Tfanon

Opal's First Day

Aug 17th, 2013
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  1. As much as you'd like to say that after your night in Eli's bed you got right down to it and tried to really befriend these new people... or, um, person and ponies... you were supposed to spend your life with, you just couldn't. Too much stress yesterday and too little sleep last night caught up to you hard, and you barely made it through breakfast without nodding off (as though giving yogurt to the likes of you wasn't already messy enough.)
  2.  
  3. Even Eli noticed it when he was dabbing off your muzzle with a cloth, as if that weren't already embarrassing enough. Still, where Zephyr's guy would've mocked you, your guy - still very weird to think of him like that - only smiles a bit, rests a hand atop your head and asks if you'd like to rest with him for a bit.
  4.  
  5. Your agreement is as enthusiastic as you can make it, and while Seafoam and Orchid seem disappointed at your lack of energy they still follow along behind him as the four of you make your way through his labyrinth home. The sudden blinding light of the mid-morning sun is hardly welcome without warning, but once your eyes adjust and the rough silhouettes of your companions move along ahead of you you're able to a get decent view of an incredibly lush garden. The humidity and the sound of running water is quite unexpected until a look up reveals that you're not outside at all! The sun shines in through glass panels on all sides save the wall of the house proper, and you can't help but scowl when you realize you're in a private greenhouse, visibly overgrown with tropical-looking plants and flowers around inlaid stone paths and the odd artificial stream.
  6.  
  7. What on earth does Eli do for a living that he can afford all of this? And why spend so much on all this luxury, and three involuntary transformed and subjugated people, when he seems so down-to-earth in behavior and speaking style? Eli closes the door behind you once you clear the threshold into the greenhouse before reaching a hand down to your mane, scratching lightly before speaking.
  8.  
  9. "So this is my quiet place to relax. Do you like it?"
  10.  
  11. His tone is so self-assured, you know he expects you to be awestruck... and of course you are! This greenhouse looks big enough to hold an olympic swimming pool, and he's filled it with a tiny chunk of paradise! Orchid and Seafoam are already dashing off into the brush, apparently free to roam off the laid paths. As cool as it is though, it just seems so excessive...
  12.  
  13. "It's amazing... But this must have cost so much money to build just for you and Orchid and Sea..."
  14.  
  15. "Not as much as you'd think, really."
  16.  
  17. "B-but still! You could've fed hungry people! Or vaccinated children! Or... or..."
  18.  
  19. Words fail you when you look up at him, perhaps more angry than you should've been, to find him looking at you with an expression you can't quite place. The sudden rush of fear that you've offended him is more instinct than logic, though your mind is quick to conceive of punishments for your insolence or harsh words coming your way for being "ungrateful". You had already realized that from now on you were going to have to depend on him for everything you need to live... but the realization that he could just as easily make your life a living hell hadn't really come in force yet.
  20.  
  21. This sudden terror is what flings you to the ground beneath your hooves, head bowed low and eyes shut as you grovel at his feet. You're ashamed of yourself for doing it, but you're begging for foregiveness before he even has time to speak.
  22.  
  23. "I'm sorry! I won't talk back like that again, please don't me angry! I w-wasn't thinki- eh?"
  24.  
  25. Your sudden, confused silence is the result of him laying a finger across the front of your muzzle, already kneeling for better eye contact. A hand returning to the top of your head to tousle your mane is your first sign that he's probably not that mad, and the words that follow only serve to remind you that jumping to conclusions never really works out for you.
  26.  
  27. "I'm not mad at you, Opal. If I wanted a pet that didn't think I could've just adopted a cat, you know."
  28.  
  29. "I, uh... You know your friend in the woods would never have let me get away with that, right?"
  30.  
  31. "I'm not my friend. I suppose you must've come from some hard times, then? This must all seem stupid to someone who struggled with the basics."
  32.  
  33. "Y-yeah. Really hard times. Living on cheap frozen vegetables. Going from that to this... it's really strange. If you don't mind my asking, what do you do that earned you all this?"
  34.  
  35. "I'm in finance. Also... a lot of this is an inheritance. I had to earn it first by proving myself in the field, but once I had and my father passed suddenly I had an actual fortune."
  36.  
  37. "So you used your dad's money to buy me?"
  38.  
  39. "And the others. Those disgraceful "little girl horses" he almost wrote me out of the will over, bought with his money and living in his old house. I think it's pretty funny."
  40.  
  41. "You didn't like you father much, did you?"
  42.  
  43. "I liked him just fine, but I wanted a pony and he can't mock me from beyond the grave, so here you lot are. Now come on, you still need a nap and I need to check some numbers."
  44.  
  45. You have no idea what he means by "check some numbers", especially considering that you're currently in a private chunk of rainforest, and as you follow along behind him taking in eyefuls of gorgeous floral colors and lush greenery the thought occurs that you know about as much about his job and how he does it as a dog would about it's owner's business. It's hardly pleasant to think of yourself as being so uselessly dumb compared to the likes of him, but financial talk about stocks or bonds or whatever always flew clear over your head, and it would seem that is his business. Still, you suppose anyone with a similar level of business acumen to yourself wouldn't be able to provide for you very well at all. The vision of your old apartment flashes before your eyes, now with an unfamiliar stranger sharing his box mac n' cheese with you.
  46.  
  47. Yeeeaaah, no.
  48.  
  49. You follow Eli to what seems to be the center of the greenhouse, and discover a small clearing with a large lawn bench in the center, set up to swing between the posts it hangs from. A few feet away is a simple little plastic table that Eli wastes no time in approaching, picking up a sleek, glossy tablet computer before setting himself down on one half of the bench. You try your best to contain yourself when he taps the space beside him twice, inviting you to join him up there. Sure, he'll probably be working most of the time, but the occasional hand reaching down to skritch at your mane while you nap in a tropical paradise is a wonderful prospect, enough of one that he smiles a bit wider at the involuntary perking of your ears and tail.
  50.  
  51. The bench swinging as you try to clamber up almost topples you, but thankfully you're able to pull yourself up before making a scene. He's been watching you regardless, and once you've sat back on your haunches he chuckles for a second before apologizing.
  52.  
  53. "I should've helped you, but I forgot that you're too new to have Orchid or Seafoam's grace. They just jump up."
  54.  
  55. "Yeah, if I try to jump up you'll be too busy helping me with my nosebleed to get any work done."
  56.  
  57. "Maybe my work is really important. Maybe I throw a towel at you and tell you to keep pressure on it."
  58.  
  59. "Hmph. Some Master you'd be then."
  60.  
  61. The look he gives you in one of surprised laughter, but as his hand settles atop your it shifts into something else entirely. Is that fondness? A kind of adoration?
  62.  
  63. M-maybe he likes you?
  64.  
  65. "I've never had a pony give me a guilt trip before. I'll try to live up your expectations. You know I was kidding, right?"
  66.  
  67. "Last night you sat up with me to help me get over my ridiculous brain problems. Of course you were kidding." You reply with a healthy bit of jest before setting your forelegs down on the bench. You'd originally intended to lie down beside him, but you got your measurements a bit wrong. You only realize that once your head is nearly situated in his lap, though you're able to scoot an inch or two back before his hand guides you the rest of the way down. Using his thigh as a pillow is actually pretty alright, much softer than the other guy's thigh, and the fingers rubbing small circles through your mane make it doubly lovely. The tablet ends up resting on his other thigh, his free hand tapping away while you zone out. You can see Orchid through some of the brush in front of the bench, reared up on her hind legs to lean against a tree. There's something in her mouth, and as far as you can tell she's fiddling with a strange looking bird feeder hanging from a low branch. There aren't any birds in here as far as you can see, but you decide to put off asking what's going on over there until you're not so wonderfully comfortable.
  68.  
  69. Every now and again Eli will say something to himself about whatever it is he's working on, and you're pretty content to ignore it while you fade in and out of sleep, briefly coming to every time his free hand starts or stops petting you. There comes a point, probably sometime around noon, where the greenhouse is simply too bright to remain asleep. By then you feel well rested enough to actually face the day, Eli turning to face you with a smile as you stretch your neck and yawn.
  70.  
  71. "Enjoy your nap?"
  72.  
  73. "Mhm, Yes sir! How's your work?"
  74.  
  75. "Looking pretty good. Just made some new investments! This seems like it could be a winner down the road, right?"
  76.  
  77. He excitedly holds the screen up in front of you, and while that's most certainly a line graph, some numbers, and the odd bit of actual English, it's an otherwise indecipherable fact sheet. Admitting that you can't make heads or tails of it would be a bit shameful... but using this to play for more attention could net you profit! ... of a sort. You look away from the screen, back up towards him, and wordlessly tilt your head to the left, flicking your left ear as you do, keeping your face as neutral as possible despite your desire to laugh. Is imitating a confused dog too much? It's degrading, but then again self-deprecating humor is really what you're best at...
  78.  
  79. His face falters, apparently taking a few seconds to put two and two together before he starts to laugh. The tablet gets put back down before he settles his hands on either side of your face.
  80.  
  81. "You're adorable, you know that? Though not much for picking stocks I take it?"
  82.  
  83. "Well, uh, no. To be honest I used to work in a convenience store..."
  84.  
  85. "You don't need to say it like that was a bad thing. You were gainfully employed and keeping your head above water. The guy who made you cute couldn't even say that for a while."
  86.  
  87. "Y-you're giving me too much credit... I wasn't above water at all. More like drowning."
  88.  
  89. "Poor thing. Well, it's in the past now, so cheer up! Now, I don't know about you, but I could use a little exercise. Let's find the others and move along, shall we?"
  90.  
  91. And off you go, following his lead as he searches for your companions. Seafoam is sitting by an artfully built artificial pond staring into it pretty intently, and though at first you wanted to make a joke about her apparent spacing out a sudden splash a few feet ahead of her shuts you right up.
  92.  
  93. Eli chuckles to himself again when you mutter "Oh no way." and pick up your pace to a quick trot ahead of him to water's edge. The water is clear and laden with aquatic plants just as lovely as everything else in here, but the explanation for the splashing comes swimming right up to you, apparently attracted by your shadow. Gazing up at you from within are half a dozen colorful fish, delightful to behold but still insulting to your sensibilities, bringing your scowl right back. Seafoam speaking up perks your ears back up from their annoyed fold, and you look back up to find her putting a few items in a small bin with her hooves.
  94.  
  95. "What, you don't like koi? I raised them myself, you know!"
  96.  
  97. "Wait, *you* raised them?"
  98.  
  99. "Well, yeah. Eli said they'd be too much work for him to bother with, so I promised I'd take care of them."
  100.  
  101. "But... but you're a pet."
  102.  
  103. "Which is awesome. Your point?"
  104.  
  105. "You're a pet with pets."
  106.  
  107. "Oh, right, Eli used to joke about that too. Think of it like a reverse food chain. He feeds me and I feed them."
  108.  
  109. "And no one gets eaten."
  110.  
  111. "Now you've got it!"
  112.  
  113. "Still, though. He bought you fish? Just 'cause you asked?"
  114.  
  115. A finger arrives unseen behind one of your ears and begins to scratch as Eli steps into your field of vision and begins to do the same for Seafoam, the conversation pausing for a moment while that most enjoyable sensation overcomes both of you.
  116.  
  117. "Of course I bought her the fish. Sure, she needs me to help if the filter needs cleaning or the pump stops working, but otherwise the whole thing is her responsibility. Besides, Opal, how do you expect to enjoy life all cooped up with the likes of me without a few hobbies?"
  118.  
  119. "I haven't really thought about it... To be honest since I woke up like this I've just kinda been focusing on putting one foot- ah. One hoof in front of the other. That and I figured you'd be petting me, mostly."
  120.  
  121. "You're sweet," He leads in, shifting his finger to lightly scratch beneath your jaw. Ooh, this is a new one, you'd be purring like a kitten if you could. "But you should probably think about something I can give you to keep you fulfilled and sane. Fulfilled, remember. Not the same as being entertained."
  122.  
  123. "So no video games?"
  124.  
  125. "Oh, I didn't say that. But I'd like you to pick something real, that you can put your mind to and physically work on."
  126.  
  127. Well, he didn't outright forbid the vidya, and that's a good sign. Granted, without fingers you're not gonna be much for the shooter scene anymore, but there's bound to be something you can play. He wants you to pick a hobby off the top of your head, though... You miss that beat up old guitar back at your apartment, but by now that poor old girl is probably in the trash with the rest of your stuff...
  128.  
  129. But you weren't any good when you had fingers, and now you don't even have them...
  130.  
  131. "I don't know what I'd pick, Master..."
  132.  
  133. You'd like to continue wondering what you want, but calling him "Master" automatically, being as lost in thought as you were, unsettles you a little. Seafoam and Orchid call him by name, and you've even been trying to... but that guy in the woods really does his job well, so in your head you guess he'll always be "Master". Still, this one doesn't seem to want you around just so he can make you submit, he even wants you to have activities of your own... a kind of life! If you thought it was anything but sincere, you'd swear it was a devious plot on his part, because granting you little pieces of personhood the way he's offering to is probably going to make you a much better pet.
  134.  
  135. "Take your time. We can even do a little research later if you like."
  136.  
  137. The thought of "doing research together" is more tempting than you'd like it to be, conjuring visions of a seat in his lap while he googles things for you. Mm! Lots of petting to be had there. You know Zephyr's guy apparently told Eli you'd be "a cuddler" if he could calm you down... does that mean you're abnormally needy even for a mutant little horse? You were pretty lonely before being turned... maybe you're just that desperate for physical contact? Sad.
  138.  
  139. Your sad little self-loathing session ends abruptly when Orchid emerges from some nearby brush, for a moment looking every bit like the tropical flower she's been named for.
  140.  
  141. "I thought I heard voices over here. Are we leaving?"
  142.  
  143. Eli replies in the affirmative, though no one goes anywhere right away as Orchid heads directly over to you and Sea, nuzzling each of you in turn before turning to you.
  144.  
  145. "Like the greenhouse? It's my favorite place."
  146.  
  147. "It's incredible... and I guess it suits you, doesn't it?"
  148.  
  149. "It should! Apparently he only got it in his head to buy a pony as garish as me from sitting in here."
  150.  
  151. "You're not garish! Just, uh, unique."
  152.  
  153. "You're sweet, Hon. If you can believe it I'm actually toned way down from my OC, the guy who turned us thought it'd be cruel to oversaturate me."
  154.  
  155. "That's his idea of cruel?"
  156.  
  157. "Well, think about it. If you're gonna be a pony you at least wanna be able to look in the mirror without cringin'."
  158.  
  159. All there is to do is giggle in response, high and feminine where there used to be a little baritone chuckle. You really do like Orchid, though. Kinda like Zephyr, she gets you without having to try. Maybe there's a camraderie in both having been male prior to being slender, admittedly cute, female ponies, but you'd like to think it's her sense of humor.
  160.  
  161. "So, uh, I know Seafoam has her fish. Earlier I saw you fiddling with some kinda bird feeder? Do you have pets in here too?"
  162.  
  163. "Not quite a bird feeder. Eli, can I show her?"
  164.  
  165. Your owner agrees with a smile, and by now you're wondering if there's any reasonable request he'd refuse. With instructions to meet him at the door when you're done Orchid leads you along a new path through a wire-frame arch covered in flowering vines... morning glories, you think?
  166.  
  167. "So he bought you as a garden accessory?"
  168.  
  169. "Sorta. I'm not going to lie, when he told me that at first I was worried he meant for me to live in here. I mean, it's really nice and all but it would be, I dunno, like being a zoo animal or something."
  170.  
  171. "Heh, wouldn't Seafoam have her own fake beach if that were true?"
  172.  
  173. "And you'd have a belfry, you batty little thing. By the way, does having those cat eyes affect your vision?"
  174.  
  175. "I'm not sure, honestly. I can't tell if my night vision is any better, but bright light seems harder to adjust to, though."
  176.  
  177. "You should ask for a hat or something."
  178.  
  179. "I suppose I could... it still seems weird to me."
  180.  
  181. "Having to ask?"
  182.  
  183. "No, getting it at all."
  184.  
  185. "I know you said you were in the woods with our first Master for a while, but don't tell me you forgot about being able to acquire goods."
  186.  
  187. "Like I told Eli earlier, I was on strictly survival spending for a long time. If I wanted a hat, well, that could just as easily buy a full day's worth of food, you know."
  188.  
  189. The long walk around seemingly every corner of the greenhouse finally ends when you reach another small clearing, a young tree in the center. It occurs to you as you look around that Orchid could have brought you here in a fraction of the time she took taking the long way... she just wanted to talk to you. You're glad for it, these little efforts on her part to get to know you. The tree is vibrant beyond compare, though you don't remember it being as colorful as it looks now.
  190.  
  191. It's not until one of them flutters off it's perch over to the "bird feeder" you'd mistakenly identified that you realize it's an ordinary tree, here and there peppered with butterflies attracted to whatever is in the hanging piece of plastic Orchid had been messing with earlier.
  192.  
  193. "They can get by alright on just the flowers in here for a bit, but I prefer to give them a little something every day. You should come by here later today when they're more active."
  194.  
  195. "You keep butterflies?"
  196.  
  197. "Sea gets her koi, so I wanted something to brighten this place up other than myself."
  198.  
  199. "No fair, the both of you have themed pets. I don't even want a bat!"
  200.  
  201. "I liked butterflies before being turned, I'll have you know. Now I have the time and resources for them."
  202.  
  203. "You're both doing so well with them, too... what if I screw up what I pick?"
  204.  
  205. "Try, try again, little sister. You've got nothing but time to get it right. So... besides suddenly thinking you had fingers last night, are you liking it here?"
  206.  
  207. "You know, I never thought I'd be so unhappy about feeling my hands again. It's all very surreal, this money and his attitude and you two being so nice. At least back at the place in the woods I could focus on what I'd lost. This place... I'm either worried there's a catch or that maybe I died that night and this is some kinda fucked-up afterlife. It doesn't seem real."
  208.  
  209. "There's no catch as far as I know. Eli's too nice for his own good. I imagine if he'd picked out one of the ponies I shared the basement playroom with he'd have paid to let them go. Tearful and angry about being turned, you know? He wouldn't be able to deal with it."
  210.  
  211. "I was like that. Weren't you?"
  212.  
  213. "Me? Quite the opposite. I was a little freaked out at first, and who isn't, but when the big guy with the domination fetish came in and explained things to us I ended up surprising him. Apparently not many ponies tearfully thank him for taking them away, he didn't really know what to make of me. Everything is such a big deal with him, too, it got annoying. I don't need a lecture about the collar, just put it on me so we can go for a walk."
  214.  
  215. "So you liked being a pet?"
  216.  
  217. "I liked leaving my life behind and having a body I didn't hate. That it happened to involve collars and leashes and warming a guy's lap... it's a good deal in my book. You're clearly made your peace with it, little miss snuck-up-to-Eli's-bed."
  218.  
  219. "Hey! I told you that was a real medical probl-" You stop suddenly, Orchid's head turning as she laughed had revealed something far more amusing to you.
  220.  
  221. "Yes?"
  222.  
  223. "There's a, well, one of them is kinda sitting on your mane."
  224.  
  225. Sure enough, a lone butterfly has wandered away from the area around the feeder and has settled on the back of Orchid's mane, looking like a particularly delicate hairpiece on the top of her yellow strands.
  226.  
  227. "Oh, yeah, they do that. I must look like a flower to them. Color scheme's everything, y'know."
  228.  
  229. Orchid lightly shaking her head and waving a hoof nowhere near the actual insect is enough to scare the little thing into the air, a satisfied little hum coming out of your compatriot's muzzle as it does before she turns to you and starts laughing as it settles on the tip of your nose, dominating your vision. A quick snort from you convinces it that you're not a good thing to sit on, either, and it sets off back toward the tree.
  230.  
  231. "Good, they like you. Now, we've probably kept Eli waiting. C'mon."
  232.  
  233. The two of you waste no time getting back to Eli, Orchid navigating low brush with an ease that surprises you, and while you've nowhere near her agility you're at least able to keep her tail in sight long enough to end up back at the door to the house, Where Eli is kneeling over Seafoam, upside-down on her back and with a look of complete and utter contentment while he rubs her belly. While you certainly wouldn't have traded your bonding time with Orchid for anything, there's a pang of jealousy you're hard-pressed to ignore. Eli perks right back up to open the door, with Seafoam rising a bit groggily to her hooves as though she'd been asleep. Oh, dammit, maybe later you can get him to do that to you without too much fuss...You'd been ready for another winding trip through the bafflingly large house... or maybe it's time to abandon modesty and call it a mansion? To your surprise the destination for "exercise" appears to be just down the hallway, through a door you passed on the way to the greenhouse. The shock of the greenhouse having already jaded you quite a bit, the smell of chlorine gives your destination away before you've even rounded the corner. Sure enough there's a pool in here, shielded by glass panes from the outside in a manner rather similar to the greenhouse itself. Looking around now you're able to gather that the pool is nestled in the center of a "U" shape made by the rest of the building, the glass surrounding you, along with the greenhouse, clearly later extensions to an old building. Is this the power of what they call "old money"? You'd always assumed it was a pop-culture artifact, something that used to exist but kept getting referred to... maybe you need to revisit that assumption.
  234.  
  235. The sound of hooves on tile and war-cry yell is followed by Orchid and Seafoam throwing themselves into the water with gusto, emerging from beneath seconds later with an off sort of doggie-paddle getting them around without any apparent danger. You look around the room for Eli, and while you do spot him you end up turning away as quickly as you can, considering that he is currently changing into swim trunks. An eyeful of man-butt is strange enough, the last thing you need right now is an eyeful of his bait & tackle... it might end up being less awkward and more, er, tempting, and that's gotta be avoided. You make your way toward the shallow end of the pool, head stiffly turned to face anywhere but Eli, watching your "sisters" splash about with an impressive amount of speed. Clearly they've got practice.
  236.  
  237. As curious as you are to see how they're swimming so well, arriving at water's edge and looking in at the submerged stairs leading into the shallow end causes you foreleg to retreat a little. Even the shallow end looks like it would be over your head if you sank, and as far as ways to die go "drowned in the shallow end" is not one you'd like to experience. You're barely coordinated enough to get out of bed, swimming seems more and more hazardous by the minute.
  238.  
  239. It's this mindset that causes you to yelp embarrassingly loud when Eli grabs you from behind, rests you against his chest, and carries you with him into the water. Before you've even managed to stutter out a thing he's already cleared the steps you could have comfortably stood on without drowning and brought you into water that would be above your head.
  240.  
  241. "Wait! Wait hang on please bring me back to the step!"
  242.  
  243. "You're not scared of a little water, are you?"
  244.  
  245. "No! I'm scared of drowning because I don't know how to swim with hooves."
  246.  
  247. "Right, so I'm gonna be right here until you learn."
  248.  
  249. "O-oh... You're sure there's nothing in the water that'll ruin my coat or mane?"
  250.  
  251. "I'm sure, we went through that with Seafoam once. I use much gentler chemicals now."
  252.  
  253. Wait, why did you even ask him that? The only three people who're ever gonna see it even if you do get bleached for a while are him and his other pets. You don't need to look good... Who are you trying to impress? You quietly admonish yourself for worrying about your appearance, still fretting that it's somehow a feminine thing and you're losing your gender identity but also fretting that worrying about your coat has nothing to do with femininity and connecting the two might make you a sexist.
  254.  
  255. While you're off in Opal's la-la land of anxiety, which you're sure didn't sound as nice with your old name attached to it, Eli begins to slowly lower you into the pool. He does so very, very slowly and you're lost as to why until you realize that you're squirming more and more as parts of your fur come in contact with the water, and he's just enjoying the show. You'd like that to bother you, but that rush of blood to your cheeks as you blush invisibly under your dark fur is less embarrassment and more... well... excitement. He keeps his hands at your side, still offering support once you're in up to your neck.
  256.  
  257. "There. Not so bad, is it?"
  258.  
  259. You look back up at him, embarrassed by his tone, but his small smile is too infectious, his eyes just beaming out charm, so it's hard not to crack a smi-"
  260.  
  261. Oh shit it's him. He's the one you want to impress. Oh hell, you were hoping you could coast through the rest of your natural life without ending up like Zephyr, but that's not looking too good now.
  262.  
  263. "Don't talk to me like I'm a kid... You know I have issues."
  264.  
  265. "I think you're getting better. You aren't hiding behind furniture anymore."
  266.  
  267. "...Well, no, you're right, I'm not. You're not as frightening as I imagined you."
  268.  
  269. "Oh? And what do you think of me now?"
  270.  
  271. He's fishing for a compliment, but theres an element of seriousness to his tone, he's clearly got your "return policy" in mind. Well, why not just tell him the truth? It's the highest praise you've got, honestly.
  272.  
  273. "I think you're kind. Last night I told you a silly, impossible thing was causing me pain and you believed me without hesitation. You worried about me, and not just 'cause you dropped a fat wad of cash buying me. I can tell."
  274.  
  275. "Why, little pony, it sounds like you might even like me." His tone of mock-surprise is one of pure jest, but his eyes still betray him, because you can see how pleased he is at hearing that.
  276.  
  277. This is flirting. It took you this long to figure it out, why this feels so easy, so giddy, so strange, but you're actually quite sure that's what is going on here. He's flirting with you because he thinks the worrywart bat-pony is cute. You're flirting back because....
  278.  
  279. ...Because he bought you? Because you need him? Because he's good at calming you down?
  280.  
  281. ...Because his eyes are his best feature...?
  282.  
  283. Oh crap... you're flirting back because you think the big guy is cute, too.
  284.  
  285. It's not like there's anything to do about it now, you suppose. You can freak out and demand to be brought back to the house in the woods... but you don't want that.
  286.  
  287. "I think it sounds that way too. You got that wrong by the way."
  288.  
  289. "Hm?"
  290.  
  291. "I'm not just "little pony". Aren't I "Your little pony", Master?"
  292.  
  293. You really wish you weren't so pleased with yourself for saying that aloud. You knew coming here was probably a one-way trip, and once you arrived you were pretty confident about having won some kind of karmic lottery, but you didn't think you'd like him so quickly!
  294.  
  295. You're pulled back out of the water for a hug, still sopping wet and pressed against his chest. While he murmurs "only if you want to be." into your ear. While you're sorely tempted to ruin the moment by motorboating his small but still present man-boobs you'd rather just go on being hugged. Your wet cuddling transforms into extremely embarrassing swimming lessons from him with occasional input from Seafoam or Orchid as they race laps around the pool.
  296.  
  297. As it turns out, swimming in this body is exactly what it seemed; an awkward doggy-paddle that suffices to keep your neck above water. Orchid and Seafoam seem to have built up quite a lot of endurance at this, but your occasional mistakes and near-dunkings mean that you stick to the shallower end of the pool, having learned that the water allows you to "stand" on your rear hooves if need be. It's an extremely awkward position to hold yourself in, and realizing that it's as close as you'll probably ever get to your old human posture makes it vaguely humiliating.
  298.  
  299. Still, it's very good exercise, and before too long Orchid and Sea join you in the shallows for a splash fight and a bit of roughhousing, all while Eli makes up for lost time with his laps. Finally, there comes a time when everyone is good and tired you're quite happy to drag yourself back onto dry land for a quick shower under a faucet in the corner to wash the pool chemicals away, then waiting your turn for Eli to dry you off after the other two. You end up waiting for a while for him to get done with both of them, Taking the time to tie back Orchid's long mane into a loose ponytail and brush Seafoam's little bob-cut to wavy perfection. Oh lord, your owner is going to want to do that with you too, isn't he?
  300.  
  301. "Alright Opal, let's get you dried off before you catch a cold or something."
  302.  
  303. You're grateful for his concern, and once you're toweled off and feeling better you learn that Zephyr's guy made a big mistake. If he had walked into that playroom with a brush you would've been putty in his hands from day one. It's covered in short bristles that send shivers down your spine with every stroke along your fur, and Eli seems to delight in your dopey-looking smile as he pampers you. Once he's finally satisfied that every inch of fur you've got has felt such unmitigated bliss he moves onto your mane and tail with a hairdryer before beginning to play with them, brushing and combing them this way and that and sometimes stopping to look you over from different angles.
  304.  
  305. "Hmm, I think you'd look best with some structure... maybe a spray or a light gel. It could stand to get a little shorter, too."
  306.  
  307. Oh no, he really means to do your hair. You can't help but retreat from him a little, suddently feeling too much like a life-sized pony toy to be comfortable. He picks up on it, of course, watching you side-step away from him as though he'll give you cooties.
  308.  
  309. "Not big on mane styling, I take it?"
  310.  
  311. "N-not really, no. I-if you're going to do stuff to it I want a say, too."
  312.  
  313. "Of course you get a say in it. Later on you and I can sit down with a mirror and find something you like."
  314.  
  315. "This... isn't optional, is it?"
  316.  
  317. "No? C'mon, it'll feel nice enough to be worth your while even before we find a good look for you."
  318.  
  319. Ah, hell. You already had to get used to the other guy insisting on brushing your mane into shape from time-to-time to keep you presentable, now this one wants to make you sit there while he does it up. You don't like long hair! If you hadn't had much bigger issues at the time getting this thing cut down to size would have been priority one. Seafoam's got the right idea, but Orchid's super-long mane looks like hell to you. Oh god, what if he thinks you'd look good like that?
  320.  
  321. ... Well... what if he does think you'd look good like that? If he thinks a certain cut or styling is the cutest, you should at least consider it, right? You've spent too much time in ponymaker games or with photoshop messing with manes to pretend you don't kinda get it...
  322.  
  323. You just never thought you'd be the pretty pony in question. Well, even by your own admission you're a pretty cute, sorta-hot little female pony... in his place you'd probably geek out about it too...
  324.  
  325. "Who's a good pony?"
  326.  
  327. Dammit.
  328.  
  329. "I am. Just... I dunno, nothing super involved, okay? Simple."
  330.  
  331. "That's my girl. C'mon, let's go hang out for a bit before lunch, I can show you some more stuff."
  332.  
  333. You silently swear to yourself that if he leads you into another hugely expensive pleasure den you're going to find something pricey looking and pretend that breaking it was an accident, consequences be damned. It's not that you don't like him, or even that you didn't enjoy your morning in the garden or your afternoon swim, those were both fantastic. You knew you sucked a lot at life before getting in Charlie's van, and becoming less than human hardly helped matters... but his life is so easy, so carefree that your already battered and beaten ego is still wounded. Is there a fancy vase on a table around here you can bump into?
  334.  
  335. Despite your discontent with so much luxury around here you're honestly surprised to end up back in the living room, but no more surprised than you are when you're scooped up without any prompting on his part and set beside him on the couch. Seafoam excuses herself to the restroom and Orchid darts off to... somewhere, you guess, leaving the two of you alone for the second time today. You can't decide if this is deliberate on their part or not. On the one hand, it's not like you've seen them conspiring to leave the two of you alone with one another. On the other, they seem to at least like you enough to want you to stay... or they see Eli wants you to stay... Not like you're itching to leave or anything. Your owner settles in, forcing you to move back a bit as he puts his feet up before he focuses on you.
  336.  
  337. "So, what do you feel like doing now?"
  338.  
  339. Huh. Good question, actually. Your fellow pets are nowhere to be seen, he looks awful comfortable where he is... No real answer but to get comfortable too...
  340.  
  341. He seems a bit surprised to find you climbing over his legs before settling on his lap and stomach, but he's no fool either.
  342.  
  343. "Soooo, you wanna cuddle?"
  344.  
  345. No eye contact. Eye contact is the little shame that ends your fun. Still... rolling over onto your back, quickly flicking your tail up for modesty's sake, and laying your head back onto his shoulder does the trick nicely. You do tense up a bit when his hands settle onto your exposed stomach, the whole region so incredibly sensitive to the touch that your muscles react involuntarily. Your intense shudder and sharp inhale when he runs a hand up the length of your belly makes him laugh a bit, and though you try to look up at him in indignation his smile is, as always, too infectious to resist.
  346.  
  347. "Would you perhaps like a belly rub, little Opal?"
  348.  
  349. "Y-yes."
  350.  
  351. "Mhm? I didn't hear you."
  352.  
  353. "Yes, please rub my belly, big strong Master-man who is apparently deaf."
  354.  
  355. He stares at you, nonplussed for a moment, until your sheepish grin breaks his facade and the belly rub begins in earnest. H-his hands!
  356.  
  357. M-m-m-much softer that the last guy's....
  358.  
  359. "Ah-a! Y-you're really gooood at this, y-you know!"
  360.  
  361. "I've got two other ponies, you know. Lots and lots of practice. Though I don't think they like it quite as much as you do."
  362.  
  363. "T-then they're dumb. This is A-a-awesooomeee!"
  364.  
  365. Seriously. All that practice with the others is paying off in spades. Your forehooves twitch and paw at the air madly while your rear legs occasionally kick of their own volition, hitting either air or the soft back of the sofa. You find yourself making the strangest little noises, high-pitched little squeaks of pleasure whenever his fingernails deign to run every so lightly up your abdomen, and pressing the back of your head against his shoulder, occasionally turning it this way and that in what you hope seems like a sign of affection.
  366.  
  367. You wonder if you can get a written agreement for regular sessions like this in exchange for your trump card? He might find your posturing cute! Even as he rubs, though, you catch yourself dwelling on the idea that being cute is how you'll get by these days... is that what your problem was with mane styling? Shorter hair would look good with your weirdo shade or purple, and you always liked short-haired girls yourself. In fact, between the hair color, his proposed hair style and your admittedly lean but shapely butt you're beginning to think that aside from being a pony you're actually becoming your own ideal girl.
  368.  
  369. ...Though maybe he has similar tastes in women?
  370.  
  371. Gah! Stoppit! It's only been one day, and you've got to stop crushing on him! It's gotta be something Zephyr's guy did to your head, no way would you start wanting to catch his eye like that so quickly! Though you had a nasty habit of falling "in love" with girls after a date or two before... Considering that, it's possible that manipulating you into loving someone just because he pets you is just that trivially easy.
  372.  
  373. Dammit, you really were an ideal candidate for his business, weren't you? A stray animal in human guise, waiting for someone to come take you in... pathetic.
  374.  
  375. Eli's fingers keep rubbing, though, so your self-loathing can't last terribly long. So what that you like him? You're supposed to like him, he owns you! Besides, he seems as patient as he claimed to be, even now this belly rubbing session is pretty much chaste, his hands are well clear of your awkward little horse teats and your tail-covered womanhood. All you have to do is keep control of your baser impulses and you'll be just fine.
  376.  
  377. Though right now your baser impulses seem awfully thrilled at the strange bump pressing against your rear end, your squirming seems to have unintentionally been grinding your plot into his lap. Welp, so much for chaste...
  378.  
  379. "Uh.. uhm, Eli?"
  380.  
  381. "Yes?"
  382.  
  383. "Is... is that..."
  384.  
  385. "Oh, you noticed. Sorry, can't really help it with the way you were moving."
  386.  
  387. "So you just weren't gonna tell me?" You groan, now trying to wiggle out of his grasp and get clear of the erection as though it were going to attack you.
  388.  
  389. "The boner isn't awkward until someone talks about it." He replies, matter-of-factly, as though you weren't seperated from his genitals by maybe a couple centimeters of cloth.... okay, so that happens every time you sit in his lap, but usually he isn't ready to go!
  390.  
  391. "Well I'm talking about it! It's awkward, so lemme go!"
  392.  
  393. "Nope. We've gotta un-awkward this."
  394.  
  395. "How does holding me against your schlong make it un-awkward?!"
  396.  
  397. "Because I'm gonna do this."
  398.  
  399. For a moment you're positively terrified. Does he mean to kiss you, grope you, touch you in places? Will he expect you to do the same?
  400.  
  401. Too much! Too much too fast! No no no no no gotta get outta here gotta run gotta-
  402.  
  403. A solitary finger running down your side, along your belly near your hips, causes an involuntary response. You squirm against it, sure, but the unwilling giggle is what sets off alarm bells in your head. Oh crap, you'd almost prefer it if he wanted to make out!
  404.  
  405. "No, wait, Eliii ahaha, nooooo!"
  406.  
  407. Now all nine other fingers join in, having found your ticklish spots and now ruthlessly attacking them. Your squirming becomes wild and forceful to the point of bucking, though he seems well-adapted to pony struggling. He must be well-practiced with this too, as he doesn't skip a beat in pursuing you with those accursed wiggling fingers even as your roll off of the couch and onto the floor in a desperate bid for escape, laughter approaching shrieking volume as he pins you. Stuck beneath him you're not going to have any luck in escaping, his tickling only getting more intense.
  408.  
  409. "STAAAHP! ELIIIIIIIII STOPPIT I CAN"T BREEHEEATHE!"
  410.  
  411. The fingers stop as Eli lifts himself off of you, and you collapse onto the floor, panting heavily and still occasionally suppressing little giggles for a minute. A look back up reveals your owner to be quite satisfied with himself by the look of things, grinning like an idiot with a look of mischief in his eyes as he kneels on the floor.
  412.  
  413. "See? Not awkward anymore."
  414.  
  415. Your response is a slow, light prodding of the region with one of your rear hooves, and to your relief it would seem he's managed to get it under control down there. You try your best to look disappointed, softening your voice as much as you can for the sake of the joke.
  416.  
  417. "Y-you mean tickling isn't your fetish, Anon?"
  418.  
  419. The eruption of laughter is just what you hoped for, Eli at once slumping against the sofa and laughing in that guilty manner that signifies only the best kind of joke. You let yourself laugh at your own joke, safe in the knowledge that if nothing else, you can at least be the funny one. His funny little weirdo pony doesn't seem like a bad thing to be, you suppose, and it's a fair deal better than you thought you'd be when he picked you up.
  420.  
  421. "Oh, oh wow. I didn't think you'd be the one to start making flutterrape jokes."
  422.  
  423. You're about to reply to him, still sprawled out on the floor upside-down, when a big red something fills your vision. Orchid seems to have arrived while you were laughing, looking down at you with a big, big smile.
  424.  
  425. "I knew I liked you."
  426.  
  427. Your internal thrill at having won over at least two out of three housemates is offset by your confusion at Orchid's appearance. Her head seems to be covered by... Hang on! You roll yourself upright and stand at once, fascinated by the hood resting over Orchid's head. Her own color scheme is complemented nicely by the purple zip-up sweatshirt currently covering the upper half of her body, the sleeves visibly worn out by stretching to get over her hooves.
  428.  
  429. "You've got a hoodie!"
  430.  
  431. "Uh, yeah. It's comfy as hell, too." She replies, more than a little bemused by your attitude.
  432.  
  433. "You get clothes?!"
  434.  
  435. "We, Honey. We get clothes." her smile now dominating her face as she realized why you're so excited.
  436.  
  437. You whip your head back to face Eli, his eyebrows already raised expectantly.
  438.  
  439. "I get clothes?"
  440.  
  441. His response is to pick you back up in a hug, resting you on his lap before speaking like an exasperated parent.
  442.  
  443. "Only if you ask nicely, darling."
  444.  
  445. "B-but I can get a hood like hers?"
  446.  
  447. "Of course you can, you'll look just as cute as she does in it."
  448.  
  449. "And other stuff?"
  450.  
  451. "Yes, Opal, other stuff too. Though I'll warn you now: If I buy you clothes you want to wear, I get to buy some clothes I want you to wear."
  452.  
  453. "... You're gonna play dress-up with me?" You groan, voice laden with the same dread the earlier hair conversation gave you.
  454.  
  455. "Nothing too extreme, I promise. No pink frilly things."
  456.  
  457. You stare at him, eyebrow quirked for a moment. His usual tone carries a sincerity and an honesty that you've come to respect quite a bit. When he talks like that, you believe him. So, his tone changing suddenly for the second sentence worries you to no end.
  458.  
  459. "Well... No pink frilly things right away?"
  460.  
  461. You're not even gonna dignify that with a response, still just staring at him as neutrally as possible in silence.
  462.  
  463. "We can barter over what it'll take to get you to wear something once it's here. I'm confident I can make it worth your while to let me have my fun. I'll have you know that neither Seafoam or Orchid have hated anything I've bought for them."
  464.  
  465. "It's true." Orchid chirps from beside you "I always end up liking how I look when he gives me something."
  466.  
  467. "Even when being female was still a new thing?"
  468.  
  469. "He went easy on me at first."
  470.  
  471. An arm wraps itself around Orchid's midriff and lifts her into place beside you on his lap, and soon you're being hugged by both parties at once, even as Orchid is wrapped in his other arm.
  472.  
  473. "And I'll go easy on you, too. Besides, with your color scheme pink would be risky. You'll let me try, won't you?"
  474.  
  475. It's not a command, so at the very least you're not responding out of impulse, but being asked a question like that and then looking into his eyes... You know it's something that got done to your head, some trick to make you obey...
  476.  
  477. But you wanna be good, just so he'll like you, right?
  478.  
  479. "Yes, sir. But, please, just don't put me in dresses or anything right away."
  480.  
  481. "That's just fine. Do you know how much work it is to get a dress to fit one of you, anyway? I have to do it myself, too, lest I have to explain
  482.  
  483. anything to a seamstress."
  484.  
  485. "You tailor the clothes?"
  486.  
  487. "Only the stuff that doesn't fit from the get go. Hoods, shirts, jackets and the like barely ever need work, and even then it's just the sleeves. I like those the best. I mean, come on, doesn't she look freakin' adorable?" he finishes the sentence on a cutesy note, kissing Orchid on the cheek and hugging her a bit harder. Your friend Orchid, probably the only reasonable model for how you can expect to feel and behave in the future if you stay here, nuzzles into his shoulder before returning the kiss on his cheek, looking at him with an affection you think is somehow different from Zephyr and Autumn's feelings for the loon in the woods. They look at him with a kind of eerie worshipfulness that, given how he treated them, made a lot of sense but always worried you. In fact, the fear that you may have felt something similar is what prompted your near-escape from that place. Orchid and Eli look and act much more like a committed couple in love. There's adoration, yes, and dependency in spades, but you get the distinct impression that there's a sort of mutual respect in there, too. Eli seems just as grateful for her love as she does his.
  488.  
  489. That's... Well... Kinda...
  490.  
  491. You can't help but feel envious. Not possessive jealousy, you don't want to take it away from Orchid... but you would like to have it too...
  492.  
  493. Feeling that way, being loved that way, it must be so nice. Despite still being in the hooves of that very mare and the arms of that very man, all of a sudden you feel terribly lonely.
  494.  
  495. "Now then, I think Orchid's the only one who hasn't had a bellyrub today." He declares, putting you down on the floor before hoisting himself and Orchid back onto the sofa. You settle in beside the couch, still vaguely rattled by the rush of emotion, and try to relax for a bit while Eli makes a big show of unzipping Orchid's hood, and while you try to quietly figure out where the remote for the television is you hear the sounds of Orchid enjoying herself above you, just as squeaky as you but a bit more melodic. You mean, you new voice is a bit nasally but well tailored to your new body and, you're happy to realize, great for joke delivery. Orchid, on the other hand, has absolutely honey-sweet tones with every spoken word, and given her colors you're surpised her name and cutie mark don't have something to do with a songbird rather than a flower. Then again, made-up ponies posted online can't really have their voice taken into consideration very often, Zephyr's guy must come up with them as he goes... or maybe it's random?
  496.  
  497. Seafoam's return only becomes apparent to you when a pair of forelegs wrap themselves around your abdomen and you find yourself pulled back down onto the floor as she starts cuddling you.
  498.  
  499. "Still not big on personal space, are you Sea?"
  500.  
  501. "Oh, hush. Now there's always someone to snuggle with even when he wants one-on-one time, and I'm taking full advantage of it."
  502.  
  503. You'd like to snark back at your "biggest sister", still the one you're least comfortable with so far, but her grip is firm as she wraps her limbs around you, and you can't help but nuzzle back once she starts. It's only a few minutes before you're discussing favorite books and movies and shows, in between giggle fits as she starts nibbling on your ears for amusement. So maybe she isn't the kindred spirit you've found in Orchid, but at the very least you're confident that you and Seafoam can function amicably as housemates and friends without trouble.
  504.  
  505. Your earlier loneliness gets the better of you, and you find yourself turned around to face her and clinging tight as you cuddle. She does seem a bit surprised by your forwardness, but like her nearest physical counterpart you're aware of, Autumn, the return on your investment is many-fold, her strength advantage over you is actually something of a comfort here. To your dismay she's actually far more perceptive than Autumn ever seemed, leaning in to quietly whisper into your ear.
  506.  
  507. "Is something bothering you, Sweetheart?"
  508.  
  509. "I'm just feeling... out of place. It'll pass."
  510.  
  511. Knowing that it will is new. Usually a single worry blossoms into half a dozen given even the tiniest bit of credence by your mind. Maybe it's just something about being held, or maybe it's the relaxing morning... but the lack of anxiety is sort of strange.
  512.  
  513. Huh. Maybe this place is good for you after all?
  514.  
  515. By the time Eli is done cuddling with Orchid lunch is actually quite late, and though he's apparently in a hurry to make his "afternoon calls" he still insists on serving it for the lot of you. A quick fruit salad ends up being your main course, but the lemonade he gives you is a big pick-me-up just because it's in a glass with a straw, not a bowl on the floor. At what point does being treated like a person rather than an animal start making you feel like a mooching slacker? Seriously, when the person feeding you treated you like a dog you could huffily take your food and think nothing of it! Not that Eli can't afford it, you suppose, but you're still sort of waiting for there to be a catch to all this beyond him wanting to use you as a life-sized pony dress-up doll...
  516.  
  517. "So, I've got to go make the usual phone calls to follow up on this morning's computer work, but I trust you can keep yourself occupied with Orchid and Sea?" He asks, quickly rinsing the dishes while you sit on the floor nearby. You don't know what you're waiting for, but the other two sat down over here so it must be some part of the routine, right?
  518.  
  519. "Of course!"
  520.  
  521. "Good girl. Actually, Orchid, could you help her shop around a little for clothes or a hobby on your tablet?"
  522.  
  523. Orchid assents while you sit there, totally dumbfounded. She has a tablet? She doesn't even have hands!
  524.  
  525. ...On the other hoof, if she can use one, so could you. Though you've got to wonder what she had to do for Eli to get it. Something like that is pricier than clothes or hobby supplies, and Eli seems to always want something in return...
  526.  
  527. Gah. No! You don't think such unpleasant things about your owner! Everything you've seen and heard makes it clear Eli wouldn't make her do something she really didn't want to.
  528.  
  529. You've been spaced for long enough that only Eli's hand moving in front of your face gets your attention, leaving you with the sole recourse of apologizing sheepishly after he asks if "anyone's home in there?"
  530.  
  531. "All forgiven, sweetie. Now, pony want a treat?"
  532.  
  533. A small voice cries out within you that no, you've been enjoying being treated like an equal, rather than an animal. A much larger voice responds with a definite "Yes!", this time out loud, your ears perking and your posture straightening unconsciously when you see an honest-to-god cookie in his hand.
  534.  
  535. Junk food! Terrible little sweet things! Oh, Zephyr's guy was always so fixed on healthy stuff he cooked himself that you haven't seen a delicious hunk of preservatives and corn syrup since your last shift at work!
  536.  
  537. The cookie on offer is in your mouth in seconds, your old qualms about eating out of someone's hand long since put aside. He scratches behind your ears as you chew, and the usual wash of happiness at his attention is doubled by the bliss of the treat. You know he's got business that needs attending to, but a strange day has left you with some strange emotions, so you decide to get a few of them out now, rearing up onto your haunches and wrapping your forelegs around his thighs in a crude little hug.
  538.  
  539. Somewhere behind you Orchid jokes to Sea that "I think she liked the cookie." but you know what? The hell with it. If all you have to offer him in exchange for everything you've been given so far, and all the promises for the future, is little pony hugs and letting him mess with your appearance then that's what he'll get. Eli's surprised little "woah" at your sudden movement is the only response you get until his hands descend, pulling you out of your hug around his thighs and instead holding you tight against his chest. All that effort and worrying, even pulling a fast one on the guy who sold you, and you're not even pretending that you might use your "return policy". He seems to get it, too, if the intensity of this hug is any indicator. Alright, little pony. Your Master is kind, his other pets both seem lovely, and you can have just about anything your heart desires save for hands or vacations...
  540.  
  541. Why not be good? Why not be a pet?
  542.  
  543. Without a good answer to either question you plant your lips against his cheek. Just a peck, a little chaste thing that could come from anyone, but aside from staring at the odd crumb you leave behind you don't follow up with much of anything besides burying your head in his shoulder. You did it on impulse, and you don't regret it but you're certainly rather embarrassed.
  544.  
  545. He has to push a bit to do it, wedging his own face into the gap between your head and his own shoulder to make his lip connect with your own fuzzy cheek, and equally chaste peck with a satisfied little hum to himself as he breaks it off. Proof that Eli really is starting to get you comes easily, as all he does after that is set you down on the ground, pat you on the head once more, and tell all three of you to have fun while he worked. Talking about what you just did and it's myriad meanings and implications would simply have been too much, and nothing makes you think you've made the right decision more than Eli apparently understanding that. Seafoam and Orchid, on the other hand...
  546.  
  547. "You know, Orchid..."
  548.  
  549. "Yes, Seafoam dearest?"
  550.  
  551. "I think her actions just now change things a bit, don't they?"
  552.  
  553. "I'd have to say they do, sister."
  554.  
  555. "Uhh, guys?" You stammer, concerned at how dryly and coyly they're talking. M-maybe they take offense to that? Oh no, you're moving
  556.  
  557. too quickly, they must think you're some kind of little hussy! Little hussy horsey!
  558.  
  559. "There's a phrase for what it makes her, isn't there?"
  560.  
  561. "Yes, What was it? Something like..."
  562.  
  563. "Oh, yes, I know!" Seafoam cries, as Orchid's mask of stillness splits into a vibrant grin as they finish in unison.
  564.  
  565. "One of us!"
  566.  
  567. Your companions jump you at once, both ponies throwing themselves onto you with enthusiasm in spades. Seafoam is all hugs, while Orchid keeps chanting "One of us! One-of-us!" in a faux-zombie voice for a bit before blowing a raspberry or two on your belly. You yelp and pretend to struggle, but in truth you're... okay.
  568.  
  569. No, better than okay. You feel a bit lightheaded, breathing an enormous sigh of relief as you cross the threshold into a committed life here. Pent up stress seems to be washing away as you laugh like a crazy pony, an enitre lifetime of anxiety flying out the window as you embrace something new, relaxed, and different.
  570.  
  571. You thought when Charlie offered to pay you a few grand to help him take back "something" that belonged to him that all your troubles would be over once it was done. The job never got done, but you're prepared to admit it: This is much, much better than what you thought you'd be getting.
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