for things that were different and confusing were involved.

“But... he never slighted me. I mean... he ain’t never done nothin’ t’ hurt me.”

“Oh, is that right?” Huck asked. “Maybe you’d like to pick him up off the floor and give 'im a hug? Huh? Take him out for a latte? Give him a backrub? Feed ‘im some grapes and read each other some nice poetry?”

The crowd laughed again. The colt, whoever he was, dragged his hoof across the floor.


“You sure sound like you do.”

“Huck, I... can’t." He whimpered, "Come on, he's had enough...”

His voice cracked as he spoke and it sounded like he was starting to cry.

Poor guy.

“Goddess, you are pathetic!” Huck growled. “Apple don’t fall too far from the tree, does it?”

The sound of a hoof slamming into something soft and fleshy, followed by a low pant came from the crowd. The colt -- whoever he was -- whimpered like a dog while ponies around him laughed and beat their hooves on the floor.

“Go home, Drought.” Huck sighed. “You don’t belong here.”

The colt, Drought, sniffed and his hooves made a soft, almost effeminate ‘Clip-Clop’ as he walked away.

So much for someone taking his side in this.

“Now... where were we?”

The room wasn’t spinning anymore and clear focus had come back to him. More than that, Stormy was seeing red. He touched the floor, lurched his body upright and stood up. Huck turned to face him and Stormy didn’t wait a second to make his next move. He rushed forwards, all four of his hooves moved in perfect harmony with each other as he cleared the distance between himself and Huck. He reared himself upwards, wrapped his front hooves tight around Huck’s chest and neck and kicked off the ground.

The most fantastic scientific breakthrough in all of Equestria took place in the bar that night; time slowed down to one tenth of how it normally passed as Huck and Stormy moved as one. They soared through weightlessly, their hooves wrapped tight around the other’s body, Stormy biting hard -- violently -- Huck’s throat and Huck simply startled, being unable to do much else but go with it.

Their physical insult to time and physics came to a sudden stop when Huck’s spine crashed against the edge of the billiards table.

The pair collapsed onto the ground; Stormy exhausted, and Huck in pain. Huck grabbed at his back and flailed on the floor like a spastic mental patient. Curses and threats came out of his mouth in between the pained moans. Stormy didn’t care.

“That’s right!” Stormy shouted. He rolled himself on top of Huck’s body, crushing him under his weight, and pinned him to the floor with his fetlocks. “Who’s laughing now?”

Huck snarled and spit at Stormy’s face.

Hooves came from all around him and grabbed at every inch of Stormy’s body. They tore out fur and purpled flesh. He was being torn off of Huck’s body and dragged across the floor. He fought, kicking first, then wiggling, squirming, his body. It didn't help.

When they dropped him on the floor, the colts formed a cage of legs and bodies around him. He must have looked like a curious sight trying to break away. He tossed and turned, his body twisted and sprawled and he swung his hooves at anything he could reach; thighs, ankles and legs that kicked back harder.

“You should'a jus' walked away,” Huck, gasping for breath, roared. “You should'a jus'... taken that train... and left town the way y’all came in.”

A hoof kicked him in the face, the skin around his left eye tore open and a small patch of his fur fell onto the floor.

Yeah, well, he'd always been too handsome.

“You’re going to have to eat through a straw for the rest of your life!”

Another hoof caught him between the legs.

Whatever. It wasn’t like he was ever going to have kids anyway.

“Hold him up,”

Stormy spit out something that tasted like copper wiring and looked like a glass of bottom shelf merlot. When it fell onto the floor it splattered against the floor.

With enough bleach these stains would probably come out...

Two ponies held him up so that he was kneeling on his hind legs and his upper legs were spread out. He held his head low and watched the stain on the hardwood floor grow drop by drop from the leaks in his head.

Stormy felt like a martyr.

“I’ll give you one more chance,” Huck smiled.

His cage had found a key now. The circle opened to form a ‘C’, and Huck stepped in through the gap. Like Stormy he was leaking and, like Stormy, he was staining the floors.

Poor Tapper. How much was it going to cost to replace these floorboards?

“I want you to beg me to let you go.” he said, grabbing Stormy’s face by his chin and aiming it towards him with both of his hooves. “I want to hear you beg.”

“I’m not...” Stormy tried to say but ran out of breath. He coughed again, and when he did the stain on the floor grew a little more. “...I’m not begging you.”

Was there a blood stain deductible? Was that sort of thing even covered by insurance?

Someone tried to pull his face up by his mane, but it didn’t end up working out and instead that pony had a souvenir to remember the night and Stormy had a new bald spot on the back of his head.

“I’ll give you one more chance.” Huck laughed. “Y’all can lick your wounds better alive than dead, I reckon.”

“I want...” Stormy mumbled. He choked on his words, but, he wouldn’t cry in front of Huck; that was throwing gasoline on a fire. He bit his lower lip.

“I can’t hear you, Stormy.”

“I want you to...”

The rest came out in a mumble.

Huck lowered his face to Stormy’s and pressed his ear right next to Stormy’s mouth.

“Come again?”

For a colt of only twenty two years, Stormy had made more than his fair share of poor choices and more than that, he’d always paid more than that choice was worth in consequences afterwards. The scars across his body were testament to all the poor choices he’d made in dealing with his father. His ironic jaded view of the sunny side was a testament to his poor life choices. With only a breath between his mouth and Huck’s ear, Stormy decided to add another poor decision to the list.

He lunged his face forwards and bit down onto something soft and fleshy; something that made Huck shriek like a foal and his mouth fill with that same copper taste. He tore his head back and took a small part of Huck with him when he did.

What he spit out looked like half an ear.

The entire crowd recoiled in horror, even Stormy. The grip on his body was released, suddenly he was less important than the pony knelt on the floor, grabbing the gory mess of what used to be his ear and shouting rhetorical curses at the world around him.

Stormy ran.

There was a good twenty feet of distance between himself, the crowd that had taken up chasing him and the exit to The Great Ball of Fire. He’d never been an athlete, yet still, he knew that it took roughly thirty five seconds to clear that distance at a full speed trot. What lay beyond the exit wasn’t safe -- a half mile of land separated him from the nearest non-biased pony to hopefully come to his defense.

If he was lucky some good samaritan might catch the tail end of him being beaten to death and tell the coroner that ‘Yes, indeed; the sack of broken bones, blood and guts had once actually been a living breathing pony.’

Ten feet to the door when he noticed two ponies circle around the long side of the bar and cut him off.

The front door was no longer an exit.

The hard right he took to avoid them cost him traction; his front right hoof fumbled over his back left hoof and he tumbled onto the floor. His body skidded and a lovely four legged barstool and classic diner style table set broke his fall.

At least the coroner was going to have his work cut out for him.

Stormy picked himself up off the floor and stared at the approaching firing squad; one pony short of a half dozen colts, all with bodies built like warriors and all with a taste on their tongues for his particular brand of blood. There was no exit now. No saving grace. No Deus Ex Machina was going to burst through the floorboards and scuttle him off to safety.

Gracefully, Stormy bowed his head.

“I suppose,” He mumbled to the floor, “There’s nothing I can say to change your minds?”

He swallowed a lump in his throat that he was sure was coloured scarlet. It still tasted like copper going down. His hooves found his shoulders, where he wiped flakes of dirt and dust back onto the floor, then he craned his neck back and stood proudly defiant. He raised his head just in time to see that it wasn’t Huck who threw the kick that knocked him out, it was somepony whose name he’d probably never know. When it came, it cracked his jaw like a chestnut.

The hardwood floors came after that; they cracked when his weight fell on them and the splinters that broke from them tore past his coat and buried themselves into his skin. It would have hurt more if his body wasn’t already numb.

The last thing he saw before his vision faded into black was Huck’s smile, and the last thought he had was how terrible the smile on his face looked.


View Online


“And you’re sure he’s not just hiding under Ma and Pa’s bed?”


“You checked?”

“Yes. Twice.”

“Well, who was supposed to tie him up?”



Of course he was.

“And how many drinks did Huck have at dinner, Clem?”

“I’m not a bar tender, Gent.”

“Yeah... I know...”

Gentle Strokes turned to his younger sister

“I’m sorry, It’s just…” He sighed. His hoof ran long across his face. Flesh and fur were pulled down, moulded like putty, before he released and they reformed. “I was supposed to meet Stormy almost an hour ago.”

“He’s a big boy, Gent,” said Clem, smiling. “I’m sure he’ll be alright.”

Gentle Strokes mumbled an ‘Mhmm’ under his breath and said nothing else.

“Let’s focus on one thing at a time?” Clementine suggested. “Duke first, then you can go get blotto with your friend.”

She gave him a look -- something that was equal parts understanding and playful -- then she grinned and trotted ahead. Gentle Strokes followed. Clem’s little body bobbed and weaved through the patchwork of low branches and splintered tree trunks. Leaves crunched beneath her hooves.

Gentle Strokes was having a hard time catching up with her, and, when he did, he was nearly out of breath. They stopped, for the moment, and he leaned his body weight against a tree. Clementine stared up at him. He smiled down at her, wiped sweat from his brow and then spoke

“So... um...” Gentle Strokes fumbled with his words as he caught up to his sister. “...what did you think of him?”

“Who, Stormy?”

Gentle Strokes nodded. His sister smiled.

“He’s really cool,” she said. “I can’t believe he wanted to hang out with a dork like you.”

She stuck her tongue out. Gentle Strokes’s eyes rolled in his head.

“But, you liked him, right?”

Clementine cocked her eyes half shut and stared with curious intent, at her older brother. Gentle Strokes held his breath.

“Yeah...” she said. Her eyes never broke their studious squint. “Why?”

“Well, uh...”

Now was probably not the right time for this conversation.

“He’s going to be staying in town for a few more days and I just wanted to make sure everything was good and groovy with him coming over a few more times?”

“...’Good and groovy’, Gent? ” Clementine gawked.

“Shut. Up.”

They walked silently for a long while after that and searched for signs of a midsize pug with glandular problems. Anything would have been a treat; a cracked twig on the ground -- crushed by his weight -- or a barren oak tree where a canine posterior might have torn off bark.

Even a cowpie would have been nice.

They got nothing.

Trees stuck out from the ground like the rib bones of a creature too big to have sustained life. Yellow and dead leaves blew in the wind and crackled beneath their hooves. Sadly, unless Duke was secretly a skilled saboteur, the wind had blown any traces of his trail away some time ago.

This happened sometimes. Duke would run into the woods behind the house chasing a rabbit, or a squirrel, or whatever, and get lost. Unlike most dogs, Duke didn’t have that natural ability to find his way home and opted instead to lay in a ball and succumb to his fate. Without a proper master to look after him he was done for and he knew this.

“I swear,” Gentle Strokes sighed. “Huck probably did this on purpose.”

Beside him, Clementine chuckled. Gentle Strokes didn’t see what was so funny about his statement. She cupped her mouth with her hooves and called out for Duke.

Her call was answered with a whimper from the woods.

Out from the sticks bolted the drooling mess of a creature. Duke had a smile plastered on his fat and heavy face and his tongue and tail wagging together. When he reached them, he reared himself onto his hind legs and kicked off the ground. His body, all hundred plus pounds of him, collided with Clementine’s chest and took them to the ground. With his prey disabled, he took the offensive and attacked her face and throat with his tongue.

Clementine pushed Duke off of her and wiped strands of saliva from her cheeks.

“Aww, Duke.” She grinned down at the dog circling her legs. “You’re such a romantic.”

Duke nodded.

“Great, let’s head back,” Gentle Strokes suggested and turned on his heels, only to realize he wasn’t exactly confident in where ‘back’ was. The forest was a countless mile stretch of dead and dying trees behind his house and Duke had wandered too far for him to see the comforting lights from the kitchen window.

“Uh, Gent?”


“Do you remember which way we came from?”

Gentle Strokes looked to his left, then his right. Both paths had the same infinite number of lumber and no distinct difference between them. He stared back at Clementine.

“You’re kidding, right?” He asked.

Clementine kicked her hooves into a small pile of leaves and bowed her head.


Gentle Strokes inhaled a deep breath.

Stormy was sitting in a bar alone and he was trying to backtrack his way out of a forest just behind his house.

He exhaled sharply through his nostrils. Duke, with his fat legs kicking out to his sides, hobbled up to his leg and craned his head upwards. His jowls hung low. His tongue rolled out of his mouth and thick drops of saliva splattered on the leaves at their feet.

Gentle Strokes wasn’t so easily swayed to calm himself.

Stormy. Sitting alone. Worrying that something awful must have happened...


He turned to face his sister and saw the panic and worry in her face.


“I think we might have come in from over there?”

She aimed a hoof behind him and towards a tree split down the centre by some powerful force of nature a long time in the past. It looked vaguely familiar, but then again, so did each and every other tree in the forest to him.

“I reckon?” he shrugged.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” she urged.

Duke took the lead, behind him Clem and behind her Gentle Strokes. At some point in their lives they would be home, Gentle Strokes just prayed that it was sooner rather than later.


It took a half hour longer than Gentle Strokes would ever care to admit to find the path home and a half hour after that to walk it. Duke still led the charge, hobbling on proud limbs all the way up the back porch and through the dog door, his body and the rolls of extra weight on him only caught in the door for a split second before he disappeared into the house.

Inside the home the lights were dim and the bodies of three ponies, all the size and shape of adults, cast shadows against the windows. Curious by the prospect of a visitor this late at night, Gentle Strokes followed through with his gut instincts.

He entered behind Clem to the sound of muffled whispers coming from the living room. He couldn’t make sense of the situation but he caught a few words in between ‘Huck,’ ‘Bar,’ and ‘Insane,’ were all words his ears picked up, and nothing about them filled him with warmth.

When he entered the living room his parents stood quietly, their eyes staring down at a colt sitting on their couch. Drought -- a baker’s son from town -- was their visitor.

Normally, Drought was a welcomed sight. Unlike most of the colts in town, Drought had a calm, politeness to him. He was kind and gentle, almost timid.

Today he was distressed.

His hooves trembled as he tried to hold a mug tight between them. The mug slipped and rolled around in his grasp, and he wouldn’t stop staring at the floor.

Gentle Strokes’ hoof touched against a loose floorboard and sent a snap through the house that drew all eyes on him. Of the three ponies in the room it was his mother who looked the most upset. Drought came in at a close second with that stupid lost puppy dog look on his face.

Even his father’s eyes had a softness to them.


It was Drought who was the first to speak. His voice cracked and he bit his upper lip and sucked in a breath of air.

“Drought.” Gentle Strokes greeted with neutral formality. “I didn’t know you were coming by?”

Drought stared down at the floor and the mug in his hooves slipped again.

“Drought.” Gentle Strokes repeated, this time quicker and with less warmth. “What’s wrong?”

“Your cousin…” he began to say then stopped and let the sentence, and all the implications it brought with it, linger.

His eyes lifted to meet Gentle Strokes’s own, and the mug fell out of his hooves. It didn’t shatter when it hit the ground, the soft fur of the rug broke the fall but kept it intact. The Strokes household was still up one ‘Equestria’s Greatest Dad’ coffee mug and Gentle Strokes wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

“What about him?”

“Gent,” blurbed Drought, once again staring away from him. “You need to know, I didn’t want them to do it to him...”

With no one else in the room willing to rise to the occasion, Gentle Strokes’ mother took it on herself to clean Drought’s mess. This was her way. The house could have been on fire in that moment and it still wouldn’t have stopped her from finding a pointless task to distract her from the growing tension in the room.

“What in the seven Hells are you talking about?”

If he was anything Gentle Strokes was perturbed. Disenchanted. Unhinged. A dictionary’s worth of colourful words he could have used to describe the feeling of being held up by another pointless distraction that kept him from Stormy.

A floorboard shook loose behind him. The creak of wood unfit by years of faithful service came with it and Clementine’s stealthy entrance into the curious fray in the home was sabotaged.

“Its Huck, Gent.” Drought started again. “He came hollering down to Tucker’s parents place, talkin’ about some colt from out of town who slighted him and how we should all put a scare in him. We… were all drinking, you know? And, we were having fun and… he only said was we were going to scare him. Like we did when those two sales ponies came tryin’ to sell that cider machine.”



Drought grimaced and ran a hoof long across his face. Flaps of soft flesh coated in dirt coloured fur regained their hold and Drought’s face looked more or less back to normal.

“Gent, when I saw what your cousin was aching to do to that colt… it made me sick to my stomach.”

Gentle Strokes mirrored this feeling. He didn’t have to be told what had happened. He already knew. Huck. His cousin. The brash and fire tempered farmer with a hair trigger and a disgust for any pony in Equestria who didn’t fall under the banner he considered ‘normal’ had done something to Stormy.

His Stormy.

The colt he loved.

The room started shrinking. Objects -- the puke green couches with the lemon coloured tassels that had been chewed past the point of being ‘chic’ or ‘campy’ and just looked ugly and worn down -- got bigger. So did the ponies sitting in them.

His stomach touched the floor and it was then that his brain caught up with his body. He was on the floor now, laying flat with his hooves folded underneath him. His face was so firmly planted to the ground that his nose stung with the smell of the floor cleaner his mom must have used to clean Drought’s spilled coffee.

Stormy, bleeding out in a dark back alley. Huck, and a gang of faceless thugs all cackling above him maniacally. Ignorant hicks. Villains from some early frontier novel.

A whimper got caught in his throat.


Clementine’s hoof found his shoulder and she squeezed it tight. It didn’t do Gentle Strokes any good. Above him both of his parents looked down on him with sadness in their eyes. Maybe they knew the truth? Maybe they didn’t? In this time and space it didn’t matter who knew what, all that mattered was that their oldest son was laying flat on the floor trying his hardest not to emote.

“What did he do?”

It came out in a soft whisper that he surprised himself he could find the courage to give out.

Celestia bless him if he could stand to hear the answer.

“I don’t know,” sighed an anguished Drought. “I tried to put some reasoning in your cousin’s head. Honest to Celestia, Gent. But, he chased me out of the bar and locked the doors behind him.”

There were a thousand curses he wanted to scream at Drought for being too weak willed to do anything, but he didn’t. He cursed himself instead. He was stupid. He was an idiot. How could he not have seen it coming? Letting Duke run a half mile through the forest, leaving dinner early, all the signs had been there and Gentle Strokes hadn’t ever suspected his cousin of being foul enough to do something so devious, and yet he had, and Gentle Strokes only had himself to blame for it.

Himself... and Huck.

Huck, who was not long for this world.

His hooves rooted themselves into the floor. His muscles tensed and bulged, his body lifted. He lifted himself up and not a pony in the room said so much as a word. They watched him -- he noted that -- though they all seemed to silently realize that nothing they could say or do could stop him.

“Where is he now?”

Drought swallowed a lump in his throat.

“Last I saw he was still at The Great Ball of Fire.” said Drought who had himself transfixed with the floorboards, “I reckon, that is to say, if we hurry, you might be able to catch him at the same time Sheriff Steel does.”

“You’re coming with me.” He insisted.

Drought nodded apprehensively.

“I’m coming too, Gent.”

He turned to face his sister and saw the same kindling burning in her eyes that must have been in his. He didn’t have time to waste arguing, not that he would if he did. Clementine was a young mare, but she was still as much of a mare as their mother. Sometimes more. She was braver than any girl her age and it showed more now than ever.

“Fine,” he grunted.

His little sister, a coward named Drought and himself. They were far from an army to come to Stormy’s rescue, but it was the best he could come up with on such short notice. He wanted to ask his father’s help, but, he realized his father could have a more important role that he needed to be home for.

“If Huck comes back here tonight,” He said, turning to his father. He surprised himself with the sound of his voice, he sounded -- at least in his mind -- amplified. “Keep him here.”

His father nodded.

Nothing else was said as the three set off to find trace or tail of Stormy, Hucklebuck or if ill luck would have it, both.


Their walk was silent and took longer than Gentle Strokes had ever remembered it taking in the past. What was normally a quarter hour trek from his home, through town and up the path to the Great Ball of Fire now felt like years of his life crawling away from him. Each step hurt to take. He knew, after a time, he would reach the bar, and after that he’d find Stormy, or Huck, or both.

This was something he didn’t want.

A few paces behind them, Drought’s hooves dragged along the dirt and kicked stones ahead of him. Drought had always been a colt crippled by self doubt and paralyzed by his insecurities. He was different than his friends and the colts and mares he tried to surround himself with. His father was a baker in a town of hardworking ponies. His mother ran off with a unicorn from Canterlot (or Fillydelphia depending on who in town you asked) when he was only six. For years afterwards that had been the only thing housewives in Dodge Junction gossiped about. The whole town knew the sad sob stories of Drought, his father and his mother.

Knowing this helped Gentle Strokes ponder why Drought would want to be a part of whatever had happened at The Great Ball of Fire. Maybe Drought had wanted to prove his masculinity by scaring a stranger? Maybe he’d wanted revenge for being the punchline to a joke shared behind closed doors in town? Maybe he just figured picking on a queer was a good bit of fun?

Whatever his reasoning was it was in the past now. Again Drought had fallen short of becoming more than his heart desired to be; a colt feared and praised. Drought was still as much a coward as he would always be, and Gentle Strokes was somewhat thankful of that.

“Gent,” Drought called out, panting.

Thoughts of Drought, and others gathering in a bar, circling Stormy like vultures. Shoving him. Pushing him to the ground. Laughing. Cheering. Hooting. Hollering. There was a middle school mentality at work here. The kind of reasoning that made ponies shove ponies into lockers and knock over their books in hallways. He didn’t trust the colts his cousin gathered to be the type who actually had graduated from that school of thought, or even ‘school’ itself.


Stormy, scared and defenseless.

Drought too paralyzed by fear to stop what was coming.

“Gentle Strokes!”

He turned to face his accuser.

Drought stood stupidly; he’d shifted the weight of his body onto his left side, so that his right limbs hung loosely and his frontmost hoof swiped at the dirt beneath his hooves. His head was cocked down and hung so low to the ground that Gentle Strokes imagined he could kiss the dirt path.

If he’d wanted too.

“What?” He barked at the cowardly colt. “What do you want, Drought?”

Drought lifted his eyes to stare up at him. They were soft, and his lower lip was quivering. He tried to smile, a soft, feminine thing, but it hardly rose past his cheeks. His mouth opened to speak.

“I need to talk to you for a second,” He stopped to cock his head towards Clementine. “In private.”

Clem looked on at the two colts. Even the few feet between her, Gent and Drought, wasn’t enough to hide the determined, curious look in her eyes.

“Just say it,” Gentle Strokes spat at Drought. “We’ve wasted enough time already.”

“Gent, I really think we should talk about this… without your sister?”


“Fine.” Drought sighed. He raised his head then sniffed at the air. “That colt at the bar. Stingy, or whatever his name was? He was making all kinds of wild accusations about you.”

Gentle Strokes kept quiet; his eyes wandered towards his younger sister who peaked an eyebrow, and he realized that maybe Drought had been right about wanting to talk in private. If this was going to be the discussion he thought it was, he could have thought up a million better ways to get this lingering weight off his chest.

Hindsight was 20/20, and karmic payback for treating Drought like shit was a bitch.


“Well,” mumbled Drought “He, uh, implied some... stuff and things...”

He shot his eyes towards Clementine, his younger sister, and tried to read her face for any emotion that sold the idea that she understood what Drought was struggling to get out of his mouth and off his back. Her eyes were wide, and when they met his, she gave a fickle little half smile that sunk his heart to the bottom of his hooves.

“Shut up, Drought.”

He turned back to Drought and started pacing forwards. His hooves felt heavy and when they touched the ground it felt like he could crack the gravel beneath him. As he stepped forwards Drought fumbled backwards, his hooves kicking dirt and gravel about the road and raising little dust clouds around him.


“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

More dust kicked off the ground, Drought was moving backwards faster, or, he was pacing towards him faster. They were both moving faster.

“You’re just a stupid hick-”

He took a step closer to Drought.

“-An ignorant asshole-”

Drought took a step backwards.

“-And a coward-”

Another step towards Drought.

“-The kind of colt who doesn’t have the balls to stand up for himself-”

Another step backwards from Drought.

“-The kind of colt who listens to my ignorant, racist, intolerant, homophobic, piece of shit cousin because he wants to prove himself to a group of racist, intolerant, homophobic, piece of shit assholes-”

Drought’s left hoof caught on a rock and he slipped and fell on his ass.

“-And for what?-”

Gentle Strokes stood high above Drought, who looked so small and pathetic laying on his ass and hoveling away from him in an improvised crabwalk.

“-What do you know about anything, Drought?-”

Drought’s little crab-crawl stopped and he raised his hooves over his face. Gentle Strokes had to stop abruptly. In the glow of the street lamp, Drought looked pathetic and broken. Both of his thin lips were trembling, his jaw was shaking.

He was crying.

“You’re right!” He coughed out the words. “I am a coward! I was scared, and I didn’t wanna be a part of whatever your cousin was fixing to do to that boy! But, I knew if anypony in town could talk some sense into him it was you, so I came running to yours as fast as I could.”

“Oh, and that was real brave of you, Drought.” Gentle Strokes lauded with restrained enthusiasm and sincerity in his voice. “You’re a real life Daring Do!”

“Hey,” Suddenly, Drought had found his backbone. He was lifting himself off the ground and the look he fired at Gentle Strokes was as angry as he had ever seen the colt wear before. “T’aint my fault! I didn’t put the hooves to that boy, your cousin did. If you wanna cuss anyone out for this it’s him, alright?”

This was the most logic he had heard from anyone all night. Though he didn’t want to admit it.

“Well,” Gentle Strokes huffed, “Doesn’t mean you were right to run away!”

Clementine threw herself between the two colts, much to their surprise.

“Drought’s right, Gent.” She said, giving her older brother a stern, commanding eye. “And you two can argue all you want after we find Stormy.”

The defensive side of his ego told him to cuss his sister out, to cuss Drought out, and continue on alone. The logical side, however, told him his sister was right, that Drought was right, that Huck was wrong and that Stormy was still out there. Cold and alone.

Gentle Strokes wasn’t the kind of colt to let anything stand in the way of logic.

He didn’t say a word to Drought’s defense, he simply held his hoof out and allowed the other to lift himself off the ground with it.

The rest of the walk to The Great Ball of Fire was deathly quiet.


Tapper the bartender, stood underneath the hanging neon sign that advertised with unrestrained gusto ‘The Great Ball of Fire.’ Just beneath the neon lettering was the cartoon picture of a fireball igniting in tame shades of yellow and orange.

Smoke clouds rose from the older stallion’s mouth and from his nostrils. The cigarette he was smoking was half finished. The six butts by his hooves were long dead. The Great Ball of Fire was closed for the night. Another neon sign in a dark windowsill said so itself.

“Figure’d you’d be showing up soon,”

It wasn’t much of a greeting. Then again, Tapper wasn’t much of a bartender. If his wasn’t the only establishment to serve spirits in all of Dodge Junction he’d have run himself out of business a lifetime ago.

“Where is he?”

Gentle Strokes wasn’t about wasting time.

“Y’all came a bit late,” Tapper huffed, “Sheriff Steel came not but ten minutes ago and took him to Doctor Toboggan’s.”

Gentle Strokes stood firm. The wind blew his mane. His lip trembled.

“He’s alive… if you were worried?”

Gentle Strokes let out a sigh of relief.

“Your cousin damn near ruined my bar kicking that colt around.” Tapper sighed. Two thick pillars of smoke emerged from his nostrils. “I’ve got a pair of dining room tables smashed to shit, couple chairs too,” Tapper turned to Gentle Strokes. “Who’s gonna wanna to come to a bar with blood staining the floors?”


Staining the floor?

Gentle Strokes said nothing. There was nothing to say. He walked past Drought. Past his sister. Past Tapper -- who didn’t move to stop him --, up the stairs and through the doors to The Great Ball of Fire.

He already knew he’d hate himself for what he was about to see. But, he had to see it anyway.

The room was dark. The windows barred and the interior was as lonely and desolate as he’d ever seen it. The thought that loneliness was how Tapper started and ended his days didn’t bother Gentle Strokes.

He scanned the room and his heart stopped.

He was staring at what looked like a haircut done by a pony in the late stages of Parkinson's disease. Fur. Mane. Thick strands of grey from Stormy’s coat, and thicker strands of black from Stormy’s mane were worn wild along the floor. Between them were splotches of red painted in thick blotches the floor. There thinner lines that led to larger puddles. Places where Stormy had been dragged across the floor and then thrown down.

Gentle Strokes bit his lower lip. His heart raced in his chest. His head hurt. He wanted out. He needed out.

He jolted backwards, his hooves caught on themselves and he fumbled, then fell to the floor. His crash was short and without a proper climax; he fell onto his rear and sat like that -- dumbly -- for what felt like a lifetime. His eyes just staring at the mess of blood, and fur and skin, that had come from the frail, fragile body of his boyfriend.

For the longest time Gentle Strokes just sat and stared. Stared at the blood, and the fur, and the skin, and tried to imagine how many colts it had taken? Who were they? Did he know them? Dodge Junction was a small town and he knew nearly every colt by name. Huck’s friends were a revolving door of hanger ons, clingers and temporary farmhands. Colts who lived in town for a couple paychecks then moved on.

Tucker was one of them.

Drought had been one of them.

Who were the others?

Did it matter?

The blood was dry and coagulated now. It looked more brown than it did red. Streaks like a bad artist doing an expressionist piece ran all across the floor.

Did Tapper even try to clean it?

His eyes felt wet, and when he wiped them, he realized he was tearing up. Not crying. Just… teary eyed. His eyes wet with emotions.

His head hurt.


It was soft and feminine and could only be from his sister.

She stood in the doorway. He didn’t want her to see the blood. The gore. The signs that a colt had lost a fight he never even knew he was apart of. Most of all, he didn’t want her to see him like this.


“We should go.” He said.

She nodded. Her eyes glazed past him and over his shoulder and she gasped.

“Oh... shit.” She said. Her eyes grew wide and filled with fright. “Shit! Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Her eyes were wet too. Her hoof, shaking, lifted to cover her mouth and then she was mumbling unresolved curses in the tightest clenched hoof that Gentle Strokes had ever seen. She looked defeated.

“I… I can’t…”

She was speaking in tongues.

He lifted himself from the floor.

“How… How could anyone…? I mean, what did he ever do to...?”

When he reached his sister he pulled her tight into a hug.

“How could this happen?”

Gentle Strokes didn’t know the answer.


Doctor Toboggan’s practice was on the first floor of his two floor home in the middle of town. His furniture -- all the possessions he owned not related to his career -- were all kept upstairs. He had a kitchen there, and a living room with lamps that Gentle Strokes had never been so fortunate enough to see. He had no wife to keep him company and so Doctor Toboggan lived in the home alone.

The lights were on in the main floor of his home.

The doctor was in.

Sheriff Steel sat on the swinging two seater on the porch. His sheriff’s hat -- a marvelous stetson with a single chrome star displaying his rank and authority centred in the middle -- pulled over his eyes as he leaned back in the seat.

Hearing the hoofsteps of colts, the law enforcing pony’s finely tuned senses kicked in and he shot awake. His hat fell of his head and when he stared at Gentle Strokes and his sister Clementine, his eyes fell flat. He took the hat off his head and held it over his chest.

“Reckon y’all are here to see the recently admitted?”

Such an astute observation.

“Doc’s just inside with him,” His nose scrunched up and the whiskers on his moustache danced over his upper lip. “He… ain’t in too good shape. Y’all might not wanna disturb the doc… for that boy’s sake.”

Gentle Strokes was done taking advice from ponies for the night. He said nothing as he knocked on the door. His beckoning call was answered a short minute later by Doctor Toboggan himself.

The good doctor was a curious site and specimen of the far west town of Dodge Junction. He was a unicorn, firstly. Every single other colt who lived in Dodge Junction was an Earth Pony, or, if they weren’t, they were a zebra or a pegasus. He was the sole horn headed pony in the entire town and this made him no more or no less popular with the locals.

He had a story. A reason why he’d fled from wherever he’d originated and ended up in Dodge Junction. There were rumors about him. His origins. How he’d ended up in Dodge Junction, but none of them seemed true.

Gentle Strokes had never heard his story, nor did he care.

“Rather cold evening tonight.” He greeted solemnly to Gentle Strokes and his sister. He was dressed in clothes that reflected his means. An eggshell lab coat, droll green scrubs, a white paper thin mask over his muzzle. His hooves were covered in polymer gloves and the stain guard he wore had a collage of red and brown spots dotting it.

“Come in.”

That was Doctor Toboggan’s way. He was as eccentric in his mannerisms as he was private about his life. He spoke in an accent unfamiliar to Dodge Junction. Something whimsical and with an air of foreign dialect. As if he was more familiar speaking another language than the one he used to greet clients and townsfolk alike.

The Strokes siblings followed the doctor inside of his house/practice.

“Have a seat.”

Neither one objected. They sat in chairs as old and frail as the doctor was young and lively. Gentle Strokes’s felt like it would snap into kindling under his weight. It creaked when he sat down and the legs scratched against the floor.

His sister seemed to do be doing better off in hers.

“Can I offer you a drink? Either of you?” Doctor Toboggan proposed, waving his hoof out in front of him. “I have a pot of coffee on. There’s cream and sugar just upstairs…?”

“Coffee.” Clementine said.

Gentle Strokes said nothing.

The doctor nodded and then he was gone.

When he reappeared, he was carrying two cups in flamboyant and colourful mugs. The one he floated towards Clementine was pink and the phrase “#1 Son.” was written across it in purple lettering and coated with white glitter. The one he floated towards Gentle Strokes said “I support single moms.” And had a picture of a mare dancing around a stripper pole.

Doctor Toboggan sat in the chair across from them. He arched his back, leaned forward and rested his head onto his hooves and his hooves onto his lower legs.

“Its been a very long night,” he sighed.

No objections came from his audience.

“Sheriff Steel had some trouble trying to piece together the events that unfolded. He has his deputy searching for your cousin, who I patched up not but twenty minutes ago. No doubt he’d be keen to acquire any information he can from you,” He pointed a hoof accusingly at Gentle Strokes. “But, as it stands, I’ve done each and every single thing in my power for that colt…”

He stared down at his body. At the stains on his labcoat, and his shirt, and he sighed. Low and heavy.

“I don’t know what transpired at that bar, but, I can’t imagine any pony in Equestria deserves what they did to him.”

He scratched an itch on his neck.

“Can I see him?”

Doctor Toboggan looked at Gentle Strokes and saw the pleading look in his eyes. The older colt licked his lips. His jaw locked to one side. His tongue probed his mouth and then he locked his jaw on the opposite side.


“Gent… His wounds… The way he was when he came in, he’s going to need a lot of rest.” The doctor locked his jaw to the right again. “I have him on some heavy sedatives. He won’t be awake for some time… and…”


Gentle Strokes was begging.

Doctor Toboggan looked first at Clementine, then at Gentle Strokes, then locked his jaw to the left. His glasses fell an inch down his nose and he readjusted them so they sat neatly perched on the highest point that they could.

“I… suppose it couldn’t do any harm to the boy.”

Gentle Strokes stood up.

“But… you have to understand, Gent,” He stopped Gentle Strokes with a hoof pressed firm into his chest. “Pardon the expression, but, he was on death’s door when Sheriff Steel brought him in. He’s… an ugly sight to be seen, truth be told.”

“I don’t care.” He grunted.

“Very well,” The doctor sighed. “Please, follow me.”

Gentle Strokes did as he was told.

The two trotted up stairs and through the kitchen, past the bathroom, through a hallway and stopped when they stood before a closed door. Gentle Strokes hardly had time to admire his first ever glances at the living quarters of Dodge Junction’s soul unicorn inhabitant. Nor did he find it a curious enough thing to worry himself with.

“I prefer to keep my overnight patients in my guest room,” The doctor explained the answer to a question Gentle Strokes didn’t ask. “I find it’s… more joyful than the conditions of my offices downstairs.”

Gentle Strokes nodded.

“Before we go inside,” Doctor Toboggan started and his hooves kicked into the floor. “I need you to understand that he’s going to require a series of surgeries. What you’re going to see is going to be him at his absolute worst. If he’s lucky, and if Celestia is looking down on him favorably, he’ll heal more overtime, but…”

Doctor Toboggan let the sentence, and all the implications it carried with it, linger. Gentle Strokes hardly had a minute to consider what the doctor said before his magic was spinning the door knob and the door was being opened.

The room was dark. Doctor Toboggan flipped on the lights and then…

The world stopped spinning.

Gentle Strokes’s heart stopped beating.

He stopped breathing.

What was lying in the bed -- the thing that was supposed to be Stormy -- wasn’t even a pony anymore. It was something beat and broken. It was an old ragdoll. It was one of Duke’s chew toys.

Whatever was in that bed wasn’t Stormy. It couldn’t be. There was no way in the seven hells of tartarus that this… broken little creature had ever been a pony.

Gentle Strokes knew in his heart, and in his mind, that he was inherently wrong for thinking this.

“I did try to warn you,” Doctor Toboggan reminded. “Your friend has suffered some serious injuries tonight, and-”

The doctor was still talking but the words he was saying didn’t make sense to Gentle Strokes. He could see Doctor Toboggan’s mouth move, and he knew that the doctor was speaking, but all that noises that came out of his mouth sounded like nothing. White noise. Like listening to empty airwaves on a radio station.

“-He’s fractured his-”

The doctor said. Apparently.

“-Which minor nerve damage might-”

Gentle Stroked stared back at the broken little body masquerading as Stormy and sighed heavily.

“-With serious trauma to his-”

He stared up at doctor Toboggan. His mouth was still moving. White noise was still coming out.

“-Which will require stitching-”

There were splotches of dried blood from The Great Ball of Fire on the cuffs of his hooves.

“-It will be a miracle if he ever-”

He was staring back again at ‘Stormy’, wondering how it was even possible to identify that thing as a pony… He looked so beaten. So used. So woefully unresponsive that it was hard to imagine that this thing was the same creature that had once dragged him from the depths of self diagnosed depression and into the exciting, captivating world of Camden art school.

“-That is all to say, if he’s lucky he might one day recover from-.”

Stormy’s -- or, rather, the thing in the bed’s -- chest rose, fell, and a muffled cough came from him/it. It was laboursome, it came out in a pitiful weeze. Half panted, half choked, and then Stormy turned his head to the side and half of a face full of deep cuts and purpled bruises presented themselves in the dim light.

“-In some time, he will walk, but-”

Staring at Stormy, watching his little chest rise and fall, seeing his face thrash against the pillow, and the way his lower legs tried to kick, Gentle Strokes found that his eyes were wet again.

“-There’s… one more thing,”

By now, Gentle Strokes had more than resigned himself to trying to interpret all the fancy phrases and words that Doctor Toboggan was saying. Even through the static he understood -- perhaps subconsciously -- that Stormy was in bad shape. This was to say, he fully identified that the thing laying in the bed had once been a pony -- a colt -- and that he was also extremely damaged.

What was one more heartbreak?

“Sheriff Steel said, and, I sincerely hate to tell you this is one hundred percent true, but…” The doctor’s voice trailed off. “He found your friend in the alley behind The Great Ball of Fire. Beyond the blood, he was soaked in… and, please, realize this isn’t easy to say but, well-”

The doctor’s glasses fell down his face.

“-His fur was soaked in urine,” The doctor sighed again. His hooves ran long across his face. “Not his own.”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

A machine -- something powered by magic and hooked through a series of plastic tubes to Stormy’s chest -- was the sole sound in the room.

“I’m gonna just…”

The rest got caught in Gentle Strokes’s throat. He’d had something to say. An excuse to leave. But, whatever it was, he wasn’t saying it. Instead, he turned away from Doctor Toboggan. From Stormy. From all of the bruising, the cuts, the fractures.

He walked out of Doctor Toboggan’s guest bedroom, strolled through the halls, down the stairs, past the waiting room and stopped only when his chest met the cold wood of the railing on Doctor Toboggan’s porch.

Sheriff Steel was gone now. There was a chance he was off, scouring the town looking for suspects, or, maybe he’d just gone home? It was hard to say, and really, it didn’t matter. Gentle Strokes knew who was to blame. He also knew, for better or for worse, that there were few too many places that Hucklebuck -- his cousin -- could be at this time of night.

Where Sheriff Steel had once sat on the swingset instead was now his sister -- Clementine -- who watched her collapse against the railing of Doctor Toboggan’s porch and bury his face into his crossed hooves.

Then she heard her brother give out the deepest, darkest, cry that she had ever heard come from a creature in all of her life.

Her movements towards him were swift and methodical. She wasted no time getting to her hooves, then racing across the loose floorboards, until she was beside him, and her hooves were around his neck and his face was pressed against her cheek and he was swearing hexes and screaming bloody murder.

He was going to kill Huck. He was going to mangle him. He was going to peel the fur and flesh from his own cousin’s body, then crack his neck and bury him, and Drought, and Tucker, and Saddlesore (who he wasn’t sure, but was still fairly convinced, was a part of this) all of them, up to their necks somewhere out in desert and watch when the vultures picked them apart.

Celestia was a bitch, he told her. She was a cold hearted ‘c-word’ who could judge him all she wanted to for saying it. She could have him hung for it! Even still, she would be the last pony he’d talk too after he did what he needed to do. To satisfy his sister’s curiosity, he shared his master plan.

He was going to commit the act of murder that night.

He wasn’t sure what the right word was. It wasn’t ‘patricide’ (because that was for killing ones father and he wasn’t going to do that), but, Gentle Strokes promised, to his own sister, that he was going to commit, in his own words, “Freakin’... whatever… cousin-cide!”

He was going to kill Huck.

For all she was worth, and what little good it could do, Clementine just held her brother’s head firmly against her breast while he, filled with anguish and sorrow, plotted murder. Then, after some time, he softened to the idea and instead he did something she hadn’t heard him do in all of his lifetime.

He broke.

His was a personal kind of defeated. He didn’t fall, or become weightless as the mares in old black and white picture shows did. Instead, he clenched tighter and squeezed her harder. This was his release. This was what he needed, and she was only glad -- for lack of a better word -- that she was here for him. Her brother. Who whimpered and whined and cursed and then, finally, who softened and opened up.

For the first time in a long time, her brother was crying.

She’d never heard him cry like this before. He’d broken bones, cracked ribs, suffered splinters, fractures and pain from his work. Ponies he knew and loved had passed away -- his grandfather in particular -- and still, she’d never heard him quite like this. He was so small now. So defeated. So painfully broken in that moment that all she could do was suffer with him.

Two siblings crying on a cold night in Dodge Junction.

Family Meeting

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Family Meeting

“You wanna know what the problem with drinking is?”

Huck stood on his hind legs leaning against the brick and mortar wall of The Great Ball of Fire. He held himself in his hoof, peeing with wanton regard and puffing casually on a cigarette hanging off of his right lip.

He blew a small cloud of smoke out of the corner of his mouth, sucked in some more cancer and waited for one of the ponies to his left to crack a grin or chuckle.

They didn’t.

Ignorant inbred hayseeds.

Huck grabbed a firmer hold of himself and readjusted his stream so that it splashed against the red and white wall. The smell in the alley was foul and rotten, a potent mix of fresh piss, stale beer, rotting trash and shit. It stung Huck’s nostrils each time he took in a breath. He could only fear the smell the alley would have if he were sober.

“The problem with drinking,” he repeated, cracking his neck left, then right, “Is that you never really buy the booze. You just rent it.”

This was met with a moment of absolute silence from his audience.

“I don’t get it.”

He turned to see Saddlesore — a grey coated earth pony with a slightly darker hide and built the size and shape of a marble statue. He stood between two other taller and strongly built ponies —Tucker and Spiral — and stared at Huck with a dull look on his face and big saucer shaped eyes.

“What?” posed Huck, cocking his head to the side and raising a single brow, curiously.

“Well, you can’t really rent drinks, Huck.” Saddlesore stated boastfully, “I mean, at least, not that I know about… Unless I’ve been doing it wrong or something?”

Saddlesore looked to Spiral, who shrugged his shoulders in discontent.

The lack of appreciation for the most basic form of humor within the workforce of Dodge Junction both scared and frightened Huck.

“Are you daft?” Huck grunted, “It’s a joke, ‘Sore. You know: A pun? Word-play?”

“Yeah, but, it doesn’t make much sense is all.” sighed Spiral, “I’ve been comin’ to Tapper’s since I was fifteen and I ain’t never once heard him say we could rent beer from him, Huck. You just buy it.”

Huck’s left eye twitched.

“Let’s back pedal a few paces there, Spiral?” Huck sighed, running a hoof across his face, “You’re not actually renting the beer at the bar, you’re buying it, and-”

“Yeah, but if you’re buying it then why’d you say you rent it?”

Huck licked his lips slowly and sighed.

“Your parents weren’t related before they met, were they, Spiral?”

Spiral blinked.

Beside him Saddlesore scratched his head.

“Y’know what?” Huck sighed, “Just forget I said anything, alright?”

Saddlesore, smiled then nodded his head. “Done, and done.”

“Now, where were we?”

Huck spun his head away from Saddlesore, Tucker and Spiral, cracked his neck until it snapped and then stared down at the broken little body laying against the wall.


He was curled around himself, hugging his lower legs with his upper ones, mumbling and whimpering. The grey coat of his chest, well up to the side of his face was black and wet. Matted down, the wet spots in his coat glistened in the pale moonlight. His eyes were shut tight. Huck could only imagine that Stormy could only imagine not being right there, right then. And yet, he was, and so was Huck.

He smiled, shook his rear flamboyantly and watched the last few drops of his stream drip out of him and into Stormy’s mane. The pony gave a pitiful whimper.

Huck grinned.

They’d run a train on him that night, one that transcended physical abuse and waded into the realm of the psychological. Beyond the kicking, the stomping and the thrashing. Beyond all the violence they’d done onto him, Huck had made sure to let it be known that Stormy was a pony beaten. He’d poured a beer out on his head, spit in his face and dragged him out by the scruff of his neck into the alley. They’d stomped him there. Huck, Tucker, Saddlesore and Spiral. All four of them stomping the younger defenseless pony with all they had. He’d screamed. Huck hadn’t pegged him for a screamer, but every pony had a breaking point and Stormy had been pushed well past his. He’d screamed, and he’d shouted, moaned and groaned, but he never cried. Not once.

Huck had to give a colt credit where credit was due. To take a beating like the kind that Dodge Junction was proud to give loud mouthed outsiders, and to not cry about it. That was something honorable — or, at the very least, as close to ‘honorable’ as a queer could earn for himself.

Stormy was a tough one, but in the end every pony broke. Stormy was past that point now.

Pride lifted Huck’s smile. Stormy could shower until light bounced off of his coat. He could scrub every inch of himself until he bled, and wash out all the stains, and the smell and the foulness, but he couldn’t wash out the hurt or the shame. For the rest of Stormy’s life, he would have to live knowing he’d once spent an evening being the personal urinal to a legion of hate-mongers.

Knowing this made Huck feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

“Are we done here?”

Huck snapped his head towards Tucker, who leaned against the side of The Great Ball of Fire and stared at him with a face neutral of any emotion.

“No we ain’t done here.”

“Well, hurry it up.” grunted Tucker, “Drought’s probably already halfway to Sheriff Steel’s, or worse, your little faggot cousin’s place.”

There was a sardonic emphasis put on the words ‘faggot’ and ‘cousin’ in Tucker’s sentence, as if, somehow and in someway, Tucker actually believed the words that Stormy had said at the bar to be true.

It made Huck sick to think about. True or not true, he wouldn’t stand to have any pony make claims about his family that were unfounded. Without evidence in the way of sworn testimony in the form of a confession from mouth of the accused himself, Gentle Strokes was still straight and the only word against him came from the mouth of a yippy little faggot who lay half dead in a gutter.

The evidence piled against his cousin wasn’t very condemning.

Huck turned towards Tucker and offered up his single most sincere, understanding glance.

“Listen,” he said in a tone soft and approachable, “I don’t think you know what you’re implying, Tucker, so, why don’t you just drop it?”

“I know what I said, Huck.” Tucker snorted and pushed himself off of the The Great Ball of Fire. Tucker dusted his hooves off and he popped his shoulders forwards. He craned his neck backwards so that it snapped, then brought his head back down and met Huck with a snarl on his face that bared his fangs.

“We’re friends, Tucker,” Huck reminded, tilting his head to Stormy’s form, “We have been since we were six, and I aim to keep it that way. Ain’t no sense in scuffling over a few choice words” He ran a hoof down the wall, “I think enough blood has been spilled already.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tucker laughed, though his imposing posture stayed strong. “You sure did real good keeping that colt in check, Huck.”

Stormy grunted.

“Hey, don’t act like this was something I had to convince y’all to do,” Huck groaned. “Y’all knew the second you walked into that bar what was going down, and now you’re bitchin’ worse than a mare on the rag.”

“All I remember you saying when you grabbed us was that there was a pony who needed a stern lecture about his place in the world. And, yeah, we stuck with you while you two got into it. We even kicked him to the curb when it looked like you were getting too many licks, but, this-”

He waved his hoof over to Stormy.

“-Taking a piss on the guy?” Tucker shook his head. “That’s shameful no matter who you are.”

“So what?” Huck snorted and licked the sweat off his upper lip, “Since when did kicking the shit eating grin off some pompous little faggot’s face become a problem for you?”

“Fag or not, any pony who takes a look at this colt is going to want our heads on pikes.” He stopped to snort through his nostrils. Vapour trails lifted in the air. “And, pissing on him ain’t gonna win you any favors with Sheriff Steel either.”

“You sayin’ I went too far?”

“Look at that colt and tell me anyone in town isn’t going to want us hanging from a noose, Huck.”

He did. He stared at Stormy, all bundled up into himself, shivering, panting, making noises like a wing-back with a bad case of the feather flu.

He looked pathetic.

“Even if that’s true, and I ain’t saying it is, what would it matter any?”

“Why don’t I tell you what happens now?”

“Please do.”

“Well, firstly we all gotta take a nice long sabbatical.” Tucker took a pace forwards and leered at Huck. “We’ve got to get out of Dodge Junction. Tonight.”

“And why would we do that?”

“Because the only thing that’s going to keep us out of the gallows is if we aren’t here to answer for any of this.”

“Oh, right,” Huck was laughing as he spoke, shaking his head side to side and slapping the ground with his hooves. “We should all just leave home, right?”


Saddlesore, Tucker and Spiral all stood and silently glared at Huck, who found he was quickly losing whatever hold he’d had over them during the night. Fortunately for him, Huck was an avid gambler and always kept an ace up his sleeve.

What good was having a plan if you couldn’t see it through?

“You got a pretty girl back at your place, right, Tucker?” He asked and danced his tongue across his cut and calloused upper lip, then his lower one. “Yeah… She’s a darling little thing.”

Tucker took a step forward. The colts behind him stayed in place.

Huck was unphased.

“I reckon she’ll be awful heartbroken once you run off tonight.” he said, “I might just have to pop in and visit? Only makes sense that someone will have to offer a shoulder for her to cry on and tell her everything’s gonna be okay?”

Tucker took another two steps forward.

Huck took one of his own.

“Watch your mouth, Huck.”

“How long do you think it’ll be after you leave here before I’m giving her the wood?” he asked, “A month? A couple weeks? Hells, I bet I’ll be snorkel deep between her thighs the first night you’re not around.”

Tucker snarled and spat at the ground. When he lifted his hoof to move forwards, Huck had already figured out how to take him down and the colts behind him. A kick to the throat for Tucker, jabs to the temples of the other two. Quick and swift, all three would be on the ground before they even knew they’d just got their asses handed to them.

“You know what, Huck?” Tucker put his hoof down gently and sighed, “Do whatever you want.”

Tucker’s shoulders dropped. He bit his lower lip, shook his head and stepped backwards. He didn’t snarl, or spit, after that. He spun himself around and turned his back on Huck.

“If you were smart you’d split,” he said without ever looking back, “You’d get on the next train to Neighbraska, or, Canterlot, or wherever. But, if you want to stay here and get yourself killed over this bullshit, so be it.”

That was the last thing Tucker said to Huck that night.

It was quiet in the alley now and Huck’s head filled itself with worries, fears and doubts. Leaving Dodge Junction was never something he had planned to do, at least, not that night. He knew it was a consequence of his actions, just the same as he knew that staying meant facing a firing squad. Still, it seemed almost surreal to imagine himself stepping onto a train that night and facing the wild unknown of Equestria without somewhere to land safely.

A noise, half a whimper and half a cough from the throat of the pony who really was to blame for all of this brought him back to reality and Huck spun around to face the personification of his problems. Stormy had managed to flip himself onto his stomach in the time that nopony had spent paying him any attention, and from the way his hoof grabbed at the dirt paces before him, looked to be trying to make a getaway.

Huck had to laugh. Watching the colt try so hard and fail so much worse brought him right back up again. He skipped a few paces ahead of Stormy, raised his hoof and kicked it into his cheek.

“Stormy, Stormy, Stormy,” Huck giggled, pressing his hoof to Stormy’s side and flipping him onto his back, “I sure made a freak out of you.”

He took his hoof, touched it to Stormy’s cheek and tilted his head sideways, studying with a curious eye all the pain and suffering he’d done to him; the flesh around his left eye was peeled back and his right cheek — from the corner of his smile to just past his nose — was split open so badly that the pink of his gums and the white of his molars showed.

Huck’s smile fell, “You sure ain’t gonna be very handsome when they patch you up.”

For the faintest moment in time and space Hucklebuck stood and stared at Stormy. He didn’t speak, or even move his body. Huck did little more than look on at the colt, and all the damage done to him that night, and filled his mind with thoughts of what Stormy’s life was going to look like in the coming days/weeks/months/years. He would never recover. Not fully. Nothing about that colt who traded barbs and stood his ground against Huck would remain. An emergence would happen after tonight, in which Stormy would come out either stronger or weaker, but never as he was.

Hucklebuck almost felt bad for him.

Then he ran a hoof through his mane and stopped when he felt a nub that once had been his ear. Through virtue of being a farmer, Huck had suffered more than enough injuries working in fields and earned the experience of field dressing his wounds. First, he’d stopped the bleeding with pressure, then, he’d sterilized with whiskey to prevent infection. Tapper kept a mandatory first aid kid he’d used to wrap the wound. It wasn’t pretty. Then again, nothing about that night was either.

If he had any lingering sympathies for Stormy in him they left with the wad of spit he hacked from the back of his throat and onto the crown of Stormy’s head. His empathy died with the mad fit of giggles he got watching his saliva roll down Stormy’s face.

“I should go,” he said. Rhetoric as it was a one sided statement was, he prodded Stormy once more with the intention of unsettling the pony. “But, maybe we could do this again sometime?”

Huck left the alley the same way that Tucker had only with a skip in his step and his laughter bouncing off the wall of The Great Ball of Fire and into the ears of the colt he left laying in the dirt.


Time was a concept which Huck was more than familiar with. He understood that at certain points in his life he was expected at places, and that this meant he had to align his schedule with another’s using it. He understood that time flew with or without him and no one save for Celestia herself could do much to control it (and even that he doubted in private).

He understood time, and, he understood that it took more time to walk the long way back from The Great Ball of Fire, through the forest, past the train station and back around into town, than it did to just walk back the way he came in. This was a good thing. It meant he avoided running into Sheriff Steel, his deputy, or, even more likely, his cousin. By now it would be impossible for one of the three parties who he sought to avoid not to know what he’d done and avoidance seemed like his best option to deal with that knowledge.

It wasn’t his first choice, but it far outweighed the alternatives.

The sun was due in a matter of hours by the time Huck finally stepped foot into town again, and by then, all the lights in all the windows in Dodge Junction were long dead.

As a frontier town in a world filled with majestic emporiums like Canterlot, The Crystal Kingdom and even Manehattan, Dodge Junction was every bit as simple as it came and at night this feeling was hard to avoid. Not a lamp or candle was still alive in any Dodge Junction window by the time his hooves touch past the inviting arches into the town.

He moved slowly through town, taking sideways glances at homes and imagining the bodies sleeping inside. He passed the Turner place where he’d spent the summer of his fifteenth birthday babysitting the triplets for petty cash while he saved up a measurable fortune to buy a two year subscription of Filly Fanny Fun.

Better times were those.

He was a half block from Tucker’s home, cursing the name under his breath, when he noticed the last pale light in the western town. It flickered in the windowsill of his parents home, the place where he hung his hat and took his rest. Shadows cast against the blinds showed three ponies standing inside. A stetson rested on the hat-rack built into the support beams of the porch told him that his visitors that night were among Dodge Junction’s long-leg of the law. More specifically, Sheriff Steel and his deputy Nashville.

He passed by the house slowly, taking a sideways glance as he did. He caught an angry look from his father as he passed an open window, but he knew that the old bastard wouldn’t dare say a word about it. Along with being bitter and violent, his father was a boisterous drunk and Huck knew all the skeletons in his closet because of it. He knew where the metaphorical bodies were buried, he could see the bruises on his mother’s face every second or third day and he knew who was responsible for the broken windows of Mr. Plinkett’s Soda Shoppe.

He knew his father would keep his mouth shut. There was only one place left in Dodge Junction he could safely rest his head, and so Huck kept walking into the night.



He felt a nudge to his shoulder and he turned to look at Clementine. They were both still on the steps outside of Doctor Toboggan’s and had been for nearly an hour. He’d been quiet and calm in that time, taken up with leaning against the railing and watching big black clouds float across the sky.

It almost made him feel better, but not really.

“I think,” She said, softly, “I think we should go home now”

“I can’t,” he grunted, “Huck’s still out there, so are the rest of them! Sheriff Steel hasn’t come back to make sure Stormy’s safe, and…”

She touched his shoulder again.

“You’re not in any shape to do much else for him or anyone else tonight, Gent,” she said, nuzzling her face against his side, “I promise you he’ll be okay.”

“How can you say that?” the older stallion sighed. “How am I supposed to go to my safe little home, hop into my warm bed, curl up in a blanket and just call it a night after everything that’s happened tonight? Huck, and whoever else he was with, are still out there, Clem...”

“And Sheriff Steel is going to find them, Gent.” insisted his sister, “That’s his job.”

“What if he doesn’t?” Gentle Strokes grunted, “I’m not going to give any of them a chance to get away with this, Clem.”

“What are you going to do?”


“Gent… I know how much this hurts, but you’re not going to be any help to anyone getting in the sheriff’s way.”

“I’m not just going to leave him, Clem!”

She saw the hurt on her brother’s face again.

“I know you want to help, but…”

“But what, Clem?”

“There’s nothing else you can do for him tonight.”

“No,” Gentle Strokes squeaked, “It’s not right! I’m not going to walk away again…”

He groaned and dropped his body against the railing.

“This is my fault,” he sighed, “If I’d been there… If I’d found Duke sooner… if I’d just been there, I could have talked some sense into Huck. I could have stopped this from happening...”

“Gentle Strokes!”

It was damn near unheard of for his sister to take anything higher than a soft tone with her brother, which was why hearing her shout his name made him all the more aware that she did.

“This is not your fault! This is…” she pulled a hoof across her face, “This is the worst thing to happen in this town in a long, long time, but it is not your fault!”


“No ‘buts’, Gent.” She snapped, “If you want to rant, and rage, and vent I won’t stop you. I know you have that in you, and I want you to let it all out. I do. But I won’t let you kill yourself over something you had nothing to do with! This is Huck’s fault. All of it! You didn’t do anything wrong and neither did Stormy.”

She took his face into her hooves and turned it towards her, “Do you understand me, Gent?”

Turning his eyes away from his sister’s, he nodded his head.

“I’m going to take you home now, okay?” She said, “We’re going to go home, you’re going to wake up tomorrow and everything will make sense again…”

“It won’t be like it was,” he huffed, “Even if they find Huck, even if they hang him by his throat for this, it won’t make any difference. And, Stormy… how am I supposed to look him the eye again after tonight?”

“I don’t know,” His sister sighed, “I don’t know him as well as you do, but he’d be wrong if he blamed you for any of this.”

“Why shouldn’t he?” Gentle Strokes snapped, “It’s my fault he’s here in the first place. It’s my fault I didn’t write back to him. It’s my fault that he ditched Camden to come here. It’s my fault that-”

She punched him on the shoulder. Hard.

“What did I just say?” She snapped, “You are not, repeat, not going to get sucked into that black hole. Do you understand!?”

He blinked his eyes, grumbled and then she punched him again.

“Gentle Strokes!” shouted Clementine, “What would Stormy want you to do? Huh? Do really think he’d want you to run around all night, half tired, half blood-thirsty, trying to find a pony who we both know isn’t stupid enough to let himself be found? Or, would he want to know that at least you were safe and sound and ready to see him in the morning when he woke up?”


“I think you know what he’d want you to do?”

He didn’t like admitting it, but she was absolutely right. It didn’t make him happy thinking about abandoning Stormy for a second time that night. It wasn’t confidence inspiring to leave Stormy behind, either. Yet, he knew that Clementine wasn’t going to let up and that, if anything else, being home, with the family he had who weren’t responsible might help him take his mind off things.

Begrudgingly, he lifted himself off the railing and followed behind Clementine as she led the way back home.


Halfway between the dirt trail path he walked, and the steps to his home, Gentle Strokes stopped dead in his track and stared with squinted eyes at the figure restlessly pacing across the length of his front porch. She was a smaller pony -- thin in the way that mares were -- and though he couldn’t see her coat, he had no doubt in his mind it was his mother. What she was doing on the porch, and why she was smoking a cigarette (a hobby she hadn’t found only when distressed or, more rarely, soused) was what troubled him.

He carried himself forward, Clementine paces behind him, until he reached the steps and made out that the figure was indeed his mother, who was indeed smoking nervously. Her grip on the cigarette slipped more than once and her pacing was manic.

His hoof touched a loose floorboard (how were there so many of them around the house?) and her head snapped towards him.


He couldn’t recall another time in his life when so many ponies had used the shortened version of his name as many times as had been that night, and, following the trend of a pony borderline whispering the first two syllables of his name, he braced himself for the follow up dump of information.

“Huck’s inside,” she said, taking a drag from the cigarette, “He’s... Goddess! He’s missing an ear, Gent!”


“He’s drunk as I’ve ever seen him and he said he wouldn’t leave until you got back. Your father tried to talk some sense into him, get him to turn himself in but he plopped down in the kitchen and started pouring himself a drink and…”

She took another drag from her cigarette.

“I’m scared and I don’t know what to do?”

“Go get Sheriff Steel,” Gentle Strokes said, “He’s either at Uncle Barrel’s place, or he’s at Doctor Toboggan’s. Bring him here.”

His mother stayed silent for a few seconds, then she nodded her head. “I don’t understand any of this,”

“Yeah,” was all Gentle Strokes said.

She stomped the cigarette out on the porch, lifted her head and made it down the stairs.

“Gent, please, promise me something?” she asked him when she approached, “Whatever you do, whatever Huck says… please don’t do anything about it until I bring Sheriff Steel back?”

Gentle Strokes stared at Clementine, his nostrils flared and his mouth turned upside down with a frown. “Take Clem with you,” he insisted.

“I mean it,” She said “I don’t know what’s been going on, all I know is what I’ve heard from you, and Drought, and just now from Huck, but you promise me right now that you won’t lift a hoof to hurt him?”

He said nothing.

“He’s still part of this family, Gent.”

Gentle Strokes pushed past her and walked through the front door. The lights had all been dimmed, though a bright light shone from the doorway to the living room. He could hear the clinking of glass on glass from the dining room.

He trotted into the room to find his cousin, seated at the head of the dinner table, half bottle of whiskey before him with a glass half empty clutched in his hoof. An empty glass and an ashtray with a lit cigarettes and half a dozen crushed ones sat beside the whiskey. His father sat beside him and when Gentle Strokes entered he stood up, gave him a soft look, said nothing and left the room.

Curious as it was, it was probably for the best.

“Gent,” Huck cheered, grinning and raising his glass, “We’ve got a lot to talk about, you and me. Why don’t you have a seat?”

Gentle Strokes did as he was told, telling himself that his non-committal half-promise to his mother was what was keeping Huck alive.

Huck tensed, his muscled flared and he raised his hoof to lift the bottle of Vagrant’s Choice. He poured brown liquor into the empty glass, set the bottle down then slid the glass to Gentle Strokes.

“Let’s talk,” he said.

Gentle Strokes lifted the glass and took a sip of whiskey.

“I’m sure it’s taking everythin’ that you got in you not to kick my teeth in right now, ain’t it?”

Gentle Strokes stared at the down at the floor, then up at the ceiling, then the walls, everywhere he could that wasn’t making eye contact with his cousin.

“I appreciate the restraint. Trust me.” Huck said.

He smiled, poured himself a glass and took a sip. All the while, Gentle Strokes watched his movements.


Huck raised his face from the table and stared, stupidly, towards Gentle Strokes. He was still smiling, though he did look confused on top of sedated and calm, “Huh?”

“I just want to know why you did it, Huck?” Gentle Strokes sighed, “I mean… you knew, right? I could see it all over your face at dinner, and I thought… Celestia, I thought we could talk about it. Just the two of us, and maybe you’d understand. But-”

“Shut your mouth!” Huck snapped, slamming his hoof on the table hard enough to shake the glasses on the walls around them. “I don’t want to hear you say one more word about this, you hear? If you say another word to the defense of that… that… repulsive little faggot!” his black, cracked lips drew up his face and showed off two rows of yellow stained teeth, “He got what was comin’ to him. Plain and simple.”

“You put him in the hospital, Huck!” Gentle Strokes screamed at his cousin, “What the hells is wrong with you?”

“With me?”

The look on Huck’s face was so dumbfounded that Gentle Strokes genuinely believed that he was confused. That none of this was part of an act, or the lead up to some kind of show of false sympathy for the sake of moving forwards.

Huck really didn’t get it.

Gentle Strokes didn’t know what exactly to do with that information.

“You’re the one who dragged that cock-sucker to our dinner table and tried to make it seem normal for him to be there, Gent,” Huck sighed and rubbed his temples, “Look ‘ere. I… know you think you’re this way, Gent. I really believe that you do. But, you’re not! You’re nothing like that… That...”


“Yes!” Huck sighed, “This ain’t you, Gent! Can’t you see? He messed up your head! That whole school messed you up! B-b-but, we can fix this! We can fix you, Gent!”

Huck’s tone was panicked, wry and jittery. His eyes were wide and darted nervously around the room, looking, perhaps, for anyone in the room who would overhear their conversation.

“Fix…? Huck, you don’t get it! I like him! I chose to like him! I want to-”

“Shut. Up.” Huck screamed, “Shut up about it! I don’t want to hear it! Do you have any idea what I did for you tonight? The shit I put up with to keep that piece of shit’s mouth shut about you? You should be thanking me. Gent!”

Thanking you?” Gent spat out, "You took the only thing I care about… the colt that I love, and broke him! And for what? What in the Seven Hells is wrong with you, you… psychopath!”

“Aww, poor little you!” Huck groaned, rolling his eyes, “Do you think any of this was easy for me?”

“For you!? Stormy!”

“Oh, he’s an asshole, Gent!” Huck grunted, “Truth is, I probably woulda put the boots to him even if he wasn’t a queeny little fag.”


“Yeah, you heard me! He’s a spoiled little bitch. Do you think that… fruitcake is special? I mean, come on, Gent! You know him better than any of us and we could all see it; this faggy little spoiled brat from Manehattan, comin’ here to make us all look like a buncha backwood retards!”

“That’s… that doesn’t even make any sense, Huck!”

“Listen, you really don’t know what you’re talking about, Gent. Alright?” Huck paused and ran a hoof through his sweaty mane, “You need to hear my side of the story too.”

“Your side?”

“Yeah, my side,” Huck said, “This whole thing is all just a big misunderstanding-”

“-What, like, Stormy slipped and fell down a couple flights of stairs? You're gonna try and sell me that?”

“Don’t make me sound like an asshole, Gent,” Huck snapped, “Yeah we got into a little kerfuffle, and yeah he lost, but there ain’t no reason in Tartarus anyone else has to get hurt because of it.”

“A kerfuffle?” Gentle Strokes cocked his head sideways “He’s laying in a hospital bed right now and you want to call that a ‘kerfuffle’!? You stupid bastard!”

“Whoa, language!” Huck laughed, slapping the table with his hoof, rattling glasses and bottles “Let’s keep this civil, huh?”

“This is funny to you?”

“There’s a bit of humor in it, yeah,” Huck nodded. “Look on the bright side, Gent. At least that queer lives to suck another cock.”

Gentle Strokes snarled and his hooves struck the table hard enough to send splinters past the flesh and into his hooves. “Shut. Up. Now.”

“Let’s not turn this into something it doesn’t have to be, Gent.” Huck said, “I did what I did and I can own that, but now you have a choice to make. You can hate me for the rest of your life, and grow bitter about it, or you can accept it and move on.”

“You can’t seriously be asking me this?” Gentle Strokes gawked, “You really think I’d just let this fly?”

“Look, you don’t know shit about what happened, alright! He pushed me! He knew exactly what he was doing, throwing accusations around about you. Making me... us all look like a bunch of inbred hicks!”

“Oh, bullshit you did this for anyone else but yourself!”

“Hey, I gave him a chance! I told him he could get a free pass! I would have bought him a ticket, too!” Gent sighed, “Everything that happened, happened because of him running his filthy mouth about something he had no idea about.”

Gentle Strokes fidgeted in his seat.

“I know you… think you’re this way.” Huck’s eyes softened, “But, you’re not. You’re not gay, Gent. I know you’re confused…” he stared down at the floor, “But this isn’t who you are.”

Gentle Strokes opened his mouth to speak only to find nothing but a pitiful squeak come out.

“I had to do it, Gent, and you know why...” Huck cried, “I know you want to hate me now. I can see it on your face, but I did it for all the right reasons.”

The statement lingered in the air. Gentle Strokes cupped his glass of whiskey with both hooves and stared into the cup. He saw himself reflected in the glass; saw the way the sweat had turned his gold mane dirty blonde and slicked it to the left side of his head. He saw the coldness in his white irises and purple pupils.

“No,” he said, staring up at Huck, “No. I won’t accept that…”


“You don’t get to do what you did… not for free.” He arched his shoulders forward and sat upright in the chair, “You don’t get to do walk away from this!”

Huck’s eyes fell into a slanted squint and a grin filled with malice and menace spread up his cheeks. “Oh?”

He leaned forward in the seat and poured himself another drink.

“Let me remind you of something, Gent,” He said, “Right now there aren’t too many ponies in this town who know about your little rainbow flag fetish. Three of them are heading to Celestia-Knows-Where around the nation and you’ll never see them again, so we can rule them out. There’s Drought, who’s too stupid to know his ass from his face, so he gets a pass-”

Huck’s grin spread higher.

“-There’s Stormy, who’ll most likely end up spending the rest of his life as a stuttering retard. So we can scratch him off the list. And then there’s you and me, Gent.”


“Well, if you seem so gung-ho to defend the kid why don’t you tell your family why it is you want too? Huh? Why don’t we wake up the twins, grab your ma and pa, Clem too, and call a little family meeting? You can share all the intimate details of your friendship with Stormy? Tell ‘em how close you guys got to be?”


“Nah, don’t ‘Huck’, me, Gent!” he snapped, “You can’t have it both ways! If you want to pretend to be a queer for the rest of your life, you can learn to live with the consequences! If you want to shit all over what this family means, turn us all into jokes because of your mistakes, then at least have the balls to follow through. Otherwise, shut up, get over it and don’t ever bring this up again.”

When Gentle Strokes said nothing Huck laughed at his face.

“You pissed on him,” Gentle Strokes said, mumbling the words, “You… took your dick out… aimed it at his face and… you peed on him.”

“I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time,” Huck mused, smiling not maliciously but with a playfulness. “Hells, I bet out of all this foulness that’s the one thing he’ll look back on fondly.”

Gentle Strokes stared his cousin in his eyes; there was no mean spiritedness to him anymore, just a sincere jovial sense of joy that played across all his features. He was grinning, smiling, and his eyes were wide like saucers. He popped his shoulders out, stood up in the chair and…

...Gentle Strokes was halfway across the table, before he realized he was lunging at his cousin. Red. All he was seeing was a dim red that made him want to break everything Huck had left. Tear his other ear off, rip out his eyes, strangle him, kick, claw, bite, rip, slice and hurt him.

He knocked Huck over in the chair and the two fell to the floor in a clump. His hooves were wrapped tight around Huck’s chest, his teeth biting hard on the stump that had been and ear while he kicked his legs at everything soft, furry and fleshy on Huck that he could.

Huck was laughing like a maniac.

They rolled across the floor, stuck a chair which toppled over them and broke when it hit the ground. The house shook. Gentle Strokes wedged his lower legs between Huck’s upper ones, pressed his hooves into his chest and kicked hard. Huck became forcefully unattached from his cousin, slid across the ground and struck the wall with his back hard enough to crack the drywall.

He opened his eyes just in time to see Gentle Strokes barreling towards him, and with no time to do much to defend himself. Gentle Strokes’s kicked and his hoof struck his cheek. Huck’s head hit the wall and things in the room started to get hazy.

When Huck snapped his head back, he was still laughing. Cackling. His nose, flattened, bled down his face and into his mouth. His teeth -- which he flared at Gentle Strokes -- were stained red. He spit and a mouthful of his blood stained the white tiles of the checkerboard linoleum flooring.

“You stupid son of a bitch,” Gentle Strokes cursed, standing upright and shaking his limbs loose. “You didn’t have to do anything! You didn’t have to do any of this!”

“That’s enough!”

It was his father, roaring loud enough to shake the finer wine glasses and good cutlery on the shelves.

Gentle Strokes felt hooves grip him by the shoulders. He spun, twisting his body to escape while spitting curses at his cousin. There was nothing he could do. He was pulled away from Huck, spun around and then he was looking into the sad, scared faces of his family. His mom, Clementine, both of the twins, they all looked at him with puppy dog eyes, quivering jaws. One of the twins sniffed and wiped wetness out of his eyes.

Gentle Strokes fell onto his knees. He didn’t want to break, or moan, or whine, or make any noises to betray how he felt. Not in front of them. Not in front of his family. It took more strength than it did to sit across from Huck and not lift a hoof to stay calm, but he managed to keep his calm...

Huck sniffed and fresh blood rolled off his muzzle onto the floor.

“I’m sorry.” He said quietly.

All eyes in the room fell onto him. He sniffed again.

“I’m sorry for what I did. I… I can’t help myself sometimes, I have a lot of anger, and hatred, and… I’m just so sorry that I hurt your special little friend-”

“-Huck-” Clementine hissed,

“-No, no, let me finish.” He raised a hoof and grabbed his nose, trying to stop the bleeding, “If I only knew how much Stormy and Gent here care about each other, and how much Stormy means to Gent-”

Gentle Strokes glared at Huck.

His mother stared silently at him.

The twins stared at their mother.


“-Lemme finish, Clem!” Huck snapped, “I know now that I shouldn’t have hurt anypony, especially one who means so much to you, Gent-”

Now his father was staring at him too.

“-See, what I didn’t know about Stormy until tonight was that he’s really fond of Gent, and, well, they’re both really, really close-”

His father’s eyes narrowed.

His mother bit her lower lip.

Gentle Strokes felt dead inside.

“That’s enough, Huck,” His father sighed, “I don’t think I want to hear what you have to say.”

“What!?” Huck grinned, “All I’m saying is that I’m sorry that Gent and Stormy are real close with each other.”

All eyes in the room fell onto him and he swallowed.

He knew from the moment he considered that maybe, just maybe, he could enjoy spending time with a colt the same way he did with mares, that this moment was coming and now that it seemed like it was here he suddenly wished he could trade places with Stormy.

Then he realized how much of an asshole that made him sound like.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Huck answered, “You ponies look at me like I’m Discord himself for what I did to that colt, only the thing is, he ain’t so innocent. He’s a stallion stuffing, cock sucking, faggot. Just ask Gent, he knows all about it!”

“I said that’s enough!” Gentle Strokes’ father roared and his hoof flew backwards across Huck’s face. “You watch your tongue and tone when you’re in my house talking to my family!”

“I’m your family too!” Huck shrieked, “I did this all for you ponies! Now you wanna play pin the blame on the martyr? Well, I did what I did and I ain’t ashamed of it!”

“He was our guest,” his father muttered, “And what you did was shameful worse than anything you’re accusing him of being.”

“Oh, boo-hoo!” Huck sneered, “Like y’all couldn’t tell that colt was a proper stallion stuffer.”

“What’s a stallion stu-” one of the twins began only to be cut off from a sharp look from the patriarch of the family. He shut his mouth and bowed his head to the ground.

“I said that’s enough, Huck.”

Gentle Strokes’s father stared down at the stallion and a frown creased his lips.

“You always were especially stupid,” he said, “You strut around like you’re Celestia’s gift to Equestria when all you really are is a little bit more clever than the ponies you keep company-”

“-You better check your tone, old timer-”

“-No.” He shook his head, “No, you know it and we always knew it. Your father — my wife’s sister’s husband — was nothin’ more than the town drunk, and he still is. You’re all a shameful lot, Huck. You, your father, his father-”

“-Shut up!-”

“-But even they wouldn’t have sunk so low.” He sighed, “You can try to run, to hide, the same way your father’s brother did when he killed a wing-back in a bar brawl. But Sheriff Steel will find you, or the Royal Guards, or you’ll end up dead in an alleyway, same as your uncle. I’m not gonna stop you walking out of that door, but whatever you do, don’t come back here.”

Huck stared around the room. He lifted himself off the ground, blew a snot bubble of mucus and blood onto the floor then spit on the ground.

“Buncha queers,” he muttered.

Gentle Strokes wanted to stop him but he knew his father was right. Self exile seemed his best option, carving a path through the forest in search of the next town over, and if he made it there would be no doubt a poster of his face in black and white would be hanging up in the sheriff’s office by then.

There were no trains to catch at this time of night. No friends to lean on. No family to support him.

Huck had nothing left.

It still didn’t feel right.

“You’re just gonna let him walk away?” he gawked to the entire room, hoping someone would stop Huck, or that he could will the energy to do so himself.

“It’s late, Gent,” His mother said “Sheriff Steel’s just down the way… He won’t leave Dodge Junction.”

She trailed off and something must have caught in her eye because she spent a few minutes wiping them, then sniffed, and nudged the twins on the shoulder.

“I think…”

She didn’t finish her thought. Instead, she led the twins out of the room and up the stairs to their beds. The lights to the master bedroom flicked on, then off, and just as quickly a door shut.

“Go to bed, Clem.” Her father insisted, “It’s late.”



She nodded dufily and carried herself off the same route her mother had taken.


Gentle Strokes reached a hoof to touch his father, but the older stallion brushed it away and shook his head.

“It’s late,” he mumbled, “And this has been a very long day.”

“I have to talk to you,” Gentle Strokes pleaded, “About what Huck said… about Stormy and I…”

His father shot him a look. One without any clear identifiable emotion. His brows were furrowed, his ears held back and his mouth shut tight.

“I’m going to bed.” His father announced, “I’d suggest you do the same. Or don’t…”

“But, dad…”

His father didn’t bother to answer, or even stare back, he picked himself up and when he left the room he flicked off the lights.

Gentle Strokes sat on the floor, alone, in a room without lights for a good long time, until he too picked up and carried himself up the stairs, down the hallway and through the door to his room. He flopped onto his bed on his back, stared up at the ceiling and in the dark tried to count the holes in the tiles on his ceiling until sleep would come.

Tomorrow was going to be a long day. He could feel it.


View Online


The time between crawling into bed, staring up at the ceiling, and when the sun broke the night’s sky and roosters croaked good morning to the small town of Dodge Junction passed so quickly for Gentle Strokes he almost didn’t believe it.


Dawn light hit his eyes through the cracks in his blinds, and when the roosters woke Duke from his slumber, the fat bow-legged mess of a creature that he was crushed Gentle Strokes’s waist as he leapt from the bed to the floor. Duke bolted out the open door and down the hall. The sounds of the house shaking and the wooden planks of the floor creaking beneath his paws followed Duke all the way down the stairs, through the living room and finally out onto the back porch.

Gentle Strokes hadn’t slept at all.

There were things he realized now that existed despite his best efforts to pretend they didn’t. There were going to be many ideas, concepts, truths and hardships to face that day. At the forefront of his anguish was knowing that Stormy lay in a sterilized hospital bed a twenty five minute walk away from the home that he’d spent the night was. The other was that his cousin Huck, the pony responsible, was either in the hold of a cushy jail cell in town, or, more likely, halfway to Celestia-Only-Knew in Equestria. Regardless of where he was in the physical realm, mentally, Huck would be entirely unaccountable for his actions. That much Gentle Strokes was sure of. He wished he wasn’t, but, Gentle Strokes was a pony too smart to be ignorant in this case. Huck saw what he wanted to see, and knew what he wanted to know and, it only seemed natural that after the events of last night he saw a victory in knowing that he’d put a nosy little faggot into a hospital bed.

It bothered Gentle Strokes, yes, but it was nothing on the third realization he had been playing around with in his head all night; His family knew that, just like Stormy, he himself was also very much a faggot. A homo. A queer. A cock-sucker. A colt cuddler. A stallion stuffer.


His family knew he was gay.

Gentle Strokes blinked and the world around him didn’t disappear. He tried, again, and the ceiling tiles with the tiny dotted holes, and the walls with the posters for all the bands he didn’t really listen too, and the shag-carpet with it’s uninteresting shade of grey, and all the trophies on the walls, and the medals earned, and the photos of him, and his mom, and dad, Clem and the twins, all stared back at him.


It was a selfish desire to want to shrink down in size and slip through a crack in the wall. To disappear. To hide away from all the shame, and embarrassment, and, the truth. It was the latter that he really wanted to avoid. The truth. Then again, avoiding the things in his life that meant the most really hadn’t done him too many favors in the past little while.


Floorboards in the room next to his own cracked, then the house shook, and Gentle Strokes understood this to mean that his father was up. More creaks from the opposite side of the bed and his mother was up too. A few moments of silent passed, then, something different happened. He heard muffled whispering, the kind even a glass pressed up against the wall wouldn’t let him eavesdrop on — which is why he didn’t bother. Instead he tried to imagine the conversation;

“But, darling, he’s still our son.” his mother would be saying, no doubt smiling, “Even if he’s an indecent sodomite with an unnatural lust for, well, if I’m being honest, a brutally deceitful little liar such as that ‘Stormy’ character… Who, I think, might be on ‘The Drugs.’, also. Well, surely we can’t disown him for such offensive behavior?”

“But we must, dear,” his father might have been saying, “As you know, his kind are not welcome in our lives. Nor are they in our perfect town. They’re corrupt, and disgusting. Sinful. That’s the word! Homosexuals are sinful, disgusting and corrupt creatures, and, so is our son! You know this, honey.”

“Of course, dear.” said his mother in his head. “We’ll have Sheriff Steel tighten up the gallows first thing when we get into town. That will cure our ailing son of all his troubles. Such a shame, he was such a good boy…”

Was.” his father might, perhaps, have responded with.

He was sure that after this a round of polite and curt head nods back and forth between his mother and father happened, because the whispering stopped. With them, so did Gentle Strokes’ heart for a few seconds. That was until more creaks came from the left side of his room, soft, feminine, hoof beats against the ground sounded from Clem’s room until they reached his door, which spun open slowly.

His sister’s head poked itself into the room, “Gent?”

He blinked, then nodded to her. “Mhmm?”

She invited herself inside and kicked the door closed behind her. In a few short steps she cleared the distance between the door and his bed, then, when she stood by the side of his bed, she once more made a judgement call that he wouldn’t protest against and raised herself up, crawled over the bed sheets and lay flat on her stomach beside him. She pressed her forehead against his cheek, nestled her face against his and sighed.

“Are you okay?”

No. No he was not ‘okay’. The world was trying to teach him a lesson in karmic payback by punishing the ponies he loved the most. Stormy was a victim of one of his many, many, mistakes. So was Huck, and Drought, and all the other ponies who’d had a night of their lives ruined because he was too weak willed and cowardly to own up to a mistake he never made.

“I guess,” he ended up saying into the back of her mane, “All of this feels… weird.”

She brushed his cheek with the backside of her mane, until her head shot up right and she was staring down at him. There was no burning judgement in her eyes. No sense of wanting to learn a truth about him he’d kept hidden from her. Clem wasn’t like that. She never had been, and, he could only hope, she never would be.

She leaned her face down to his and then kissed him on the forehead.

“I love you, Gent.” she said when she pulled back, “I don’t care what you think you’ve done. You’re still my brother, and I’ll always love you for of that.”

His smile to her was soft and probably didn’t do much to ease her tensions.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

She nustled her head back against him, then, when her head was next to his, she whispered. “Gent?”

He didn’t bother to turn to face her. “Yeah?”

“Is… Oh geez. Is that stuff... What Draught, and what Huck said… about Stormy…”

Her train of thought was interrupted, much to Gentle Strokes relief, when a hoof beat against the door.

Through the door that, only now, seemed much too thin to be made of the strong wood that had kept his moment alone with Stormy only a day earlier entirely private, came a masculine voice belonging to his father. “You up?”

“Shit,” Gentle Strokes groaned. “Y-yeah?”

“Come downstairs.” commanded his father’s voice, “Your mother and I… We’d like to have a few words ‘fore the others are up.”

“Shit!” Gentle Strokes snapped.

He ignored the concerned look on Clem’s face, shot upright in bed, then, just as quickly, bounced off his box frame mattress and landed with the grace of a rock into water on the hardwood floor, which shook and creaked, once more, beneath his hooves.

“You gonna be alright, Gent?”

Gentle Strokes turned to his sister, tried to smile and ended up giving her a look he was sure didn’t help ease her burden. He shrugged his shoulders, kicked a path into the carpet and tried not to look at the worry running ragged across Clem’s face.

“Dunno.” he said, and, for the first time in the last twenty plus hours of his life, felt confident in the truthfulness of an answer that he’d given to a member of his family.

For better, or, most likely — as he imagined — for worse, his parents were both waiting for him somewhere downstairs. What they said, how they said it and the lasting impact it would have on his life were just as much a mystery to him as anything else, but, at least he could count on the moral support of his sister Clementine to keep him in good faith on his trip down the stairs.

Without another word, he left his room and descended the staircase.


The first and only thing he was aware of when he woke up that gave him any comfort was that the pain in his head, legs, chest, face, hooves and back were all very much real. His first thought was that, maybe, he’d had too many drinks the night before — the taste of stale beer and whiskey in his spit certainly led him towards that assumption — and, that, maybe this was all part of the worst hangover he’d ever had in his life.

Then, when he opened his eyes, he saw the eggshell-white walls of the room he was in, and the plaster casts — unsigned — wrapped around the legs that stuck up in the air and were supported by some kind of hanging contraption he didn’t know the proper name of.

Then, memory kicked in and a wave of terrible, nasty, experiences from — he could only imagine — the night before came rolling back. Gentle Strokes. Huck. The bar. The fight — if one could even call it that?. A kick to his crotch. Another to the face...

Suddenly the pain started to make sense to him.

Stormy tried to turn his head to catch any sort of familiar site to understand where he’d woken up, but the stiff feeling and the sudden ‘snap’ that accompanied the slightest gyration of his head stopped him and made him throw the most foul curse he could conjure as loud as he could at the world around him.

He’d woken up in some truly wretched places in his life, and also in terrible states of mental condition. Nights of drinking early in his freshman year of Camden had landed him in some odd places, and, sometimes with the strong desire to beat the line at the nearest medical facility to demand, loudly, a blood test. Waking up that day beat out any number of questionable one night stands at Camden as the worst feeling in the world to Stormy.

Everything down to the fibre of his being hurt. He couldn't turn his neck. Two of his legs — upper right and lower left — were suspended in the air and wrapped tight in casts. Worstly, staring down, he realized now that there was also a thin translucent line of plastic tubing running up his left thigh, to far beneath the line of sight that the drab green hospital gown he wore provided. He rotated his pelvis as best he could, then his heart skipped at the uncomfortable feeling it provided...

There was a tube in his cock.

Stormy wanted to cry, and, trying to do so, was when he realized he’d never fully opened his left eye. He tried again but nothing happened, and he sighed then rolled his face over. Here he was, in a hospital bed, medically assisted like all the ponies at a retirement home, and now, he couldn’t even open his left eye.


Through his very much undamaged right, he made out the appearance of two electric switches attached by black cables to two separate machines. The first was a tall I.V. stand with two plastic sacks filled with translucent liquid, both of them were hooked to veins in shaved patches of fur on his right leg.

Just great.

He flipped the nozzle of one of the switches, hoping that maybe some nurse would rush into the room and explain A) where in the world of Equestria he was currently, B) Who he owed for saving him from the firing squad of Huck and all his cronies, and, C) How badly damaged his fragile little body was.

Instead, a feeling of calm surrender began to rush through him. All the hurt washed away, and so did the hate filled memories. He felt… okay. Stormy felt alright. Not great, or fantastic, but he was getting there. He pressed the button again, a wave of something nice and pleasant washed over him and then he realized what this was.

Morphine. The good kind. The same kind of stuff that Jag would rifle through medical cupboards and steal prescription pads to get his greedy little hooves on. Only now, it was helping him come to terms with himself.

Jag would have loved it.

Stormy laid his stiff neck and bandaged head back as best he could against the soft pillow, he wiggled his waist until he felt comfortable enough with his position, and shut his right eye. Maybe it was the morphine, or maybe it was something else, but he didn’t feel so bad right now. Things were bad, no doubt, but they could have always been worse.

He drew his dopey gaze from his chest towards the far side of the room where a curious site stood; a solid oak dresser — finely crafted if he were being honest — with a full body mirror hanging overtop of it. He stared at it, tilted his head and opened up his good eye as best he could to catch sight of his reflection.

Stormy felt sick to his stomach at what he saw.

The thing lying in bed — which he hated to try to fathom as being himself — looked frail and borderline lifeless. His grey fur was matted, with some of it twisted up into ugly lumps with spots where there was no fur at all, only his pinkish skin and thick, black, train track markings that he knew to be patchwork done by the hooves of a clearly skilled surgeon. A large part of his upper head was bald, scarred and ugly. Spots across his chest too, and, from what he could tell, there were most likely more along his legs and back.

His stomach turned and, even with the morphine, he felt sick again. He wanted a bucket, a vestibule, something to be sick into. He looked ugly, weak and disgusting. He looked worse than any homeless pony he’d ever stepped over in the streets and back alleys of Manehattan. Worse than Jag did after a weekend of feeding his impulses. Worse than his mother looked when she’d been laying in a hospital bed and dying.

Laying his head back, he swallowed hard, shut his good eye tight and waited for what came next. If he was lucky — and, so far all signs pointed the other way on that end — maybe he could pump some more legally allowed drugs into his veins, doze off and wake up for real in a world where he wasn’t an ugly, mutilated, borderline-cripple who’d just suffered the beating of a lifetime.

He waited.

And waited...

Little sheep with fur like clouds leapt over a gate in his mind, one after another, but nothing much came of it. A calm came over him. Left. Panic, then, nothing but an empty feeling. He counted more sheep, tried not to think about Gentle Strokes, his cousin Hucklebuck, all the hooves crashing into him, and all the decisions he’d made last night that had led him to this moment.

He couldn’t stop thinking. Gentle Strokes was out there in the wide world of Equestria, doing something. Probably beating himself up, doting on all his failures, feeling shitty about the situation. Hucklebuck, and all the other ponies with him, were probably cackling evilly, twirling the tips of the fur around their mouths like moustachioed villains in terrible silent films about putting the boots to a little queer.

Did anyone even know he was in the hospital? Did Strokes? Did Jag? Did Blue, or his dad, or Saul, or Mocha, or that kid White Mane, and his friend Piper, and all their queer friends? Did any of his professors back at Camden hold a minute of silence for his condition?

Did it matter?

How long had he been in the hospital? That was another good question. Also, what were the permanent and non-permanent terms of his condition? The bandages wrapped around his head and eye made him wonder if there could be severe brain damage he wasn’t aware of? The casts on his legs made him worry he’d never dance again. The plastic tube in his johnson made him worry about the health of his ‘Lil’ Stormy’ downstairs.

He opened his eye again and scanned the medical equipment. Somewhere, in the field of tangled cords, blinking green and red lights and beeping machinery, was a switch that would bring someone with a little more medical knowledge than himself into the room. Anyone would have been nice. A fresh faced nurse who’d gawk at the sight of him and the idea of having to — most likely — give him a sponge bath and change his pissing pot later on in their lives, or, perhaps a doctor who graduated from Coltlumbia who he could lament his problems with.

He found a switch attached to a simple box shaped device that hung from the side of his bed like an unattached testicle. He didn’t hesitate to grab at it with his one good upper leg, flip the switch twice — if only to be absolutely sure that he’d be heard — and wait a few minutes to see who answered his beckoning call.

The soft pitter patter of hooves stepping against floorboards filled his ears, then, a minute after, the door to the room swung open, lights were flipped on and a scrappy, elder looking Unicorn decked out in medical garb stood in the doorway. He had a forced and clearly faux smile spread across his muzzle as he stared at Stromy, as if, somehow, the sight didn’t repulse him quite like it should have. Stormy appreciated the effort on his part.

“Hello.” he said.

Stormy nodded back, then shuffled in the bed.

“How are we feeling this morning?”

What a stupid question. Honestly. Bedside manner certainly wasn’t this doctor’s specialty. If he’d cared to answer Stormy would have told him to shove it, but, the notion that his life might be later placed into the careful hold of this pony’s hooves and that this offense might encourage a decision to, perhaps, accidentally slip up and take his life overcame him and instead of giving a mean glare or curt comment, he put on a smile.

“Peachy.” said Stormy to the doctor. “Really peachy.”

It was the first time he’d heard himself speak all day and he hated the sound; it was raspier than usual, as if he not only smoked cigarettes but ate them and chased them with a nice glass of razorblades and jagged metal shrapnel. Raspy, crackling and ugly.

The doctor opened his mouth to speak, took another look at Stormy and then quickly closed it. He took a few steps into the room, pulled a chair across the floor so that it squealed, stopped it just before the bed and took his seat. He stared blankly at Stormy, trying hard not to make eye contact, while he flipped through the pages of a clipboard he held using his magic.

“Your bedside manner sucks.” Stormy grunted. “Seriously.”

The doctor’s lips lifted upwards in a smile. “I’ve been told.” He set the clipboard down on Stormy’s lap, lifted a pen from it and then floated it before his face, “It’s nice to see you awake. Sincerely. I wasn’t expecting you to be up for some time.”

“Great,” Stormy said, “Really, I’m just glad to be here.”

The doctor sighed. “I suppose you must be feeling a little… overwhelmed. I should introduce myself.”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

“I’m Doctor Toboggan.” he said, putting on a jovial smile where pride shone across his face. “I’m the local physician here in Dodge Junction.”

Stormy huffed a breath between his pursed lips and shook his head. “Riveting.”

The doctor’s smile fell down his face.

Stormy ignored any sense of concern he had for the doctor. For all he knew, considering how small Dodge Junction was, there was a likelihood that he knew, or was closely related, to one of the ponies who put him in the bed in the first place. “How long have I been… out of it?”

“Twelve hours or so,” said Doctor Toboggan. “I suppose you’d probably care to hear the full story?”

He thought about it for a second; did he really need a technical breakdown of events he’d lived through. Afterall, he’d experienced the entire ordeal first-hoof. He, and he alone, had suffered every blow, every kick, jab, stomp, thrashing and then the blackout.

“No… not really,” Stormy answered, “just… uh... is Strokes...er, um… this guy named Gentle Strokes? Is he doing okay?”

At this, the doctor’s friendly smile picked up his cheeks. If Stormy’s words had offended him earlier, he didn’t show it now. The slate was wiped clean. He looked, happy, which, was surprising since he was alone in a room with a pony as bitter and jaded as Stormy was in that moment.

“Yes, he’s quite fine.” The doctor assured, “Actually, he spent some time visiting you last night. He was quite insistent that your condition was stable before he left.”

Stormy’s heart fluttered and he felt his cheeks grow hot. He tried to hide this from Doctor Toboggan by turning his head. He didn’t know which side of the great political divide Toboggan’s door swung. From his most recent encounter with Dodge Junction’s residents, it wouldn’t surprise him in the least if he thought that he might have queerer yearnings than other ponies and take offense.

“T-thanks,” Stormy mumbled, finding the strength to turn to the doctor, “I’m sorry about being such a dick.”

“It’s understandable,” said Doctor Toboggan, “You’ve suffered well beyond the realm I’ve seen in some time, and I’d have been more than livid if I were in your place.”

Stormy’s right leg twitched and brought a grimaced look across his face. Pain shot up his leg, to his neck, then to his head and he tried hard not to show it, but faltered and gave a whimper. Doctor Toboggan’s features softened.

“How bad is it?” Stormy asked the doctor. “I feel like shit. The morphine’s helping a bit, but…”

He wasn’t entirely sure how to finish his thought, so he didn’t.

“I have both good news, and bad,” explained the doctor, “Which would you prefer?”

“Surprise me.”

“As far as I can tell, your injuries are mostly treatable. As you can see, you’ve fractured two legs. The casts are aesthetic. They’re only there to keep them stiff and in place while they heal, but, I’m quite confident that you will walk… in time.”

Stormy swallowed.

“You had rather severe lacerations across your body. I did have to shave parts to get at the wounds. The scarring, now, is quite unattractive, but, once the fur grows back… well, they’ll be hidden and…”

Stormy’s eyes wandered to the mirror where he again made the mistake of staring at himself in the mirror. When he was four, or five, and things hadn’t been so awful for him, he caught a late night showing of Flankenstein with his mom, dad and Blue. When he’d finished drawing obvious parallels between himself and the prosthetic makeup put on Boris Coltloff — as Flankenstein’s Monster — he saw the bandages around his head again.

“The, uh… my eye?” he asked, quietly.

Doctor Toboggan cleared his throat, “Yes, well, there was severe damage to your optic nerves as well as your skull. I managed to treat both as best as I could, and... I’m only as skilled as I am, so, of course-”

The doctor stopped to clear his throat and Stormy thought that a bad sign. If this pony had a degree in the medical field, and he was hesitant to diagnose and discuss the injuries present on one of his patients, he was either A) A lackluster physician, or, B) Stormy was in much worse shape than he thought.

Neither option gave him much in the way of cool comfort.

“Is it really bad?” Stormy asked, searching the doctor’s eyes.

“Quite.” answered Doctor Toboggan.

Stormy didn’t try to imagine what he must have looked like under all the gauze and crimson soaked bandages.

“The good news,” Doctor Toboggan said, possibly trying to lighten the blow, or, possibly with legitimate good news, “Is that there doesn’t seem to be severe trauma to your skull. From what I can tell you’re showing no signs of major brain damage.”

“Fun,” said Stormy.

“It’s a start.” said Doctor Toboggan “Now. This is more touch and go, and quite honestly it’s something to worry for in the future, but, once the casts are off of your legs and you’re mobile again, well, there might well be some severe nerve damage to your upper left leg. Here, let me just-”

He levitated the pen with magic. It floated through the air, stopping just before Stormy’s left upper leg, then, shot towards the open fur and flesh not wrapped in a cast and prodded the fur and flesh.

Stormy felt none of it.

Doctor Toboggan sighed. “Oh, dear.”

Stormy swallowed hard.

This did not bode well. Not well at all…

“So…” Stormy sighed, “That’s not good?”

“No,” the good doctor said. He rolled his tongue under his upper lip, until it poked through his left cheek, then under his lower lip, the right cheek, then his mouth opened again. “Not at all.”

Great. Wonderful. Stupendous. Stormy could only imagine what came next.

“I have… one last thing.” said Doctor Toboggan, shaking his head as if he were unsure how to break the next heartache to Stormy. “It’s quite troubling. Please understand, there’s quite a bit of wiggle room for recovery here, and, it’s not written in stone. It could very well be that I’m wrong, again, only time can tell, but, well, you should brace yourself for it, and-”

“Just say it.”

“You received, at some point in your night, a quite severe blow to your… erm…”

He motioned with the pen towards the hose attached to Stormy’s crotch and Stormy suddenly found himself chewing his lower lip.

“A-and that means that?”

“It’s quite possible, and, again, I could be wrong, but there might be nerve damage to your… unmentionables which will most likely lead to complications in terms of… intimacy.”

The doctor said the word ‘intimacy’ with such an uncomfortable, robotic and and hushed tone of voice that Stormy almost felt like he could laugh off the notion that a kick to his cock and balls had been hard enough to render him — most likely from the doctor’s admittal — either infertile, or, most likely, dead, unresponsive, dangling weights. In no easy terms to admit to himself, it did appear that he was now to spend the rest of his life as a eunuch with the good parts still attached as a token to their former glory.

As if his day wasn’t bad enough.

Stormy’s good hoof grabbed for the release of medical grade painkiller under the stealth of the covers and he tapped as hard as he could the switch until he was sure he was going to be okay hearing this information. The second that feeling of warmth washed over him he reassesed his situation; His good looks were for the most part gone, and his often praised and never doubted sexual prowess seemed to be going with them, but at least he wasn’t retarded.

The doctor was still speaking. His mouth was moving but all that came out were strange noises that Stormy — or his drug addled brain — didn’t exactly feel like putting into properly formed sentences. Words he understood would slip in. ‘Erectile’ and ‘Dysfunction’ were words he got, so were ‘Pills’, ‘Surgery’, ‘Assisted’ and ‘Pumps’, but the rest of it was gibberish to him. He didn’t want to hear these silly words. Not anymore. He was tired, the room was spinning and he closed his better eye until blackness swallowed him up.

Hopefully, if he was lucky and the powers that be were smiling on him, when he woke up Strokes would be where Doctor Toboggan was sitting, with a box in his lap and Hucklebuck’s head inside of it.

After a few blinks of his eye, a turn of his head from one side to the other and a yawn, he dozed off and started to count sheep again.


The clock in the corner of the room chimed. The second hand ticked away while the minute hand and the hour hand stood motionless. It was too early for anyone in the room to want to discuss this, and yet, here they were; Gentle Strokes, his father and his mother.

His father cleared his throat and then his mother made it her mission to excuse herself and bring refreshments for the company in the room. Her departure forced an uneasy silence to become admitted by the company in the room. Father looked to son, who forced a smile, then hunched his shoulders and nestled himself further into the hold that the couch had over him.

His father took the opportunity to speak.

“Last night.” He said, uneasily. His voice took on a softer tone than usual.

Gentle Strokes cocked his head to the side and lifted up his eyebrows, “Mhmm?”

He couldn’t feel his leg shake but was made aware of it by the sound his hoof made beating against the hardwood floor. He was doing an interval of almost thirty taps a minute, and when he raised his hoof to touch his leg, he realized that too was shaking.

He thought about Stormy, swallowed, then tried to stop his trembling body.

“Last night.” his father repeated, “Was a hard time. For all of us.”


“But, your mother and I, we… discussed some… issues we had. Twice. Before we slept and again after we woke up, and…Oh, hells!” he stopped, rubbed his temples with his hooves then threw his face towards the kitchen, “Sweet, dear, could you put down the drinks and come talk to our son?”

Like a dog, his mother stepped into the room carrying a shaking tray with coffee mugs. She was smiling, wore an apron and set the tray down on the coffee table. She didn’t want to be here. His father didn’t want to be here. Gentle Strokes really didn’t want to be here.

And, yet, here they were…

His mother sat beside him on the couch and put her hooves on his lap. His father stared at him from his spot in the arm-chair across from him. Gentle Strokes swallowed a wad of saliva down his throat when he realized exactly what this specific conversation was going to be about, and, that he didn’t have anything but the truth left to give up to his parents.

“We… were all a bit fired up last night,” said his mother, lifting her hoof to his shoulder and rubbing his sore and tense muscles, “And, well, things were said… from and about certain ponies-”

“-Accusations.” Insisted his father.

“Yes,” said his mother, nodding, “Accusations were made… about… perhaps, other ponies, who were also in and out of our home, and, we’d just like to ask you about these accusations. Just so that we can all iron out some of the wrinkles?”

Gentle Strokes leaned forwards and grabbed a coffee mug from the table, brought it to his lips and hoped that the coffee might just be hot enough to burn his tongue so that when the sentence ‘It’s all true! I am a sodomite in a torrid love affair with another stallion who was beaten for his differing sexuality’ came out of his mouth, it might not make any sense to the room. He took a sip. No luck. The coffee was only lukewarm. Weighed down with too much cream and not enough sugar.

It was worth the effort at least.

“What your mother is saying,” his father began to explain, “Is that… some of these accusations were serious and, concerning, to your mother and I, and we’d really just like to-”

“Say it?”

Gentle Strokes drew back to reality and was surprised to find that it was himself saying these words. His parents looked at him, only, he didn’t bow his head or try to hide his shame.

His father raised an eyebrow, “What?”

“I know what you’re trying to say. What you want to ask me. Can we just… can we stop half assing this? Can we all just stop trotting over eggshells?”

His mothers eyes turned soft and wet. His father’s, hard as rocks. Gentle Strokes finished his coffee, set the glass down then leaned back in his seat and made an effort to look at both of his parents before he spoke again.

“Just ask me.”

“Son, I really think you should consider what-”

“Just say it,” Gentle Strokes grunted, “It’s what you both want to do.”

“Gent, dear, we just want you to be happy, and, absolutely certain that you’re doing the right thing, and-”

“Just. Ask. Me.” he forced out, then blinked his eyes and turned to his parents. There was a softness on his face, he was sure from the pleading look reflected back to him from his mother, and the attempt at one from his father, that he was giving his parents something akin to kindness and reprieve “Please...”

His mother looked to his father. Him back at her. His father lifted his hoof, stroked it under his chin and shook his head. He looked pained. As if, somehow, he couldn’t find the energy inside of him to ask his oldest son, heir to the family name, fortune and, up until this moment, the one who would carry on the legacy, if he was in fact a homosexual who stood only to oppose him and his desires.

“Is it true?” asked his mother from his left side, “What Huck said? About you and that boy Stormy?”

She said the name like she was saying a curse in a sacred place. Quietly and hushed, almost to the point where she worried it was cursed itself. Her eyes were wet and soft and leaked down her cheeks. He turned away to stare at his father and regretted it in an instant. His father looked hard. Mean almost. Any and all humor, or compassion for the situation seemed to be lost on him. This made Gentle Strokes uncomfortable.

It was now, or live the rest of his life continuously hurting himself and others.

“Yeah.” he said, finding the strength to smile at them. “It is.”

His father’s hooves hit the ground. Glasses, wine cups and the mugs on the coffee table all shook as he stood up in his seat. The look on his face was one that Gentle Strokes was unfamiliar with; it wasn’t resentment, or, acceptance. He knew those two looks. It wasn’t pride, or shame, it was blank. A face devoid of any clear emotion.

“I don’t believe it,” said his father, shaking his face without breaking the blank and stunned look, “I…,” He turned to his son, smiling back at him, and shook his head some more. “Gent, you realize what we’re asking you, right? And what you’re telling us?”

Gentle Strokes nodded his head with a practiced obedience. “I do.”

“You’re telling us, your mother and I, that you’ve had some kind of… relationship with that pony?”


His father’s brow dropped down his face, and his lips curled back into a look of uncertain disgust. As if, somehow, his father was struggling with where exactly to place his contempt and anger; at Stormy, for converting his boy, at Gentle Strokes, for being dumb enough to be seduced by a stallion, or himself for not raising him well enough to learn to steer clear of gay advances.

“Look,” said Gentle Strokes, “I know this has gotta be hard to take in. Believe me. I wanted to tell you for months, and-”

“For months?” his father repeated, snarling, “You’ve been like... this for months and you didn’t try to get help? You didn’t talk to anyone? For Celestia’s sake, Gent, your tuition covered mental health! You could have seen a shrink about this!”


His mother touched his shoulder and stopped him from getting up and making a scene. He hadn’t expected much from coming out, or, if he had, it hadn’t exactly been this moment he was living now.

“Gent,” his father sighed, “I don’t… I don’t know what to say to this.”

“To what?” he squeaked in a voice so soft and low he was hardly sure he’d said anything at all, until his father and mother looked on at him. “It’s not… Dad, this isn’t… There’s nothing wrong with any of this. There really isn’t. Stormy’s great! You’ll see! It’s not weird. It’s different, yeah, but, you’ll see it’s not that bad. It isn’t even bad! And-”

“I don’t think I want to hear this,” said his father, sighing and rubbing his temples. “I don’t think I can. Not today.”

“Dad, come on,” Gentle Strokes said, sniffing before he knew he’d done it. “I’m not… different. I’m really not. I just like a colt, and, so what? You met him. And, you liked him before you knew he was gay, right? So, what’s the big deal?”

His father sniffed the air and aimed his head towards his wife. Passively asking her through body language about her thoughts.

If anyone was going to speak to his defense on the matter, well, it was going to be Clementine he imagined. But, she was upstairs, and, so, his second best option presented herself as his mother.

“Grey, maybe you just need some time to think about this?”

His father nodded, rolled his tongue around in his mouth then stared impassively at his son, who was so shrunken into the couch it was practically gobbling him whole. He stared at his wife, met her soft, imploring eyes with his hard ones, then gave a sigh. Low and heavy.

“Gent,” he said, “I can’t say this is something I was expecting to hear in my life. Honestly. I’m… just not sure how I feel about it. I thought I knew you. I thought we knew each other...”

“We do!” Gentle Strokes pleaded, slamming his hooves onto the ground, “I’m the same! The exact same! I’m still your son! Why should it matter?”

“Kids,” his father answered, “Kids. Grandkids. The family name. I just… I really don’t know what to make of all this.”

Before Gentle Strokes had time to offer a suggestion in regards to the Equestrian Adoption process, or, how through magic anything was virtually possible, his father had turned on his hooves and now faced the doorway, away from his son. It would be a feeble grasp for straws to say much more, Gentle Strokes realized. Time was something his father needed. Time away from his gay son.

When his father left the room he didn’t utter a word. He walked through the open arches of the living room, down the hall, through the front door and then it slammed shut behind him. He was gone, leaving Gentle Strokes and his mother alone in a room with an air of uncomfortable tension between them.

Gentle Strokes felt her hoof on his leg and another wrap around his shoulder, until she pulled his body sideways against her. He sighed, his chest raised and lowered, then she pulled his head against her shoulder and let him take a rest against her.

“Give him some time,” she said, stroking his mane with the tip of her hoof, “You know how your father is. Set about his ways.”

“What about you?” Gentle Strokes asked, “Are you… okay with this?”

“Gent,” she said, “You’re my son. You always will be. If you killed a pony and were locked up for it you’d still be my son. I can’t say I fully understand this... side of you, and, I’m hurt that you didn’t feel comfortable coming to me and your father with it, but, well… you’re still my baby boy.”

How very vague of an answer.

He couldn’t imagine what came next. The hard part was over. He was no longer trapped deep enough in the metaphorical closet to find Hearth’s Warming Eve presents. He was out now. Free. His family — for the most part — knew about his sexual orientation and there was liberation in that. Still, something felt wrong about the scenario.

“I think I need to visit him,” said Gentle Strokes. “Just to see how he’s doing.”

His mother nodded her head. She understood. Even if she didn’t understand what Stormy meant to him, she still understood that the bond existed and there was nothing she could do or say to throw him off of the idea.

That was that.


His opiated nap ended far too quick for his liking. By the time he blinked his good eye awake Stormy came to realize that no amount of painkillers in Equestria would make him comfortable to the realization that he was still very much the victim of a hate crime. He was coated with a layer of dried sweat that stunk and matted his fur together. The drugs were wearing off now and with them leaving brought on a wave of angst, fear, hurt and disgust he hadn’t felt in a long time.

He didn’t want to admit that this was all real and that the things that had happened to him had lasting consequences beyond his control. Most of all, he didn’t want to be there, laying in a sanitized hospital bed feeling sorry for himself.

A knock came at the door and Stormy prayed for good news. Maybe Doctor Toboggan could ease the burden and share some of his sorrowful feelings?

A furry brown head with a golden wind swept mane and the most heart-meltingly sweet smile that Stormy had ever seen poked through the open doorway.

Or maybe it would be the colt he loved?

Gentle Strokes stepped into the room the way he would if he were walking across a glass floor. He took broad, soft and steps through the doorway all the way to the side of the bed that Stormy lay in. His smile picked up when he noticed the colt in the bed had been watching him the entire time.

“Hey,” said Gentle Strokes.

“Hey,” said Stormy.

From where he stood, Gentle Strokes reached a hoof sideways to grab a chair that sat just beside the hospital bed. He pulled it across the floor, it screeched, then he set it down and made himself comfortable. Not once, however, did he take his longing gaze off of the pony laying in the bed before him.

When he was sitting, he raised his upper legs up again and rested them flat against Stormy’s chest, then bowed his head to the bed until it sat just atop Stormy’s chest. Stormy raised his leg and ran a hoof across Gentle Strokes’s cheek.

“I think I know what you mean by that ‘Southern Hospitality’ stuff you were talking about?” Stormy said, craning his neck left until it made a soft ‘snap’ and he winced.

Gentle Strokes let out a quiet huff of air that brushed aside fur on Stormy’s chest up to his neck. “Stormy…”

Stormy brushed his hoof across Gentle Strokes’s cheek and rubbed him along the head. The colt purred, then sighed and huffed another breath of air across Stormy’s chest.

“I’m sorry, Stormy,” he cried, softly, “I’m so, so, sorry. I didn’t know... I didn’t think Huck, or any of those guys… I…”

The hoof in his mane ran down his back again.

“If I wasn’t such a coward!” Gent spat against Stormy’s chest, “If I had… If I just had a little more backbone! I could have stopped this! If I wasn’t such a spineless little shithead, I-”

Stormy gripped the base of his neck and gave him a firm tug against the flesh. Gentle Strokes yelped and Stormy was grinning again.

“Don’t be like that,” Stormy said, chuckling, “I’m not… I don’t hate you for this. I couldn’t if I wanted too.”

He dragged his hoof through the back of his mane until it sat beside his face then turned his face so they stood staring eye-to-eye. Gentle Strokes blinked the wetness out of his own eyes.

“I told my folks,” he said, blinking more drops out of his eyes.

Stormy lifted a brow. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Gentle Strokes, sniffing, “They…” he stopped to sigh and rubbed his face into Stormy’s chest. “I don’t think it went the way I wanted it to go.”

Stormy’s hoof brushed the underside of his chin and up against his cheek.

“You’re still here right?” Stormy asked.

“Yeah,” said Gentle Strokes, “I’m still here.”

The Weight

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The Weight

There was a chill in the air that bit at the tip of his good ear. His hooves sank into the mud beneath him with each step he took, and the inconvenience of digging himself out of it slowed his once quick pace to an almost immediate halt. Still, he trudged on, carrying his weight and the extra weight that the mud stuck to his hooves afforded him. Each step was one too few, it seemed. There were a few scarce hours before sunrise and by then it would be too late to escape; when the sun came up, Hucklebuck reminded himself he was as good as dead if he was anywhere close to Dodge Junction.

Onwards he marched.

Less than eight hours ago he’d been introduced to an unabashed, unashamed and impolite homosexual named Stormy. Three hours after that he’d had a drink with that very same pony. Thirty minutes after that he was putting the boots to him. Now, just hours after all that unpleasantness was behind him, Huck had just recently been disowned by his family, five minutes after that he’d made a narrow escape off the premises of said family’s homestead to avoid the wrathful gazes and, worse than that, punishing clutches of Sheriff Steel and his deputy. Steel was an older pony, not fit to be a bloodhound. Nashville — his deputy — too young to disobey orders, so when Huck high tailed it into the woods with a curse for the both of them fresh off his tongue, neither took after him. If he knew Sheriff Steel, and, Huck was a pony who knew every Dodge Junction resident, he knew that the old, washed out law enforcer would let him run until morn, where he’d send a letter to all the other sheriffs in all the other towns in all the other corners of Equestria.

That was fine by Huck. In an hour, maybe two, he’d clear the stretch of trees, mud, leaves and dead grass and be free. The mud slowed him, yes, and, he wasn’t one hundred percent confident that he was still traveling exactly north by northwest, but, that didn't’ matter. Those were trivial aspects of his escape.

A rock, or a branch, something exceptionally sturdy, emerged as he took another gallop forwards. Whatever it was that Huck stepped on, it was an object sharp enough to tear past the rough calloused exterior of his left frontmost hoof, break skin and establish itself in him. With a pitiful howl he doubled over head first and landed, ass first, into an extra wet and miserable smelling muddy, murky and sopping puddle.

“Son of a bitch!” Huck shrieked, rhetorically, as none were around to hear it and the thing he cursed at was in fact an inanimate object. He thrashed about for a minute, firing his hoof at every tree branch and dead leaf he could, until he realized all it stood to do was make him angrier and dirtier. He was a mess by his own admittance, soaked in sweat at first, and now, drenched with mud.

Where was good fortune when he needed it?

He needed a cigarette.

Picking himself up, wiping mud from his legs, shaking the wet dirt from his ass and then gathering his wits, Huck grunted. He was ass backwards (all but literally). He couldn’t rightly recall which way was north, south, west or east. Respectively. He was all shook up. That pitiful brain of his thumped in his head. All the trees looked the exact same, and, to make matters worse, his hoof hurt something awful.

This was how it ended. He was sure of that. Here, alone, bleeding out in the forest behind the Strokes homestead, with a town cursing his name and with a taste for his blood on their collective tongue. And for what? For Stormy? That annoyingly smart-mouthed, sharp witted, faggot? No, no, no. Not now. Not ever. There was no sacrifice too small for that queer. Least of all Huck’s very precious life.

Repulsion took over. He spat at the ground by his bleeding left hoof, shouted a few dozen curses into the air and decided that, no, he wasn’t in fact going to give up. If he was going to die, and everypony did have to at some point or another, he wasn’t going to die like this; cold and alone. No sir. Not a chance. Not now and not ever.

Like a thousand times before in his life, Hucklebuck found an inner strength and pushed on. He walked forwards. Wherever that lead. It didn’t matter. As soon as he got out of this Goddess-Forsaken-Forest he could get his bearings right after that. Apploooza, or Mud Skip Creek, or River Run, any of those shithole towns would make a grand new home. Yes sir. Giving up was not an option.

With a limp in his step, Huck trotted on. Dawn was coming. Shades of dark blue broke the dull black of night. In an hour, maybe two, there’d be just enough sunlight that he could figure out his direction, but, until then he was content carrying himself forwards.

Step after step, broken tree branch after crushed pile of dead yellow and brown leaves, Huck carried himself through the forest as best as he could manage. The rock, or piece of broken glass (whatever it was) that had lodged itself into his hoof hurt something fierce; just the same, the wound on his ear had re-opened. Every so often, when the dehydration set in, and the sting in his throat got to be too much, he’d lick his lips and taste blood, or sweat, or sometimes both.


He kept his pace. Each step hurt. His body was sore all over, especially in places he didn’t know a pony could hurt. His back, his thighs, his calves, shoulders, neck, hooves. All of it. Everything on his body hurt after the third, or fourth, or fifth hour of the aimless trotting he’d been doing

Sweat mixed with blood and ran down his face until it caught in the corners of his mouth and he had to spit up. His neck cracked when he turned his head to the sky. Pale blue daylight had broken through the black, finally, and with it, Huck could ever-so-faintly make out what looked like his exit. A small clearing, where the trees were thinner and he could see past them, called out to him. With a smile and a second wind, Huck took off. It didn’t matter what was past the clearing, that was a Future Huck problem, right now all that mattered was getting out of that Sombra-Forsaken forest and getting his bearings, figuratively, if not in the literal as well.

Huck wasn’t more than ten paces out of the forest before he doubled over onto his side and clutched his aching, muscular, chest. Years of smoking certainly had taken their toll on him. His chest burned and his lungs felt as black, cancerous and tumour filled as he was sure they were. Raising his head he was met with all the relief he’d need. Train tracks. No more than a few dozen feet from him and stretching as far as his eye could see to his left and to his right.

Train tracks were good and all, but the cherry on top was finding the small maintenance shack and an abandoned, or otherwise unused, handcar.

A smile, devious and crooked, crawled up his cheeks as he made his way towards them. It didn’t matter how bad he hurt, or how thirsty he was, or even that he was—by now most likely—a wanted fugitive. With a few bottles of water, a handcar and determination in his heart he could make it to Tartarus and back.

Which was what he set out to do.

He made it to the shack. Even from the outside he could tell all he’d find inside was a dilapidated mess of whatever passed for it’s former glory. The floorboards creaked and cracked under his step, the oak wood of the door had grown old and was flushed with rot, mould and mildew, and the place smelt like something had died and rotted inside of it.

If he was lucky there might be a bottle of whiskey or rum next to the corpse of what smelt like a Diamond Dog who’d shit his self right before he died.

He opened the door and took in a nasty scene: on the floor, centre of the room, lay the dead decaying body of a donkey with his stomach caved in from starvation and maggots crawling across what was left of his fur and flesh.

How cheerful.

Next to the body was a gaslight lamp, a sleeping bag, pillows and a few empty cans of beans and ravioli. Beside that the only thing of any real value; a half empty mason jar of clear moonshine. Huck stepped over the body and searched the rest of his surroundings. The place was a nesting ground of spiders, spider webs, roaches, maggots and all other sorts of Equestria’s nastier creatures. There were empty beer cans on the floor, beside stomped out cigarette butts. Cans of paint thinner, brushes, screws and lightbulbs were the only things of borderline value on the shelves in the room, save for the one transit map with intricately detailed information of the area. This, and the jar of moonshine, were the only things that Huck took.

His throat still sore, his lips cracked, vision fading just the slightest, Huck unscrewed the lid of the jar and took a sip. Not to get drunk, but just to have something in his stomach. It wasn’t water, it tasted worse than licking the floor at The Great Ball of Fire and when his head got so light he had to take a step backwards to steady himself he realized he needed water more than a bottle of homemade swill.

He looked over the map. He was a good stretch out of Dodge Junction and far past where Sheriff Steel’s law extended. In fact, he was a good deal of distance away from anything civilized. He was flat dab in the middle of Nowhere, Western Equestria.


Without water he was sure to die, and, according to the map anywhere he could find water, food and shelter was too far away for him to make it in a day. There were tiny dots on the map, that, if he were lucky, signified houses, or farms, because the closet one was less than a half day away. With the handcart he could make it there in three or four hours.

His luck was turning around. Slowly but surely.

He folded the map and put it into the pocket of his coat, then the moonshine, then he left behind the corpse and got onto the handcart. The metal had rusted, and the lugs were either too loose or too tight in a lot of places, but after a few pumps — flaunting muscles that were well past sore — and a few curses, Huck was on his way.


Thirty miles down the ‘whatever’ road of train tracks and Huck was feeling the full effects of an unable body up against an encouraging mind. He had only a few more miles before salvation showed it’s face in the form of a farmhouse, and still the pang of thirst, coupled with the beating sun of of midday heat on the lonesome prairie were holding him back. Every pump to the handcar was an exhausting affair. His throat felt so tight and dry he was surprised he could even breath, and worse than that he stunk so bad of sweat that he wished he could cut his nose off.

Everything hurt. Everything was terrible, but, in a few minutes he’d be done, either in the metaphorical, as in, he’d be offered good food,cold water, a warm bed and comfort, or in the literal, as in, he’d be dead.

It didn’t matter.

He’d been at it for hours, as far as he could tell. Without a sundial, or a watch, or any instrument of tracking time it was hard to say for sure just how long he’d been pushing his little handcart down the track, but, the sweltering heat from the sun overhead, and the stink of sweat that had enveloped him made him think it had been for half a day. At least.

The sun beat down on him like he owed it money. His coat hung heavy, too heavy, and each time he raised or lowered the handcart’s pump he felt like vomiting. His guts hurt. His chest felt worse. Not a single fibre of his didn’t want to be doing this anymore than another. The scenery around him made him sick. It was nothing but cacti, cows grazing, dust, sand and rocks for as far as the eye could see. Just like it had been for as long as it had been since he started.

Huck realized then and there that this might just be how and where he died, and the thought made him want to scream.

Everything was Stormy’s fault. Really. Things had been absolutely normal before he’d arrived, same as they always were; Gent was back, his workload had been cut down to a slack four shifts a week from his usual eight to ten pre-Gentle Strokes return days, he had enough money in his pocket to always afford a good time, and, most importantly, he wasn’t a wanted fugitive in the eyes of the law.

Then Stormy had to show up and ruin it all.

If he had the spit left in him to do it, he’d have hurled a loogie as far across the desert as he could to spite the pony’s name. Stormy. The homo. The spoiled rich kid from Manehattan who’d brainwashed his entire family into believing, truly and honestly, that there was no shame to be had in being a sinful, disgusting little creature of Celestia’s design.

Past the disgust, thinking about Stormy also brought a cruel little smirk to his cracked, blooded lips. Somewhere, back home in Dodge Junction, a twisted up, mangled, wreck of a pony lay in some gutter, drenched in piss, bleeding and crying. When they found him — if they ever did — and when they patched him up — again, if, — he would always be that scared little pony for as long as it took him to kill himself after he woke up.

A thought like that deserved a drink.

He raised the mason jar of moonshine up to his lips and took a swig. It burned going down, and almost made him want to hurl, but it didn’t take long before he felt warm and fuzzy on the inside. Warm, fuzzy, proud and with a renewed sense of self worth. He was HUCK. He was going to make it.

A flat, one sided, hardwood billboard stuck out in the desert like a whore in a chapel. Worn down as it was, it advertised, brazenly ‘Stillwater Dairy’ in colourful lettering, with the words ‘Next ten miles’.

Celestia, in her infinite wisdom, was truly a kind and benevolent ruler.


It felt like only a blink between the first billboard for Stillwater Diary, then the second, third, and, now, finally, as the handcart, with it’s rusted frame, came to a screeching halt at the end of the turn off, Huck could hardly even believe he’d made it.

Not long ago, on his approach to the farm, the desert had turned to tender green grass — for pasteurizing and grazing cows, he imagined — and the feel of each of those tiny green blades touching against his hard fetlocks was like sweet, merciful ambrosia. The air wasn’t dense anymore. There were trees, plants, bushes, shrubbery. All manner of signs of life were present here, which meant, more than anything, there was water here.

When his eyes fell on the brickstone well that stood in the midst of a field just before a farmhouse and the two separate barns, Huck could have died happy.

Dashing forwards, he cleared the distance in no time and was throwing himself against the stones, grabbing a rope that hung from the roof of the well and pulling upwards a heavy bucket of, what he could only imagine to be, ice cold water.

Celestia bless him.

When the bucket came up, and he saw it filled to the brim, Huck dunked his head into the bucket and drank in as much as he could, and then more after that. HeE drank until he couldn’t anymore, and then he dumped the rest on his back, threw back his wet mane and tossed the bucket down the well for a second helping.

“Take your hooves off the well, stand up, and turn around to face me. Slowly.”

It came from behind him, and scared the utter shit out of him when it did. A mare was talking to him — ordering him, more accurately. Her voice was hard, without a hint of anxiousness or nervousness about her.

Huck swallowed.

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” she demanded, “Do exactly what I said, or so help me…”

Huck, not quite in the mood to lose his head over something this trivial, did as he was told. He steadied himself. Sniffed at the air, then, very slowly, and very carefully, he spun around to meet the sight of a mare — built in the way that only a mare who tended a farm could be — staring him cold in the eyes. She was, unsurprisingly, an earth pony. Looking to be the same age he was, if not a fair bit younger, with a hard worn, dirtied, brown coat and a shortly cropped brunette mane.

If she hadn’t been holding an axe between her hooves in a very threatening manner, Huck might have said she looked kind of cute for a dairy farmer.

Her stare grew soft when she took in his sight, but, sensing him sensing it, she redoubled her efforts; she furrowed her eyebrows, snarled her lips and huffed through her nose.

“Take three steps towards me. Slowly.”

Huck did.

“Listen,” he began to say, only to have the mare throw him another dirty look, “I’m sorry about trespassing and all, but, I’m out of your mane in thirty seconds.” he finished, “I just needed a drink of water.”

Again her eyes fell soft. This time, however, she glanced over his form and, after a moment, she dropped the axe to the ground.

“I took you for a vagrant, or a bum,” she said, almost apologetically, “We get a lot of them who come up from wherever and try and take what they can before we chase ‘em off. Most of ‘em just stay on the land, rent free.”

“That ain’t me,” he said, “I’m just another aimless drifter,” he gave a neutral grin in a half-assed try for easing the situation, “Like I said, I’m out of your mane ASAP.” he cracked his jaw, “I really didn’t mean to cause a fuss.”

Her eyes still scanning him, she stopped when she noticed the bloodied stump where his ear had been, then the scratches just to the left of it. “You look like you’ve been on the road a while.”

“Yeah.” said Huck, licking the top of his mouth, “Something like that.”

“You’re pretty banged up too,”

“I’ll be alright,” he said, “I just needed to catch my breath, is all.”

“You need more than that,” she told him, “That hoof looks like it might be getting infected, and you look like you could use some food, too.”

Without the axe and the scowl on her face she looked almost sympathetic to him and his plight. Normally, he’d have pushed, but, if she was willing to offer anything more than a boot in the ass or an axe to the throat, well, he wasn’t going to argue.

“I... only have a few bits on me.” he said, “Money. Maybe sixty bits. It’s yours for as much water as I can carry with me on my way out.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said, curtly, “Stillwater, that’s the next town over, is at least an hour from here, and you’re in no condition to make that looking like you do.”

Huck stared at her dumbly, “What then?”

“You can stay here… for the time being.” she told him, though she seemed just as apprehensive about offering her proposition as he did accepting it. She hardened her features. “But, so help me, if you try to hurt us, or rob us, or anything like that...”

He thought about Stormy. He thought about his cousin Gent. He thought about the way he’d probably ruined their lives.

“I wouldn’t.” he said, “That’s not in my nature.”

An impasse. Time passed while she stared at him, him at her. He lifted a hoof, she winced, tilted her head sideways, then lowered her guard down when she saw him reach his hoof backwards, trail it against his chest and reach into his pocket. He pulled out the small sack of coins he had; almost sixty bits worth, last he’d checked, and tossed it on the ground a few feet before her.

“For the water,” he said, “And, I guess also a room for the night?”

Smiling, she trotted forward, picked the sack up from the ground with her teeth, then dropped it into the pocket of her saddlebag. “I’m Lilly.”



Lilly’s farmhouse wasn’t too different from the one that Gent’s family lived in back in Dodge Junction, or, similarly, that any other farmhouse probably looked; there were hardwood floors with creaking floorboards, four rooms in the main floor, bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs (He imagined), and a basement cellar that probably was hold to all manner of stuff and things he really didn’t care about.

She stopped a few steps past the doorway, and then he did.

“There’s a shower upstairs,” She offered, “If you don’t mind using mango scented shampoo and lemon zest soap to clean up?”

Huck grinned and then Lilly did.

“Much obliged,” he told her, “It’s been a while since I smelled any better than ‘like shit’, I reckon I can handle smelling a little bit fru-fru if it means I won’t reek like sweat anymore.”

“Towels are on the rack and the hamper’s in the linen closet.” she said, “When you’re cleaned up why don’t you come back down and I’ll take a look at that hoof?”

Huck nodded his head.

On his way up Huck took in his surroundings. On the wall leading up the staircase were framed black and white photos of Lilly, a pegasus mare and an earth pony foal. There were three bedrooms on the top floor, he didn’t want to pry, but the doors to two of them were open and he figured he might as well figure out who his hosts were. The first room was bare and mostly empty, save for a nightstand, a single bed with white cotton sheets and a painted picture of some foreign landscape. The room beside it — Lilly’s, if he had to guess — had a queen size bed, satin sheets and a private bathroom. The third door was closed and Huck didn’t want to try his luck at opening it.

Instead he made it to the bathroom.

His shower went by without anything of any real interest happening. At first the water that ran down the drain was diluted with dirt, mud and blood, but a few minutes of scrubbing himself with the lemon-zest scented soap, and washing, then re-washing his mane with shampoo, and he was clean all over again. When he finished, and he stepped out of the shower and examined his reflection in the mirror, he had to smile. He looked fresh. New. Like a pony who hadn’t just spent the better part of twelve to fourteen hours making a mad scamble from one town to another.

His hoof still hurt. The rock, or, whatever sharp object he’d stepped in had done some peculiar damage, cutting past the fetlock and into the flesh itself, and, after a few minutes of trying to pretend it didn’t bother him, Huck decided to take Lilly up on her offer.


“You know; you’re pretty lucky that I came across you when I did,” said Lilly, “If you’d waited more than a few days to get that hoof looked at, you might have lost it.”

“Really?” Huck asked, “I’ve taken licks from my pop worse than this little boo-boo.”

They were sitting on a couch now in the living room. There were two plastic bottles on the coffee table, one of peroxide, the other rubbing alcohol, and Lilly held a wet rag in her mouth. He’d always hated the smell of rubbing alcohol. Having been a farmer for as long as he had, he’d had more than a fair share of wounds to treat. The sting was bad, but the smell was by and far the worst part.

He tried to pretend it didn’t bother him. For Lilly’s sake.

“Well, thing is that once you break skin you’re always in trouble,” Lilly told him, “You leave yourself open to all manner of infections; gangrene, staph, hoof-rot...” she picked up the bottle of rubbing alcohol, coated the open lid with the rag and soaked it, “What was it by the way? The thing you stepped on?”

Huck shrugged, “Hells if I know,” he grunted, “Probably a rock, or a piece of glass,” he looked at it his hoof again, “Knowing my luck it was probably a malaria infected nail, or something.”

“Well, you wouldn’t be looking at malaria, at least not this far from Zebra territory…” she ran a hoof through her mane, “Either way, you should be fine after this,” she said, and smiled softly, “Hoof?”

He lifted it towards her and turned his head away.

Lilly snickered, “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little rubbing alcohol?”

“No,” he grunted, “I ain’t afraid of a little rubbing alcohol.”

Again, Lilly snickered, “Is it the stinging, then?”

“Can we just get it over with?”

She pressed the rag to his hoof and he winced. He took in a sharp breath of air, bit his lower lip and, as she rubbed the rag into his wound, and the stinging, nagging, sharp pain spread through his hoof, he even gave out a whimper.

Lilly chuckled, “Really?” she asked, “A big, strong, stallion like you is going to get all sorts of teary eyed about a little rubbing alcohol on an open wound?”

“Shut. Up.” he barked at her.

She pulled the rag away and Huck held his hoof in his lap for a minute. It still stung, and the smell still hurt his nostrils. Beside him he heard Lilly snicker, again, and then she scooted closer towards him.

“There you go, you big baby.” she said, patting his lap, “Do you want me to see if I can find you a lollipop somewhere inside since you were such a brave boy?”

Huck groaned, but let up with his passive aggressive attitude when he caught a sideways glance at Lilly smirking.

“I wouldn’t recommend walking on that hoof too much,” she said, “Not for a few days at least. You need to give it time to heal a bit, otherwise you run the risk of getting it re-infected.”

“Right,” he said, nodding his head.

“I suppose, since you seem like you can be trusted, and you did already pay for a room, that you’re our guest for a while. So,” she said, shifting in her seat, “Is there anything I need to know about you, Huck?”

Why not start at the beginning of the impressive laundry list of felonies he’d committed? Firstly; he was a wanted fugitive, that was certainly something to note. Secondly; there was a colt laying in a hospital bed (or, perhaps, a morgue?) who he, himself, had put there. That was also something. Assault. Attempted murder (Depending on how much of a prick a Manehatten lawyer wanted to be about it.). Fleeing the scene of a crime. There were a few crimes past misdemeanours to pick from.

“Naw,” he said, shaking his head and grinning at her, “Believe it or not, and, I’m proper sure my outwards appearance ain’t none too kind to gawk at, but, I am one of the good ones. A regular old country boy down on his luck, is all.”

Lilly smiled back at him, “I was just about to say just that,” she said, “Now then, is there anything I can get you to drink while I’m up? Tea? Coffee? Lemonade?”

“I’ll take a coffee if y’all already got a pot on,” he said, “I…, uh,” he stared at his hoof, then the floor, then up at Lily, “Listen, Lilly. I do honestly appreciate y’all taking me in like this. Given the circumstances, and, flip the script, I can’t honestly say I’d do the same in your hooves, but, I appreciate it nonetheless. There ain’t too many ponies out there who’d put their trust in a total stranger like you are.”

“Believe it or not, there are still a few ponies left out here who believe in Southern Hospitality,” she told him with a smile, “But, if I’m being totally honest, I can’t say this doesn’t bother me a bit. I mean, for all I know you could very well still be an axe murderer, or something,” she sighed, but Huck could tell there was the most subtle hint of humour to her accusation, and, “For right now, at least, you can stay here, but, when Swift…” she hushed her tone “She lives here with me…”, she stared at him “When she gets home, we’ll talk more about it, alright? The three of us?”

“Can’t hardly say I’d argue against that,” said Huck. “In the meanwhile, how’s about that cup of coffee?”


Swift Wing was a pegasus, who lived in the same home as Lilly. He recognized her when she walked in from the pictures on the wall. She was cute, thinner than Lilly was and wore her long green and purple mane long. Her coat was silver. She, also, was staring with contempt at Huck, who shuffled in his seat. She came in with a filly, who, again, Huck recognized from the picture, but who was quickly told to go upstairs the second that Huck’s presence was noted.

He could feel the awkwardness in the air, and it bothered him.

“So, just to get the story totally, one-hundred percent here; you caught him trespassing and instead of calling the guard, or kicking him off our property, you invited him in?” she asked, still staring daggers at Huck, “What were you even doing? Where did he even come from?” she turned her scowl on him again “Who the Hells even are you?”

“I’m Huck,” he replied, giving her a purposefully annoying grin and tossing his hoof forwards, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Swift.”

She scoffed, slapped his hoof away from her, and threw her head towards Lilly’s direction, “What if he’d been a murderer or something, Lil’-”

“Well, Swift,” Lilly began, “I suppose I’d be dead right now, wouldn’t I?”

Swift groaned, “Don’t even joke about that, Lilly!”

“Look,” said Huck, clearing his throat, “I understand that the circumstances here are a little outlandish in nature. And, I can appreciate that, but, I already paid the lady for a room-”

Swift shot him a glare, that, if he were a lesser pony, would have sent chills up his spine. Huck was not, however, a lesser pony, and so he remained calm and neutral.

“Shut it.”

Huck just grinned. “Would it help if I said I really appreciate it?”

Swift snarled at him, “Not on your life.”

“He was a mess, Swift.” Lilly explained, “I know how weird this is, but, I could see it on his face that he wasn’t about to hurt me, or you. And, lo-and-behold, none of us are hurt, are we?”

“For now...” Swift groaned.

“May I speak?” Huck asked.

“You are right now, aren’t you?”

“I’m out of here the second y’all gimme the boot,” he said, “And, hey, for what it’s worth; I reckon I’m probably a bit too pretty to be a serial killer anyhow.”

“Oh, really? Wow! Hey, I’m actually so relieved to hear you say that,” Swift droned, “I was worried for a minute there, but now…”

“Swift...” Lily said, testily.

“What?” Swift snapped, “Don’t take this the wrong way, Lilly, but this is pretty freakin’ dumb! Inviting a stranger into our home? We don’t know anything about him!”

“Well, then, Swift. Why don’t you ask him?”

Swift grunted, “Fine!” She turned her eyes on Huck. “Why here? Why did you come here, specifically?”

“I didn’t really have too much of a choice there, your highness,” Huck admitted, “I was out there in the desert for close to a death sentence worth of time, trapped without food or water, stuck out in the sun, melting my ass off out there...” he sighed, “I saw the billboards for the farm, figured I could get a glass of water off ya before I went about my way. Is that good enough for ya?”

It was sharp and biting. He probably could have done without saying it, since Swift Wing’s ugly scowl turned fifty shades meaner, but, he was sick of the accusations. Despite what had happened in Dodge Junction, he was still a good, decent, tax-paying Equestrian citizen. He was far from a vagrant, a tramp or a bum.

Now he just needed to prove it to Swift, was all.

Lily spoke up, “Swift, I know this is odd-”

“Understatement of the century there, Lilly…”

“And, Huck,” she said, turning to him without missing a beat, “I know that… well, I’m almost certain you’re harmless. And, of course, that you do mean well.”

“Appreciate that.” said Huck,

“Compromise?” Lilly offered, “He stays here, at least for a few nights... until his hoof is a bit more healed-”

Swift blew a breath of hot air through her nostrils, “Oh, come on!”

“But,” Lilly continued, turning her eyes towards Huck, “Your door stays locked at night. At least for the first few days. I’ll have the key and in the morning I can unlock it, but, well…” her eyes turned onto Huck, “You understand, right?”

Huck nodded his head.

“Good. Now, when you’re good and healed, and if you really are a pony who’s true to his word, and if you feel like you still owe us, there’s no lack of work around the farm that an able bodied, hard working, young stallion such as yourself could help us out with.”

Huck swallowed his pride and a wad of spit with it.

Lesser of two evils, he thought. Doing a few easy chores that two mares couldn’t was the least he could do to repay them, and, if it helped him earn their trust having him locked in a one bedroom, quasi-cage for a few nights, well, he wasn’t one to argue against that either.

“Lilly,” Swift moaned, “Can I please talk with you in the kitchen?”

Lilly looked to Huck, then Swift, nodded her head and then the two stepped out of the room and into the kitchen. He could hear them arguing through the walls. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, per se, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out it was more or less of the same; Lily taking his side, Swift arguing against it and so on, and so forth.

Huck leaned back into the couch, letting his body sink into the fabric. He shut his eyes, kicked his lower legs up on the coffee table and crossed his upper legs over his head as a makeshift pillow.

He had everything he needed. His wounds were healed, he had more than his fair share to drink to rehydrate him. He could leave. His opportunity was right there for the plucking; while Lilly and Swift argued about him in the kitchen he could easily sneak out of the farmhouse, make the trek across the land and head for Stillwater, which, Lilly had already told him was close enough away that he’d hardly lose much sleep finding it. Then again, Lilly had said his hoof needed mending.

Decisions, decisions...

The pitter patter of tiny hooves belonging to a foal echoed down the stairwell, then, seconds after, a hoof was prodding him in the chest and, snapping his eyes open, he was staring into the curious, tiny, face of a young colt. He was young, maybe five or six, brown in his coat, black in his mane and smiling up at Huck.

“What’s your name?”

Cocking an eyebrow, Huck grinned. “Hucklebuck.”

The foal didn’t answer with his own name, but, instead, thrust an action figure — an unimpressive, worn down looking minotaur with a cape and cowl — at him. Beside him on the floor were two others like it; one a mare and the other a fully grown dragon.

“This is Wrex.” said the colt, smiling, “He’s a knight.”

There came to be a gleam in the younger colt’s eyes the likes of which Huck only imagined a child of pure innocence could ever muster. From what he could tell, this little bastard child wanted Huck to take Wrex, and, probably, to play with him too.

“He’s a mean lookin’ little fellow, ain’t he?” Huck said, grabbing the toy from the colt’s hooves, “Is he a good guy or a bad guy?”

“Wrex is a good guy!” the colt attested, angrily furrowing his brows, “He’s saved the princesses!”

Huck held the hunk of polymer and plastic in his hooves like he was handling a used diaper. “Right,” he said, fiddling with the minotaur’s limbs.

Lilly and Swift were still arguing in the kitchen. He could hear them, and, he could only imagine this tiny, bastard child, could too. Huck picked Wrex, the action figure, off the table and stared at it.

“He looks like a homo, kid.” he said.

“Mom says that’s a bad word…” said the colt, glaring at Huck. “We’re not supposed to use that word. Ever.”

Huck grunted but kept fiddling with the toy.

“Do you know my moms?”

Huck raised a brow, “Do you mean your mom? Lilly?”

The colt chuckled, grabbed one of the other, so called, action figures — the mare, Huck noted — and galloped it across the table. “Naw…” he said.

Huck sighed, then nodded his head towards the galloping mare figure the colt toyed with, “Who’s that one, then?”

“Princess Luxabelle Anastasia,” said the colt, “Duh...”

“Huh,” Huck mumbled under his breath.

He thought again about Stormy. And his cousin. Poor Gent. Stuck in his own little sexual-identity crisis. It hurt him, and it shamed him, to know that, somewhere, back in Dodge Junction, Gent was still stuck in that same mental state of ignorant bliss he had been.

If Huck could have three wishes then and there, the first, second and, possibly, the third, would have been for stiff drinks to help him navigate his way through whatever it was that came from all of this.

“Wanna play?” asked the colt, starring imploringly at Huck. “You can be Wrex if you want?”

Huck grunted.

An expressionless face was his answer. The colt — whatever his name was — didn’t seem to understand, and, Huck realized he was all the better for it.

“It’s easy,” said the colt, “Wrex and Princess Anastasia are in love,” he told him, “They’re getting married on Tuesday, but, it’s only Sunday today, so, that means they’ve still got to defeat-” he raised the third, so called, ‘action figure’ up into the air, “General Patchface…”

Huck turned his face to the dim light coming from the half open door in the kitchen. Lilly and Swift were still arguing, he could hear. The sooner they resolved whatever tensions they had, and either offered him a bed for the night and the next dozen or so, or, flatly kicked him off the land, the better.

“I ain’t one for dolls, kiddo,” Huck told the colt, staring at him with contempt.

“They’re action figures!” the colt assured, staring grimly at Huck, “Dolls are for girls!”

Huck snorted a bit louder than he meant too, and beat his hoof against the glass coffee table. “Which one of these three gets laid the most?”

The colt stared at him, dumbly. “Huh?”

Huck grinned.

The sliding door to the kitchen opened with a whining ‘Hiss’, owed in large part to the grease that hadn’t been applied to the wheels, and then, staring meanly at him, was Swift — the pegasus — and, more neutrally, Lilly.

“Tommen!” Swift gasped, “What did I tell you about talking to strangers?”

Tommen — the colt — stared at Swift with a dull, lifeless, expression, “We were jus’ playin…”

“In your room. Now.” Swift ordered.

Tommen took on a somber, soulless, embrace. He collected his figures from the table, and out from Huck’s grip, then, with a remorseful, pitiful, look back at Huck, headed back upstairs to let the adults in the room discuss whatever it was they still had left to say.

“You.” Swift said, hardly doing more than gagging on the words.

“Easy,” Huck grumbled, “We were just playing with the kid’s dolls…”

Swift, and also Lilly, looked on at him with judgemental eyes. The kind he’d seen a million and one times before.

For whichever reason he couldn’t figure out, Huck felt both emasculated and also ashamed of his actions. It was a rare feeling, that. He wanted to snarl, or spit, or cuss, but, his body wouldn’t let him bring himself to it and instead he bowed his head.

“If you ever…” Swift began, moving towards him and winding back one of her hooves like she was ready to feed him a swift fist across the face, “I swear, if I ever catch you talking to him again…”

“That’s enough, Swift!”

Shocked, both Huck, and Swift, stared at Lilly.

“Now, we, you and I,” she said, nodding her head towards Swift, “We discussed this situation, together, and-” she geared her head towards Huck, “-We’ve decided, collectively, that you can stay here for the night...”

He had choice words to say in his defense. Words coated with malice and resentment towards Swift’s intervention, but, he swallowed his pride, and his tongue, and instead smiled, sweetly, towards Lilly, and then Swift.

“Thank you,” he said, “Sincerely.”

“Bide your tongue,” Swift grunted, “It’s only because Lilly’s got such an optimistic, silver lining, sort of worldview...”

Huck looked to Lilly. Her eyes on him were as soft and neutral as he’d ever seen a mare look at him before. He could tell, from her look, and the way she carried herself, that she didn’t want anything to do with him, sexually, and, for the first time in as long as he’d met a member of the opposite sex, he was relieved to know it.

“I promise,” he started, staring first at Lilly, and then at Swift, “I swear… I won’t ruin this for you. Y’all were kind enough to take me into your home. Y’all are gonna let me stay the night, and, hopefully the next few after, and, believe it or not, Swift,” he cranked his heads towards the apprehensive pegasus, “I am a stallion of my word. I swear, to Celestia, if y’all ever find trouble with me, and you let me know, I either aim to fix it, or be swiftly punished for it. No pun intended.”

Swift’s hard glare softened. Just a touch.

Huck aimed his muzzle towards the stairwell, “That’s a good boy you raised there,” he said, to Lilly, “He means to take this world by storm.” He softened his brow, leaned backwards into the folds of the couch again, and, when he was good and comfy, spoke “I don’t mean to disrupt the gears y’all got in motion here. I’m an aimless drifter,” he admitted, sighing, “I appreciate all you’ve done, and, also, all that y’all are aiming to do.”

Swift, and then Lilly, stared at each other, then Huck.

“If I might be so bold?” he inquired, “I have a bottle of gut-rot hooch I procured on my way out of where I’m from. I wouldn’t ever want to impose on anypony’s sobriety, but, if we’re all well adjusted to the idea that I’m going to be a burden in all of y’all’s sides for the time being, and, if it helps ease the tension any, I recommend we all take a toast to new found kinship?”

Swift grinned, snorted, then stared with half an ugly scowl, and half an intrigued grin at Huck, “Really, Huck?”

“Hey,” he said, running a hoof ragged through his mane, “All I am is a colt worth my word. Y’all have given me hospitality beyond what I’d ever have imagined, and, I want to repay that. Bit by bit…”

Swift looked to Lilly. Lilly nodded her head, then, rolling her eyes, Swift turned her stare back at Huck, “This wouldn’t happen to be roofied, would it?”

“If ya’ want I can take the first drink?” he urged, grinning, “Just to be safe?”

Apprehensively, Swift extended her hoof, “First two are on you,” she said, “Once you don’t keel over and die, or convulse, then I’ll take a drink…”

Huck just grinned. “I’d expect no less, princess.”


They were halfway through the small mason jar of moonshine now. Tensions that had flared before were now cooled, and Huck, Swift Wing and Lilly were all in the midst of getting to know one another, now.

“So, you smooth talking, closeted serial killer,” Swift barked at Huck, taking pause to raise the mason jar to her lips and take the tiniest bit of a sip, “Honestly. How tempted were you to rob us when you first came here?”

The mood was so mellow and non-threatening that Huck, and Lilly, and (as far as he could tell) Swift, all believed in each other now. This was something Huck was more than alright with.

“None at all,” Huck answered, “I may be a handsome, charming, and humble, son of a bitch, but, I ain’t the sort who’d rob two single mares living on their lonesome and leave ‘em hurtin’.”

He said this, reached a hoof forwards and grabbed for the moonshine. When he found it, after a minute of fumbling to grip the mason jar, he took a swig, set it down, then flashed a grin at both Swift and Lilly. Swift threw some sort of ‘knowing’ glance at Lilly, Lilly back at Swift, and Huck was stuck feeling stupid about it.

“What?” he asked, feeling dumb, “I reckon it ain’t everyday you see a pair of sisters who’re… well, I mean, Swift, y’all are a Pegasus, and, Lilly, you’re an Earth Pony, but... I guess that’s just genetics for you?”

“We’re not sisters,” Swift admitted, chuckling.

Huck cocked a brow, “Que?”

“We’re…” Lilly looked to Swift, her cheeks fell flush with crimson, then she turned to Huck, “We’re partners.”

Swift’s ugly, hard, glare returned when she threw it back towards Huck, “That’s not a problem for you, is it?”

He thought about Stormy. He thought about Gentle Strokes. He thought about all the pain, and suffering, he’d put Stormy through because of that exact same accusation coming out of his mouth. It seemed different now. Swift, and also, Lilly, weren’t Stormy. They weren’t Gent. He thought about how he’d personally shit-kicked Stormy into a hospital bed, pissed on him, swore at him and degraded him past the point of recognition. He thought about how he’d done it all because he thought that he hated fags, dykes, cunts and anyone unsavoury like them.

“No,” he said, “Not really.”

What Comes After

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What Comes After

“So, um… did your folks say anything about it? Did, uh- Did they say anything about me?”

Gentle Strokes blinked his eyes. He was still resting his face against Stormy’s chest, still in the hospital and still the most recent pony he knew to humbly take a step out of the metaphorical closet and introduce himself to the world as a proud, gay, pony. Each shaky, half breath that Stormy drew in made the stallion’s tiny chest rise and fall, bringing Gentle Strokes’s face upwards, than downwards.

Gentle Strokes, still with his cheek pressed to Stormy’s stomach, clicked his tongue.

“I mean,” Stormy scratched his neck with his good leg, “I guess that’s kind of a dumb question, huh?”

The breath that came out of Gentle Strokes’s nose blew strands of Stormy’s fur apart. He smelt funny; like dried sweat mixed with his regular charmingly musky scent. Gentle Strokes took in a long whiff. The stink of sweat hurt his nostrils, but then there was Stormy’s lovely, musky aroma right there to chase away the sting.

“Naw,” Gentle Strokes said, “They… didn’t really say much about it.” he took in a long whiff of Eau De Stormy, “My dad- Well, he kinda just stormed off. I guess it’s a lot for a parent to take in, y’know? Still... I dunno.”

A shiver crawled up Gentle Strokes’s spine when he felt Stormy’s hoof touch the back of his neck. Stormy’s hoof travelled upwards, brushing past his mane — spreading with it cold pangs that were quickly followed by that old, warm, comfortable feeling. Stormy’s fetlock touched against skin as it traveled upwards, dragging a line up his back until it touched the tip of the back of his neck. Gentle Strokes shut his eyes and tried his hardest to enjoy the sensation of being pet by his boyfriend.

“Are you gonna be okay?”

Gentle Strokes stared stupidly at Stormy. “Huh?”

“Are you going to be okay, Strokes?”

That wasn’t a very practical thing to ask. He wasn’t the one laying in a hospital bed, with his legs done up in casts and war wounds spread across his body. Stormy was.

“I reckon,” he said, then sighed, “I don’t really know what I was expecting. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be balloons, banners, cake and a parade or nothing. But, I didn’t think my pop would turn into a-” slight pause for Gentle Strokes to curl his lips into a pouty little scowl, “Well, a freakin’ drama queen about it either.”

“Yeah,” said Stormy, quietly, “That part isn’t really comforting, is it?”

Gentle Strokes shook his head.

Stormy’s hoof found the itchy trigger spot right behind Gentle Strokes’s left ear then Stormy’s cold fetlock dug into the skin past the fur and scratched the omnipresent itch. Gentle Strokes gave a very content purr while his lower leg twitched and tapped against the floor.

“Damn, Strokes. You’re too cute.” Stormy said, smiling, “You should see yourself; you look like a dog right now.”

Gentle Strokes gave out a half-serious, half-joking growl between pants and then threw a glare up at Stormy, “Shut. Up.”

Stormy smiled, which quickly grew into a grin. He put more pressure into scratching, which made Gentle Strokes’s leg spasm and the lowest, most non-sexually gratified moan either pony in the room had ever heard escape from his mouth. Crimson colour took over his cheeks and Gentle Strokes tried to hide his embarrassment by burying his face into the fur on Stormy’s chest. He brushed his cheek against the fur until he felt something coarse and cold touch against his cheek. Drawing his face back, he found himself staring at a missing patch of Stormy’s fur where torn pink flesh was being held together by a patchwork of stitches.

Gentle Strokes sucked his lower lip overtop his upper one, sighed through his nostrils then turned his head to stare at Stormy.


Stormy studied the missing patch of fur, then another a few inches higher, and to the left, of the first one. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

IT went like this for a few minutes. Neither pony could seem to muster up the courage, or gather about the wits, to say anything to the other, until Stormy rolled his tongue through his pursed lips and blew a raspberry.

Gentle Strokes cocked his head back.

“You sure you still wanna go out with me, Strokes?” Stormy asked, raising his left hoof behind his head and using it as a pillow to prop his neck up so he could stare at the dumbfounded looking colt who stood before him, “I’m not really eye candy anymore, you know? Ponies might start judging you, and-”

“Don’t do that, Stormy.” Gentle Strokes asserted, curtly. He stared with a mean, hard look at Stormy, who reflected soft, gentle eyes back onto him. The look must have been something sour, as it turned the other colt’s grin into a flat, emotionless frown.

“Stormy, please don’t make this something you just brush off.” Gentle Strokes said, “I know this is like… how you handle heavy stuff, Stormy. Your coping mechanism or whatever, but, please, I don’t want you to just pretend that you’re okay. It’s not healthy...”

For a long time Stormy stared at Gentle Strokes, Gentle Strokes back at Stormy, until a quick and low huff of air came from Stormy and he frowned.

“It hurts.” Stormy said, lifting his hoof from behind his head and rubbing his stomach with his, “Everything hurts, Strokes. My legs, my chest, my back, my face… I can’t even turn my head all the way anymore without something stinging and sounding like it’s going to break.”

“I know,” said Gentle Strokes, sighing through his nostrils, “I know.”

“And t-they…” Stormy’s big, puffy eyes fell, his eyelids sank and he was staring down at his waist, “They put a tube in my cock,” He said this last bit in a shamed whisper, “I… I can’t even feel anything down there anymore...”

Gentle Strokes hadn’t heard that last bit. Not from Doctor Toboggan at least. It took a lot to make him cringe, or stutter, but somehow hearing Stormy flatly admit that there was a colostomy bag attached to his pecker did the trick. He bit his lower lip so hard with his upper teeth that he cracked dry skin and bled a little into his mouth.

“It’s,” Stormy said, “I’m a mess, Strokes. I mean, just look at me…”

Gent did, but, he didn’t see the same thing Stormy saw. He still saw Stormy, past all the injuries, this was still the same pony who he’d spent the best part of the last few months of his life fooling around with in hallways, courtyards, classrooms and benches at Camden.

Gentle Strokes brought his hoof to Stormy’s left cheek. He stroked Stormy and allowed the younger pony to rest his face against his leg.

“This is so messed up,” Stormy grunted, “I… I just wanna go home, Strokes,” he aimed his eyes up at Gentle Strokes. “I don’t want to be here.”

Gentle Strokes blinked his eyes.

“That doctor… what’s his face?” Stormy continued on with his speech, cocking his head sideways to steal a cock-eyed look from Gentle Strokes, “Doctor Sled, or, Tobacco? Whatever… he... uh… he said I can’t… I won’t be able to, uh…” Stormy brushed his over his crotch, “I won’t be able to… you know anymore. Not with you. Not with anyone. I’m less than useless, Strokes. I’m practically a freakin’ eunuch now!”

Gentle Strokes cleared his throat. He hadn't’ heard that part. The injuries, the physical ones at least, he was aware of, but Doctor Toboggan had never really explained the long lasting implications of Stormy’s condition.

“Shit,” Stormy grunted, “He said my vision’s gonna be messed up too, dude. He… Shit… He told me a lot of stuff isn’t gonna ‘work’ like it used too… I mean, how… how am I supposed to deal with that!?” he blinked his eyes, “I’m gonna walk out — if I can even still do that? — I’m gonna leave here looking like some freakin’ circus freakshow attraction, Strokes! And why wouldn’t I? I mean, shit, just look at me! I look like something from a horror movie! I’m gonna be this stumbling, mumbling, retard for the rest of my life!”

Stormy sucked his lips, snorted through his nostrils then growled.

“Stormy,” Gent sighed, “I… We’ll get through this. I promise. I’m not gonna leave you, Stormy. I’ll be there. I’ll be with you the entire time, and, well, whatever happens, you’ll have me, and I’ll have you, right?”

“What about you, Strokes?” Stormy asked, “Your folks… I mean… are you going to be okay? Are they going to be okay? This is all kind of a lot for them to take in… y’know?”

Gentle Strokes rolled his tongue over his molars, behind his front teeth, then snapped his tongue so that a loud ‘Pop’ could be heard in the room. That was something he hadn’t even considered. His father was upset, sure, but he was mostly rational. At least, he had been throughout his life. Still, this was the first time Gentle Strokes had ever admitted to something of this nature.

What were the lasting implications of coming out to his family? Clearly his mother was mostly non-confrontational about it. The twins wouldn’t understand, or, if they did they might just brush it off. Clem? What would she say? She’d be okay with it, he imagined. Afterall, she was the most liberal minded member of the entire family.

His father, though. He hadn’t taken the news well and stormed off like a primadonna about it. How would he handle a lifetime worth of Gentle Strokes flaunting his sexuality? That remained to be seen.

With a sigh, Gentle Strokes snapped his tongue again and said nothing.

Uncertainty. There was enough of it in both of their voices and the things they said that any fly on the wall to their conversation could punch holes in both of their statements. There wasn’t any promise to be had in the room. Neither pony was as convinced as the other that things were going to be ‘okay’ from here on out, and, why should either of them have been? Stormy was a cripple by his own admission, Gentle Strokes wasn’t even sure he had a home to go too at the end of the day.

Murky. Things looked rather murky for the two of them.

“You keep saying we’ll get through this,” Stormy said, “And, I believe that you believe that. I do. But, dude, look at us… Even if your folks are okay with you being gay, even if I get out of here and I’m not a total freakshow, what happens then? This place-” he sighed, “This place doesn’t seem like it’s the most nourishing environment for you to be out in.”

“I don’t know, Stormy.” Gentle Strokes said, “I really don’t. But, there’s no saying that this won’t- That this can’t get back to being normal, Stormy. Nothing’s written in stone here. It’s not like things can’t work out. It’s bad now. There’s no doubt, but, it’s not like this is gonna last forever.”

Stormy’s eyes rolled, “Yeah, sure…”

“I’m serious, Stormy. There’s no one saying that things won’t get better, we just gotta… we just gotta wait and see. That’s all. I mean, hey, look at how far we’ve made it so far,” He gave Stormy a soft smile. The sort that, hopefully — maybe — could half convince Stormy that there was weight behind his words, “I won’t turn my back on any of that.” Gentle Strokes furrowed his brows, “Will you?”

“I dunno,” Stormy grumbled, breaking his gaze away from Strokes’s and looking off at a no smoking sign on the wall.

“C’mon, Stormy.” Gentle Strokes said, petting the colt on the cheek, “We’re gonna be alright. You’ll see. Everything is- It’s all gonna work out, Stormy. And, when you get out, you’ll be good as new. Better, even. Doctor Toboggan’s really good at what he does. The best, Stormy. He’ll fix this-”

Stormy sighed, “If you say so, Strokes...”

He knew. Deep down, buried beneath the softness, Gentle Strokes knew that there was no real reason he should have been so deeply off put by Stormy brushing him, and his assertions of recovery, aside so sardonically, but, then again, Stormy had earned the right to be a little skeptical at this point. The better part of the last twenty four hours of his life had seen him be beat like a dog, urinated on and, then, much later, finding out he was all but crippled.

It still bugged Gentle Strokes a great deal to see Stormy so mopey.

Stormy was in desperate need of cheering up, and Gentle Strokes knew just the thing to do it.

Smiling to spite Stormy’s ugly glare at him, he reached both his hooves around the sides of Stormy’s face, lifted himself upright, and then cradled Stormy’s head against him the same way he’d hold a foal, filly or any furry pet weighing more than twenty pounds.

Stormy purred.For every bit of him that wanted to throw something mean and dumb back in Gentle Strokes’s overly optimistic face, Stormy stopped himself from doing it. Gentle Strokes was right. In place of a snappy insult, or poorly intentioned jab at the colt, Stormy just smiled, lifted his left leg and grappled Strokes’s waist.

“You’re too good to me, Strokes.” he said, beaming.

Releasing his tenuous hold on him, Gentle Strokes sank back down to his spot near Stormy’s chest, turned his head towards him and grinned. “I know.”

“I won’t let you down, Stormy.” He let his smile grow along the side of his face, until he was sure Stormy could tell he was in fact grinning, then he spoke again, “I’m something like a folk hero... if you will.”

“Oh, most definitely,” Stormy chided back, “How do you find the strength to be so handsome, charming and sexy day in and day out?”

“It’s tough,” Gent admitted, “I gotta do a lotta prep work, y’know? Throwin’ out my best face to the world sure beats the Tartarus outta me, but, well, you don’t exactly make it unbearable of a thing to do.”

“Aww shucks,” Stormy faux-sighed, turning his face away from Strokes, “You do all that for lil’ old me?”

“You make it so worthwhile, Stormy.” said Gentle Strokes.

“You are such a freaking dork.” said Stormy.

Gentle Strokes turned to him, rolled his tongue over his lips and put on his least sincere ware face. “Yeah, well you’re goofy.”

Stormy grinned, then cocked up an eyebrow. “Goofy and sexy, I hope?”

“Mhmm,” Said Gentle Strokes, lowering his face towards Stormy until his hot breath brushed fur on Stormy’s muzzle, “Sexy like it’s going outta style.”

Instead of answering with words, Stormy leaned his face forwards to catch Gentle Strokes’s lips with his own. It was a soft kiss. Gentle, even. When both colts pulled away they couldn’t do much to fight the goofy smiles they wore on their faces.

Back to basics. Silly, dumb, goofy and dorky flirting with Stormy was really where Gentle Strokes shined brightest. It’s where he’d steered himself right so many times in the past, and where he’d do right now in the present. The stunned, satisfied and dorky looking half-smile on Stormy’s face gave Gentle Strokes the impression he’d done something right.


Yup. Right on time. The moment was too sweet, tender and sincere for something, or, rather, in this case, somepony, not to spoil it with a well timed intrusion. It would have been far too ridiculous a task to imagine preserving as much niceness as there was for a while longer for either of the two boys.

Both turned to see Doctor Toboggan, smiling faintly, standing in the doorway of the room looking not unlike he’d just solved the equation to a morbid puzzle he’d been working on. With his magic he held up both a sponge, wet and dripping on the floor, and an industrial sized red plastic bucket.

It was sponge bath time for Stormy, it seemed.

“Geez, doc,” Stormy sighed, “You sure have impeccable timing.”

“It would seem so,” said the doctor with what sounded like non-offended good nature to his tone. “I must admit, I did have some ideas about the nature of your relationship.”

Gentle Strokes turned to the doctor, “I suppose you aren’t offended?”

“Hardly,” replied Doctor Toboggan, “I hail from the liberal minded city of Canterlot. The same city, might I add, with an exclusive, so called ‘Gay Town’ of it’s own. Two colts in the throes of young love is hardly a thing worth getting upset over.”

“Someone should have told that to his cousin,” Stormy grumbled, staring past the colts in the room to catch his ugly reflection in the mirror, “Could have saved us all a great deal of trouble.”

Gentle Strokes sighed.

“I had come here to wash you,” said Doctor Toboggan, gently lowering the bucket, then the sponge, to the floor, “But, I could give you more time if you need it?”

Gentle Strokes turned to Stormy. Stormy shrugged his shoulders. “Naw. I’m getting pretty tired of this rank smell I’ve got going on.”

The doctor nodded his head, “Right,”

“I… uh… guess I’ll catch ya later, Stormy?” Gentle Strokes begged.

“It’s not like I’m going anywhere in a hurry,” said Stormy, nodding a head towards the legs wrapped in casts. He motioned with his left hoof for Gentle Strokes to come forwards, and, when the older colt did, Stormy brought his mouth to his ear to whisper, “Try and bring me something to read when you come back? Maybe some whiskey too? I don’t think it could hurt me much worse to have a few drinks,” he turned away from Gentle Strokes to the still standing and smiling doctor, “Plus security around here seems pretty slack.”

Gentle Strokes nodded, “Can do.”

With a long look back at his bedridden, medically assisted, lover, Gentle Strokes took his leave, with purpose and a mission; Stormy’s sanctity of peace relied on Gentle Strokes playing the role of a cheap two-bit detective for the rest of the day. There were ponies to see, leads to track down, stories to get straight, authorities to consult, and so on and so forth. Hucklebuck and his hate-filled assistants were still at large (After all, Sheriff Steel hadn’t reported back to him after the previous night’s efforts of rounding up said homophobic posse), and, there were too few ponies in Dodge Junction who could help sort this mess out.

Drought’s father’s place would be his first stop, possibly Tucker, Saddlesore and Spiral’s after that. The foursome (Often sans Drought, so more of a threesome, really) were the ponies who usually made up Huck’s group of cronies. There weer a few others in Dodge Junction who’d likely aide and abet Huck, but, this was a solid start to Gentle Strokes’ ersatz detective career.

Now all he had to do was track down Sheriff Steel, or his deputy, and get them to join his crusade for justice.


Gentle Strokes was gone and Doctor Toboggan’s promised sponge bath was over and done with. The offer to be scrubbed clean by an older stallion wasn’t something new to Stormy, what was, however, was knowing that Doctor Toboggan had diplomas on his wall instead of whips and chains.

Stormy’s mind wandered sometimes.

Somewhere between the by then hourly supply of morphine swimming throughout his veins, the quietness of being alone in a hospital bed, and the dull eggshell white of the walls, boredom had taken a toll on him. It made him queasy, and then sleepy and so he rested for a bit.

That was then.

This was now.

When he awoke he had another visitor. Again, it was a member of The Strokes household, and, like last time a member of their clan had come, he was greeted with a warm, but worried, sort of smile.

It wasn’t Gentle Strokes, though.

It was Clementine.

She’d looked a fair bit bookish and, to be blunt but fair, somewhat nerdy last time he’d seen her; hiding herself behind folded hooves, smiling content and drinking in his words about Camden, Manehattan, higher education and what to expect post-high school graduation greedily. Again, that was then, this was now. Now, she looked like something that’d just come out of the screening of a snuff film; her face was pale and almost lifeless, eyes soft and wet looking and she nervously scratched her mane and bit her lip while she looked over his body.

That wasn’t totally unfair on her part. He was, afterall, as close to the trotting dead as a pony could look. She must have been totally mortified to see him. He knew that he certainly had been when he’d caught his own reflection hours and hours earlier.

When she spied him spying on her, a blush took over her cheeks and she hid her face behind her hooves for a second, before standing up and taking on a determined gait.

“Hello, Stormy,” she said, hardly raising her voice more than a whisper, “I… I didn’t mean to bother you, or to wake you up, but, I thought you might like something to, um, well, to keep you busy, and, Gent said you liked poetry earlier, so…”

She didn’t finish her thought, but, instead, trotted up to him holding a wicker basket filled with books, snacks (chocolates, toffees and what looked like truffles in a clear plastic container) and a few apples and oranges. She set the basket down by the bed, then stood, staring at him for a moment.

“Thanks,” he said.

She smiled, faintly and continued to loom over him. More than the basket of treats and books he probably would glance at (or flip through for something steamy and smutty to test just how crippled he was between his legs) she brought with her a sense of longing and imploring and Stormy, who was tired, didn’t want to waste much time dancing around.

“Is there anything else, Clementine?”

It was a fair bit rude, maybe, but, he was still really tired, and she did have a very curious stare on her face.

“Um,” she said and bit her lower lip, “I wanted to ask you something... Personal…” she bit her lip again, “I wanted to ask you a personal question, Stormy.”

Oh, great. This was going to be good. He could tell.

He must not have been showing on his face just how little he cared to be interrogated, or asked personal questions, because Clementine smiled with relief when he nodded his head. Out of courtesy’s sake, he invited her to take a seat, which she did, gladly. She pulled a chair towards the bed, it scraped against the floor, making an awful noise, then, when she’d finished, she fell into it, folded a leg across her lap and took on a commanding, disciplined look to her.

She could make a very convincing therapist later in life, Stormy thought.

“Are you gay?”

He would have gawked at her, and thrown her an ugly look, but it hurt too much to do more than scowl. Clementine, still, didn’t seem to sense his apprehension, or, if she did, she ignored it entirely.

“If I say ‘yes’ are you going to break another one of my legs?” he asked, curling his lips into another scowl, “Are you here to finish the job, then?”

She threw her head back, her eyes widened and then she looked embarrassed, shamed and filled with sorrow. Slowly, she returned her face to normal, but, not without leaving hints of both shame and acceptance.

“Stormy, please…” she begged, “I need to know, because- Gosh, this is so embarrassing, but, well, you read about this kind of stuff happening. And, I mean, I never believed it really happened to ponies. I- I thought that we, as a nation- I thought that Equestria, and Dodge Junction — especially Dodge Junction — I thought we were all better than this. I really, really, did.”

Stormy rolled his good eye, “Join the club,”

She looked at him. There was sorrow in her look, and pain.

“Stormy,” she said, and, before he could even protest, she was laying her hoof flat against his leg and rubbing him. “Please, just listen to me, okay?” she stopped, clicked her tongue, and then kept rubbing his leg. “My family. They’re not bad ponies, Stormy. I swear that on my life. And, what Huck did to you- Well, you have believe me when I say that I can’t believe he could do that to another pony,” she sighed “But, it’s not a reflection on me, or Gent, or the rest of my family.”

Her hoof on his leg, rubbing his sore and aching muscles, reminded him of comforts he hadn’t known from a mare in, well, ever. This wasn’t romantic, like it was with Gentle Strokes, or, any other of his lovers in the past, this was a platonic, but still touching, sort of rub.

It almost bothered him that he liked it.


“Stormy, please don’t hate us for what they did to you,” she begged, nearing tears, “Please. Please just promise me you won’t hold this against us- Against Gent.”

That was a thought he’d never even considered. He’d totally overlooked the notion that, maybe, Gentle Strokes, or his mother, father, or, apparently, Clementine, might get it in their heads that he’d blame them for the actions of a few bad seeds. And then what? Start some kind of anti-Dodge Junction crusade?

What was she getting at here?

“I’m sorry that this happened to you,” she said, staring him in the eye, “Stormy, you have to believe me. But, Gent, he tried to set it all right. You should have seen him last night; running throughout town, trying to put things back together. I’ve never seen him like that in my life, Stormy. Really. It was- Well, I don’t know if ‘admirable’ is the right word here, but-”

Stormy didn’t have to question Gentle Strokes’s dedication. It certainly sounded like something he’d do, running himself ragged throughout the town, looking under every single rock, and in every dark corner he could find for Huck, or any of the others.

It was actually a very flattering thing to hear. In a weird sort of way.

Those soft, lifeless, needy eyes of Clementine’s turned on him again. She wiped away a bit of wet leakage with the back of her hoof, then smiled up at him.

“I just want you to be okay,” she said, “And, Gent... He needs you to be okay, too. All my brother’s done is talk, and talk, and talk about you, and, when I met you, yesterday, I could see why. I could just tell, Stormy.”

There existed a cynical, bitter and jaded side to Stormy. It came out every now and again — usually when his father or brother were present physically, or in spirit — and when it did it turned the docile, happy-go-lucky, well intentioned homosexual pony into a bitingly, sharp witted jackass. Stormy tempted dipping into the reserve of residual anger he felt at being a borderline cripple and directing it all at Clementine for no other reason than that she was here, now, to hear him bitch and moan, but, that softness in her eyes reminded him too much of how she was inherently a good pony and didn’t deserve that from him.

Instead of being a douchebag, as he might have well been if it’d been anypony else in the world, Stormy stayed quiet and let Clementine’s self admittance of no-true wrongdoing, and venting, ranting and raging keep on.

“You and Gent,” she said, smiling faintly but with enough optimisitic pride to make Stormy want to smile back, “You’re, um- You’re together, right?”

Stunned, Stormy made a terribly dumb looking face, “Er...”

“It’s okay, Stormy.” Clementine said, smoothly enough to reassure him, “I’m a big girl, and I’m definitely not enough like Huck to be at all judgemental... Not that there’s even anything about being gay to judge- And, well, to be frank and honest; it was sort of... obvious after last night,” Clementine giggled into her hoof, “Besides, you’re definitely a catch for a guy like my brother... if I say so myself.”

She giggled more into her hoof and the sweetness in her voice came back. Her words, the way she said them, and her movements put a goofy, dorky, smile on Stormy’s face.

Still, this wasn’t something he was ready to do; throw Gent under the cart like this.

“Maybe you should talk to your brother about this, Clementine?” Stormy said, “I mean, uh- I really do appreciate you coming here. And, I especially appreciate dropping off that get well gift basket and all, but, er... um...”

Where was that impressive list of well thought out excuses to evade awkward situations now?

“This is really something you and him should talk about, Clementine,” he finished, lamely. “It’s really his place, not mine, to tell you that about himself after all.”

“Oh, uh-” Clementine stuttered, looking down at the floor, “Okay…”

Stormy licked his lips as he watched her deflate in her seat; she shrunk, her eyes paled and softened and when she did look at him it was bashful and shy. Biting his cheek, Stormy smiled,

“Hey, Clem,”

The bookish pony’s ears perked and her head lifted. She smiled at him, “Yeah?”

“This is uh- Doc Toboggan said I really should be catching up on rest... Helps with the healing he said. But, I was thinking since you’re already here, and you did bring that gift basket, maybe you could stay a while and read me something?”

Her pupils grew enormous. Her smile lifted then spread across her face, and she nodded her head erratically, “Absolutely,” she cheered, “I’d love too. This volume has some of my favorites.”

She reached for the gift basket, unwrapped it and just as quickly pulled a dusted hardcover book the same size and weight as an average Camden textbook. Smiling with an innocent, inherent, ladylike charm to her while she worked, she quickly flipped the book open on her lap and took to rifling through pages. There was more determination on her face while she rifled through the pages than Stormy could honestly say he’d ever shown towards educating himself at Camden.

Clem was destined for greatness. He could tell.

“Ah, here we go,” she said, slapping her hoof flat on an open page, “This one’s by Blake. You must know Blake? Right?”

“Only a few,”

“This is one of his bests,” she said with a proud grin, “If I do say so myself.”

Stormy grinned back, then craned his head towards the basket on the floor, “Wanna pass me a few of those truffles? I haven’t eaten since- Shit, I guess it’s been since I was at your place- And that was what? At least a day and a half ago now?”

She smiled, bent her head down and reemerged a few seconds later holding a small plastic pouch with chocolates done up in a bow. She untied the bow holding it closed, it sprung open and then she plopped a half dozen chocolate truffles onto his naked chest.

Clementine began to read from the book while Stormy took a hoof full of truffles off his chest and popped them into his mouth one at a time. He chewed them, winced when his chin clicked and something in his jaw snapped, but feigned a smile back at Clementine.

“These are good,” he said after he swallowed a mouth full of truffle, “Really good.”

“Oh,” Clementine said, blushing, “They’re um- My mom made them, actually.”

Stormy raised a brow while he popped another truffle in his mouth and chewed it, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Clementine said, “She- Well, she didn’t have enough time to bake anything. She said she wanted too, since, um- It’s really the least we could do for you,” her smile faltered, “I’m sure it doesn’t make up for, uh- the… y’know- For everything else, but-”

“Naw,” Stormy said, grinning and waving his good hoof at her, “A few more of these. Maybe something strong to drink and maybe a nice waldorf salad and I should be back on my hooves.”

Clementine grinned and then Stormy did.

“I can see why he likes you,” she said so softly that he almost didn’t hear her say it.

Stormy rolled his head to her, “Huh?”

“Gent. I can see why he likes you,” she said, “You’re… really funny. And smart. You’re a smart and funny guy,” A wry, bashful, smile came up her bright face, “Not to mention handsome.”

Stormy grinned at her, “Sounds like he’s not the only one who likes me.”

A flush of crimson spread wildly across her cheeks and she cupped them with her hooves, “What? N-no. No way,” she huffed, furrowed her brows and puffed out her lips, “Don’t be such an ass, Stormy.”

Stormy rolled his shoulders until something snapped, winced, then smiled it away, “I have to do something to pass the time,” he said, “I wouldn’t want my sharp wit to go dull in here.”

Clementine lay her hoof flat against a flabbier part of his stomach and tensely pinched the fur and skin she found there. Stormy gave a pained yelp then Clementine was grinning, rolling her tongue out through her lips and blowing raspberries at him.

“Serves you right,” she said with a mix of sternness and humour to her voice, “Act like a jackass and you’ll get treated like one.”

Stormy deflated and sank back into the bed, “I guess I had that coming.”

Proud of herself, beaming and showing it, Clementine leaned back in her seat and kicked her legs up to rest on the edge of Stormy’s bed. There was no meanness to the look he gave her, no edge or bite; it was soft and gentle and, in as many ways as it could be without bordering on creepy or awkward, caring too. Likewise, when Clementine spotted him looking at her she returned the look to him.

“Want me to keep going?” she asked, tapping a page of the book with her fetlock, “There’s a few more pages.”

Stormy smiled at her, “For sure.”