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[WIP] The Way Life Could Be - Pt. 2

By HeavyHorse
Created: 5th March 2022 05:17:07 PM
20th October 2022 05:58:13 PM

  1. >You are Starry Sails.
  2. >At least, you think you are. It’s hard to focus with the haze of sleep still clouding your mind.
  3. >Not that you can complain, that was probably the best snooze you’ve had in… you can’t even remember.
  4. >Was it the gentle rocking of the train? The music? [spoiler]Thoughts of Anon?[/spoiler]
  5. >No, not that last one. Even that absent thought is enough to send a shiver of anxiety running through you.
  6. >You’ve tried to make your peace with it but now that you’re here on Earth, you have to—
  7. >You’re here.
  8. >Are you?
  9. >Blearily turning to look out the carriage’s window, you watch as the walls of the station pass as the train slows.
  10. >Suddenly, a chilling thought worms its way to the fore of your mind: did you oversleep?
  11. >What if you wound up going straight back to Equestria? How would you explain yourself to the station ponies?
  12. >Your ears pin back tight to your head as you imagine stuttering and stammering as they coldly judge you.
  13. >Going straight home wouldn’t be an option, you’d still have to talk to Warm Waves and later whatever pony the EWS sent to find out what happened.
  14. >You’re tugging at one of the sleeves of your hoodie and considering doing the same to your mane when you realise something.
  15. >The station’s walls are passing the wrong way. At least if you were back in Equestria.
  16. >You hadn’t moved from your seat, so from your perspective you wouldn’t be pulling into it.
  17. >Relief floods your system until the treacherous memory of what lies ahead rears itself.
  18. >And now your feathering hangs out of the sleeves of your hoodie in thick clumps, you can only sigh and attempt to get them right again.
  19. >Your reflection is visible in the window and you grimace at the sight of your mane looking as messy as ever; your tired eyes, hoodie that’s too big to try and conceal the bulge of your stomach.
  20. >The prospect of landing back in Equestria and not having to face Mocha Crema and Anon seems more inviting, now.
  21. >And with that thought, your stomach sinks through the seat and the floor of the train’s carriage.
  22. >You slept the whole journey and didn’t even think to prepare yourself for this!
  23. [spoiler]>Not that there’s anything you of all ponies could do to ready yourself for interacting with others.[/spoiler]
  24. >Right. At the very least you can expect Mocha to… what?
  25. >If she’s anything like the pony you knew back in school, she’s not going to laugh at your excess weight.
  26. >But she was pretty, where you… weren’t. And if she’s changed as little as you have, you can expect to wish you didn’t have to meet her with Anon.
  27. >Which brings you to him: Anon.
  28. >He doesn’t know what you look like, what you sound like, how you- Horseapples!
  29. >You lean forward from the seat and shift a hoof back as much as you physically can and feel yourself start to make that little problem worse.
  30.  
  31. >The damp patch on your hoodie isn’t as bad as you feared—the heating in the train carriage isn’t turned up high—but it’s going to be noticeable.
  32. >It’s too low down for you to flip the hood about to cover it. Maybe if ponies wore backpacks instead of saddlebags you could do something but as it is, you’re stuck.
  33. >The thought you quickly stamped out this morning comes back to haunt you; you don’t deserve to think of Anon as your friend.
  34. >He wouldn’t want to call a disgusting little mare like you his friend, anyway.
  35. >You sniff and rub at the sleeve of your hoodie, letting the thought sit with you for a moment.
  36. >Okay, okay, just… remember what Warm Waves told you.
  37. >Even if she doesn’t know what it’s like, and it’s easy for her to say that you need to deny those thoughts.
  38. >But maybe what you thought afterwards will be the case; he never put you down from anything you told him before now.
  39. >He even called you Star.
  40. >Okay, that thought does make you smile, just a little.
  41. >Anon’s considerate, he doesn’t judge. You can…
  42. >Well, you can try talking to him.
  43. >And if Crema’s anything like that, you genuinely stand a chance at not completely screwing this whole thing up.
  44. >The brakes on the train squeal and your body jerks back against the seat.
  45. >Almost time to get off. Face your judgement.
  46. >You grab your saddlebags and shift it into your lap, leaning over the seat to peer around.
  47. >Nothing. Looks like the carriage is as empty as you remember.
  48. >That’s a relief, at least nopony and no one has to see you trying to get your saddlebags back on.
  49. >Of course, the earpones from your smartpone—Smartphone! You are not giving in, even if you are still sleepy!
  50. >Your earphones are still in your ears, clipped onto them rather than sitting snugly as you’ve seen human earphones do.
  51. >It’s tempting to leave them in and replay that music from when you drifted off, in the vain hope it might soothe your nerves and help you through this.
  52. >The thought of somepony or someone asking you something and getting increasingly annoyed as you apparently ignore them dispels that, however.
  53. >So you reluctantly pull them free and start pushing them into the saddlebags, when you get to the smartphone they’re still connected to.
  54. >Your connection to Earth on the few times you dared leave your apartment back—
  55. >Well, thinking of it as ‘home’ doesn’t feel right.
  56. >You never felt comfortable, stuck in with the rest of the EWS’ rejects.
  57. >It does give you some bit of satisfaction to think you’re here on Earth now.
  58. >On Earth.
  59. >It’s really happened, hasn’t it?
  60. >You look out again and see the train’s almost come to a stop. A train on an adjacent platform has its doors open and mostly humans step out of it, with a hoofful of ponies hopping onto the platform.
  61. >Could you do that? Hop happily into your new life?
  62. >You look down to your heavy self and realise exactly what it’d look like.
  63.  
  64. >So with a last, forlorn, look at your phone with its battery dangerously low, you carefully lower it into your saddlebags.
  65. >That now means you have to get out of the seat, which means navigating your all-too-short limbs against a drop that’s unpleasantly high.
  66. >But the carriage is empty, that means you won’t be seen making an utter foal of yourself.
  67. >Still, it’s hard to keep yourself from leaning around the seats again to be sure, or letting your ears slowly pin back as you look down and start pushing yourself.
  68. >Which means your hoodie gets caught against the seat and pulled up along your body, further exposing you.
  69. >Until, with a gentle clop, your hooves touch the floor and you can reach up to grab your saddlebags.
  70. >The train comes to a stop and you bump against the seat right as you’re trying to loop the strap around yourself.
  71. [spoiler]>Maybe if you weren’t such a blob it’d be easier.[/spoiler]
  72. >But you’d still find some way of making a mess of it, wouldn’t you?
  73. >The suspicion that the train won’t wait around for ponies like you to get off only leads to more false starts as you hurriedly try to work the clasp with a hoof.
  74. >If you’d just left it on… What?
  75. >The damp patches at your flanks wouldn’t have dried and when it came time to take it off, they’d be even worse. And you’d be around others who’d see.
  76. >Your feathering getting in the way doesn’t help, either, and you’re left grabbing the clasp with your mouth to help get it into place, then tugging the belt a little too tight.
  77. >No, you can’t wiggle to loosen it, even if there’s nopony else here you don’t feel comfortable doing that with your body.
  78. >You have to hope that as you walk along, it’ll loosen a little.
  79. >The walk over to the carriage’s doors isn’t quite painful but it’s more unpleasant than you’d like.
  80. >At least the button to open the doors of the carriage is low enough even for you to reach.
  81. >It’s a strange sight - the platform isn’t open air, it’s amongst others inside a large building.
  82. >Mostly humans pass by, a few talking among themselves, with the occasional pony trotting along. Some of them must have friends or family on this side of the portal, or would just prefer being on Earth for its festivities.
  83. >Well, you can’t disagree with that. At least humans were more sensible in not having parties at the drop of a hat.
  84. >Getting out of the carriage—the platform’s thankfully high enough that you don’t have to hop—you get a better look at the building’s interior.
  85. >It’s red brick, looking not too different from those back in Manehatten. Probably helped ponies to have a familiar sight immediately after coming through the portal.
  86. >The only problem is there’s no signs or anything else to tell you where you should be going.
  87. >Panic grips your heart as the prospect of having to ask somepony or someone suddenly pushes its way to the fore of your mind.
  88.  
  89. >You can barely string a sentence together at the best of times; here, in a strange new place where everypony and everyone looks like they know what they’re doing?
  90. >You take a step back and your hoof tips against the carriage.
  91. >No, there’s no going back.
  92. >Only—...
  93. >Forward.
  94. >Where the rest of the humans and ponies are going.
  95. >None of them are going in the opposite direction, they’re all headed towards one end of the platform.
  96. >Which is probably where you should be going, right?
  97. >A quick look about you reveals you aren’t being watched with suspicion and derision.
  98. >So, avoiding being near any other traveller as much as you can, you follow those making their way along the platform.
  99. >Being mostly humans, it’s difficult to see exactly where you’re headed but most have to be going towards the main part of the station.
  100. >At least, you’re sure of that, until you notice the crowd around you starting to thin.
  101. >You can feel part of the feathering on your left foreleg start to creep out of your sleeve but right now you’ve bigger concerns - such as the number of lines up ahead with humans and ponies approaching a few kiosks.
  102. >Kiosks staffed by humans in uniforms.
  103. >Because you’ve just come from what’s the equivalent of a foreign country!
  104. >Oh no, oh horseapples!
  105. >Y-You don’t have a passport! Why would you have a passport?
  106. >You’re going to look like a stowaway, o-or if you run you’ll look like a criminal who knows she’s been caught!
  107. >Can you explain what happened to them? That the EWS never issued you a passport or… They never told you that you’d need one!
  108. >W-Wait, what did they say?
  109. >You scrabble to reach back for your saddlebags before you remember - the interference in the station means you can’t get a connection.
  110. >And your useless phone’s memory matrix is too weak to hold pmails locally.
  111. >Okay… okay… think!
  112. >The… human working the kiosk… you can try to explain, right?
  113. >And they can contact the EEEE’s offices here? Human devices aren’t affected by the portal’s interference.
  114. >Your stomach sinks as you resume walking, knowing full well *something* has to go wrong.
  115. >Overhead there’s a few signs, announcing lines for immigration, visitors, etc..
  116. >Well… you’re going to be living here, right? You’re not a tourist.
  117. >So you go to one of the immigration lines, mostly full of humans with a couple of ponies among them.
  118. >Every time the line moves you find yourself peering around it, with the two damp spots on your flanks growing worse by the moment.
  119. >What if they think you were trying to get in without going through the proper systems?
  120. >Or that you’re too incompetent? What if that’s what they tell the EWS?
  121. >How would you explain yourself to Anon?
  122. >You feel ill - he made time for you today, came out here, and you had to mess it all up and leave him wasting that time. His time with you.
  123. >Why?
  124. >Why didn’t you just stay awake on the train and think all this through before now?
  125. >Why—
  126. >”Miss?”
  127.  
  128. >As if you’ve been struck, you recoil.
  129. >You weren’t even looking where you were going, just following the human in front of you who still walks on ahead towards the dispersing crowd.
  130. >To one side of you is the source of the voice: a human in uniform leaning over the kiosk with a raised eyebrow, looking intently at you.
  131. >Because you were just about to walk on through as if you didn’t have to do anything, Star!
  132. >You swallow in a suddenly dry throat and then open your mouth, willing some sound to come out but finding neither words nor even a mindless expression of confusion.
  133. >You just stand there, dumbly, for a moment, before you find the thought to shut your mouth and think about what you should do.
  134. >”Is this your first time?”
  135. >Your… first time?
  136. >What… Through the portal?
  137. >The human sits, looking expectantly at you. The desk has a computer on one side visible through the glass window that has an opening on one side.
  138. >You wouldn’t have enough time to list everything you’ve never done before for which there might be a ‘first time’ so you just nod, hoping vainly that you might get some information out of this without having to bring yourself to ask.
  139. >”Right, I’ll need to see your passport or ID, then.”
  140. >Every muscle in your body tenses up at the word ‘passport’ but relaxes a little at ‘ID’.
  141. >You hadn’t even thought about it, since you keep it on you constantly, but you do have your EWS-issued ID card.
  142. >One of the newer innovations after Equestria got in contact with humans, it has all your relevant information printed on it so EWS officials know who you are and what services you have access to.
  143. >Of course, you’re left with the question of whether that’s going to suffice. And you can’t remember what the pmail said about it.
  144. >But it’s all you have right now so it’s all you can do.
  145. >It’s in the same saddlebag with your phone and earphones, on one side of a small divider to make sure it didn’t scratch your phone’s screen. Or get damaged itself. Celestia knows you don’t want to have to go through the process of getting another and… having your photo taken again.
  146. >So with ginger hooves—the last thing you want to see is a look of disgust after grabbing it with your mouth—you reach into your saddlebag to fish the card out.
  147. >Sitting back on your rump does leave you keenly aware of the line behind you, however, and you naturally start sweating as you glance back at it.
  148. >C’mon, you can do this. Just… get the card… c’mon!
  149. >You don’t look at the human in the kiosk when you toss it in, you don’t need to see the look of irritation at your ineptitude.
  150. >A moment passes.
  151. >”Miss?”
  152. >Oh horseapples! What now?
  153. >Reluctantly, you look up and actually let out a breath at the sight of the human’s impassive face. Your ears rise from their previous flattened state.
  154. >He holds the card in his hand, in front of himself and looks from it to you, then back again.
  155.  
  156. >Finally, he nods, sets it down and begins typing at his computer.
  157. >You hadn’t been paying attention before now so you don’t know how long anyone or anypony else took to get through this.
  158. >Are you holding up the line? Is there something you’ve forgotten about that’ll stall this whole thing?
  159. >It’s not like you can bring yourself to look back at the line or up to the kiosk, so you try to busy yourself by fiddling with the sleeves of your hoodie.
  160. >You know how ridiculous you look, with your mane a mess, your fat rump spread on the ground, and your equally unkempt tail in dire need of brushing.
  161. >Why should you be doing anything with your sleeves when they’re the least of your worries?
  162. >That just makes you take one of them between your teeth and tug at it, angrily.
  163. >Why didn’t you check your pmails? Why did you think you could handle this? Why isn’t Anon here to help you through all this?
  164. [spoiler]>You know why.[/spoiler]
  165. >Tug, tug, tug.
  166. >Bits of your feathering poke out from around the sleeves and you’re left with the realisation that you’ve only made it worse.
  167. >You’re about to more carefully start fixing them when the human interrupts you.
  168. >”Alright, there you go.”
  169. >You look back up but he’s holding something partially obscured by the desk.
  170. >Which means you have to make an even bigger foal of yourself by reaching up with your forelegs to look over it.
  171. >You grimace deeply, realising stretching like that means your hoodie’s going to be pulled up where those behind you will see…
  172. >But the knowledge that you can’t hold up the line wins over that easily enough.
  173. >So you grunt and pull yourself up, wishing once again you weren’t quite so short.
  174. >The human holds a piece of paper in his hand, a pen in the other that he uses to point at it.
  175. >”This has all the information you need to get your student card here, as well as your temporary government services number.”
  176. >Temporary?
  177. >”You’ll have a permanent one posted out to you after you’ve finished your registration with the college.”
  178. >And for that you can re-check your pmails to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  179. >”Keep this on you in the meantime, it’ll show you’ve leave to be here.”
  180. >You only take the time to see the Equestrian government seal on one side and another that you don’t recognise, on the other side.
  181. >”And welcome to Earth, Miss Sails.”
  182. >Thankfully the human lifts the paper for you to take, which you do between your teeth, as well as your ID card.
  183. >The prospect of having all this over and being out of the line is too exciting for you to consider more carefully taking it.
  184. >You mumble your thanks, not quite noticing the human’s smile, before quickly turning and stepping forward from the kiosk.
  185. >Surreptitiously looking about, you pause long enough to take the paper with a hoof and give it a quick look over.
  186.  
  187. >Your name and EWS ID number, the college you’ll be attending, date of commencement, everything’s there. As well as some text to state you’ve been given permission to reside here as a participant in the EEEE scheme.
  188. >You can give the whole thing a more thorough look over later, right now you carefully fold it after brushing the… small amount of saliva where your teeth clenched it. Then you place it in your saddlebag in the same pocket you kept your ID card.
  189. >Safe and sound.
  190. >Unlike you, stopped here and shaking lightly.
  191. >You got through it.
  192. >You actually came through that ordeal unscathed…
  193. >That’s better than back in Equestria, right?
  194. >You don’t quite smile as you fold the flap of your saddlebag back down and click the clasp but you do feel some measure of relief.
  195. >That is, until your hooves carry you along through the adjoining area of the station.
  196. >It’s an enormous hall, larger even than the one back in Manehatten, with a high glass ceiling.
  197. >Its walls are sleek and bright, a stark contrast to the red brick from the platforms.
  198. >Looking back over your withers, you see a number of screens like those in the other station with train times, platform numbers, and destinations.
  199. >Hopefully it’ll be a long time before you have to consider that.
  200. >But not quite as long as you have to consider the sight of a human, standing holding a sign.
  201. >With your name on it.
  202. >And a pony beside him.
  203. >Brown, with a lighter mane and tail, where you can just about make out the cream dappling along her back like her namesake.
  204. >Anon and Mocha Crema.
  205.  
  206. >If you could be anypony else right now you would but sadly, you’re still just Starry Sails, stood stock still staring silently at Anon and Mocha Crema.
  207. >Overhead an announcement blares through the speakers and you jump, reflexively looking up before remembering what still lies ahead of you.
  208. >You hadn’t noticed it before but Crema’s holding a sweater in one hoof as she talks to Anon, turned to one side.
  209. >Then she sits back and starts threading her forelegs through the sleeves. It’s a light, cream-coloured thing that perfectly suits her coat, unlike what you wear.
  210. >A little toss of her head and her beautiful caramel mane is back to looking just as great as you remember from when you were back in school with her.
  211. >Your eyes flick over to Anon briefly, long enough to see the sign again and that yes, it has your name on it. He’s already met a far better mare than you.
  212. >So your ears droop down and you feel the strength start to drain out of your legs.
  213. >The thought of running to the toilets to splash some water over your mane and try to get it into some kind of manageable shape quickly leaves you.
  214. >You don’t even know where they are, the two waiting for you would see you trying to find them long before that.
  215. >And you don’t think you’d be able to get about quickly now; it’ll be a miracle if you can even march yourself over.
  216. >Which you can’t do, looking as you are. Not if Crema’s going to be standing right next to you as a perfect comparison.
  217. >Some of the humans passing you are putting on jackets and one or two of the ponies are talking to humans, putting on clothes of their own.
  218. >What was it you heard? That it’s not the same time of year here, it’s later, coming into fall rather than spring?
  219. >It’s just enough to give you a terrible idea, one that’s sure to fail but you still need to give yourself some small measure of hope.
  220. >Anon and Crema still haven’t seen you, they’re talking among themselves while idly glancing over at the doors you came in through.
  221. >While Crema might remember you, Anon shouldn’t recognise you.
  222. >Just enough time to…
  223. >Start pulling up the hood of your hoodie!
  224. >But with the absolute mess your mane is, that’s easier said than done.
  225. >And the ponies and people passing you have started to thin out as more from the train have got off and left.
  226. >Your heart starts to speed, your breathing quickens, and your hoof tugs at the hem of the hood as you feverishly glance around and then back to two waiting for you.
  227. >It’s a miracle you don’t topple over.
  228. [spoiler]>But with your weight and lack of coordination, it’s only a matter of time.[/spoiler]
  229. >You shut your eyes tightly and try to focus on the sensation of the hood coming up over the back of your head.
  230. >Just a bit… Wait, no! You can’t cover your ears, you’ll have to pull it back when you’re talking to Anon and of course you’ll wind up pulling it back too much!
  231.  
  232. >You almost wish you had a mirror to see what this looks like but at least right now you can try to imagine it’s not as bad as your treacherous mind insists.
  233. >At least it’s better than thinking about what a foal you must look like, standing here and tugging your clothes around.
  234. >Oh no!
  235. >You didn’t even think of— Your sleeves!
  236. >You were so busy stretching and pulling at your hood, you didn’t even think of what it’d do to your sleeves. And now the lower parts of your forelegs, and their feathering with them, have spilled out.
  237. >Please… Just once, can’t this work out for you?
  238. >You squint your eyes shut tightly against the thoughts but it does little; you were supposed to meet Anon on his own and then meet up with Crema, allowing you that first impression in safety.
  239. >The station was meant to be bigger and you were meant to have more time to compose yourself and think before you met him.
  240. >You should’ve been able to see him long before this and work out what to say…
  241. >Sniff.
  242. >No! C’mon, Star, not here!
  243. >Just… just get through this and get to the dorm.
  244. >You try for a steadying breath but it comes out shaky and your stomach drops when you open your eyes and see the two still waiting for you, the crowd thinning out even more meaning that any moment they could spot you.
  245. >Okay, the sleeves aren’t as bad as they could be but if you were to start tugging at them, it’d only start pulling the rest of the hoodie around and you’d be stuck here, looking like some crazy mare fighting her own clothes.
  246. >You don’t have enough time to think up and excuse about your feathering on the way over, so you’ll just have to hope that either neither asks or you can figure something out in the moment.
  247. >And actually speak.
  248. >That thought doesn’t exactly bring you any comfort and putting one hoof in front of the other is about all you can do to keep yourself from losing it entirely.
  249. >Just another pony, you’re just another pony here to enjoy the Earth-side festivities.
  250. [spoiler]>No you’re not, you can’t stand being around other ponies.[/spoiler]
  251. >But it’s okay! It’s mostly humans here!
  252. >And… you like humans, right?
  253. >Even if the only one you really know is Anon.
  254. >Your eyes dart back up from following your hooves along the tiled floor and immediately your stomach sinks - they’ve seen you.
  255. >Of course they have, it wasn’t that long of a walk from the platform!
  256. >You swallow in a dry throat and force yourself to keep moving.
  257. >It’s okay, it’s mostly humans around here anyway and none of them are staring at you.
  258. >You’re just another pony, newly arrived.
  259. >And ponies come in… in all shapes and sizes, right?
  260. >Terror grips your heart suddenly as you realise you’re close enough now that you can’t just run off, not without Anon and Crema chasing you down.
  261. >Suddenly, the voices around you don’t feel comforting in how they feel like a crowd to get lost in, and the humans sitting at the little café to one side are surely watching you, waiting for you to trip up.
  262.  
  263. >Suddenly, it’s like being back in Bridlewood, with the press of ponies outside your apartment and the nauseating knowledge that you have to go out among them, filling your thoughts again.
  264. >With every step, you feel just how little the hoodie conceals, now the saddlebag is tied about over it. Why didn’t you wear it under the hoodie? Why didn’t you tell anon you’d meet him another time?
  265. >Or at least tried to say something to the EEEE about not needing to meet their liaison immediately.
  266. [spoiler]>You know why.[/spoiler]
  267. >But now, with every step you take, you feel like you’re wearing lead horseshoes.
  268. >You’re intensely aware of the few strands of your feathering still trailing outside your sleeves.
  269. >At least the humans keep their station clean?
  270. >You can’t help but glance about to keep your eyes and mind off of what’s ahead and the walls have metal panelling here and there, lit by expansive skylights overhead.
  271. >And the floor, where you’d much rather hold your eyes, isn’t exactly pristine but definitely better than the streets back in Bridlewood.
  272. >This whole building sums up one word: modern.
  273. >It’s so un-pony-like that if it were any other situation, you might even feel comfortable right now.
  274. >Instead, you can feel your mane around the sides of your face and you know just how it looks. You know how you stack up to the ponies that pass by with their human companions, or alone.
  275. >And as much as you might want to believe otherwise, this isn’t like running into Warm Waves back in Equestria, she… she at least has some need to maintain professionalism.
  276. >”... think you’d like her if you met her. Maybe I can introduce you two, sometime.”
  277. >You try not to look at Crema but it’s impossible, with that smooth voice.
  278. >In that moment, where she ends that sentence, Anon looks away at her and right at you, the pony walking over to him.
  279. >Your heart stops in your chest and your legs with it.
  280. >You should’ve sent him a photo, then at least you wouldn’t be expecting him to start laughing.
  281. [spoiler]>Because he could’ve got it out of the way already.[/spoiler]
  282. >”Star?”
  283. >The sounds of shuffling feet and clopping hooves on tiles, voices mixed together, and piped music all die off.
  284. >It’s just you and the human you’ve been waiting to meet.
  285. >He’s taller than you thought, dressed… well, from what you know of human fashion, it’s pretty ordinary. A hoodie—pale brown, rather than a ridiculous colour like green—blue jeans, and those shoes humans wear.
  286. [spoiler]>Or maybe that’s because you’re so short[/spoiler]
  287. >He’s not really what you thought but then, what did you think?
  288. >He’d tower over you and attract the adulation of every other human around him?
  289. >But that’s not where you’re really looking.
  290. >You’re watching his eyes, waiting for him to look you over and react to what he sees.
  291. >You feel your ears start to slowly fold back and the thought of what expression you must be wearing nearly makes your legs shake.
  292.  
  293. >Any second now, he’s going to laugh, or insult you, or make some remark like the two stallions outside STAR.
  294. >Maybe if you’d taken the time to think of something to say you could’ve distracted him, even momentarily.
  295. >You were a foal, an absolute, utter foal to ever think this could last.
  296. >If only you could’ve stayed back in Equestria, stayed talking to him through Pillow Talk, things would’ve…
  297. >Well, ‘okay’ might be a bit strong, but at least you wouldn’t be standing here, facing the end of the only good thing in your life.
  298. >”It’s good to finally see you.”
  299. >You were so lost in your own thoughts, you weren’t even really looking at Anon.
  300. >Why would you? It’s not as if you expected him to say anything like that.
  301. >Good? To see you?
  302. >Your stomach already felt like it was being taken for a ride by a pegasus, now it lurches like a gryphon’s grabbed it.
  303. >No, taking the time to focus on Anon and see that he’s actually smiling doesn’t change that.
  304. >He was always so nice when you talked, and it wasn’t just an attempt to get you to lower your guard, was it?
  305. >You want to believe that, you want to so badly!
  306. >And looking up at that smile, trying to find any hint of dishonesty, you can almost forget who you are for a moment.
  307. >Until you realise you’re still standing there, silently, staring at him with one of your hooves raised as if you’re going to bolt away any second.
  308. >Oh Celestia, just say something, Star, he’s waiting!
  309. “U-Uh… y-you too?”
  310. >Your ears, having slowly begun to rise back up with renewed, if not confidence then a slow dissipation of worry, now snap right back down again.
  311. >Of all the things you could’ve said, you picked the one guaranteed to make you look like you can’t string a sentence together.
  312. [spoiler]>But how untrue is that, really?[/spoiler]
  313. >Instead he keeps smiling, and nods.
  314. >Anon’s just about to say something when another voice interrupts him.
  315. >A smooth, rich voice perfectly befitting the pony possessing it.
  316. >”Starry Sails, I haven’t seen you in…”
  317. >Mocha Crema shakes her head, her creamy locks swishing with it.
  318. >”Not since we were in school! And now look at you.”
  319. >Ice runs through your veins at those words because that’s just what Crema does.
  320. >She looks you over and it suddenly becomes a struggle to breathe but you can’t turn your eyes to Anon and strangely, the knowledge of your phone in your saddlebag offers no respite.
  321. >Anon’s right here now, and can see you just as Crema can.
  322. >”Here on Earth, with the rest of us!”
  323. >With those words, Crema practically leaps at you, extending a pair of forelegs around your neck.
  324. >Buck! W-Why is this happening? Why now?
  325. >Apart from the fact that she’s pulling your hood back, revealing more of your mane; apart from her own mane brushing against your face; apart from how you can’t even bring one of your own forelegs up around her…
  326. >Apart from all that, this was the very last thing you’d planned for.
  327.  
  328. >How could you have? The idea that somepony might actually hug you is simply something that’s never entered your mind.
  329. >W-What should you do? Should you put a hoof up and try to get it around Crema?
  330. >It’s not like you’d be easily able to do that with your height, and she definitely wouldn’t appreciate your scraggly feathering rubbing all over her nice sweater.
  331. >So you stand there, wishing dearly she’d just stop while trying to keep your eyes from moving to Anon.
  332. >As much as you’d like to seek his help in getting out of this, you can’t let him know just how much it’s freaking you out.
  333. >The only good thing is that she isn’t a… a pegasus.
  334. >She doesn’t have a pair of wings wrapped around you.
  335. >No, Star, don’t start thinking of that or you’re just going to make this worse.
  336. >But you can barely take any comfort in Crema finally drawing her forelegs back from around you.
  337. >You try to compose yourself, try to keep your expression as neutral as possible because you know you can’t look happy about what just happened.
  338. >But that attempt quickly flounders and dies when you see Crema’s own expression: surprise and something that looks a bit too close to dismay for your liking.
  339. >Of course, she’s got the full measure of you and the shape of your body, what you—poorly—try to hide with your hoodie.
  340. >Oh Celestia, is there more of your hoodie damp than you thought?
  341. >Is… is there a smell with it?
  342. >At least you didn’t put one of your feathered forelegs around her but what if it happens again?
  343. >It takes all of your considerably lacking mental fortitude to keep from doing more than lowering your head and ears under Crema’s gaze, while trying to look at her while also not meet her eyes.
  344. >Knowing exactly how ridiculous what you’re doing must look, you feel your stomach start to churn and the muscles in your legs tense.
  345. >”Oh geez, I’m sorry! I kinda messed up your mane, Starry.”
  346. >But she didn’t. You know she didn’t.
  347. >And despite the part of you that wants nothing more than to assure her it’s your own fault, you can’t help but take some tiny bit of relief in knowing there’s an excuse for how you look, now.
  348. >Her pretty green eyes don’t deserve to look like that, however. Still, you can’t quite find your voice.
  349. >”Sorry, sorry, I’m just so happy to see you again!”
  350. >And you don’t deserve such a wide, genuine smile as Crema flashes you.
  351. >It is, nonetheless, enough to let you raise your head a little. Enough so that you aren’t struggling to look up at her and even more at Anon.
  352. >You have to force your tail to sit quietly and your breathing to settle as you insist to yourself the worst is over now.
  353. ”Uh…”
  354. >Or rather, one of the worst parts is over, now you can focus entirely on another problem.
  355. >What in Tartarus do you even say to her?
  356. “Th-Thanks.”
  357. >You wince immediately; why can’t this be done over text where it’s so much easier to decide on what to say? And where you won’t constantly stammer.
  358.  
  359. >You really haven’t seen her since you were fillies, you don’t know what to ask or worse, what she might ask you.
  360. >Oh no. Oh Celestia no, what if she asks about why the EWS is sponsoring you here? Or why you have no cutie mark?
  361. >”And don’t you worry, I’ve been doing this for a while now, so if you ever have any problems you need help with, I’ll be here for you.”
  362. >Crema spares a glance at Anon, smiling, and you realise now he hasn’t looked away from you this whole time.
  363. >”Plus, you’ll have Anon to help you get settled in. I’ve got a pretty good handle on humans now, I think, but, um, everypony knows not to look a gift human in the mouth, right?”
  364. >She nickers and Anon smirks, though you’re not sure why.
  365. >Is this some weird in-joke among humans or something?
  366. >But if she’s cracking jokes like this, that has to mean she’s okay.
  367. >”Oh! Before I forget…”
  368. >It’s a miracle you don’t leap into the air when Crema says that and while your first thought is that she’s about to ask some detail you’d rather not explain, you see her horn light and the thread of her magic, blue like the cup on her cutie mark, extend to a saddlebag you hadn’t noticed before.
  369. >”This has all my details on it, contact number, pmail, all that, for whatever problems you might need sorted.”
  370. >She levitates a neatly folded sheet of paper over to you and while your immediate inclination is to take it in your mouth, that might risk damaging it. Then you’d have to ask for another.
  371. >So you catch yourself in time to lift a hoof and allow Crema to gently lower the sheet onto it.
  372. >Thereafter, you quickly turn and lift the flap of your own saddlebag, glad of the momentary excuse to look away.
  373. >You can feel a damp spot under it already, and that isn’t helped by the hot air you can feel being pumped into the station.
  374. >Sooner you can get out of here, the better.
  375. >”And don’t worry, I’ve seen all the details of where you’re studying. And computing! Not a lot of ponies there. Good thing you’ve already got a nice human friend, right?”
  376. >You want to believe that, you really do; Anon is your friend, that’s why he hasn’t made fun of you. It’s why you still hold onto the fragile hope that he won’t.
  377. >”Speakin’ o’ which, we should probably get you to the dorm, eh?”
  378. >Relief floods your system until you’re hit with another realisation - what in Tartarus are you going to talk to Anon about?
  379. >If it was just the two of you… well, it’s not that different from Pillow Talk, right?
  380. >But you weren’t counting on Crema being here and what could you possibly talk about with Anon that’d include her?
  381. >You try not to think about her asking about the EWS but mostly because you can’t think up a good explanation.
  382. >”Oh gosh! Listen to me going on and you probably want to get there and get settled in!”
  383. >Because you aren’t being given enough time to focus on anything.
  384. [spoiler]>Because you’re too bucking useless to, anyway.[/spoiler]
  385.  
  386. >”Ah, don’t worry about it. I’ll get ya there in jig time.”
  387. >Somehow, for some reason, Anon is still smiling at you.
  388. >He was smiling to Crema when he said the first part to her, then turned to you and was still smiling.
  389. >So, when Anon turns slightly and motions for you to come up beside him…
  390. >It takes you a moment, trying your best not to look around at the other people and ponies, but you do.
  391. >You stand beside him and look up.
  392. >”Ladies, shall we?”
  393. >The way he talks is so calm and confident, you almost forget Crema is to the other side of him and it feels a little like it really is just the two of you.
  394. >When he starts walking, it’s not so fast that you have to pump your legs just to keep up, the way—
  395. >The way you had to, once.
  396. >Not that you want to think about that.
  397. >Even with Crema being here, it’s going better than you ever could’ve expected.
  398. >But it’s strange walking beside him like this, with people and ponies moving out of your way, rather than you trying to thread your way around and through them.
  399. >A part of you wonders how much you’re making life difficult for them, the three of you walking side-by-side like this and how much easier it’d be if you just walked behind Anon.
  400. >You feel your legs heavier and the desire to slow down and drop behind Anon creep up you - it’d be easier, after all, and he could focus on talking to Crema, who you're sure would make for better conversation.
  401. >”Hey, Star, is that everything you were bringin’?”
  402. “Huh?”
  403. >You were so close to falling behind, so wrapped up in yourself that you forgot about the human who calls himself your friend.
  404. “O-Oh yeah. Everything.”
  405. >And it’s true, your saddlebags have everything else you cared to bring that wasn’t already here.
  406. >Everything you needed.
  407. [spoiler]>Everything you amount to.[/spoiler]
  408. >”Grand, so. I won’t have to stuff your friend here in the boot to get it all in the back.”
  409. >”W-What?”
  410. >Even over the sound of Anon snickering, you hear Crema’s hoofsteps stop.
  411. >And with them, your ears flip right back down again.
  412. >Anon’s sense of humour could be… odd. You always got the impression most ponies wouldn’t get him the way you did.
  413. >He draws up to a stop and you just about notice him glancing to see if you’re there.
  414. >No, no, Star, it’s not because he thinks you’re so incompetent that you don’t know to stop when he does, it’s just to make sure you’re there.
  415. >”Ah, well, Star’s sittin’ in the front with me and I couldn’t just put her stuff in the boot.”
  416. >He says it so matter-of-factly, a small part of you wonders if he really is joking.
  417. >But Anon isn’t the type of human to treat ponies like that.
  418. >Right?
  419. >”She’s got a lot of rare and expensive literature.”
  420. >Well… yeah, okay, some of your books are hard to get in Equestria and they charge more because they have to be shipped through portals but they’re not more important than Crema!
  421.  
  422. >You’re just about working yourself up to say something to Anon when Crema, mercifully, speaks up.
  423. >After standing there for a moment, working her mouth open and shut.
  424. >”Starry… is a collector… ?”
  425. >Anon snickers again.
  426. >”Uh, but you wouldn’t /really/ do that, would you? Because Cass wouldn’t be too happy and probably come looking for me and…”
  427. >Crema trails off, her ears folding back a little as Anon continues to smile at her.
  428. >”I’m just jokin’ with ya. But her stuff is important and some of it’s expensive.”
  429. >”Oh.”
  430. >Crema comes up beside Anon and the three of you resume your course.
  431. >”Seems I still have some human handling to research…”
  432. >You want to tell Crema it’s okay, it’s just Anon’s sense of humour that you’ve got to know pretty well by now.
  433. >And that you’re not really important.
  434. >It feels different when it’s not by text, however.
  435. >And, really, any chance to avoid having to talk is one you’ll welcome.
  436. >Really, you should be glad Anon’s taken over talking to Crema, for you.
  437. [spoiler]>She’s the kind of pony he deserves as a friend, anyway.[/spoiler]
  438. >The rest of the way is shared in silence that allows you to focus on what your feathering is trailing against.
  439. >The floors are pretty clean but down a flight of stairs—wide enough the three of you can still walk side-by-side and not so steep you have to stretch your diminutive legs too much—you come to an asphalt surface like some of the newer roads in Equestria.
  440. >Rows of cars stretch out before you and most look a lot larger than any you might’ve seen back in Equestria.
  441. >So far you’ve been able to keep Anon between you and Crema so that she shouldn’t have been able to focus too much on what you really look like from this angle, but now?
  442. >You’ll be reflected in the sides of the cars and there’s no way you’d be able to claim that the weird surfaces are distorting your appearance.
  443. >And in the meantime you haven’t had any time to… what, Star?
  444. >What could you possibly do with your mane that would result in it not looking like a crow’s nest compared to Crema’s?
  445. >Not that she’s said anything about it, beyond apologising for your own buckups.
  446. >Or about your blank flanks.
  447. >Your tail twitches again as the intense awareness of that flares back up.
  448. >Anon didn’t say anything either but how much does he really know about that kind of thing?
  449. >You feel your breathing start to race, your heart beats harder, and you know it’s only a moment before a new damp patch emerges in your hoodie.
  450. >”Just down here.”
  451. >You barely hear Anon and follow without really thinking, your mind filled instead with thoughts of what you could possibly say.
  452. [spoiler]>But what could you possibly say?[/spoiler]
  453. >Your head lowers, your ears too, and your tail hangs limply at your back.
  454. >It really is only a matter of time, isn’t it?
  455. >You had it too good for too long but now it’s all going to fall apart.
  456. >”... Nope! Actually, I, uh, prefer it.”
  457.  
  458. >Ugh!
  459. “Huh?”
  460. >You just felt something bump against you!
  461. >”Jesus, Star, sorry!”
  462. >Of course.
  463. >Of course you were so deep in thought that you weren’t paying attention to the world around you, again.
  464. >You look about without trying to look like you’re trying to figure out what happened but deep down, you know exactly what you look like and you have to fight off a grimace.
  465. >Anon is standing in front of you, holding onto the door of his car, looking down, looking worried.
  466. >Did you walk right into it?
  467. [spoiler]>You utter foal.[/spoiler]
  468. >You probably damaged it.
  469. [spoiler]>Another reason Crema’s the better friend.[/spoiler]
  470. >”Are ya alright?”
  471. >He lowers himself down so that he’s about level with you and reaches over… placing a hand on your shoulder!
  472. >”Did I hurt ya?”
  473. >But you’re not thinking about what he’s saying. How could you?
  474. >All you can focus on is the gentle pressure against your shoulder and the fact that it’s from Anon.
  475. >It’s a struggle to look up, to look at his face, and while you still have some way to go to be sure of reading human facial expressions, you’re sure you have the right idea about this one.
  476. >One you never really see on pony faces.
  477. >Concern.
  478. >Immediately, you look away, turning your head around to his hand without really thinking about it.
  479. >”Sorry.”
  480. >His voice is a lot quieter when he says that but worse is the way he removes his hand.
  481. >Was it because of how you looked at him? Or his hand? Was it because there was something wrong with your hoodie or he felt what you were like under it?
  482. [spoiler]>Or just because it’s you.[/spoiler]
  483. >No!
  484. >No, Anon isn’t Crema.
  485. >He… he knows you better than she does.
  486. >It’s okay, Star. Just this once, it’s okay.
  487. “O-Okay.”
  488. >You take a breath, and put every drop of composure you can into forcing the words out.
  489. “It’s okay.”
  490. >Does your voice always sound so small? So quiet?
  491. [spoiler]>So pathetic.[/spoiler]
  492. >You chance looking back at Anon’s face and feel your ears pin back and your legs start to lose their strength at how he still looks just as concerned.
  493. >But you know better than to try and smile, the last thing you need to do is give him more cause for concern.
  494. >So of course he’s the one that smiles and even you can tell that it looks strained.
  495. >”Alright, Star,” he says, standing back up, “c’mon and we’ll get you to the dorm.”
  496. >Right. Right, that’s what all of this was for, after all.
  497. >Anon taking time out of his day just to save you walking there.
  498. >You grab that thought and hold onto it firmly - Anon is taking time for you, to help you.
  499. >Even if you don’t believe you deserve him, he does.
  500. >So naturally you make a stupid decision and try to smile, and even look up to him when you do so.
  501. >His own smile brightens a little so maybe yours isn’t that bad?
  502. >Or maybe… maybe it’s just funny.
  503. >You look back away from him and turn your attention to the seat inside the car before you feel your smile fade.
  504.  
  505. >Thankfully it’s lower than the seats on the train and the bottom of the car is positioned so that you can climb in and then use that as a step to push yourself up the rest of the way.
  506. >With Anon watching you.
  507. >You try, desperately, not to think about that.
  508. >And inevitably fail.
  509. >Of course Anon is going to see how ridiculous a heavy little mare like you looks as she hoists her misshapen body up like this.
  510. >He’s going to see exactly how awful you look and know how much worse you are than a normal pony like Crema.
  511. >You tell yourself that you squint your eyes shut with the effort of pushing yourself into the oddly-shaped seat and turning about in it but you know the real reason.
  512. >With the saddlebag still belted around yourself, it’s probably not as comfortable as it might be but you’re not risking taking your hoodie off, not when you have to sit like… this.
  513. >Your hind legs pushed forward, your back tilted against the seat. Maybe it’s okay for humans but you can’t imagine spending too much time like this.
  514. >At least on the train, the seats were straight enough that you could get comfortable but with the seat here curved like it is, you can’t really sit any other way.
  515. >But Crema isn’t complaining so you’re not about to draw attention to yourself.
  516. “Ya know how to use one o’ these, Star?”
  517. >Without thinking, you turn to Anon to see what he’s talking about.
  518. >He’s holding… something out from the other side, near the still-open door of the car.
  519. >It’s not like you didn’t know what cars were, you’d seen them on TV and the thaumnet but you’d never really seen the inside of one.
  520. >And you don’t have any idea of what he’s talking about.
  521. >This time, at least, you have the presence of mind not to try to talk and instead just give your head a little shake, desperately hoping your mane doesn’t start flopping over your face.
  522. >”Yeah… I thought ya might be a little small for this, the king of the shitboxes wasn’t made for ponies.”
  523. >So he did notice you’re shorter than Crema. Which means he probably also noticed you’re… heavier than her, too.
  524. >”But I put up the seat and lowered the seatbelt so let’s see…”
  525. >You hear a strange noise, like somepony unzipping a zip-up hoodie and feel a shock of surprise and fear run up your body when you see Anon reach across you.
  526. >He’s pulling something along, that weird black belt you saw with a metal part sticking out of it.
  527. >”Sorry, Star,” he says quietly, “I’ll just be a sec’.”
  528. >The belt feels a little tight over your stomach.
  529. [spoiler]>But that’s your own fault, isn’t it?[/spoiler]
  530. >But thankfully you neither see nor feel Anon touching that part of you.
  531. >He is leaning over in front of you and if someone or somepony were to look into the car it might look like–
  532. >Oh horseapples, you do /not/ want to think about /that/!
  533. >Click!
  534. >Huh?
  535. >”Now..”
  536.  
  537. >You pull yourself out of that thought to see Anon holding another part of the black belt out from you, before he slowly brings it over.
  538. >It presses against your body less tightly than the lower part.
  539. >”That should do. Not plannin’ on hittin’ anyone but still, don’t want anything to happen to ya.”
  540. >His smile looks more sure this time so… so he’s not disgusted by you, is he? Either that or he’s hiding it well.
  541. >You take a breath, hoping to pass it off as testing how tight the belt is–you can breathe okay–and try to let that thought sit with you; Anon doesn’t think you’re a horrible little…
  542. >He just doesn’t dislike you. It’s okay, Star.
  543. >With a soft ‘thunk’, he pushes the door shut and you’re left alone in the car with Crema.
  544. >You wait for it, for her to inevitably ask you something.
  545. >About your lack of a cutie mark. About the EWS. About… anything, really.
  546. >But.. There’s nothing.
  547. >Just the quiet sound of her breathing.
  548. >Thankfully, it’s not too much longer before Anon opens the other door and gets into the car.
  549. >There’s a variety of dials and a large wheel sticking out of the panel in front of him.
  550. >None of which you can even guess at the purpose of.
  551. >”Alright, everyone– eh, everypony ready?”
  552. >”Y-Yep!”
  553. >Does Crema sound nervous?
  554. >That’s not the filly you remember, or the pony from the station even.
  555. >”Let’s get motorin’, then!”
  556. >With a sound like a dragon’s roar, the car rattles and shakes and you jab your forelegs into the seat.
  557. >Oh, sweet Celestia
  558. >”Relax, it’s just the engine!”
  559. >Anon is smiling.
  560. >Smiling!
  561. >The engine? Is that what humans use instead of thaumic drives?
  562. >You’d take your mane standing on end any day over that!
  563. >But the roar dies down to a more contented rumble, like the dragon has just eaten and is now sleeping.
  564. >”First time in a car, Star?”
  565. >Is it really that obvious?
  566. >Well it’s you, so of course it is.
  567. >”Listen, all of this is normal, don’t worry. Y’see…”
  568. >The car slowly lurches to a start and for a moment you’re glad of the belt over you, otherwise you might’ve fallen right out of the seat.
  569. >It’s all you can do try and focus on Anon’s voice over the noise and movement of the car.
  570. >What have you got yourself into?

[WIP] Floorb and the Hole in the Wall

by HeavyHorse

[WIP] The Way Life Could Be - Pt. 2

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Heart of Ice

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[WIP] Frost Fringed Letters

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[WIP] Lost & Found

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