"How could you just go and do this, Patrick?" Amber was upset, very upset. Her hands clenched and unclenched even as they shook slightly. "You say you're going to be gone one day, just ONE day, and then it's three days, and you show up... you show up like this!"
Patrick shifted his rump on the couch, his tail kept sliding between the back and the cushion and it felt weird and sometimes hurt if he failed to notice and moved at all. His own weight would pinch his tail or bend it at some odd angle, and that felt uncomfortable as swirl. He knew he'd be more comfortable if he just lay down on the couch on his belly, with his legs folded, but he was trying to sit upright, like a human would because... because he was trying, in his own way, to bridge the sudden gap he now felt between himself and Amber.
They had been a couple for six years now, much longer than the two years it usually took a relationship to move beyond the passion stage into something serious. It was no longer sex holding them together, it was the real, deep bond of friendship and mutual engagement that marked all successful long-term relationships. But this... Patrick had known that this would be a risk, a big risk, but something had to be done. This had to be dealt with, and he was no longer willing to put it off. He had seen a short future of doing nothing but that, until things ended up such that it would be too late. That was... that was not tolerable.
"How am I supposed to relate to you? Huh? Do you mind telling me that? What the hell am I supposed to do with you now? You have really gone and done it this time, you have really..." Amber and Patrick had been going round and round in circles over this for over six hours now, ever since Patrick had gotten home. "That time. That time you got us involved with the - what was it? Oh, yeah, that stupid investment in trying to bring back industry, 'Little Manufacturing' - all our credits, and we had to live off the Government Ration for almost a year, A YEAR! Goddammit, Pat! What the fuck?"
Amber was crying again, it was impossible to remember how many times she had broken down to tears. They had been through so much together, and then the big jerk pulls something like this! This was way worse than the investment thing, that, that was something where everything could go back to normal, more or less, it just took time, but this, this was something that couldn't be reversed. "You're CERTAIN this can't be reversed?"
They both knew the answer, the question had only been asked and answered dozens of times in every possible way over the last many hours, but Amber just couldn't keep from asking. It's like the question had a life of it's own. She felt stupid for saying that, but dammit... just... dammit!
Patrick's ears were low, pulled back against his skull, now they drooped down, almost like dog ears. It was uncanny how expressive the damn things were, Amber thought. It was creepy, like being able to read his mind or something. At least he couldn't hide his feelings anymore! That made her laugh, she couldn't help herself, but then she felt like crying again, and she couldn't seem to help that either. "Why? WHY DID YOU DO IT? GODDAMMIT ANSWER ME! Answer me..."
She'd asked, and been answered multiple times on that one too, but it was like the answer was slippery and wouldn't stick inside her head. She knew she already had heard his explanation, but... it just wouldn't stick. It was like her mind didn't want it inside, causing trouble. It was like the answer kept running away.
Patrick was exhausted now. Even with his new body and new brain, there was a limit. "BECAUSE I DIDN'T WANT TO DIE! What the cinnamon swirl don't you comprehend about that? HUH? DIE! D-I-E, dead, dead, rotting in the ground, gone forever, not there, deceased DEAD! Which is EXACTLY what is going to happen to YOU if you don't wake up and face this and get your stubby tail the FUCK down to the Bureau!"
Amber stared at the unicorn stallion on her couch. Her mouth fell open, instinctively she put a hand over it in shock. "Did... what did you just... you just said 'fuck' didn't you?"
"I'M SERIOUS! You MUFFIN need to get your..."
"You DID! You freaking said 'fuck' to me, just now!" Amber had a look on her face like she'd just discovered the winning golden ticket to Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
"I MEAN IT, Amber... wait... seriously? I said... uh... um..." Patrick's ears went out sideways, an emotional statement that neither of them was sure what it meant, but it made his ear muscles ache to do it.
"Fuck. You said fuck. Just now - I mean a little bit ago." Amber leaned forward in her chair, her hands between her legs propping up her weight. "You were going on about death and dying and crap like that and you said 'fuck', Patrick. I thought you couldn't say words like that anymore?"
The mood had instantly changed. Amber was in one of her 'I gotta understand this' situations, and for the moment all the tears and anger had evaporated. It was the most bizarre thing, but Patrick had gotten used to it over the years - they could be in the middle of the worst fight they ever had, and something would catch Amber's attention and it was like the fight was on hold, as if the fight was some kind of hologame and somebody had pressed the 'pause' button to go make a sandwich or something. "I thought I couldn't too!" Patrick wasn't sure, had he really said...fu... that... that word? Out loud? He couldn't even think it at the moment, and he was trying really hard, too. "Are you sure?"
Amber leaned even more forward, her mid-length dark brown hair dangling. "Oh, you said it, all right. I give you my word. You said 'fuck', loud as can be. Hell, you even shouted it. It was pretty impressive coming out of a pony mouth, let me tell you." Amber sat up and leaned back. "Huh. Well that's interesting at least. I guess your fancy new brain hasn't changed as much as you think it has. I guess you're still you, somewhere in there. Oh GOD!" The tears and the anger were returning like some storm rolling in within her mind. Patrick could see it coming from the expression on her face. Suddenly Amber's expression became hard and distant, cold and removed.
"I want you to tell me exactly why you did this, without asking me, without discussing it, just did it, and I will listen this time, and I will do my DAMNEDEST to try and... and listen." Amber crossed her arms over her chest and sat with her face like a plascrete dam holding back a flooded valley's worth of tears.
"I'm really getting tired, Amber, I don't know if I can do this anymore tonight... I... I just got back, and the only rest I had was during my Conversion. I'm..." The look in her eyes made Patrick feel like he might start to cry, again, so he decided to try. One more time. "...alright, alright. But understand, I am really exhausted, so I might not make as much sense now."
A tear ran down Amber's cheek. Patrick sighed and tried to swallow. His throat felt dry. "Equestria is coming. It is going to roll right over the top of the city, and keep on going. Equestria will engulf the entire world in five years. Six years. I don't know anymore, I... I'm just... anyway, running isn't going to work. We could move to your mother's on the east coast, but that would only give us another year, maybe two. Then what, run to the Eurozone? South Africa? There'll be no place left to run after that. It's over. The earth is done. I don't want to die. I don't want you to die. But you just keep putting things off and off and..."
"YOU STATEMENTS!" Amber's eyes flashed with fire. "No more 'you' statements! Make 'I' statements!" Her lower lip quivered with fading rage. Exhaustion and the lateness of the hour were getting to her too. 'You' statements were the thing they had been trying that they had learned from Dana, a friend that was into couples counseling and psychology stuff. The idea was that saying 'You did this' or 'You did that' was a form of emotional attack, and that real communication couldn't happen when there was attacking going on. So the notion was to stick to 'I' statements - 'I feel' and 'I think that' and so forth. It supposedly kept people on track with what they really mean, too, or somesuch.
"Sorry... sorry. OK, then... ah... I... feel like... the matter of dealing with the issue of Conversion needs to be... dealt with. Now, not later. And since I don't want to die, and the only way to live is to convert, the answer is blatant and obvious. But we... I feel that we... keep putting it off with all the talk of moving and moving again, trying to outrun the bubble and... that just plain isn't going to work." Patrick's tail was aching like a dog was trying to chew it off. He'd had enough of trying to sit like a little mock-human. He was a pony now and he was too tired to keep pretending he wasn't in order to try to somehow please Amber. Patrick carefully moved his tail free as he slid down the back of the couch onto his belly, pulling his forelegs and hindlegs under himself. Ahhhh... oh that was better. Sooooo much better. The couch was soft under him, his tail had stopped cramping after a few swishes, and he let his head down onto the cushions. "Ohhh... sweet Celestia... oh, Luna that's better... nnnngh..."
"Why were you sitting up like that then, if it was so uncomfortable?" Patrick startled, suddenly aware that he must have very briefly nodded off. Amber was in inquisitive mode again. It was better than angry mode.
"I guess..." Patrick worked to open his newly ruby-colored eyes. "I guess that I was trying to look more human... um... so that... you would take me more seriously. I was afraid that if I lay down like this... that you might... think less of me."
There was a pause. "Whoa. That is so weird." Amber seemed abstractly fascinated. "That is your new pony-brain talking, isn't it. I don't think I've ever heard you just say what you felt inside like that." She didn't sound displeased, exactly. Surprised, definitely. "Usually I have to yank that out of you."
"Um... well we have been at this for... lots of hours." Patrick sighed. He felt so tired. It had been a very long day. He'd been at the Bureau for three days. They'd told him he could be converted the same day he went in, but then there was some kind of confusion about whether that was actually allowed or not, because the person in charge was new because the old person had gone pony and they were worried about... whatever the case, it wasn't until five in the evening that Patrick had finally been allowed to drink a cup of purple goo. An hour later he was on his way directly home, still trying to be comfortable with his brand new body. One of the neighbors, a pony, had seen him coming in and had brought over some proper pony food while he waited for Amber. Then she had come home, and after the initial warm-up yelling, the fight had begun in earnest.
"But, yeah." Patrick used the last of his energy to lift his long neck up so that he could look at his love. "I kind of don't see the point of holding my feelings in anymore. I don't even understand why I used to do that now. It was pretty stupid, really. It caused a lot of fights with you. I'm sorry about that, by the way." He gave her a tired smile. "I wish I could have had this brain back three years ago, when we had the first 'hell year'. I wish I'd always had this pony brain. I would have treated you better." The first hell year happened before the investment hell year, and it was just stupid stuff that never should have even happened. It was an embarrassment just to bring it up, but somehow, in this context, neither of them was shuddering.
"You should have told me, Patrick! Before you went. You should have told me what you were doing. That was wrong." Amber looked severe once more, her arms again crossed and her legs too, one big fortress within her chair.
"Maybe it was." Patrick was too tired to fight now. "And I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. I figured that if I told you, we'd have a big fight about it right then, and I would have lost my nerve and never have gone at all."
"DAMN RIGHT! You didn't even give me the chance to stop you!" The way she said it was like he had broken the rule to some unnamed game.
"No, no I didn't. Because I knew this needed to be done. I had to do this, and I knew that I would hate myself, and hate you too, if you somehow got me to not go. I would end up blaming you, later, when we were stuck in South Africa waiting to die with all the idiots, and I didn't want to die being angry at you." He jerked slightly after saying that, he shouldn't have said that, it was a dumb thing to say, oh Luna's Left Hoof, stupid, stupid, stupid thing to say...
But the reaction didn't go the way Patrick expected, because suddenly Amber was out of her chair and down on the floor in front of the couch, staring into his eyes. They were huge, Patrick's new eyes, and not blue anymore but the most incredible shade of ruby red. Amber felt a tingle down her back staring into them. They were just mesmerizing. You'd think bright red eyes would be creepy, she thought, just really weird and creepy, but somehow they looked gentle and kind, and like jewels... no, not like Jewels, like... like that soda drink, the red stuff that their pony neighbor Stucco liked. Patrick's new eyes were the color of Red Pop and oh, that was so weird... 'Patrick's new eyes', you don't get to say something like that very often. Oh, hey there, have you seen my Patrick's brand new eyes? Yeah, they're the color of soda pop! No, really! You gotta see them!
'My Patrick'. No doubt about it, she'd said that to herself. Amber tried to see if she could see him, see the man she loved inside those bright red eyes. His face was completely different, it was a stallion face, an equine face, but... somehow, it still kind of looked like him. That was so weird. How could that even be? There was just something... Pat... about that new face. Yeah, she decided. He was in there, somehow, impossibly, he was in there. Inside a stallion, on the couch.
Patrick suddenly wanted to kiss Amber. He wanted it more than life itself. Her face, her beautiful face was right there but... he just couldn't. She already had problems with his new form. New species, if we're being honest about it - he almost chuckled at that, inside - strange, strange world where it was possible to even say such a thing, much less be it. She wouldn't want to kiss a pony. That would be too weird. That would be a very weird place to go right now. But he didn't want to kiss her for sexy fun times reasons. Patrick just wanted to feel her lips against his, just in love, just to feel safe and loved. This... all of this felt too much like breaking up talk, and Patrick didn't want to lose her. Not Amber. Anypony but Amber. What had he done? Oh, Celestia, what had he gone and done?
"Pat?" The tears were streaming now, down the stallion's dark brown face, the droplets making the soft cheek hairs damp. "What's the matter, honey? Sweety? What's going on?" Amber was beyond exhausted, it had hit her now, and she had no defenses left. Patrick was crying. He was crying!
Amber found herself trying to wipe the tears away, but she was rubbing the wrong direction and making the hairs stand up, so she reversed her movements, and the cheek hairs smoothed down again on the stallion's head. It felt very soft, not like she had expected. This was the first time she had touched Patrick since he had come home. She found herself petting him on the top of the head, like a dog. She couldn't help herself, she began scratching behind his ears. This seemed to please Patrick very much. Amber found herself relaxing, strangely. It was nice to see such a small thing make him so happy. It was a little moment of simple, animal closeness.
Patrick drifted in a sea of contentment. Amber was scratching his ears and it felt so good, oh Celestia's sparkling mane it felt good, right there, yes, oh yes, please, right there behind the left ear... oh, sweet goodness that was nice. He realized his head was down, he couldn't help it, it just felt so good, and he was so tired. He could tell he was smiling from cheek to cheek.
"Hey... remember... remember that time went to the beach, Long Beach... or was it Oceanside? I forget. Anyway, that time we decided to walk the length nude and I got burned on... on... " It had just popped into his head, he couldn't for the life of him figure out why, but it was making him laugh because it was just so stupid and he was so tired. The smog was so thick, it was always thick back then, and he couldn't imagine getting burned, not with the sun a dim red polka-dot, but apparently you could get burned even if the sky was solid grey. He laughed again. Luna, but that had hurt for weeks. Oh, that was a mistake!
Amber gave a small laugh. "Oh you were so fried. You even had trouble peeing. God, that was such a stupid..." Amber stopped, the laugh in her voice ending abruptly. "Listen. It's late, I am too tired to think anymore. Let's hit the bed, and maybe we can be more civil in the morning. I assume you still sleep in a bed, or do I need to make you a cardboard box with a blanket and a clock to keep you company?"
Patrick giggled at the thought, he too was beyond exhaustion. "Yeah, and a hot-water bottle so that I'll think you're there with me and..." Suddenly it wasn't funny and more tears came. "I don't want to lose you Amber! I sleep in a bed. I'm still a person, even if I have hooves, even if I have a tail and eat hay. I'm still me, and... and I don't want to lose you. I don't want... I'm so afraid... I'm so afraid..." and then he was weeping, and she was holding him, Amber was holding him and he felt a kiss on the top of his head, and it felt like hope because it felt like caring and love.
"Come on, pony-boy, let's get you to bed. Me too." Patrick made his way off the couch with Amber's help. He felt really wobbly and dizzy from being so tired. He felt like he might just drop. He almost did, so Amber laid a hand on his withers and held on, to keep him upright. "Are your hooves clean? I don't want dirty hooves messing up the sheets."
They both stopped, at the absurdity of such a statement. They looked at each other and giggled briefly. "I'll, I'll wash them to be sure, OK?" Patrick headed shakily over to the bathtub and stepped in. He found himself facing the handle, completely unable to figure out what to do.
Amber's hand reached down and turned the handle, water spewed out. The Pegasai had brought clouds and water to Los Pegasus, so now things like bathing were dependable in a way they hadn't been for a very long time. Patrick easily rinsed his forehooves, but felt confused trying to reason out how to wash his hind hooves. His sleep-deprived brain finally worked out that unless he wanted to sit down and get his tail and bottom wet, he needed to rear up, use the wall for support, and turn around. That done, he easily rinsed his hind hooves. He clambered out, then turned to shut off the water. He pawed at the knob with a hoof - he hadn't had any training or education about how to be a pony, because he had wanted to get home immediately. "Um... little help?" He felt very embarrassed asking. Some Equestrian he was.
Amber came over and turned off the flow. Then to Patrick's surprise, and finally delight, she had a towel down and was drying his hooves. "Purely selfish, pony-boy. No wet hooves in my bed." Amber gave Patrick a mock scowl. "Ok, get your ass to bed. If you can. At least you don't smell bad."
It was true. Patrick was quite surprised that he didn't smell... like an animal. He smelled clean, slightly flowery, slightly... spicy, almost. But not like an animal, or at least not like an earth animal, including a human. Patrick approached the bed, the top of which was about level with his muzzle. He reared up, hooves on the mattress, and considered trying to crawl onto the bed, but dismissed the notion. Finally he gave a big leap and threw his new body onto the sheets. His hind hooves were hanging off the edge, but most of him was on the bed. With a little twist of his body, he was entirely on the mattress, partly on his belly, his back facing Amber's side of the bed, and partly on his side, at least as far as his hindquarters were concerned.
Patrick lay his head on the pillow. "Oh! Muffins! I forgot to brush my teeth!" The thought of climbing back down and dealing with that, when the mattress was so soft and he was so tired was overwhelming. "I don't even know how, yet. Forget it. Sleep first."
Amber crawled into bed beside him. He could feel her weight change the mattress and bounce him about in tiny ways. It was nice to be in bed, to have her there. Just to know she was there. It was everything. Everything.
"You were converted, just today, right?" Amber stared at the equinoid body beside her, at the long silvery-gray mane. She had brought the blankets over Patrick's body, hiding his flanks and tail. She was in bed with a horse. No... not a horse, and not a pony either, not really. Equestrians didn't look like earth animals, except in passing. The head was huge, to house a large brain. The eyes were gigantic. Maybe light worked differently in Equestria. The body was built differently, with more mobility in the joints, more freedom of motion. A human range of motion. No, Equestrians weren't really ponies. It was just the closest word humans had for the extraversal beings, she finally decided.
Patrick lay still under the covers. He felt a little hot, actually, but he didn't want to kick the blankets off because Amber had covered him. He wanted to cuddle with her, like always, but the situation was awkward now and he was glad enough to not be forced to sleep on the couch. That she had thought to cover him was an act of recognition, an act of concern for him, and it meant a lot right now. So he lay quietly and began to sweat. Having a coat of hair was like having a blanket already. "At about five. When I went in, on Monday, I had been assured they would convert me that same day, that I would be back by dinner, breakfast at the latest. But they had this new guy in, running the place, and he wasn't sure what was what at all. He was constantly afraid of getting in trouble with the bureau authority, and so I was told 'tomorrow for sure!' but that didn't happen. Finally I screamed and yelled enough and somepony invoked some kind of 'three day rule' or something, and I ended up getting my conversion slot at five. Then I came straight home."
Patrick was really feeling hot, he couldn't take it anymore so he lifted his head and took the blankets between his teeth and gave them a flip down. Ahhh.... much better. Maybe Equstrians don't use blankets, or maybe they use less or... it finally dawned on him just how little he knew about what he was now. He had wanted to get back to Amber so much he had completely blown off all the training at the Bureau. "Whoo... I'm all fuzzy now... I get hot quick. But it was nice of you to cover me. Thank you for that. I mean, that was kind. Thank you." He'd sounded fragile and clingy, and inside he shrank a little at the realization.
"So your plan was to dash in and come back the same day, then?" Amber had felt abandoned. She had been so mad at Patrick. Three days and no word! But then, to be fair, communication wasn't so good anymore, and there was no kiosk near where they lived. Even if he'd tried to reach her, how would she have heard him? She found herself staring at Patrick's new, long mane, and now at the base of his tail. His hair was amazing. Silvery-white, it looked like moonlight in the dim glow from the window. Amber knew women who would literally kill for hair like that. She found herself running her fingers through Patrick's mane. Soft, too. It was like silk. No, better. It was really great hair.
Amber pulled her hand back. That was dumb. She didn't want to be too familiar with this... this thing in her bed. It was Patrick, but it wasn't Patrick and... it wasn't human. But if she closed her eyes, it was Patrick, mostly. His voice was almost the same, a little higher, a little more nasal maybe, but it sounded like him. "Yes, Amber! I never intended to leave you hanging like that. They just had a change of management or whatever and that... guy... was just... ugh. He was scared of his own shadow, and they just kept me waiting. I'm really, really sorry I didn't leave a note or something, anything. That was wrong of me. And stupid too. You must have been worried sick."
He sounded genuinely remorseful. She had been worried. Even with most of the population ponies now - the Barrier was only a month and a half away - there were still some humans left out there, skulking about, many up to no good. Some were looters, others were die-hard HLF picking off ponies, there were a few rapists, too she had heard. Anything could have happened to Patrick. The Bureau was in a bad part of the city, made so because the Bureau was there, and that attracted the anti-bureau types, who tended to be violent little shits. "Yeah... I was... of course I was worried about you! I had no idea where you had gone, and now I find out you went there... "
"If it's any help, they told me all the HLF has pulled out now. The Barrier is too close for them to want to deal with. They've written Los Pegasus off. I only saw a hoofful of humans my whole time there, and all of them were there to be converted too. So... there's no danger anymore. If that helps." Patrick wasn't sure if saying that would comfort her, or just make her mad again. He felt so insecure, like anything he said might be the wrong thing, and he only wanted to say right things!
"Um..." Amber shifted in the bed, unsure of how to be with Patrick now. She missed him, yet he was right there. It was confusing, and it made getting to sleep difficult. "What... what is it like? To be a pony?"
"It's like wearing shoes to bed."
Amber started giggling at that, then Patrick started giggling too. The giggles turned to laughter. They were too tired, and too upset, and that made it far funnier than it should have been. Encouraged, Patrick carefully rolled over, releasing his legs from the covering blanket. He had to twist slightly and flop to make sure his tail wasn't bent in an odd position. It was still sore from trying to sit upright on the couch for hours.
Patrick stared into Amber's green eyes. They had felt so exhausted, but now it was like they couldn't sleep. He wanted to reach out to her, to stroke her cheek, to hold her, but... hooves. It didn't work that way exactly now. How did Equestrians show affection? How was he supposed to act? He decided it was better to just remain still. It was amazing Amber was even tolerating him there in the bed in the first place, considering how she had reacted when he had first come home, release bag in mouth.
"They're shutting down the Bureau. In two weeks. That's why they had a new guy who didn't know anything. It's already mostly packed up in there." Patrick felt and heard his ears twitch on the pillow. "That's kind of what made me... what caused me to force things. Two weeks, and then there won't be any more way to convert in the city - unless there's still some PER or something around. I heard they're pulling out too."
"Patrick... I... I just... I don't know." Amber reached out and took Patrick's hoof in her hands. She carefully felt the tough hoof wall, followed the wrinkles and bumps of the frog inside, swept her fingers over the curve of the hoof, and the arch of the coronet band, where the nail met the soft, luxurious hair of his foreleg. She wrapped her index finger and thumb around where it all narrowed in the pastern. She felt the muscles move as Patrick articulated his hoof while she held it. "It is kind of like a little shoe, isn't it?"
"It kind of feels like one too. I can feel pressure, and impact, but not touch on the... hard... part of it. But I could feel you touching inside, in the soft part." Patrick tried to smile, at least they were talking, gently.
"Frog. It's called your 'frog'. I don't know why. Jesus, Patrick, you don't even know what your own body parts are called." Amber had an almost pitying look on her face.
"I wanted to come home. They wanted me to stay, and learn all that stuff - they were real adamant about it too. 'We've only got two weeks left, this is your last chance to get the full benefit of what the Bureau has to offer' and stuff like that." Patrick looked down at Amber's hand, holding his new hoof. "I wanted to come home. To you. I just wanted to... to..."
"Shhh.... come here you big dodo. Christ, what am I going to do with you?" Amber wiped the new tears that had appeared on Patrick's cheeks and pulled him to her. He felt warm and smaller, and all legs and muscles and coat, and he pressed his muzzle into her chest and wept like a child. Amber gently stroked his back, running her hands through the long, soft hair of his withers, patting him. "What the hell am I going to do?"
When Patrick's sobs ceased, he almost immediately fell into a very deep sleep. Amber remained, her arm around his fluffy back, his nostrils tickling her chest slightly as they flared with each breath. Once, he snorted in his sleep, a very equine sound, probably a bad dream. She patted his flank and he shifted slightly, cuddling closer, and half smiled as his breathing became slow again.
She felt a little bad now, about the fight, but she had just been so shocked when she had come home to find him there, standing on all fours, like a dog come to greet it's master at the door. Then the permanence of it hit her, the irreversibility, and then she had gotten angry, because Patrick had gone and changed their life together, just like that, bang. It felt like she imagined being shot must be like - not the physical pain, the horror, the sudden 'it's not going to ever be the same anymore' feeling.
Amber ran her fingers up Patrick's new ear. It was no longer a human ear, in placement, in shape, in feeling. It twitched in her hand, even as he slept. She had known a dog like that, when she was small. Its ears would twitch just like that, even when it slept. Her hands moved to his unicorn horn. It was short and twisted into a spiral. It wasn't sharp, but it was hard. She felt it, it felt like hoof, like fingernail, only solid. Patrick was a unicorn. He had a horn on his head. He'd always wanted to be a wizard or a mage or some such. He'd always played characters like that in his games.
They had been planning to run. To go east. Hadn't they? Wasn't that the plan, to up and move away? The more Amber thought about it, the more she realized... they hadn't packed at all. There had been no real effort. She certainly hadn't prepared a damn bit. Just a month. A month and two weeks, more or less. That's all that was left. The scale of it finally hit her. That big old bubble was rushing at them, rushing at this very bedroom, right now, right this minute. A month and a half, and it would all be gone. Just... gone. The apartment, the bedroom, the cracked roads, the earthpony gardens - she wondered if they would stay, because they had been made by ponies. By her neighbors. All of her neighbors.
Did she even know anyone human anymore? Jose, the guy who ran the taco stand! No, he had gone pony, that's right... that's why they had stopped going there. The tacos were all vegetarian now, and she wanted meat in her tacos, dammit. Yeah, that was right. That was why they didn't go there anymore. What about Melissa? Last time she'd called... no, she'd gone pony months ago. It was just easy to forget when it was just a voice over a link. Was there anyone, anywhere in the entire neighborhood that was human anymore?
She began to realize that for some time now, it had just been her and Patrick. They were the only humans left in Garden Grove. She couldn't even remember the last time she had seen another biped. They'd just gotten used to it - she'd just gotten used to it - everyone was a pony, that was just life. God, what the human mind could adjust to, accept as ordinary. She hadn't even thought about it, it had happened so gradually. Now... now she couldn't stop thinking about it.
Every single person in her life was Equestrian now. All the neighbors, every shop, every store. All the gardens, the pegasai that kept the weather now, Janice in number twelve - wait, she was... what the heck did she call herself now? Lilly Flower? Lilly Song? Something with Lilly in it. All those new pony names to learn. She'd made an effort, but there was just so many to memorize.
Because every single person was a pony. That was why.
For all Amber knew, she might very well be the last human person in the whole of Los Pegasus. It sure felt like it.
She could leave Patrick, of course. She could go back east, stay with her mother - god, that would be hell - and then move again when the bubble arrived in a year or three or whatever it was. Maybe Patrick would go with her, they could move together, they could start a new life and...
South Africa. Amber held Patrick-the-pony tight for a moment. The tip of South Africa, that was supposed to be the last part of the earth that would be left, before Zero Point. Before No More Earth. No more...
Somehow, she knew she was dreaming, but she couldn't wake up. She couldn't change things. Semi-lucid, not fully lucid. She was an observer in her own dream, but she couldn't change it. The events flowed like a normal dream, and she was carried along with them.
She and Patrick were there, only Patrick was still human, he wasn't a pony. There were thousands and thousands of people, all crowding together, close to the ocean. She could tell they were close, because she could smell the mix of industrial chemicals and salt. The heat was unbearable. The sun was merciless. "Patrick... oh god, Pat, this is it, isn't it, oh god, this is it!"
All around, in every direction, the vast and shimmering wall gleamed. It was like being in the center of some great glass doughnut, half the sky was taken up everywhere she looked, rippling and shining. There was no where to run, no where to go, and the people kept crowding together closer and closer, trying to back away from the approaching Barrier, only there was no place to back up to.
Amber heard the screams, people were being trampled on, crushed together in the center where the crowds kept pressing in on each other, instinctively fleeing, no longer in their right minds. "Patrick! Oh god! Patrick!" In the distance she saw a low flying aerostat, it was spraying something on parts of the crowd. A purple mist, it... it must be potion! They must be trying to save people at the last minute, but it wasn't enough, it wasn't even close to enough. "Patrick! We have to get over there!" She tried to point, to indicate where the Aerostat was spraying, but there was no way to push through the crowd. They would never be able to get there. It was too late now.
Amber heard a man, dressed in a fancy suit, as if he had just come from a party. He was drenched with sweat, everyone was, and he was screaming and holding up a creditstick. "My fortune! My entire fortune! I'm fucking rich! I own a third of Applesoft! I'll give it all for just one vial of potion! All of it! Somebody, anybody! I'll pay billions of credits, BILLIONS! Just one dose! Just one..." and then he was crushed under the feet of the crowd, smashing together, mindlessly, terrified.
Amber wanted to scream, to run, but there was no place to go, no place to move. Just people, sweaty human bodies pressing in from all sides, making it hard to breath. "Patrick, we have to leave, we have to get out of here, Patrick!"
Suddenly, there was a space, room to move. It was about ten feet around. The sides were people, packed closely together, but somehow they had all moved away, because she had screamed, and now there was room. "Patrick?" Patrick wasn't human now. He was a pony, brown with silvery mane, standing in the clearing of people.
"I'm sorry. I am so sorry." Patrick was crying, big pony tears dripping down his muzzle. "I loved you, I loved you so much. I am so sorry. I just am so damn sorry. Fuck, just... fuck it. Fuck it all!" The pony stood there, swearing and cussing as the crowd began to smash in, the clearing shrinking.
She was going to die, she knew it. The walls of the Barrier were like a large tube now, the eye of a hurricane, towering above. At the top of the tube of shimmering light, she could see a circle of sky, the last moment of Earth's original sky. Around her people were turning to ash. They were turning black and flaking away in some terrible wind, the mage plague, thaumatic radiation, burning painlessly away, the ashes like leaves swirling around her, the skeletons dropping in dry rattling heaps. Amber looked at her arm and started to scream as her skin turned black and began to peel, to flake and fly away into the wind. She saw her gleaming bone, and still pony Patrick was swearing, swearing, saying the most obscene things...
"Amber? Amber!" Patrick was shaking her with a hoof, his stallion face close to hers, calling to her. He was propped up on one leg using the other to wake her. He looked frightened.
Amber was dripping with sweat. The bed felt damp from it. Her breathing was hard and her heart was pounding in her chest like a hammer. "Pat? Patrick?" She felt tears in her eyes and on her cheeks, apparently she had been crying in her sleep.
"You were having a really bad dream, love. It must have been a doozy." Patrick collapsed on her, hugging her waist with his forelegs, his head pressed hard against her side. "It's OK, It's OK, I'm here, I'm here."
It was just like a thousand times before, when she had really bad dreams. Only now he was a pony. For a moment, Amber seriously wondered if she really had awakened, or if this was still more dream. Ouch. She realized that her belly hurt. "You're hugging too hard!" Patrick might seem a little smaller than he had been, but apparently he was a lot stronger.
"Sorry! Oh, Luna, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you..." Patrick let go, carefully moving his head so that his horn wouldn't scrape her.
He was over her, holding himself up on his forelegs. His eyes studied her in the morning light, red, such a bright red, glowing, almost. His face was so concerned, his ears back and slightly drooped.
Amber raised a hand and traced the contour of his cheek and muzzle. She felt his new lips, lost in the curiosity of the moment. Her heart was still racing, but at least it wasn't pounding. The last of her horror was passing, now, as the nightmare evaporated.
Patrick felt Amber's fingers prying at his lips. He opened his mouth slightly, and her fingers entered, testing, touching. He worried about his breath - he had been too tired to brush last night, and he must have the most awful hay-mouth right now.
Amber ran her finger tips over the strong, flat teeth. They were wide in the front, like molars, and there were no canines, no chisel-teeth, just strong, flat, powerful pegs. His tongue pressed against her fingers, so she caught it between her index and middle finger, which forced him to open even wider. Amber brought her thumb to bear and pinched Patrick's tongue and gave it a slight pull. "Gotcher tongue! What now, huh?" Amber found herself giggling at the absurdity of it all. "There you go, letting some strange girl stick her fingers in your mouth, and now what? Your tongue is mine, mister. What's that? I can't hear you? You say you want me to pull harder?" With an evil smile, she tugged gently at the long tongue, finding herself astonished at just how far it was able to come out of Patrick's new jaw.
"UNG UF OOFF UMMNGGH!"
"Holy... good god Patrick, does this thing ever stop, or do you have a roll of tongue in there? Holy crap..." By now she had what looked like a good four or five inches beyond his lips and he was clearly in some pain. She let go and he pulled his tongue back inside his mouth. It looked like a hot pink snake trying to escape into a grass-covered cave.
"What in the name of biscuit are you trying to do to me, mare?" Patrick was more shocked than angry. He had gotten used to Amber being... Amber over the years. Still, yanking his tongue out of his head was a new one.
"I just... I mean I... well..." Amber began to giggle. "It was... it was just there!"
"Sweet Celestia I should hope so! GACK ACK Unggg... um... aah, that felt weird. It hurt the underside too, on my teeth, see?" Patrick opened his mouth wide and tried to show off the underside of his tongue where apparently his own teeth had scraped it. "THHEEE?" He moved his head a bit. "IGHHT EERRE!"
Amber found her hands near Patrick's sides, and she decided this deserved a tickle, so in no time her fingers were deep in pony coat, and Patrick was failing to scramble away because he was laughing too hard. "Stop it! Stop it! No! Noooo! Augh...!"
Amber had stopped tickling, and rested her head on Patrick's chest. The hairs tickled her nose, so she had to raise a hand to flatten them - blowing didn't help. There were no nipples now, just muscle, bone and hair. Her head went up and down as Patrick breathed. In front of her eyes, blocking part of the light from the window, was his right hoof, his leg up and curled above him as he lay on his back. "Your nipples are gone."
"I said your nipples are gone. You are without nipples. You are sans-nipples, your nipples have taken a hike." this brought laughter to both of them. "Where the hell did you put your nipples, Patrick?"
"I have no idea what you are... what do you mean my... you have completely... what the?" Patrick was still trying to get his breath back from the tickling, and it was clear he was completely unaware of this change to his body.
Amber ran her fingers up and down the part of his chest - barrel, on ponies it was called a barrel, she remembered - that her head wasn't on. "You used to have nipples. Right.... here. And another where my ear is. But you don't. They're gone. I hate to inform you of this, but my examination has indicated that you have somehow lost your nipples. I don't think they are coming back anytime soon."
Patrick laughed. "You are the weirdest little pony I have ever met, you know that Amber? Flying koo-koo and out the window. Gone squirrel. I have no words." Patrick ran his other hoof, the left one, down her back.
"OH! Right there!"
"Rub, right there!" The command was absolute, her ladyship must be appeased. Patrick dug his hoof into her back, just under the bone plate where her shoulder muscles attached. "Oh, oh god, oh god... holy fuck that's good. Ohhhh, wow, Pat. Yeah, now... just a little higher, right under the bone. No, closer to the spine. No! Not that close. Yeah, there. Now down a little... ooohhh... ho... ahhhh.. that's the spot. Yeah. Oh, right there. Hold it! Just hold, right there!"
Patrick pressed his hoof in with as much force as he dared. He was still getting used to the things and he didn't want to hurt her.
"Annnnd RELEASE!" Patrick yanked his hoof from Amber's back. She relaxed completely with a sigh. "I'm a puddle now. Damn that was good. OK... score one for hooves. I am... impressed."
Amber made a slurping sound, apparently she had forgot herself and drooled. Patrick felt the wetness in his chest hair. "Oh, god, that's been bugging me for days, Pat. Seriously, I had a crampy muscle there for days. Thank you. Wow. Thank you so much."
"Anything for milady." Patrick used his grand butler voice for that, which made Amber smile.
"You called me a pony. And a mare. You called me a mare and a pony." Amber was running her fingers through Patrick's coat, savoring the softness.
"Don't you even know what you are saying?" She gave a patch of Patrick's coat a sharp tug.
"Ow! What is with you today? No, I've always made it my policy to never listen to what I say. That way I don't have to hear how stupid I am!"
Amber laughed at that. "Well you did. I bet you say 'everypony' all the time too. All the ponies do that. Everypony does that. Everypony."
"Everypony?" Patrick lowered his forelegs and wrapped them, as best as he could, around Amber, holding her.
"They say stuff like that. I've paid attention. They get converted, and then they say things like 'everypony' and call everyone 'stallions' or 'mares' even if they're human. Is that something they tell you to do?" Amber shifted her head, so that the rib under it didn't hurt her earlobe.
"I don't know. I didn't get any training at all. I watched one holo about how pretty Equestria is, but mostly I was just trying to get them to convert me. Nopony told me to say anything in particular."
Amber scritched idly at Patrick's thick coat. "Hey! Waaaaiiiit... that was deliberate, wasn't it?"
"You! I'm serious. How much of you is you in there, anyway?" Amber tried to blow farty noises on Patrick's chest, but she found it was hard to do with the thick coat of hair on it. She put her head back down.
"You tell me. I may not be the best judge, since I'm... I'm really close to me." Patrick smiled at that.
Amber seemed to be thinking. "Say 'fuck'."
"Just say it. Swear for me."
"So, what am I now, your pet? I'm supposed to perform tricks for you?"
"Come on, just say it. Say 'fuck'. Just say it." Amber seemed insistent.
"Fine." Anything for laughs. "Fuuuuuu.... Fuuuuu.... Fa." Something inside didn't want to say the word. Everything in Patrick's memory associated the word with times when something bad happened, or when there was anger or hurt. The word meant sex, but... now there was a conflict inside his mind. Sex shouldn't be bad. It shouldn't be something associated with violence, or pain, or anger. That was stupid. That was... it wasn't one bit pleasant. It felt bad. It was a really stupid thing to use to swear with. It was too precious, too tender to use that way. "Huh. I can't. I mean... I probably could, if I really fought hard, but... I genuinely don't want to."
"That's different." Amber had her intrigued face on again. "Why? Why don't you want to say that word?"
Patrick explained, as best he could.
"Hmmm... That is really kind of interesting." Amber seemed lost in thought. "Tell me, Patrick, and be really honest. You love me, right, still, that hasn't changed, right?"
Patrick felt a swelling wave of love inside him. Amber heard his heart speed up inside his chest. "I love you, Amber. Oh, sweet Luna but I love you. If anything... I love you more now that I ever... I didn't even know I could feel it this strongly. Seriously." Patrick's heart was pounding under Amber's ear.
"If I wanted to, if I really wanted you to, would you fuck me?" Amber was very quiet, very still.
"Um... ah..." Patrick felt nervous, almost afraid.
"I know what you said!" Patrick's heart was racing.
"Then would you? Tell me if you would. Tell me what you would do, if I asked you, if I begged you. Please? Just tell me?"
"I would happily, lovingly fuck you all day long and all night." Patrick's eyes grew wide at his own words. It had been easy to say.
Amber raised her head and lifted herself onto one arm. She looked Patrick in the eyes. "Fuck you. Say it. Tell me to fuck off. Go on, DO IT! NOW!" Her voice was a command.
"Fuuuu... fuu... No! I wouldn't ever say that to you!" Patrick felt upset. Why would she ask such a thing of him?
"Interesting. Very, very interesting." Amber thumbed her lower lip B-b-b-b. "Context. It's context. It has to be. It's like you have some kind of... what did you feel when I asked you to tell me to 'fuck off'?"
"Um... bad. Sad. I was shocked you would expect me to be able to do that."
"But you've definitely said it to me before. Remember hell year, remember the fights we had? Oh, it was like your favorite phrase back then. If you weren't telling me to 'fuck off', you were shouting at me to 'shut the fuck up'. You had a nasty mouth on you, boy." Amber grinned.
"I'm... I'm really sorry about that. Yes I remember. And I feel terrible. I've... I realize I've done a lot of bad things over the years. I don't feel happy about them. I'm sorry." Patrick's eyes were filled with contrition, it was as clear as speech to Amber.
"You seemed happy enough to shout at me at the time."
"That was... I was a different... I'm not like that now." Patrick was clearly embarrassed.
"I believe you. Huh." Amber lowered her head again, and rested on Patrick's chest. He tentatively put his foreleg over her again. "Well, Patrick, you're you, and you aren't you. You are everything I remember about you that was good or nice or fun or pleasant - you still let me be... me... you're the same easy to talk to, easy to be with lugnut that I've loved for the past six and quarter years. You are ticklish in the same places, and you are goofy in the same ways, and you worry about the same things. I feel like it's 'you' here, with me.
But... you also aren't exactly the same, either. Frankly, you kind of used to be a bit of a dick sometimes. And you had a temper on you, especially when you didn't get your way, or things didn't go the way you planned. I can't say I exactly liked those things, but... they were, well, you. It's like you grew up a little or something. It's kind of disconcerting, to tell the truth."
Amber crawled off of Patrick and sat up on the bed, looking down at him as he lay on his back. He suddenly realized that he was laying there... exposed... and rolled onto his side, then when that wasn't entirely enough, rolled his flanks so that his hindquarters were belly down. Amber giggled at that.
For a long time she just sat there, looking at him. Patrick didn't know what to think. He tried smiling, but that didn't seem to make any difference one way or the other. It made him nervous to just be... looked at... like that. Like she was studying him, or like she was expecting him to do something. What the muffin did she want now? Was he supposed to do a trick? Tell a joke? Go away?
Patrick had a flash of how he would have acted before if she had given him such a critique and then the silent treatment. He'd be yelling at her by now, demanding for some kind of explanation, or critiquing her in return, likely harshly. Normally they got along well, but sometimes Amber could be cold and analytical in ways that finally did get on Patrick's nerves. It was like she felt she had some right to sit in judgement over all things.
But he didn't feel that way now. He knew he should, he knew he would have before, when he was human, but now... now it wasn't a big deal. That was just her way. She did that sometimes. He tried to figure out why it had annoyed him so much before. It was like it was a threat, somehow. Only now, he didn't feel threatened by it. Her words... she hadn't been mean, just... honest. Tactless, perhaps, but not angry. He couldn't disagree with her description of how he was now versus how he had been before. He had been a jerk sometimes. He had already felt bad about that, earlier. It wasn't like it was false.
Huh. He couldn't get angry about it. There just wasn't a reason. He agreed with her. That felt weird. He had gotten used to getting angry. It was like he didn't know how else to act. It was almost refreshing to not... act that way.
Patrick looked up at Amber, realizing he had kind of drifted off there, thinking about it all. He really loved her. He found himself smiling again, only this time because seeing her made him feel happy. Before, he had been worrying about what she wanted of him. But now... he just felt glad to see her there. It was enough.
There was a sound. Whip-Whap. Whip-Whap. Huh? Patrick gradually became aware and looked back over his own flank. His tail had been swishing, slapping the sheets. He gave a small laugh. He'd been wagging his tail, basically. Oh, goodness...
"Hey, fuzzy flanks. Get your hooves on the floor. We need to get going. Hup Hup!" Amber was up and off the bed, grabbing fresh underwear out of the drawer and putting on her bra.
"Huh?" Patrick couldn't remember anything on the schedule, but then he'd been gone for three days. Was this market day? It was probably market day. Amber liked market day, and so did he, really. It was kind of fun, and nowadays, with all the hard-working earthponies, there were a lot of delicious things out there. Market day. Patrick realized he would need to ask about what kinds of foods he needed for himself, or if ponies were required to eat special things or whatever. There was so much he just plain didn't know.
Amber was dressed now, and had her bag. "Well, are you going to lay there all day, or what?" The expression on her face was mock exasperation, but there was a smile in her eyes.
Patrick rolled entirely onto his belly, then stood up. He felt a little unsteady, because he was still new to being quadrupedal, and because the bed was soft and yielding. The floor looked too far down, and he realized he didn't know how to jump off exactly. It wouldn't do to break a leg because he had no idea how to use his own body. Embarrassed, Patrick lay down again and backed off the bed, pushing himself with his hooves until his lower half went off the edge. With his rear hooves on the floor, it was easy to twist his top half and land properly. He grinned up at Amber, who giggled.
"Maybe we need a lower bed." Amber seemed to make a mental note of the fact, which Patrick found interesting. "Come on, let's hit the road. Also... breakfast. I am freaking starving, how about you?"
Patrick nodded, enthusiastically. "I'm as hungry as a..." He deliberately did not finish the sentence.
Amber gave a perfunctory scowl, then laughed. "I see your sense of humor hasn't been improved by ponification. Hey - let's go all out and have pancakes at Blintzy's." Blini Blintze made the best pancakes in the entire area, and sometimes Patrick and Amber enjoyed the earthpony's creations as a treat, though always at night. Having pancakes for breakfast - or was it lunch? - seemed almost sacrilegious or something. Still... pancakes. Or even... haycakes. The ponies seemed to love those, and well, Patrick figured, he was a pony now, so, he might as well start trying the cuisine.
The walk to Blintzy's was filled with brief meetings, it seemed everypony was eager to say hello, and marvel at, what was to them, the vast improvement in Patrick. There were many questions about what new name he was considering, how he had enjoyed his First Meal As A Pony - truth be told, he couldn't remember what he had eaten when he had gotten home yesterday. There had been more important things going on at the time. Or at least louder.
And of course there was the constant pressing question of when Amber was going to join her stallion in hooves. Amber just smiled at that and changed the subject.
Blini Blintze was completely taken aback when the pair showed up at his restaurant. "Oh my goodness, oh great Luna, just LOOK at you, big strapping stallion you are now! And look at that mane, and those eyes! Bright, red, strong eyes there, what a good fortune for you, and a unicorn no less! So, have you been entertaining Amber with all sorts of tricks and spells already?"
Patrick hung his head. He was forced to admit he had no idea how to use his horn, and he hadn't even tried. "Oh, that won't do, that won't do. Here, let me take your orders, and I'll get Autumnfire to come out and at least get you levitating. Shush! It's nothing. When he has a break. Now what do you two want already?"
Amber ordered big, eggy German style pancakes with lemon and sugar, and tea to drink, while Patrick dared to try haycakes with banana slices and maple syrup. He went with coffee, and soon Blini was busy in the back, working with Autumnfire in the kitchen. The two made a very complimentary pair, Blini was an earthpony who knew food, and Autumnfire was a unicorn who was astonishing at cooking. They had been together before they converted, and naturally, as Blini had put it, not a thing had changed as a result.
"Haycakes, huh? You're really getting into this 'pony' thing aren't you? Is this going to be a long-term deal, you think?" Amber sipped her tea and smirked.
"I'm trying it out... giving it a fair chance... I figure that as long as I'm wearing hooves, I might as well try to blend in, you know? If this works out, I might try trotting, pulling plows, or even taking a dump in a barn. The sky's the limit, you know?" Patrick couldn't keep from laughing, despite struggling to sound casual, and Amber joined in.
"Dump in a barn? Sounds positively thrilling!"
"They say the first one's the hardest, but after that, if you eat enough roughage you can make it big time."
"Big time? What's that - taking a dump in a farmhouse?" Amber couldn't stop giggling.
"I'm thinking a career here. 'Manure..... To Go'. Whaddya think?" They were both laughing now, and Amber had gotten a stitch in her side.
"You two seem to be having fun." It was Autumnfire, the unicorn chef. "I understand we have a unicorn here who doesn't know where his horn is?" The orange and red chef winked at Patrick. "A hint: the horn is the one that can't sense the presence of mares."
Amber put her hand over her mouth as she laughed and Patrick's ears drooped in embarrassment, followed by a sheepish grin. In the back, mixing the batter, they could hear Blini snort.
"OK, bucko, here's my cheap-as-free lesson." Autumnfire levitated a disposable neoplastic cup within the glowing field from his horn and placed it on the low table. "Make it move."
Patrick stared at the cup, then at Autumnfire. "How?"
"Inside your noggin, there's a place, an organ, it's part of your brain, right under your horn. Think of it like a muscle, that's as good a notion as any. Now try to work that muscle. Put your will into it, feel it, push with it. Make your horn glow. That's step one."
Patrick felt inside his new head, trying to feel his own horn. He tried to feel where it joined his skull. He gave his head a quick nod, to feel the mass of his horn. He reached up a hoof and gave it a tap. That he felt, the slight shock inside the bones of his head.
He lowered his hoof and began to concentrate, with all of his might at that place, at where he still felt the tap he had given himself. He felt... something, something flowing, almost electric, and then, suddenly he felt the hairs around his horn stand up. It was the strangest sensation, all the little hairs standing on end.
"Well done! That part is the easy bit though. I'm surprised you didn't figure that out on your own. You didn't, right?"
Patrick shook his head.
"Yeah, that was the impression I got. Alrighty, then - do that again, but this time try to send that feeling to the cup. Enfold the cup, contain the cup, make the cup an extension of you. Whatever works, just put your stuff into that cup." Autumnfire grinned, and Patrick, encouraged, tried again.
Amber watched as Patrick's horn once again began to glow, a soft reddish light that waved and glinted with tiny thaumic sparks. She could see him trying, pushing, willing at the cup, his eyes squinting in concentration, his brow heavy with effort. "I believe in you, Patrick. You can do this." She wanted to see him do it. She wanted to see the cup move for him.
Tiny blurs of pink light began to puff like miniature clouds around the cup. Patrick was beginning to sweat from the effort. The bursts of light began to try to reach out to each other, to englobe the cup, glowing now more red than pink, as the... forces... became more dense.
With a palpable thrust of his body that shook the table, Patrick jerked forward pushing inside himself, trying to make the cup move. Ghostly light swarmed around the cup until, for just a moment, the cup was held within it and the cheap cup slid about an inch across the table.
The light stopped, both on cup and horn, and Patrick slumped slightly in exhaustion. He was panting, and a drop of sweat slid down his nose.
"That was really impressive, Patrick. Good job. But enough for now. You don't want to strain yourself." Autumnfire captured the cup effortlessly in his own hornfield, and carried it away with him back to the kitchen. "You know what to do now, just practice. But take it easy for now, OK?"
Amber was impressed. "Oh my god, Patrick, that was amazing! Magic! You did real magic, right out of your head. Damn, I mean... damn. I think you impressed Autumnfire there, too. You impressed me. Wow!"
Patrick felt a kiss on the bridge of his long nose. He opened his eyes in surprise, from where he had closed them resting from the strain. Amber had sat back, and was smiling at the arrival of their food. Apparently Blini could cook, too.
As far as Patrick was concerned, this, this was his first meal as a pony. This was the one he would remember. Yesterday had been all shouts and whatever the neighbor had brought over, but this, oh, this.... was heaven on a plate. Haycakes were everything the ponies said they were and more, and the sweet, crisp hay made the pancakes sing like nothing he had ever eaten before. And the butter... sweet loving Celestia, and the syrup... oh... oh.
"Enjoying our food, are we?" Amber looked a little taken aback by the level of pleasure Patrick seemed to be having with his haycakes. "I have to try this, now." A fork-full later, she made an indifferent face. "I guess you have to be a pony. I'll stick with my own." After a bit, she leaned over again. "Are they really that good? To you?"
"Oh, ahh... Amber, Amber... you have no idea. No idea at all. I can't even..." Patrick sipped his coffee and made what Amber was certain was his 'O' face. When he recovered, he was finally able to speak. "I thought I understood smell before. I thought I knew what taste was, before. I don't have words. I literally do not have the language. I can taste this pancake's ancestry, I can taste its Ideal Form in Socratic space, and it isn't the pancake, it's me, it's being a pony, and... I am going to get fat like pig. That's it. I will end up a sad, 600 pound pony that the fireponies can't roll out of the building because the door isn't wide enough. Holy hooves this is... I get food now. I get it. Food." And with that, Patrick was lost to the haycakes again, experiencing something that Amber could only marvel at, and envy from afar.
When the haycakes were gone, Patrick was in bliss, and it was at that moment that he suddenly understood three things. One was that Amber was staring at him with a bemused and slightly shocked look on her face. The second was that he had frozen noticing the first thing, in the middle of licking his plate. His long tongue had been sliding up and down the simple, white plate, trying to get every last schmear of flavor from it. The third thing was that he had originally simply dived in, face down like a dog, the moment the haycakes had been served. He hadn't even thought, the aroma had been so delicious, he had been so hungry, and it had been the most natural thing to do. Patrick had no idea how to properly eat as a pony, he'd seen ponies eat before, of course, and they did, for the most part, chow down face in bowl or plate, except for the unicorns which often made a point of using silverware as humans did, levitating the implements grandly. Some simply levitated the food directly, but somehow there was a thing about the additional pride of controlling an implement and being able to balance food upon it.
"I have to say... that looks like fun." Was Amber mocking him, what with his face in the plate? No, it didn't seem so, the look in her eyes appeared... earnest. Odd.
"It... it kind of was." Patrick decided to roll with it, and treat her statement as legit. "No, that's not right. It was a lot of fun. I... I have no shame now. It was too good for shame. It was delicious, and somehow having my face down in the plate just made it even more delicious. It... it was like being a foal, only better." Patrick sat up on the plump pillow, and licked his lips and muzzle with his long, long tongue. He felt empowered by the pleasure he had just experienced. He did feel no shame. In a moment his muzzle was clean, the last taste swept up by his searching tastebuds.
Still, he brought a napkin to his mouth. It just seemed the right thing to do.
Suddenly, he found himself being hugged, Amber's arms around him. "You're just my big kid, aren't you?" She gave him another squeeze and sat back. "A big colt, I suppose. Proper terms and all."
Amber picked up her fork, and took her last bite, finishing her meal. She sat and stared at her hand, holding the fork for some time. She tapped the plate with the fork, then set it down. She drummed her fingers once, each finger moving in sequence. Then she turned her attention back to Patrick.
"Wait here, sweety, I... I need to send a message. I'll be right back. Here, have the last of my tea if you want." Patrick was thirsty, he had finished his coffee, but water wasn't enough. Tea was nice. Message? What message, to who? But by then Amber was in the back, in the kitchen, talking to Autumnfire, the chef. Why? Oh... a memory surfaced in Patrick's mind, something he had read or seen a while ago. Unicorns could do all kinds of things, not just make stuff float. They could do all manner of magic, depending on their talents and interests and education. Probably they could send messages, apport letters or use telepathy or something. Equestrians didn't need phones, they had magic.
Patrick supposed that someday, he would be learning stuff like that. He hadn't expected to be a unicorn. He had figured he would be an earthpony. Most humans became earthponies. But he was a unicorn. He was secretly glad he hadn't become a pegasus. He was deathly afraid of heights. He would have made a terrible pegasus.
"OK! Half an hour!" Amber was back, being mysterious and Patrick didn't know what to think now. But, it was probably better to just go along with the herd, so to speak, with Amber, because, well, things seemed to be going better today. It was a nice day so far. Whether she stayed with him now, or left, he needed this, this nice day. The chilling thought ran through him - maybe that was exactly what she was doing. Giving him one, last, nice day before she broke up because he had become a pony. That made his heart very sad.
"Are you OK?" Patrick didn't feel OK now, not after that thought, but... he put on a smile anyway, and soon they were out the door, on the way to a tack shop.
Patrick found himself trying on saddlebags. "You're going to need a way to carry stuff, love. Groceries, books, tools, whatever. Even when you get good with that horn of yours - you'd get exhausted trying to levitate things all the time!" It made sense. Eventually he settled on a nice brick red set of kelp-leather saddlebags. They felt good, they matched his eyes, according to the shop pony, and Amber said they looked handsome on him.
She had liked a green set, done up in Celtic knot-work patterns. He had thought it was nice, but not really his taste. As they left the store, he was surprised to see she was carrying the green saddlebags, she had bought them both. "Can we really afford two? I only need the one, Amber. I mean it's nice but..."
"I like these. Come on, how many times does a girl get to buy saddlebags, hmm? You just don't worry about it. If you really don't like them, if you think they're ugly, she says we can take them back as long as they aren't damaged, so no worries!"
That... was bad. One set of saddlebags, fine. But two, especially one she liked, as if to remember her by, that was seriously smelling of Final Date territory. A nice meal, presents, oh, this was kiss-off time. So long Patrick, thanks for the six wonderful years, remember me when you wear the green saddlebags, if it's too much, take them back... oh this was getting pretty obvious now. Patrick wanted to cry. He wanted to cry really, really badly, but he sucked it up. It wasn't easy, his damn pony brain made all of his emotions really clear, really easy to understand now. He knew exactly what he was feeling, and it was loss and grief and shame, because it was all his fault.
If he'd just fled with Amber, he could have gotten another three or four, maybe even five years of life with her. Maybe that would be worth dying horribly, later. He needed Amber, he loved Amber. But... you can't force someone to stay. That was why they had never married. It was stupid, they both agreed. A contract. Making their relationship a business arrangement. No. They were together because they loved each other, because they were the best friends they would ever have, because they were partners in life. No marriage contract ever kept anyone together. Choice kept people together.
Apparently his own choice had precipitated hers. He had no one to blame but himself. He had genuinely figured that she would join him once he forced the issue. He had believed with all of his heart and soul that she would.
But if she needed to leave, there was nothing he could do. Patrick felt miserable, but he resolved to try to smile for her, to let her have that last, good day. It was probably as much for her own piece of mind as his, and... he loved her. If it would help, if it would help her happiness, he would be brave.
"So, they fit? You like them?" Amber was almost beaming now. It was hard to look at. But Patrick forced himself to smile and he could honestly say that he liked the saddlebags. He really did, they were solid, strong, they felt like a hug across his back.
"All I need now is something to put in them!" She laughed at that, and began digging through her shoulderbag.
"Here." Amber held out the pouch of golden Bits from her purse. "Go on. Take it. No? Alright, here we... go!" The pouch of Bits dropped with a thunk in his right saddlebag. It felt like a phone hanging up.
"My grandmother always said that when you get a new bag..." Amber shook her shoulderbag "...the first thing you should do is stick some money in it. Now she lived back in the day before creditsticks, when there was still some actual money, but the ponies have brought back coins again, so there you go! An old tradition from my grandmother, to you!" This seemed to make Amber happy, but with every word, Patrick felt his heart sink. They don't talk about family traditions like that unless they intend to dump you. It was over. Oh, sweet Luna, goddess of the night, protector of foals, protect this little foal, because I have lost the love of my life and it hurts so... much. It was everything Patrick could do not to just sit down and bawl.
"Oh! Look! Here they come! Just in time!" Amber seemed excited. Patrick couldn't make out what was in the sky because his eyes were filled with barely restrained tears. Something landed, near them, and he found himself escorted into what seemed to be a sled, or an open-air carriage of some kind. It was of roughly Equestrian design, but then most things were now.
They took off with a jerk and Patrick could feel something in his horn that sang and tickled. The wind and the strangeness of it pushed the tears down and away, and he could see clearly now that he and Amber were in a carriage taxi being pulled over the city by two large pegasai. Amber was marveling at the view, like a little girl. Suddenly, she wrapped her arm around Patrick and pulled him tight. "Isn't this amazing - oh fuck, but I wish we'd done something like this before now. We're flying, Patrick, flying... through the sky... on magic!"
Patrick had taken a taxi just like this one to get to the bureau four days ago. This ride was not making him happy. It just reminded him of the choice he had made that had pushed the love of his life away. This would be their first and last ride together through the sky. When they landed - most likely at the jitney caravan grounds, it would be goodbye, and Amber would be headed back east to her mother, and Patrick would be left to face the oncoming Barrier in a month, alone.
Equestria couldn't be paradise without Amber. He briefly considered jumping from the carriage, but he was instantly stopped. He was flooded with compassion for his own poor body, so new, just beginning life, in some ways a baby, born just four days ago. He couldn't kill his handsome body in some selfish wish to end his own pain. It wasn't kind.
Patrick sat back, grumbling inside at his body. Demanding thing. If he had still been human, he could have jumped the rail and been halfway to splatter-town before anypony even noticed. But no, he was a pony now. Suicide was selfish. All the ponies he knew, in the apartments, Blini and Autumfire, they would all be horrified to find that somepony they knew had killed themselves. He would be tearing a big hole out of the web of all those other ponies. And he would be hurting Amber, too. She would feel terrible if he up and killed himself that way! Patrick felt utterly ashamed. That had been his human part talking inside him, making him think of jumping. He was a pony now, and ponies didn't think that way. The conflict hurt. He felt so ashamed, so very ashamed.
It was while he was lost in his dark, sad thoughts that the pegasus taxi touched down. The jitney caravan. Time to say goodbye. No Dear John letter for him, he was getting it right to his face. He ambled out, head down, his eyes on the cracked, ancient blacktop.
He waited while Amber paid the Pegasai. Patrick stared at his hooves. Everything was ending. His relationship with the love of his life, six years together, was ending. Los Pegasus itself was ending, in only a little over a month. Humanity was ending, in less than half a decade, and with it would also be Amber. She would be ending too, dying with the death of the last humans who would not change.
The tears were rolling down Patrick's face now, and he had to sniff to try to stop them. The snort that was the result jerked his head up, where his blurry eyes were filled with shining red. Metallic red. With chrome and big air vents. It was a car, a very fancy, wealthy car.
Patrick looked around, more cars. Cars and buses and motorcycles and mopeds and even a downed aerostat. They were in a vast graveyard of abandoned vehicles. There was only one place like that. Only one place where humans got out of their precious vehicles and left them and never looked back.
Suddenly, Amber's face was in front of his, she was crouching down, her nose an inch from his muzzle. "Patrick??? What the hell is going on with you? I mean... pegasus taxi! Hello? And new saddlebags, and now you're crying and you've been sulking since the saddlebag shop!" Amber shook her head and gave him a loving caress on the ear. "Listen, you don't have to wear fucking saddlebags if you don't want to. We'll take them back. Hell, I'll just toss them, right now, maybe somepony will want them. I don't get it, you seemed happy with them at first. Are they too 'girly' or something? Is that it? Did my comparison to having a purse bother you? That's it, isn't it! You think wearing saddlebags makes you less of a stallion or something. Christ. Fine, here, let me get them off you and..."
His lips pressed to hers, insistently, firmly, almost commandingly. She froze. It was the first time they had kissed since Patrick had become a pony, and it was pony lips against human lips and it was strange, yet nice, but also kind of kinky too.
"Pat?" As he pulled away, she sat down on the blacktop, confused.
"I thought... oh, Celestia, Amber! I thought you were leaving me. Because I changed. I was afraid we were flying to the caravans, and you were being so nice to give us one last good day before you... before you..." Tears spilled out, and Patrick couldn't stop them.
"Oh, you goddamn foolish, stupid stallion. Christ, Patrick!" Amber hit the blacktop with a fist, and then immediately regretted it. She spent quite some time cradling her injured hand, Patrick trying to help, but not being able to do much more than kiss and lick it. She said the licking kind of helped, actually.
"Six years, Patrick! You just thought I would leave? You've been my life. We've had our ups and downs, all couples do, but fuck, Pat, I mean... god dammit. I wouldn't leave you." Amber had grabbed the hair of his coat under his throat, at the top of his chest and gave it a shake. "I go where you go. Duh."
"But you were so angry! I'm not even human anymore!" Patrick didn't know what else to say. It seemed obvious enough.
"No one is going to be human in a few years - I'm not stupid, Patrick. Dying on some beach in South Africa is for losers and morons. I can see the writing on the wall. You were fucking right, Pat - I was acting like some goddamned schoolgirl, trying to wish it all away. I was in denial, you saw that, and you gave us both a push. Yeah, I was mad at you. Of course I was mad at you. Nobody likes to have their denial shattered!" Amber had her arms around Patrick's long, Equestrian neck now, and she pulled him close to her, tight, tight like not even eternity itself could tear them apart.
"I love you Patastrophe, you're my little disaster of love!" That had been her pet name for him, back when they had first met, because he was so clumsy, then, and they had more than their share of misadventures. But she had always come back, she had stayed, even when he had been so inept.
"I love you so much, Amber, precious jewel... oh... oh I've been stupid again, so stupid. I just, it just seemed so..."
"Shhhh.... shhh...." They cried for a while, in the hot sun, on the blacktop, surrounded by the abandoned cars and buses and motorcycles.
"Yeah... yes, Amber?"
"You say there's two weeks before they up and leave?"
"Yeah, I think the Bureau leaves in two weeks."
"They still owe you all that training, right?"
"Um... yeah. They said I could still take advantage of it, I could come back for it."
"Great!" Amber grinned from ear to ear. "That puts my mind at ease. I didn't want you to have to wait outside while I did my two weeks. I've heard about the food they serve at Bureaus. No way I'm missing that."
"Why you... selfish little..." Patrick had traveled back to her immediately. He hadn't even had so much as a single Bureau sandwich.
"Pony boy! Race you to the Bureau!" And with that, Amber was off, winding her way through the endless lot of abandoned vehicles.