Twenty-One: Bathing In Moonbeams
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows; a slight breeze ruffled the tops of the great patch of colorful and delicious flowers that grew by the large South Lake. In the sky, in the distance, unfinished Cloudcastle hung in the air, its pale towers shining white like puffy chalk. Beyond the lake, over the rolling hillocks were four large hills, in between them the red-spiraled peak of a pavilion, the flag of Equestria set above it.
The calm waters of the lake reflected perfect azure, the shoreline giving way to tall new grass, tender and green. Four newfoals sat by the placid water, legs folded in the blossoms, the scent of flowers embracing them like a floral hug.
The little yellow unicorn had run to the white pegasus stallion; there was no complication to her love, she only knew that daddy was back, and she was covering him with kisses, licking his face, leaping and wiggling her tail like a joyful puppy.
The young, orange pegasus filly, not yet truly heavy with foal, wore a startled expression, unsure of how she felt. Heady mixtures of hope and fear, joy and anger fluttered across her muzzle like butterflies; she struggled to remain silent, the task was not easy.
The peach-colored earth pony mare seemed as placid as the lake; she watched the tiny yellow unicorn ravage the stallion with unbounded affection. Inside, despite her constrained appearance, she wanted nothing more than to join her foal, smothering the stallion with licks and kisses and never, ever stopping.
She looked into his purple eyes, the color of deep twilight, the border of night. They looked sad, and lonely, and sorry.
For the first time in her life, Caprice did not know what to do. No augmentation told her any appropriate response. No hidden sensors reported on the blood chemistry of the pegasus in front of her; she had no plan, no scheme, and no preparation in place. Alexi was here; she wanted him more than anything she had ever wanted in her life, and she was terrified to the core of her soul that whatever she might do or say would only push him away again.
Always she had possessed the upper hand, the greater vision, the wider understanding. It had been trivial to get what she wanted, because others were so simple, so easy to control. This was not easy, and this was not simple, and she had no advantages. She was just a mare, and she had never felt so helpless and desperate in her two lives.
"Caprice..." Alexi's voice thrilled her; it was enough merely to hear him again. She tried to keep the tears from forming, but her eyes wouldn't listen, and there were no implants to control such things. She felt helpless in her flesh, rudderless, adrift on her own longing.
"I... wanted to see if... what I mean, Caprice, is that perhaps we might..." Alexi seemed lost, his normal bravado absent. He seemed like a little colt, forlorn and unsure. This was not the Alexi of the loudspeaker in the Clinic, this was not the Alexi who brought the herd together on that first day. This Alexi was one Caprice had never seen; fragile, almost shy, ears drooping, looking up with a lowered head.
Pumpkin wanted to scream, she wanted to yell, there was so much she wanted to say, but she bit her own tongue, just to keep it still. She put her head between her foreknees, pressing them tight against the sides of her jaw. Quiet, be quiet, this is their time now.
Caprice felt tears running down her cheeks. She hadn't intended them, and they just wouldn't stop. She had no idea what to do. Should she say something? Alexi had trailed off, he wasn't saying anything now; should she speak? What if she said the wrong thing? What if being quiet was the right thing to do? If she only had some clue, something, some way to know what to do.
Buttermilk had finally settled down, her excitement turned to contentment. She licked Alexi's mouth a few more times, just to be sure, and then turned to look at her mother. Well, come on, what is wrong with you? Her eyes almost seemed to speak to Caprice; why are you sitting all the way over there?
Caprice had always been in control. She had always maintained exactly the persona she needed, spoke precisely the words that would do the job, moved her body the way that served her interests the most. She felt frozen. What was the appropriate persona to bring out now? Who should she become for this situation? She had no answers. She felt like she was going to explode. Just literally explode.
Something in her broke. She felt it break, it cracked somewhere in her heart, somewhere in her soul. It felt like glass falling on a marble floor. She could not do this anymore. She just couldn't... do it anymore. The weight of being Venice, of being Caprice, of trying to control the best outcome... she absolutely could not carry that anymore. Not anymore.
The peach mare launched herself at Alexi. He found himself bowled over onto his back, his chest weighted with soft peach pony, crying and sobbing, shaking with violent tears. Caprice was trying to talk but no words came out, just whinnys and nickering filled with emotion, beyond reason, beyond sense. Alexi slowly, carefully closed his forelegs around her body, holding her. She was like a peach storm in his forelegs, raining on his chest, thundering with grief and longing.
He had almost forgotten how good she smelled, how soft she felt. He held her tighter, feeling her delicate body against him even as it jerked and spasmed, caught up in pure emotion. He tried to be strong for her, for Caprice, but it had been too long, and he was too overcome. He found himself crying now, out of his head; he no longer cared about trying to be strong, brave Alexi. All he knew was that he was so lonely and she was there, finally, she was there.
When Caprice could breathe again, when her vision began to clear, the sun was going down. The sky had become the color of Alexi's eyes, his precious, beautiful eyes, and she could see a single star preemptively claiming the heavens for the cause of Luna.
Alexi's chest was sodden, covered in sticky-cold, drying tears; Caprice's eyes felt like dishrags that had been wrung out too many times. Her throat burned from crying so hard, her nose was clogged and swollen inside. But Alexi's forelegs were tight around her, his chest pressed against her head, his legs wrapped around her stomach. Caprice sniffed and snorted, trying to get her nostrils clear again.
She lifted her head to see Alexi's tear-streaked face. Their eyes locked for a moment, green gazing into purple, words too clumsy for the speech of the heart. Alexi's muzzle descended, and Caprice's mouth was filled with his lips, his tongue, his warmth.
When the kiss finally ended it was because Caprice could no longer get enough air; her nostrils were still clogged, and she had to blow them clean. She sneezed and blew out streamers on the grass; it was terrible and not the least attractive. "Oh, Celestia, I'm sorry..." She sneezed out tears and snot, she couldn't help it. "...I'm so sorry. Not the most romantic thing. I'm sorry."
"Shhh.... shhh..." Alexi had only smiles for her. "...life is messy, even here. If it means being with you, I can handle a little mess." She felt embarrassed, but Alexi just kept smiling at her.
"Alexi... I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I pushed you, I'm sorry I tried to control everything. I don't want to be like that, I really don't. I don't care about anything except that I want you. I just... want you, Alexi. I need you. I just... need you." Caprice trailed off, unable to think of anything else to say. She wanted to just keep repeating the words over and over until Alexi promised to stay with her.
"And I am sorry for running away. I was a coward, using my anger to justify fleeing like a frightened child. It is you that should forgive me." Alexi began kissing, then licking her eyes, it felt good; her eyes stung from crying and his tongue soothed them.
After a time, Caprice dared to ask. "Alexi, I meant what I told you, back at the clinic. I meant it with all of my heart. I want you. But I will tell you something new." Caprice took a few breaths; it was somehow harder to say the words when she actually, truly meant them. "I... love you, Alexi. I don't just want you, I don't just need you. I really love you." It felt good to say it. It felt good to say it and really mean it! "I love you! I just do!" Her face was grinning, and she felt like she had somehow won some kind of great prize. She found her tears had started again.
Caprice sniffed again. "I just needed to tell you that, Alexi. I... I'll understand if you don't want to stay with me. I'm just glad you came back so I could say that. Thank you for that." Caprice tried to soak in the feeling of laying across Alexi, as if it might be the very last time, because... it might. She'd probably pushed too far, saying that. She'd probably ruined everything again.
"Oh, you don't get out of things that way." Caprice was confused now, Alexi wriggled and flipped her over so that now he was on top. He lifted his weight up on his hooves and looked down at her. She pulled her forelegs close to her chest, uncertain. "'I'll understand if you don't want to stay with me'" Alexi repeated her words in a mocking tone. "In the clinic, you told me that you were mine, and that I had a daughter, and that we were a family now. You said you would not change your mind, however long. Very well. I am claiming that! I am claiming you and this life together, forever! Alexi is staying and that is that; now you must deal with this fact - and no complaining from you either!" He was trying so hard to be fierce and stern, but the laughter in his eyes was incapable of lying.
"Absolutely." Caprice felt as if her mouth would rip from how wide her grin was "Whatever you say, dear." She affected her most doe-eyed domestic look; calculated expression no. 236, Complete Submission To The Master.
"You... troublesome pony!" And Alexi was gently biting and nipping at her chest and belly and neck, and Caprice was giggling because it tickled, and because it was good, and because it was the most wonderful thing in the world.
As the moon rose, Pumpkin held Buttermilk close; the tiny foal wanted to jump on Caprice and Alexi. Pumpkin had pulled Buttermilk away by the tail when Caprice had pounced; now she soothed the little unicorn as best she could, but it was difficult keeping an eye on her because of her own grateful tears.
She pulled the little unicorn some distance away in the tall, tall grass, and gently licked Buttermilk's ears until the tiny foal fell asleep.
Caprice lay on her stomach, panting. The weight of Alexi on her back was heavy, but it was not a burden. She turned her head; Alexi's lips hungrily sought hers, then pulled away - he had less breath than she to spare; he had been doing most of the work.
Alexi slowly rolled off, laughing in between his gasps for air. With effort he rolled back to press into Caprice's side, her warm softness glowing against his body. The sweat in his coat was beginning to cool as it evaporated; her warmth was a delicious counterpoint.
Caprice pressed her body even more tightly against him. She turned her neck so that her head was just above his, and breathed in the sweet scent of the sweat on his forehead and poll. She wanted to lay her foreleg over him, but her position made it awkward; besides it was too comfortable as it was to go through all of the effort it would take. Instead, she licked his ears, slowly and lovingly.
The moon was high in the sky now, the stars gleamed like jewels on a vast, purple tapestry. The night sky of Equestria was never pitch black; always it gleamed with deep and rich colors; dark and mysterious blues, vast and echoing violets, royal, infinite purples.
"Caprice..." Alexi's voice was soft and gentle, almost a whisper. She'd never heard him sound like that before.
"Mmm?" Caprice shivered slightly, but it was not from feeling the least bit cold.
"I want you to know. I love you too. I think I loved you the minute I first saw you, when I was called to bring you out of the Conversion Room. Bethany and I sat with you until you woke up, but... I couldn't keep my eyes off of you. Or my hands, to be very honest."
"Hmm... heh... I recall. You were petting me. I drifted in and out for a long time, and I remember... you stroking my flanks and my mane. You naughty stallion." Caprice smiled, her lids half open.
"Very naughty, since back then, I was still a human. Alexi regrets nothing!" Caprice smiled even wider, now that sounded like the Alexi she knew.
"Was it weird for you? I mean I came on kind of strong, and I didn't care one bit about the species barrier. Tell you a secret; it kind of turned me on. I sort of regret that we... never did anything back then." Caprice grinned.
"You scamp! And you call me naughty." Alexi rubbed his head against Caprice's neck. "I... had some issues back then. It was a little strange for me... then. I do not think you missed anything, though. I was not built like a stallion back at the Bureau. It would have terrified me if I had been, to tell you the truth. Goodness!"
Caprice giggled at this, then laughed, Alexi joined in. Things were... a little more intense as a pony. No question.
"It would have been you, that's what would have mattered." Caprice began to lovingly groom Alexi's mane, at least what she could reach of it. "Well, that and the kinkiness factor. I mean, let's be serious here."
"Then I am sorry that I did not oblige you when I could have. It will be my lifelong regret." Alexi rolled away so that he lay upon his belly, crawling, he positioned himself so that he was side by side with Caprice again, only now they were even, and he could kiss her, which he did.
"HmmHmmHmm..." Caprice laughed through the kiss "We'll just have to see about making that little oversight up over time. I have some ideas about that.... which..." Alexi's lips were warm and soft "...I could... explain... if you...like."
"Ahem-hem!" Another voice sounded in the dark. "Could... could we go home now?"
"PUMPKIN?!?" Caprice and Alexi both raised their heads in shock; scanning around, they could see nothing but flowers and the tall grass.
"I... didn't want to go back to the hill in the dark!" Pumpkin's head raised up from the tall grass about 25 hooves away, like some orange and black periscope. "GAFFOL!" squealed another voice, beside Pumpkin. "Oh, I think Buttermilk is hungry, too."
Caprice and Alexi flopped their heads down again, staring in abject horror at each other. Then they started laughing. They rolled onto their backs, kicking their hooves at the sky, big belly laughs sounding out to the stars.
"We're PONIES!" Alexi roared. "I'm a FUCKING ANIMAL!" He laughed again.
"PONIES!" shouted Caprice to the sky, kicking all four hooves at the stars. "And you absolutely are, sweetcheeks." She added more softly.
"Equestria. What a place!" Alexi shook his head, rolling it back and forth in the grass. "I give up. That's it. The last of human Alexi is gone. It just died. Kaput!" and with that, Alexi flopped still, eyes wide as if in death, tongue lolling out of his mouth.
Caprice giggled again and rolled so that she could poke him with a hoof. "Stop that, you'll scare the children."
"Scare the children!" Alexi came to life again and roared "I think it is a little late for that!"
"It wasn't scary, it was beautiful. And I'm not a child; I'm due in a few months. Yeesh." Pumpkin declared.
"You're a pervert, and I was talking about Buttermilk in any case." Caprice stuck her tongue out at her sister. The pervert.
"I'm not perverted, I'm just scared of the dark." Pumpkin tried desperately to look miffed, but if there had ever been a time when guile had thought to take up residence in her, it must have fled in terror almost immediately.
Caprice stood up and called to Buttermilk; the hungry foal dashed over, eager for dinnertime. "I didn't mean it as an insult, dear. I think it just shows what close sisters we truly are." This made Pumpkin blush; while Caprice could not see that, she knew enough to presume it.
Alexi lay on his belly now, watching Buttermilk suckle. His eyes drifted over Caprice; mentally he cataloged his favorite parts until he gave up, realizing they all were. She was so beautiful, in the moonlight. Her messy coat gleamed in the moonlight, her tangled mane almost seemed to sparkle. She looked so serene, nursing her foal. In the moment, Alexi imagined that he was in heaven; he must have died in that clinic, the serum had failed, and somehow Equestria was heaven.
When Buttermilk had finished, burping with contentment, the four began to head slowly back towards the hill they called home. Caprice almost tripped, but Alexi was there, and supported her with his body. She tried to be more careful; the grass really was high, and clumpy too.
Alexi, Caprice, Buttermilk and Pumpkin carefully threaded themselves through the sleeping bodies of the herd, spread out across the middle of the village, couples resting with their heads close, their legs intertwined, groups piled close to each other. Wearily they climbed their hill, and found their favorite spot, green and lush, and circled with tiny white clovers; doubtless the result of a certain earth pony spending so much time there. The family lay themselves down to a well deserved sleep.
Buttermilk curled up close to her mother, positioning her head, as always, on the inner thigh, next to Caprice's udder. Alexi curled his body around Caprice, laying a foreleg over her, nuzzling her mane. Pumpkin crawled close to Caprice, resting next to Buttermilk, her head tucked just under Caprice's chin. It was warm, and intimate, and it was the very essence of love.
Above Summerland Village, Luna's radiant moon swept through the sky, streaming soft radiance down upon the contented newfoals. Tonight the herd was one, tonight everypony was together, every family was whole, and a blessed peace filled the night.
And on one special hill, drenched in silvern moonbeams, Alexi snuggled close to his Caprice, finally certain that he had made at least one decision in his two peculiar lives that was truly, perfectly, unmistakably right.