Well, today turned out to be an interesting day, to say the least. It started like any other. I awoke in bed to find Fluttershy in the process of waking up as well. It was a warm late summer day, the window left open to allow a gentle breeze to blow inside. I rubbed my eyes to help hasten myself in waking up. But what really boosted my drowsy senses was when Fluttershy gave my cheek a tender nuzzle.

"Good morning, dear. Sleep well?" She asked in her sweet quiet voice.

I cracked my neck a few times with some sudden twists and jerks of my head before I answered. "Meh… I don't think I dreamed that well last night. Mediocre, I guess. Nightmare Moon must've been slacking off. But seeing you first thing in the morning makes everything better."

Fluttershy let out a brief giggle before giving me such an adorable smile. "Same here. My dream felt kind of dull and draining. But being with you right after waking up helps perk me up." She then leaned towards me, resting her head on my chest while my arms embraced her tenderly.

"Love you, baby." I whispered into her ear, prompting Fluttershy's wings to flutter open for a second. She then looked up at me and planted a kiss directly on my lips while letting out the sweetest coo I had heard in a while.

What a perfect way to start my day. In the embrace of dear little Fluttershy, I felt so warm and fuzzy. Even so, it would not do to lounge around in bed all morning. Besides, today is a Thursday, so I needed to get over to the spa in a while. "Say, honey? Would it be OK if I cooked you breakfast this time? You know, for a change of pace?"

Fluttershy seemed to have no problem at all with my proposition and gave me a nod before replying, "That sounds lovely. I'll clean up around here while I wait. Please be sure to cook enough for all three of us."

I proceeded to get dressed before going into the bathroom to address my bed head. After checking my list of polo shirts, I decided to go with one that bore the colors and cutie mark of Twilight Sparkle that day. Just for a change of pace. As soon as I got downstairs, I looked over at the far edge of the living room. I could see Scootaloo just starting to wake up.

"Morning, sleeping beauty." I spoke up while the spunky pegasus filly rubbed some sleep out of her eyes. Her jaws opened wide for a moment to let out a long yawn before looking my way with really drowsy eyes.

"Morning, big brother… Ugh… I must've slept weird." She spoke groggily before starting to lay her head back down. "Um… Could I have five more minutes?"

I smirked before heading into the kitchen. "Hold that thought." I went to a drawer next to the kitchen sink and pulled out a small dishtowel before filling a bowl with water and emptying an entire ice tray into it. After waiting for about thirty seconds, I submerged the towel into the freezing water and waited another thirty seconds to let it get nice and soaked. I quickly yanked it out and ringed some of the water out to keep it from dripping too much. With a smirk, I left the kitchen, went across the living room, and kneeled next to my little sister's bed while she seemed to be on the verge of falling asleep again. "Hey, sis? I got a way to get you to wake up."

Scootaloo grumbled while rolling onto her back, her eyes still clamped shut. "Mmmm…. What is it…?"

"This." I replied before dropping the wet rag onto her face and vigorously, yet gently, rubbing it all over her face. Needless to say, the wet rag was freezing cold from all the ice cubes I had used.

"Whoa! Hey! That's cold! Knock it off!" The dozing filly shouted before suddenly sitting up in bed and shaking her head from side to side and flinging the rag off of her and onto her sheets. Her eyes shot open, now very clearly awake while the orange coat on her face was noticeably wet.

"You all awake now?" I asked with a sly smirk, my cheeky side having momentarily come out.

Scootaloo looked at me and gave me a quick snicker. "Heh, yeah. I'm awake now! What's for breakfast?"

I crossed my arms while my hand held my chin for a moment. "I'm actually not too sure right now. I'll be sure to prepare some toast and flowers, but I still need to decide on what else there is. How about you gather up your stuff for school while I get started?"

"Sure thing! Can't wait to see what Chef James cooks up! I'll just be a little while." Scootaloo replied before hopping out of bed and going around her room to gather up her school supplies.

With no distractions to keep me preoccupied, I headed into the kitchen. "Hmmm… Where to start…"

I gathered up six slices of bed and put them to the side while also pulling out several daises that Fluttershy kept in the refrigerator. While I personally do not have much of a taste for most flowers, I have actually developed a liking for rose petals. And fortunately, I found a small bowl filled with the deep red flower petals in one of the refrigerator's drawers. Along with that, I found fresh eggs that our hens had laid just the other day, as well as tomatoes, fresh spinach, and a container of feta cheese.

The sight of one of my favorite cheese instilled a spark of inspiration in me. "Omelets. That'll be perfect."

I decided to prepare the tomatoes first. Upon cutting one in half, I found that the fruit was filled with a great deal of a watery liquid that probably would not be flavorful enough to use by itself. And yes, tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable. I decided to spice it up by cooking them with some spices. But first, they required a bit more preparation. I pulled out a food dicer, basically a press that forces food through a grid-shaped net of sharp edges to turn them into cubes, and pushed each half of the tomato through. I did the same with one more tomato to make certain I had enough before setting the diced tomatoes in a bowl for the moment.

Next, I poured some olive oil into a skillet before placing it on the stove and turning the flame on high. I dropped one piece of tomato into the thin layer of oil that was soaked in its own juices so I would know when the oil was hot enough to cook with. Not even a full minute passed before I started to hear the familiar sound of sizzling. Sure enough, the tomato fluids were rapidly evaporating from the hot oil in the form of popping bubbles. I then dumped the rest of the tomato pieces into the skillet as a loud hiss filled the air.

While those cooked in the skillet, I looked through the cabinets and gathered up some spices. I added a pinch of salt, a few shakes of black pepper, and even poured a teaspoon of minced garlic in. Honestly, you just cannot go wrong with garlic. After watching the tomato pieces' consistency became a bit more firm, I turned the heat off and poured the tomato chunks onto a plate. It was then I decided to prepare the eggs.

I cracked two eggs into the bowl that had been used to hold the tomatoes, thinking that the residual juices would add some flavor. Once those had been thoroughly beaten and mixed, I poured it into the skillet and watched as a round yellow puddle formed. Fluttershy and Scootaloo still had not come into the kitchen, which I was glad for since I was going to have to cook each omelet one at a time and I would not want them to get impatient.

Once one side was done, I flipped the thing like a pancake to fry the other side. While that was happening, I topped the layer of egg with some of the tomato chunks, spinach, and some feta cheese. While that started to sizzle and pop, I also pulled out a bag of hash browns. I needed something to go with the eggs, after all. After pouring a bit of oil into another skillet, I then poured as much of the frozen hash browns into the heated skillet while also making certain there was enough room to stir it without spilling any over the side.

While those were frying, I folded the egg circle over itself, trapping the fruit, veggies, and cheese inside itself to cook. I also pressed down on the top to compact it further. The cheese steadily melted in the heat, causing the folded halves to stick together. And that there is the trick to making an omelet when using cheese. By letting the cheese serve as the glue to keep the contents in the middle from spilling free.

Just as I was preparing the next omelet for frying, I noticed Scootaloo trot into the kitchen. She breathed deeply through her nose to take in the aroma of the food I was cooking. "Wow, that smells awesome! What's for breakfast today?"

I glanced down at her while beating two eggs in the small bowl I had used before and smiled. "A little something special today. I'm getting a bit creative today. While I'm whipping all this up, could you move the food dicer to the sink for cleaning? I think running hot water over it should be fine." Considering how dangerous such a tool can be, I did not feel comfortable asking a child like her to give the thing a thorough cleaning. Heck, I would be uneasy about cleaning the thing by hand myself.

"Sure thing!" Scootaloo replied briskly before hopping up onto the counter and pushing the thing towards the sink with her forelegs. What I failed to notice was that the top was still raised. I went back to whipping the eggs while wondering if Fluttershy would be all right with Scootaloo walking along her countertops. But just after I had added the spices, I heard a brief clatter immediately followed by Scootaloo letting out a frightened shriek. "James! Help!"

I immediately grabbed the knobs for the stove and turned them off before turning to face my little sister as a chill sank into my heart. When I looked at her, I winced as I saw her partially fallen into the sink with one hoof pressed between the dicer's mesh of blades and the top. She looked like she was on the verge of panic and was not sure if she should try to pull her hoof out.

"Oh god! Scoot, don't move!" I yelped before rushing to her side. The little pegasus filly froze at my words, her eyes opened wide with fear and possibly pain while focused on her hoof. Very carefully, I grasped the legs on the bottom of the cutter's frame with one hand before grabbing and lifting the top. Scootaloo immediately pulled her hoof away before looking it over while a few tears spilled free. "Hang on, Scoot. Come here."

I reached out and carried her in my arms before taking a seat on the closest stool. She looked up at me with a rather shell-shocked expression and asked, "Am I gonna be OK?"

My fingers held her hoof aloft so I could examine it. I felt my fear rapidly fade when I found that her hard hoof had endured the brunt of the blades' punishment, leaving her flesh untouched. Definitely a close call. "Phew… Seems your hoof saved you. You're all right, Scoot."

I reached out and placed a kiss on my little sister's hoof to try to make her feel a bit better. The little filly in my arms let out a loud sniffle of relief as her tears started to flow. "Thanks, James…"

"Anytime, Scootaloo. Love you." I replied briefly before pulling her closer for a tender embrace, my hand stroking her head to calm her after that little scare. Scootaloo held onto me tightly while nestling her head against my chest. I must admit we do not get quite that cuddly very often at all thanks to Scootaloo's tomboyish nature. But when we do cuddle, we are always slow to stop.

Before long, we heard the sound of hooves clopping before Fluttershy peeked into the kitchen with a very worried expression on her face. She surely must have heard Scootaloo's yell of fright. I can only guess the reason she did not drop everything and rush downstairs was because she was in the bathroom at the time. "Is everything all right? I thought I heard a scream."

I looked over at my girlfriend while she approached us at a brisker pace. "Oh, Scootaloo almost had an accident with the dicer I used to prepare some tomatoes. Gave us both a scare. She's fine though. Right, Scoot?"

Scootaloo let out another sniffle before rubbing her eyes to dry her tears on her coat. She then looked over at Fluttershy and gave her a small smile. "Yeah… My hoof got hit instead of any other part of me. I'm OK."

Fluttershy let out a sigh of relief before nuzzling the little filly's cheek. "Thank goodness. From now on, leave the really sharp stuff to James and me." Scootaloo managed to crack a full grin before Fluttershy joined in the cuddle with the tomboyish filly between us.

In that moment… Wow, just thinking about it gives me a case of the warm fuzzies. Looking back on it as I write this now, we were not interacting with each other like a boyfriend and girlfriend and a little sister. It felt more like we were cuddling together as husband, wife, and daughter. It is just a passing thought I was having as I wrote this. While certainly not what we were at the time, it still felt calming and serene.

Eventually, the moment of silence between us was interrupted by a gurgling sound coming from one of us. We all glanced around until our eyes all fell upon Fluttershy. Scootaloo then pointed at her and asked, "Was that you?"

My girlfriend grinned sheepishly while her eyes darted back and forth, a pink hue filling her cheeks. "Uh… I guess that trip to the bathroom opened up some room in there. I must be pretty hungry if my belly is already saying so."

I could not help snickering while rolling my eyes. "Well, I'll fix that. While I'm finishing things up here, would you mind setting the table and preparing some toast for us, honey?"

Fluttershy nodded and trotted over to the cabinet that holds the plates and glassware. "Leave it to me. Scootaloo, would you please prepare the toast? I'll get the butter and jam out for you."

"Sure thing, Fluttershy!" Scootaloo replied with her usual peppy demeanor restored. I then returned to work while turning the stovetops back on to finish frying the hash browns and omelets. I was already getting hungry just looking at the food I was cooking.

Before long, I placed an omelet on each plate that was provided before filling up the rest of the plates with soft and crunch hash browns. Uh… Just writing this is making me hungry. I am going to take a break from this and go make myself a snack.

All right, that was tasty. I should make omelets more often. Anyway, when I set the plates out, I found Fluttershy had set out three smaller plates that each held two slices of toast that had been topped with a spread of butter and strawberry jam. And topping all that off were three tall glasses of cold milk. "All righty, everything's ready. Who's hungry?"

Scootaloo was the first to reply while hopping right up into her stool. "I am! Come on, I'm starving!"

"Don't rush him, Scootaloo. There's plenty for everypony… And… Wow, that is a lot of food. Thank you, dear." Fluttershy retorted towards Scootaloo before turning her gaze to me. She too then took a seat on her stool while I set about to add the final touches to the meal. A little background music.

"Well, I wanted to make sure we would all be satisfied and get a bit of everything. Wait right there while I add some atmosphere." I replied while pulling out a familiar plastic device from a drawer nearby. My PSP system, which I had brought with me months ago when I returned to Equestria after being sent back to Earth for a few days. It is a game system like my DSi, though I use it more for playing music. After turning it on, I cycled through the list of songs I had and set one to play with the song set on repeat. "Can't go wrong with a little Beethoven."

"Oh, come on! Can't you play something cool for once?! Like maybe some jazz or a rock ballad?" Scootaloo spoke up with a groan, clearly not having much taste for classical music. Hearing such a complaint from a kid like her hardly surprises me. Especially when one considers her tomboyish nature.

"Maybe if you were outside pulling off some stunts on your scooter, sure. But this kind of softer music is better for quiet times like breakfast at the kitchen table." I explained while I took a seat on the third stool by the table. Seconds later, quite piano and violin sounds began to spill forth from the PSP's speakers.

Fluttershy glanced over to the PSP as the music played. "It does sound lovely. I could listen to this all day."

"Meh… Whatever works for you. But I really wanna chow down! Can I take the first bite?" Scootaloo groaned before asking with an excited grin. She probably knew what was inside the sack of egg on her plate since she had been in the kitchen while I was cooking.

"Sure! Let me know how it is." I replied just before Scootaloo lowered her jaws to the plate and took a bite of the egg. A plume of steam rose from the omelet's filling, a patch of green, red, and white appearing in its place. Mere seconds later, what I can only call a muffling moan came from Scootaloo's throat while she chewed, her face showing true delight.

"Is it any good?" Fluttershy asked while glancing at her own omelet. She was clearly hungry and wanted to start on her breakfast, but was waiting to see how good it was. And knowing how some kids can be picky about what they eat, that omelet would surely be good if even Scootaloo liked it.

Once Scootaloo swallowed the mouthful of omelet she had, that little pegasus filly's wings sprang open while she gave me a huge grin. "That's awesome! Can I have another?"

I could not help flashing a grin at my little sister upon hearing her enthusiastic response. "Sure, but only tomorrow morning. You've got quite a bit to eat already." Scootaloo gave me a playful pout while crossing her forelegs across her chest and looking away, but her hunger won out and she began to feast on her meal.

"Mmm, this omelet really is amazing. Would it be OK if you cook breakfast more often, James? I'm already loving your cooking." Fluttershy asked after she too took a bite of her omelet.

"Sounds good to me. Just make sure you wake me up on time on those mornings you'd like me to handle the cooking." I replied before taking a bite of my own omelet. "Whoa, this really did turn great. I should make this more often."

The rest of the meal was relatively uneventful, although it seemed Fluttershy appeared to be unusually quiet. Was she up to something? Even so, I had to take Scootaloo to school immediately after breakfast. Like clockwork, we left the cottage and were on our way to the schoolhouse. However, along the way, a thought crossed my mind. "Hey, Scoot? Do you think we're making good time?"

My little sister seemed rather puzzled by my question. "Huh? I guess we are. Why?"

A smirk then spread across my lips. I could feel my cheeky side coming out. I must have been in a really good mood. "I've got an idea for Apple Bloom. Let's wait here for two minutes before continuing."

"Huh? Oh, you mean let her get ahead? I don't know what you're up to, but OK!" Scootaloo replied before just walking around to pass the time. I tapped my foot to count every passing second until exactly 120 seconds had passed.

"OK, Scoot. Time's up. Let's hustle." I spoke up to call her back to me before we walked along at a brisker pace than usual. After a few minutes, I saw her on the horizon. A little yellow filly with that easily spotted pink bow tied to the top of her head. "All right, Scoot. Hang back for a bit. I'm gonna try something."

Scootaloo gave me a sly smirk while covering her mouth to suppress a snicker. "All right. Go get her, big bro."

I began to practically run along while making certain my footsteps were as light as possible. Thanks to Apple Bloom's very slow gait, I managed to close the distance between us rather quickly. Her ears twitched when I was a few paces away, apparently from detecting my soft footsteps at the last second. But before she could turn around, I reached down and snatched her up in my hands. "And…gotcha!"

Apple Bloom let out a shriek of surprise and flailed for a couple of seconds before her eyes looked at me. "Huh?! Oh, howdy! Ya got me good, James! But where's Scootaloo?"

"I'm right here, Apple Bloom! Did he getcha good?" Scootaloo replied while galloping to catch up to us.

The little farm filly giggled in my grasp before sweetly nuzzling my cheek. "Yup! Ya got me! I didn't hear ya comin' 'til the last second. I was startin' ta wonder if I missed you guys!"

"Nah, we just held back for a minute to let you get ahead. Sorry if I scared you. I can be really cheeky when I'm in the mood." I replied while tussling her mane.

"Y'all didn't scare me, James. It's all right! It was kinda fun ta get snatched up like that!" Apple Bloom spoke before wrapping her arms around me and giving me a tender cuddle. "But since you got me up here now, how 'bout a ride?"

"Ooh! Me too! Got room for one more?" Scootaloo asked while hoping in place a couple of times. I suppose their shorter legs would prevent them from being as fast as most adult ponies. I bet they might be slightly slower than myself.

I glanced down at Scootaloo before looking back at Apple Bloom. Each of them gave me a very giddy and hopeful grin. And I saw no reason to deny them such a request. "All right then. I've got a couple of shoulders ready for you girls." I then slung Apple Bloom over my left shoulder before reaching down and placing Scootaloo over my right. "How's the view up here?"

Apple Bloom glanced around before speaking into my ear. "I feel like I'm on top of the world! I bet ya could see everythin' from here!" I could not help but snicker, knowing that most of Equestria's ponies are quite short compared to most adult humans.

"Hey, how about we go fast? Aren't we gonna miss class if we don't hurry up?" Scootaloo asked while pulling herself forward enough for me to see her with ease. I suppose she had a point. I am not certain how much time passed since leaving Fluttershy's home and we surely must have lost a few minutes having fun with Apple Bloom.

"You have a point there. OK, hang on tight, girls." I replied, prompting the pegasus and earth pony fillies to curl their forelegs into my upper chest. I started along at a brisk walk before accelerating into a run. "Fast enough for you girls?!"

The two fillies let out cheers of glee as I ran along. They did not seem to be having any difficulty hanging onto my shoulders and were clearly just having a good time. Eventually, Scootaloo called out to me. "Faster, James! Go faster!"

I decided to really let myself go then. Lowering my arms and keeping them out to my side to counter the extra weight on my now top-heavy upper body, I began to lower myself closer to the ground as I broke into a sprint. "All right, but hang on!"

I barreled down the path ahead of us as quickly as I could. After spending several months in Equestria and getting a decent amount of exercise at Sweet Apple Acres from time to time, I was in much better shape than when I first showed up in town. I continued to sprint along the road with my two little friends hollering with glee from the exhilaration of the speed they were moving at. I did not come to a stop until we reached the red schoolhouse at the end of the path. I can to skidding halt, much to the disappointment of my two passengers. "Phew! That was more fun than I expected. I'm surprised I held out that long!"

The two fillies on my shoulders giggled wildly for a few seconds in excitement before letting go and dropping to the ground. Scootaloo spoke up first. "Woo! Not as fast as my scooter, but that was fun!"

Apple Bloom then stepped closer to the schoolhouse before glancing around. "Y'all think we beat Sweetie Belle to the punch? I'm not seein' her anywhere."

I glanced around too in the hopes of spotting the only absent member of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Well, if you consider the ones who are still children. Sweetie Belle was nowhere to be seen. "Well, we did get here a bit ahead of schedule. You girls wanna just head on in and wait for her?"

Apple Bloom glanced at Scootaloo, who seemed to nod. "I guess that's all right. Well, we'll see ya later, James!"

The two fillies trotted over to me while I got down on one knee so they could reach me. I then held each in one arm while they gave me a goodbye hug. "I'll see you this evening, James. Take care." Scootaloo spoke softly while nuzzling my chest.

"You too, Scoot. And be good, you two." I replied before releasing my grasp on them. I then waved goodbye while the two fillies trotted into the schoolhouse. But before I could leave, I felt a slight nagging in my heart. I glanced around finding nopony within my line of sight. I then decided to take a seat on a fencepost that stood outside the playground. I just wanted to say hello to Sweetie Belle to make sure she would not feel left out.

We must have gotten there well ahead of schedule since Sweetie Belle did not come into view until close to eight minutes later. I waved my hand high to get the little unicorn filly's attention, prompting her to gallop right over to me. "Morning, James! Where's Apple Bloom and Scootaloo?"

I stood up from my seat and approached my little friend. "Well, we got here way ahead of schedule, so they headed on in. I'm just waiting out here for you to let you know so you're not kept waiting." Once she drew near, I got down on one knee and gently tussled her mane.

Sweetie Belle gave me a very satisfied smile before replying, "Oh, I get it. I probably would've been stuck out here waiting for them until the bell rang. Thanks for telling me."

While we just stood there talking for a moment and losing track of time in the process, Sweetie Belle then suddenly spoke up. "Oh! I visited Rarity this morning. Has there been something happening between you two?"

I cocked my head to one side upon hearing that question. "What gives you that idea?"

Sweetie Belle then proceeded to explain while I cradled her in my arms. "Well, she talks about you a lot more than she did before. And she gets this funny look in her eye sometimes when she does…" She then giggled after a moment of silent thought and spoke, "You know, I think she wants to marry you!"

A suppressed laugh nearly escaped my lips while my body heaved. To anyone who has been reading these journals, you know that is old news by now. "Yeah, she's made that quite clear to me. And I admit I do love your sister and that she is very precious to me."

An excited gleam suddenly appeared in the little filly's eyes. "Then you're gonna propose to her?!"

I sighed at that question. "Well… If things had gone differently since the day I showed up in Ponyville, then I probably would. But sadly, I can't. My heart belongs to Fluttershy."

"Aww… But I know Rarity would love you to be her husband. Do you think you can stop being Miss Fluttershy's boyfriend and be Rarity's boyfriend?" Sweetie asked in an obviously innocent manner.

This question actually hurt to hear, even if she did not fully comprehend what she was asking. "Wha… Leave Fluttershy?! Sorry, but I can't do that. Granted, I do love your sister and I do think she and I would be very happy together, but that's no longer an option. I am very happy with Fluttershy and I know she loves me just as much as I love her. She would be devastated if I left her. So…no. I will not break up with Fluttershy."

My mild outburst seemed to intimidate Sweetie Belle since she suddenly cringed. "Sorry… I didn't mean to make you mad."

I stroked my little friend's mane to calm her. "Sorry about yelling like that… It's just… Relationships are complicated, you know? Especially when more than one person has their eyes on you. You'll understand as you get older."

"Really? More than one pony is in love with you?" Sweetie Belle asked, clearly picking up on that detail despite her young age.

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time. I personally don't see what's so great about me that would appeal to so many girls. Am I really that nice?" I replied, also not entirely certain of what is so appealing about me.

Sweetie Belle let out a brief giggle before looking up at me with a smile. "Well… I know I love you. And Apple Bloom and Scootaloo love you too. You're always so nice and you act like you're always trying to be nice. Like you enjoy seeing other people happy and making them happy. Does it hurt when you make somepony sad?"

I really was not expecting those words from the little filly. They sounded surprisingly analytical. But I nodded and sighed. "Yeah… It does hurt. I hate it when I hurt someone I care about in any way. Heck, even when I do hurt someone I don't really know, it weighs down on me."

My little friend smiled before reaching up, grabbing me around the neck, and pulling my head down so she could nuzzle my cheek. "That's why! I think most mares really like sweet guys who actually care about them and want to see them happy. I know I would like a boyfriend like that someday. So… I guess it makes sense so many mares love you so much."

"You know what? You seem to have a pretty firm grasp of love as a whole, Sweetie Belle. I can see how you got the word 'Sweetie' in your name. You're a sweetheart." I replied with a grin on my face, prompting another giggle from the unicorn filly. "I think you and I might have a lot in common." I have at times noticed that whenever Scootaloo and Apple Bloom get into an argument, it is always little levelheaded Sweetie Belle that serves as the mediator for the two. I can definitely see a bit of myself in her. She does seem to be a bit more sensitive than the other two fillies in the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

"Really? I think so too." Sweetie Belle replied before reaching out and holding onto me in a type of embrace. "I wish you could've been my brother-in-law."

This triggered a dull pain in my heart. Had I just hurt this precious little filly? Come to think of it, just how long have we known each other? But naturally, I did feel a twinge of guilt in my soul. And as I looked down at the little filly in my arms, a long sigh escaped my lips. I then lowered my face to the side of her head and placed a kiss on her head. "I'm sorry. My heart belongs to Fluttershy and not to your sister. But I'll always be your friend."

Sweetie Belle lifted her face until she was looking up at me. "Thanks, James… Scootaloo was right. You're pretty cool."

I could not help letting out a chuckle upon hearing those words. "Hey, you girls are pretty cool too. I love you silly fillies. I'm glad you let me stay in the Cutie Mark Crusaders."

My little filly friend giggled as well before nuzzling her head against my chest. "I'm glad you wanted to stay. You always give great advice." But no sooner had she said that, the bell atop the schoolhouse rang. "Oh no, I'm late!"

I winced upon realizing this. By distracting my friend with pleasant conversation, I had delayed her just long enough to miss the bell. "Dang it… I'm sorry…"

Sweetie Belle looked up at me, but her frown of frustration soon turned into a soft smile. "Hmm… See? You do feel really bad whenever you do something bad to someone. That's really nice of you, James."

"Is it that obvious I feel this guilty?" I asked, my heart heavy with mild remorse.

She nodded and motioned for me to lower her to the ground. "Uh huh. But I should get to class now… I've never been late before… I hope I don't get in too much trouble."

I glanced over at the schoolhouse before looking back down at my friend as an idea popped into my head. "Hey, how about I go with you? I'll put a good word in with Cheerilee."

However, Sweetie Belle then pointed at me with her hoof. "Did you think of that when that light bulb showed up?"

Light bulb? What made her say… Oh, wait. When I glanced up, there was a typical glass light bulb floating over my head. By then, I had known to stop questioning such bizarre occurrences. I snatched the bulb out of the air, which caused it to turn off. I then spoke of the most logical explanation I could think of. "I blame Pinkie Pie."

Together, the two of us stepped into the schoolhouse's lobby. It had been quite some time since I last time I set foot inside. With the classroom taking up most of the school's space, the lobby was quite cramped with a couple of restrooms off to the right. Through the doorway on the left I could hear Cheerilee apparently starting the class's first assignment.

I knocked on the doorway to get Cheerilee's attention. She clearly heard my knocking since she then spoke to the students before her. "Excuse me for a minute, class." Sweetie Belle and I waited by the doorway before the schoolteacher stepped into view. "Can I help… Oh, Mr. James! Hello! And… Oh, hello, Sweetie Belle. I'm sorry, but you're late."

I decided to speak up there in the hopes of getting Sweetie Belle out of trouble. "Actually, that was my fault, Cheerilee. I caught her outside the schoolhouse and we stopped for some conversation. I shouldn't have interrupted her. Could you please let her off the hook this time?"

Cheerilee gazed at me for a moment before glancing down at Sweetie Belle. My little filly friend gave her teacher a hopeful grin in response. She then sighed before rolling her eyes. "Well… I suppose I can let it go this time. But please don't distract my students before they get to class from now on. And thank you for being honest, Mr. James."

I breathed a faint sigh of relief. That was a close call. Sweetie Belle then looked up at me and whispered while Cheerilee went back over to the chalkboard. "Thanks, James. I'll see you this evening." I replied with a smile and gently tussled her mane before she trotted towards her desk.

Before I could leave, I looked ahead and waved at Scootaloo and Apple Bloom who were also waving at me. I then even noticed Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon waving at me with smiles on their faces on the opposite side of the rows of desks. But just as I was about to turn and leave, I noticed someone waving wildly at me from the very back row of desks with both forelegs flailing through the air. I then heard a familiar voice calling out to me while the rest of the students seemed to turn back to face whoever was calling out to me. "Hey! Hey, James! Over here! Hey!"

I could not help snickering at who it was. A familiar brown earth pony colt with a propeller beanie on his head. I raised my hand and waved at my little friend. "Hey there, Button Mash."

Cheerilee seemed she was about to tell the little guy to be quiet, but glanced over at me while I was leaning through the doorway. "You know Button Mash, James?"

I glanced at her and nodded. "He's my gaming buddy and my 'pupil', if you will. He plays a mean archer in Equestrian Heroes." Hardly anyone there seemed to understand what I was getting at, but I then decided I had overstayed my welcome. "Well, I've distracted them long enough. I'll be going now, Cheerilee." I then pointed at the little colt at the far end of the room. "Later, Button. And stay focused. School comes first."

"Stay focused! Yes, sir!" Button Mash replied while giving me a quick salute. Heh, I love that little guy. A lot of fun to hang out with. Only he has a weird habit of turning milkshakes into games that always end up with him getting a nasty case of brain freeze. Anyway, I said my goodbyes and got out of there just as Cheerilee was starting up the subject about unicorn magic. With nothing else to do, I made my way back home.

When I started to draw near to Fluttershy's cottage, I saw her at work feeding all of the little animals around the place. She had just set down a bowl of worms that had a thin layer of water at the bottom to keep them moist. A small flock of robins then descended upon it and began plucking their meal from the bowl. I then crossed the small bridge that spanned the brook in front of our home and walked right over to her. "Heya, honey. All done here?"

My girlfriend looked up at me and gave me a delighted grin. "Uh huh. The robins were the last ones to feed. Everyone is all happy now."

Fluttershy turned away from me for a moment to apparently admire handiwork. The trees and the landscape around us was rife with movement. Many little creatures scampered and fluttered to and fro. I could feel a warm breeze blowing through my hair and making the lush green leaves on the trees rustle. I then happened to glance down and see my beautiful lover's long pink mane and tail billowing in the breeze. Just… I was honestly left frozen and speechless at the sight of her beauty.

I could not stay away. Slowly and silently, I kneeled beside her and wrapped my arms around her body. I felt Fluttershy twitch under me while I rested my head against her neck. I heard her whisper softly, "Honey…?"

"I love you, baby." I replied in kind, my hands tenderly rubbing her body. I could not help myself. It was as if that moment held some sort of magic.

I soon felt Fluttershy's wing reach up and caress my cheek like the delicate fingers of a lover. She looked over her shoulder at me and gave me a very tender smile. "I love it when you hold me like this."

No words were spoken for the next few minutes. I never released my grasp on my lover, my lips placing kiss after kiss on her neck. I could feel Fluttershy shudder under my chest, faint gasps escaping her throat. God, I love her. However, I soon paused when I noticed we had quite an audience. Many of Fluttershy's little animal friends were observing us from a distance. "Uh… Nothing to see here, fellas…"

Since I am especially shy in front of an audience, I felt my mood rapidly shift into something less amorous. Fluttershy seemed to notice and asked while I began to lift myself from her, "Uh… Why are you stopping?"

"Well… They're staring…" I replied while feeling myself becoming warmer. However, Fluttershy then surprised me when she looked over her shoulder with a gleam in her eye I would normally expect from Rarity. "Uh… Honey? What's with that look?"

Fluttershy then suddenly turned to me and practically jumped at me, her forelegs wrapping around me while our faces were just an inch or two apart. "Let them look."

I had no time to reply to that at all. Fluttershy silenced me with a surprisingly powerful kiss. Her eyes closed, a muffled moan reverberating in her throat while her tongue licked at my lips. I too lost myself in that moment, my lips parting to allow the kiss to deepen. I remember tasting a hint of feta cheese on her tongue. So sweet and tasty at the same time, if that makes any sense.

I forget how much time passed while we just sat there smooching. Although I do recall that I could hear what I assume was quiet cheering. It seemed the little animals around us were in clear support of our relationship. Finally, when our faces pulled away, I had to ask. "You're really bold when you're around your little animal friends, aren't you?"

Fluttershy, her face filled with a noticeable blush, spoke softly while grinning sheepishly. "I… Uh… I guess I am… I never feel shy around them. And…I especially never feel shy when it's just you and me."

My hand stroked her long beautiful mane. "I feel bolder when I'm with you too. Do you suppose we draw off of each other for a boost in confidence?"

The lovely pegasus mare tilted her head towards my hand while letting out a content sigh. "I think so… Do you think that means we're a good match for each other?"

"Yeah, definitely. I'm glad I met you." I replied softly while placing a kiss on her cheek. This prompted a pleasantly startled squeak from my girlfriend. I then followed that up by lightly placing my finger on her nose, making her squirm with an adorable giggle. What a little angel.

This continued for a few minutes more before I remembered that I had to be at work in a short while. "Oh, right. I need to get to the spa. Will you be coming in today?"

Fluttershy grinned broadly at the proposition. "Oh, I think I will! I'll be sure to ask Rarity if we can have our weekly visit today." She then reached up and placed a kiss on my cheek. "I'll see you in a while, honey. But I need to go to the market first to restock some of our vegetables. Just no onions, right?"

I nodded with a smile, glad that Fluttershy remembered my most disliked food of all time. "Yup. No onions. And please hold the bell peppers too. But please add an order of extra spinach and broccoli!" After a moment more of silly banter, I bid goodbye to my lovely girlfriend and headed on my way back towards Ponyville.

The walk through the meadow that separated my home from Ponyville was quiet and uneventful. A good time to just let my mind wander and to bask in the summer breeze. However, just as I was starting to enter Ponyville, I caught sight of Pinkie Pie. But the instant she saw me, she seemed to freak out before dashing away. Knowing her, it could mean absolutely anything.

I did not have to wait long for an answer of why she ran off so suddenly. A few minutes later, I saw her galloping towards me while apparently pulling something behind her. Without even pausing to great me, she turned while running and came to a stop in front of me with what she was pulling facing me in plain sight. It seemed to be a wagon of sorts. It had a half-cylinder top that depicted her cutie mark on the side with a pale cream color adorned with a shade of pink that brought to mind cranberry juice. It also had a large light blue shape spreading over the side of the wagon's body, but it did not seem to represent anything. Just a design to compliment the rest of it. The hubs seemed to have a white and red spiral pattern that seemed to represent peppermint candy. Without a word, Pinkie Pie started going from one side to another while apparently making some…adjustments to the thing.

With this kind of behavior being very odd, even for Pinkie Pie's standards, I felt I had to say something. "Uh… Pinkie?"

"Not yet, James!" She called out without even looking my way. Just what was she even up to anyway?

"What is this thing any…" I started to speak again, but was interrupted by Pinkie Pie once more.

"Just a minute!" She called out to keep me quiet.

"Could you at least just…"

"Almost done!" Pinkie yelled again while checking the wagon's underside. I decided then to give up and just wait for whatever that goofball mare had in store for me. Finally, she stepped over to the side of the wagon and looked at me with a smile. "All right, you ready?"

"About as ready as I'll ever be, I guess." I replied with my arms crossed. It was then I noticed a large round red button on the side of the wagon that would face the one who was pulling it. And sure enough, she pressed it.

When that button was pressed, the top of the wagon opened before retracting into the wagon's body. And out of the body rose several objects that could not have possibly have fit in there in the first place. How do I even describe this thing's appearance? Well… I suppose it seemed to mainly be a type of food stall that you might expect to see at a carnival, seeing as there was a small oven in the center with a pair of shelves on each side that seemed to be holding cupcakes on the upper shelves and miniature pies on the lower shelves. A pair of long steam whistles seemed to be on one side while three long brass bugle-like horns were extending from the backside with no coordination in their placement. Four funnels painted to resemble striped candy sticks were sticking straight up on opposite ends of the wagon… Oh, wait. Three looked like candy sticks while one seemed to resemble a candle placed on top of a rather small cake. Lastly, there were six long poles extending every which way from the bizarre contraption that were constantly waving about with a small triangular flag at the tips of each. They were varying shades of pink, purple, and yellow. I should also mention that when the inner workings of the wagon sprang up, it did so with enough force to yank the wagon itself a few inches off the ground for a second. And all the while, the wagon was playing a rather catchy tune. And then… Pinkie Pie began to dance and sing.

While hopping and prancing back and forth in front of the wagon in what I can honestly say was one of the cutest performances I had ever seen out of my friend, Pinkie spouted out lyrics that seemed to match the music that was coming from the 'music box' behind her. "Welcome welcome welcome, a fine welcome to you!"

She then suddenly approached me and suddenly placed some sort of hat on my head. I never got a good look at it, so I am afraid I cannot describe its appearance aside from the fact that it seemed to have a short brim that extended past the very top of my field of vision. All the while, she continued to sing while somehow holding a bugle between her hooves. "Welcome welcome welcome, I say how do you do!" And right after that, she blew a single note through the bugle and… Did that thing seriously go through my ear and out the other for an instant?! Do not think about it, do not think about it, do not think about it…

Before even a second had passed, I suddenly found her on the opposite side of me while prancing about on her hind legs with a large timpani drum hanging over her front. She was grasping its matching mallet in her ankle joint and beating the drum while skipping around as her other foreleg seemed to be trying to hold it up from the other side. All things considered, that drum was almost as big as she is. "Welcome welcome welcome, a big hip hip hooray!" As my gaze followed her every move, I could not help but crack a smile.

Finally, she ditched the drum and did… What is the name of that dance again? She was pretty much sidestepping while hopping through the air and kicking one hind leg out to her sides in an alternating rhythm while thrusting her forelegs downward with each kick. From where I was standing, her body almost seemed to have taking on a bipedal stance entirely. Or perhaps that was just an optical illusion brought on by her rather impressive gyrations. Finally, she came to a stop in front of the wagon, jumped shockingly high into the air, and then came to a sliding halt before me on her knees while her forelegs reached high into the air. "Welcome welcome welcome to Ponyville todaaaaaaaaay!"

It was after that last line that the music came to a stop. Pinkie Pie maintained that pose while giving me a very big toothy grin. For whatever reason, the flagpoles on the wagon were still swinging around. But just before I could applaud her, or even so much as ask what this bizarre, if not entertaining, welcome was for, she spoke up. "Wait for it!"

No sooner had she said that, the hatch on the wagon's oven lung open while a huge burst of confetti and hot air surged into me. My hat ended up getting blown off and ended up lord knows where. And just after that, the four funnels on the wagon I had described earlier suddenly expelled streams of some sort of yellow… Was that cake batter?!

As the batter rose high into the air and started to come down on me, one word escaped my lips before I narrowly jumped out of the way. "Nope!"

In the end, Pinkie Pie took the full brunt of the blow, the batter covering her and the spot where I had been standing a mere few seconds earlier. I saw Pinkie open her eyes and let out a loud giggle. "Oops! I guess I put the confetti in the oven and the cake mix in the confetti cannons again…again!"

"This isn't the first time?! Well, excuse me for suspecting that you did that on purpose!" I retorted while crossing my arms and shaking my head. She then somehow burst out of the batter, leaving an impressive empty mold of her own body before her mouth opened impossibly wide and devoured the whole thing in one gulp. I would have been mildly disturbed by that sight if I had not seen it dozens of times before. Trust me. After spending months with Pinkie Pie, you get used to it if you do not let yourself think too hard about it.

"Still tasty though! Come on, James! Still plenty right here!" Pinkie Pie spoke out before motioning her hoof towards the thick puddle of batter that remained on the ground.

"Uh… No thanks. I'm not too keen for eating stuff off the ground. Especially on the ground outdoors. Who knows what was there before it was last cleaned?" I replied while cracking an amused smirk. But then a thought came to mind. This whole welcome was extremely off and random. Even for Pinkie Pie's standards. "Say, what was this for anyway? It doesn't seem like the first time you've used that thing."

My silly pink friend looked behind herself at the wagon before trotting over to it and pressing the red button on its side. In response, the whole thing closed back up into its previous compact state. "This is my welcome wagon! I use to welcome every newcomer I see to Ponyville!"

"You do? But you didn't use it when I… Hang on a second…" I spoke before crossing my arms and thinking for a moment. "Wait… How long have I been… Is today…?!"

Pinkie Pie jumped into the air and gave me a very tight hug. "You got it! Happy anniversary, James!"

At first, I had no words to speak. It slowly registered with me as I played her words over in my head. "A full year… Today marks my first complete year in Equestria?"

My silly friend let go of me and raised her hoof for emphasis. "Yup! Exactly 365 days! Or 366 if it was a leap year!"

I could not help and smirk at Pinkie's rather random attention to detail. "Wow… But wait. You had this wagon all along and didn't use it last year?"

"Yeah, I totally forgot about it. I guess I was just so blown away when I saw you that I was thinking 'Newcomer detected! Must set up party! Don't forget the balloons, cake, and music! Be sure to come up with random welcoming song! You left the oven on in Sugarcube Corner! I think I forgot to let the water out of the bathtub this morning!' instead of thinking about using the wagon to welcome you to Ponyville!" She explained while I struggled to not bust a gut at her words. Oh my lord, just what goes on inside that head of hers anyway?

"Well, seems you had a lot on your mind that day. And all things considered…I think it was for the best that you didn't use that wagon on my first day. With out uptight and nervous I was, I doubt I would've enjoyed it at the time." I spoke while glancing over at the wagon again.

Pinkie Pie nodded in full agreement. "Oh, right. Yeah, you were really uneasy the whole day! And even through most of the week! But look at you now! You're like a completely different person!" She then suddenly started to move quickly from one side of me to the other while making observations. "Your body posture shows confidence! Your eyes are nice and calm. You body temperature is a bit higher than normal, which shows you are very relaxed and happy." She went on and on for a moment while genuinely baffling me from how uncharacteristically observant she was being. I bet she befuddles Twilight Sparkle to no end. And speaking of that bookworm, I noticed her out of the corner of my eye heading our way.

"Morning, you two! Love the shirt, James. And… Pinkie Pie, why are you licking James' hair?" Twilight spoke upon drawing near. And yes, Pinkie Pie was basically piggybacking me while licking the hair on the back of my head.

"Oh, I was just tasting his hair to figure out what shampoo he uses! People who are happy use really fragrant shampoo! And I'm tasting hazelnut, roses…" Pinkie Pie replied before I decided to interrupt her.

"You just now made that up, didn't you?!" I spoke up loudly, prompting some giggling laughter from my goofball mare of a friend while Twilight rolled her eyes while shaking her head with an amused smirk.

Finally, Twilight stepped forward and turned to Pinkie Pie. "Well, anyway… Pinkie, I was hoping I could ask for your help with some tests. I need somepony like you to be my assistant for a while."

"Tests?! Ooh, goody! Do I get to sample some new treats?! I'm the official Sugarcube Corner taste tester, you know." Pinkie replied while showing her usual giddy gusto.

"Great! The testing area is just west of town between Fluttershy's place and Sweet Apple Acres. Please come on over when you can." Twilight explained while seeming fairly excited about whatever she was testing.

"You got it! Just let me put my wagon away and I'll be right over!" Pinkie Pie replied before sliding herself back into the welcoming wagon's harness and running off with it.

"Um… Tests? What is that about, Twi?" I asked with my arms crossed. And for Twilight to seek out Pinkie Pie? Well, Pinkie certainly has a gullible streak, so it makes sense that she would be Twilight's first choice.

My wise friend looked up at me and gave me a very pleased grin. "Oh, I like to dabble in a bit of science now and then. And I have a few tests in mind specifically for Pinkie Pie." She then glanced away for a moment before suddenly looking back up at me. "Say, James? Do you have any free time right now?"

I paused while considering my options. While scanning the horizon, I noticed the town's clock tower. It seemed that the time was not even 10 AM. Since I had to be at work at around 11 AM, I certainly had some time to kill. "Well, seems I have more than an hour before I have to get to the spa."

Twilight smiled at my response. "Well, would you like to tag along? I can promise that things will get interesting if Pinkie Pie is involved.

"Heh, I second that notion. Lead on." I replied while suppressing a chuckle. I could only imagine what kind of shenanigans those two polar opposites were going to get themselves into. Twilight then led me out of town and to the southwest.

After walking for a short while, we came to a part of the meadow that separated the area where Fluttershy and I live from Sweet Apple Acres. There seemed to be a long row of tall wooden planks that formed a wall-like fence. "Right over here." Twilight spoke while leading me to one side. When we reached one end, I found that there was no wall on that side. With another wooden wall to our left, it seemed to lead to another wall with a single opening in it. "This will be Pinkie Pie's first test."

I observed the entry point for a moment before one word popped into my head. "Is this a maze?"

Twilight nodded and extended her hoof towards the entryway. "Yes. I heard from Rainbow Dash once that Pinkie Pie can actually keep up with her on foot sometimes. So I'm going to test that claim. And for a little extra persuasion, I picked up a raspberry bundt cake from Sugarcube Corner this morning. I left it in its box at the far end of the maze. If there's one thing Pinkie Pie will not turn her nose up at, it's the chance for a sweet snack."

I could not help shaking my head at Twilight's clever manipulation of Pinkie Pie. "Clever, Twilight. Very clever… Wait a sec. She can keep up with Rainbow Dash?!"

She seemed equally baffled by the thought of it as well. "I know! But that's what she told me! When we celebrated Pinkie's birthday for the first time, I swear that's what Rainbow Dash told me!"

"Well, I'll have to see that to believe it… Oh, is she here already?" I spoke before pausing and listening. From somewhere behind the wall that was facing Ponyville's direction, I could hear the familiar cheerful humming of a certain earth pony mare. And sure enough, Pinkie Pie rounded the corner and trotted up to us.

"OK, I'm here! What're we testing?" She asked earnestly with a spring in her step.

Twilight smiled and approached her friend. "Well, I have a little gift for you. But to get to it, you need to go through this maze." Using the levitation spell, she picked up a stopwatch that was on the ground nearby.

As expected, Pinkie Pie was as excitable as always. She hopped forward and got herself low to the ground with her rump high in the air as if she was ready to pounce upon something. "OK! I'll do anything for yummy goodies! Just say the word, Twilight!"

I crossed my arms and took a step back. Twilight smirked while Pinkie Pie's face showed focused determination. "All right, Pinkie. When you reach the other end, yell something to let us know. Say… Try yelling out 'twitchy tail'. That'll let me know you made it. And… Go!"

Just before Twilight could actually press the button to activate the stopwatch, Pinkie Pie once again defied the laws of physics and leaped into the air and somehow stayed aloft while her legs flailed wildly. "Woooohoo! Here I come, sweet sweet goodies!" Twilight did not miss a beat and 'pressed' the button on the watch the instant Pinkie's hooves touched the ground. But neither of us were prepared for what followed. Immediately after she passed the maze's entry point, Pinkie charged right through wall after wall after wall of the maze, going to the prize at the other end directly… Oh god, just thinking about that moment makes me laugh.

Needless to say, this was really off the wall, even by Pinkie Pie standards. The instant she crashed through the first wall, I hunkered over in unexpected laughter. "What the hell, Pinkie?! Pehahahaha! What is that nut job even made of?!"

Twilight, on the other hand, stared through the row of mare-sized holes in the maze's walls with an absolutely speechless and even somewhat irritated expression. Sure enough, we heard Pinkie Pie when she got to the other side. "Twitchy tail!"

As if on cue, Twilight let out a loud yelp as an apple fell on her head from seemingly nowhere. My clearly annoyed unicorn friend let out a loud groan before stepping forward through the holes to reach Pinkie Pie while I followed as I snickered to myself. "This is gonna be another one of THOSE days, isn't it?"

"What? Where Pinkie Pie has turned her randomness up to a thousand?" I replied while ducking through the holes in the many rows of walls. Twilight offered no real reply, only letting out a loud grumble.

When we reached the other side of the maze, which consisted of a small fenced in area with a stool in the center that held a plastic platter, we found Pinkie Pie munching on something rather big in her mouth since her cheeks were bulging out quite a bit. Twilight then trotted over to her and spoke while raising her hoof for emphasis. "Pinkie… I know you're not one to really appreciate the geometry in something like this, but… That isn't how you go THROUGH a maze!"

Once Pinkie Pie swallowed whatever it was she was eating, she looked at Twilight and giggled loudly. "Ooooh, was I supposed to actually run around through the winding paths to get over here? Well, why didn't you say so?!"

"I thought I… Ugh, never mind! Come on, we've still got a few more tests to run." Twilight groaned in exasperation while I tried to not laugh too loud. The two of us followed Twilight back through the many holes in the maze before following her over to what I could only call a towering wooden box that was very large all around.

"Uh… Twilight? What's this for? And…is that a diving board up there?" I asked while taking note of a towering ladder that extended out into a long wooden plank at the top.

Twilight turned to face us and cleared her throat before speaking. "Yes, it is. As for what this is… You might want to stand back." Her horn was then coated by her billowing pink magic aura before the wooden planks that served as the box's walls fell outward. And behind them was…..the largest cube of purple gelatin I have ever seen in my life.

"Ooh, is that grape flavor?!" Pinkie asked while trying to restrain herself until Twilight had given her the signal to charge into it.

"It certainly is. And it's all yours, Pinkie. Dig in!" Twilight replied while extending her hoof towards the towering jiggling blob of semisolid goop.

"Sweet! Thanks, Twilight!" Pinkie Pie replied before rushing over to the ladder at one end and scrambling up it at surprising speed. It seems she required no explanation on how to approach this 'test'.

While we watched Pinkie rush up the ladder, I felt the need to ask. "Twilight. Just how much is in that blob of gelatin?"

She wasted no time in giving me a response. "Exactly a hundred thousand gallons."

At first, I had no words to reply to such an absurd amount. Finally, I found the response I was looking for. "You're trying to kill her, aren't you?"

This actually caught Twilight by surprise. She looked up at me with a mildly horrified expression. "What?! No, of course not! This is a serious test! I'm just trying to find out how much Pinkie Pie can fit into herself! You've seen how her body expands to accommodate whatever she eats!"

"So you're trying to figure out what makes Pinkie Pie tick, huh? Heh, I'm almost worried about what we might find out. Some things are not meant to be understood, Twilight." I spoke while letting out a slight chuckle before crossing my arms and turning my gaze up at Pinkie Pie. She had only just reached the top and was nearing the end of the diving board.

"Hey, I might not understand how her Pinkie Sense works, but she's a pony just like me. She must have her limits." Twilight replied with a confident smirk before waving at Pinkie Pie high above us. In response, Pinkie Pie hopped once while the wooden board under her bent downwards under her weight. She then leaped high into the air before doing a surprisingly elegant spiraling dive right down into the huge cube of grape-flavored gelatin below. She promptly sank to the bottom and pretty much just sat at the bottom of the stuff while waving at us. The cube remained solid despite the force of her falling into it.

"Is she seriously going to inhale that stuff from the inside?" I asked just before Pinkie Pie answered my question for me. From inside the block of gelatin, that goofball mare pursed her lips and began to suck the gelatin up. All in one nonstop gulp. Twilight and I watched in flabbergasted silence while that towering cube of gelatin before us became increasingly smaller as Pinkie Pie's cheeks swelled like those of a chipmunk. While watching her gorge herself on the stuff, I felt myself wince. "Ugh, I'm gonna be sick…"

Twilight seemed equally unnerved by this unnatural feat occurring before us since she suddenly gagged. "I'll never eat gelatin again…"

Finally, Pinkie sat on the wooden flooring the cube had been resting on before swallowing the contents contained in her cheeks. As expected, her body ballooned to an incomprehensible size for a few seconds before the contents of her belly were compacted down into whatever limitless void she uses for a stomach and shrinking back to normal size. "Yum! Is there more?"

"One hundred thousand gallons… I guess it's back to the drawing board then." Twilight muttered while sounding noticeably overwhelmed. I could relate as I was feeling mentally incapacitated from watching that myself.

Suddenly, I raised my finger as a thought popped into my head. "I have a new theory. Pinkie Pie, in fact, has no stomach to speak of. Her body contains a self-contained black hole that occasionally discharges waste that must be expelled from the body."

Both Pinkie Pie and Twilight looked up at me with some of the most shocked expressions I had seen on them in a while. My unicorn friend then spoke, "You know… Suddenly, it all makes sense! Why didn't I think of that?!"

Not wanting to dwell on the rather…unnerving sight we had just witnessed, Twilight led Pinkie and I over to what seemed to be a fairly large wooden shed on the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. I had seen it a few times, but had never seen Applejack using it. I assumed that it was abandoned or slated for demolition, but it seemed Twilight had moved in and set up shop. Pinkie Pie beat me to asking Twilight about it. "Is this your shed, Twilight?"

Our unicorn friend replied while looking back and forth at us. "Well, it was an old tool shed that Applejack was using. When she was planning on getting rid of it, I asked if I could use it as a science lab."

When she reached the doorway and stepped inside, I found that she had fixed the place up quite well. A large round green rug was spread out over the wooden floor while a few chemistry sets were set up all over the single room the shed consisted of. Being someone who does not have much of a penchant for science, I found the place to be interesting from only a visual point. Pinkie Pie was much more excited about the rather unusual designs of the glass beakers, spiraling tubes, and so forth and had to be warned by Twilight to not interact with anything she did not recognize.

"So… What experiment did you have in mind for this place?" I asked while observing my surroundings.

"Um… What was it again?" Twilight muttered while looking around the shed. But she soon spoke while focusing on one spot in the room's corner. "Oh, now I remember!"

I watched while Twilight went to the corner of the room before walking over to Pinkie Pie in the center of the shed. Only rather than walking, she was shuffling her feet along. And on each of her four hooves was a fluffy house slipper. I could not help cracking a smirk as I began to realize where this was going. Just to be on the safe side, I grabbed a pair of safety goggles that were lying on a table nearby. "Oh, this is going to get interesting."

Twilight stopped right in front of Pinkie Pie, who was standing in the center of the rug in the room. Pinkie merely watched in silence and curiosity while Twilight lifted her right hoof from her slipper. She then extended her hoof until the tip of it touched Pinkie's nose. I noticed a small spark briefly connect the two of them for just an instant before Pinkie Pie jerked her head away and rubbed her snout. "Ouch! What was that?!"

I began to feel a nervous sensation in my gut while I looked on as Twilight gestured with her hoof. "That's static electricity." She then went on to give a very detailed description of the phenomenon. I could write down what she said, but I fail to see the need to do so. That, and I have no desire to turn this journal into a textbook entry.

Anyway, once she had finished explaining, Twilight stepped out of her slippers and let Pinkie Pie try it out. However, I did not like where this was going one bit despite feeling a conflicting giddiness in my gut. Once Pinkie Pie was in the slippers, she began to rapidly shuffle her feet in noticeable excitement while moving around in a circle on the rug. Her eyes were constantly glued to her feet. "Oh god, are you serious? Uh… Twi? Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked as I drew near while getting a nagging feeling that allowing the ever-unpredictable Pinkie Pie to have access to something like this was…well… Just read on and see for yourself.

Twilight did not seem nearly as worried as I was and smiled dismissively. "Oh, don't worry about it, James. Static electricity is harmless."

However, Pinkie Pie just kept shuffling and shuffling. Oh, and she also shuffled some more. I mean it was actually very awkward how she just would not stop moving around the very edge of the rug. Almost like she was on autopilot or something. I decided to carefully and inconspicuously make my way to the exit and wait by it just in case the situation got out of hand and I had to make a hasty retreat. Even Twilight was starting to give Pinkie some funny looks. However, a look of satisfaction spread across her face when Pinkie came to a stop in front of her. Pinkie Pie's tail and mane had responded accordingly to the buildup of an electric charge on her body, both having become very wild with every single strand sticking straight out in a truly bizarre hairstyle. To top it off, I could make out arcing trails of electricity in her hair here and there.

Pinkie Pie began to giggle in excitement before she really took off with more shuffling and started to shuffle her feet all over the shed. A giddy smirk spread across my face as I tried to suppress a laugh. This was going to get very interesting very quickly. Even Twilight was starting to get a rather nervous expression on her face. "Uh… Pinkie, you can stop now… Whoa!"

Twilight stepped out of the way as that goofball friend of ours went right past her and even right up the wall and across the ceiling while constantly giggling like a schoolgirl with a sugar rush. And considering how much sweet gelatin she had just consumed, that was a very likely possibility. Pinkie Pie then even went right out the window, probably went right across the roof, and then came back in through another window while moving at seemingly impossible speeds for someone who was merely shuffling their feet. She was almost at full running speed, now that I think about it.

Eventually, Pinkie even started to give off quite a glow as she built up more and more of a charge on herself while zooming along the walls. "Pinkie, you're really overdoing it now… Eep!" Twilight called out before her mane and tail started to get pulled towards that crazy mare seemingly by an unseen attraction while Pinkie Pie returned to the center of the room and was going around and around on the rug as her body seemed to be leaning backwards in such a way that made me think her hooves were not carrying her along, but were rather pulling her. By then, I had stepped outside and was watching from the doorway. I was even biting my finger to stop myself from laughing at this hilarious scenario playing out before me.

Seconds later, the furniture in the shed began to slide along the floor towards Pinkie Pie while the electrified mare seemed to have accumulated an electric charge powerful enough to generate an electromagnetic effect. Everything in the room was being drawn to her, including Twilight! In desperation, Twilight grabbed onto a chair to keep herself away from our friend. Finally, she yelled out, "Pinkie, enough already!"

"Like this, Twilight?!" I then stared aghast as Pinkie Pie stopped moving and stuck her hoof out at our friend while still giggling like a maniac, prompting Twilight to look over her shoulder. Due to the powerful electromagnetic pull of Pinkie's electric charge, Twilight could no longer turn her head away and was steadily inching closer to Pinkie's glowing hoof while an expression of extreme unease spread across her face.

"I'm out!" I shouted before placing the pair of safety goggles I had picked up on my face. I then bolted and made a mad dash for the edge of the vast forest of apple trees that were nearby and took shelter behind one before peeking out from behind it. I was snickering like a fool, wondering what was about to happen.

Sure enough, I got my answer. A few seconds later, there was a powerful explosion that blew the entire shed apart. A burst of smoke and arcing electricity shot through the roof before quickly dissipating. I burst out laughing, unable to comprehend just how the hell Pinkie Pie was able to turn herself into what I can only call an electric bomb. Still, I was rather worried about my two friends and rushed back over to the remains of the shed while avoiding the scattered debris to check on them.

"Girls, are you… Oh god, what the hell?!" I called out while trying to keep myself from laughing a bit longer as I surveyed the situation before me.

Twilight was standing in the middle of the floor, apparently having not been able to keep her grip on the chair. Her mane and tail looked as if they had just been caught in a powerful gust and were stuck pointing straight back behind her while looking singed. Her face was frozen in an absolutely overwhelmed expression as if she could not process what she had just experienced while every part of her body that was facing Pinkie was apparently covered in soot. Pinkie Pie, on the other hand, looked like she was back to normal and was no worse for the wear. Her electric glow was gone and her mane and tail were back to their original poofy forms. Just before Twilight stiffly fell onto her side, Pinkie spoke out in her usual cheery tone of voice. "Tag, you're it!"

I finally could not contain myself any longer. I burst into raucous laughter at what I was seeing while trying to not fall to my knees. "Oh my gohahahod! Zappity zap zap! I never thought I would live to see this!"

Twilight let out a groan while she dizzily climbed to her feet. "Uuugh… I think I now know why science isn't as commonly practiced in Equestria as magic is."

"Really? Why's that?" Pinkie asked while tilting her head to one side.

After shaking all the soot from her hair, Twilight rather vocally spoke her answer. "It's dangerous! Just look at this place! It's a wreck!"

"Well, at least you demolished the thing for AJ in the end. I think she'll be pretty impressed." I replied while trying to suppress anymore laughter. Just… Man, you just have to witness such an event to really appreciate the comedic value behind it.

Twilight then let out a long groan while flexing her body to get all the aches out of it. "Well… I'd say that's enough experimenting for the month… Or a year…"

"You know, I think you two would make for an effective demolition team with that kind of technique. Ever consider it?" I asked in a joking manner, actually quite impressed with just how thoroughly that blast obliterated the shed.

Pinkie Pie seemed rather thrilled at the idea. "Ooh, you're right! I'd be like 'OK, we got this. Twilight, you brought the slippers, right?' and she would be like 'Yeah, I got them right here. You do your thing and we'll be waaaay over there.' and then I'd be like 'All right! Shuffle shuffle shuffle and zappity zap zap!' and then BOOM! We'd have the run of the entire demolition market! Right, Twilight?"

However, Twilight seemed far less pleased at the thought. She then practically yelled while waving her hooves back and forth as she took a few steps away from our friend, "No! Absolutely not! I'm done with science! I'm sticking with good old magic from now on!"

"Aww, really? Oh well! It was fun while it lasted! Anyway, I better get going! I've got something important to take care of today. See ya!" Pinkie Pie retorted before trotting away with a satisfied spring in her step and a song in her throat.

Once the source of my laughter was out of sight, I approached Twilight and caressed her mane. "Well, that was a good laugh. Are you OK?"

"Ugh… I don't even know what hit me! And how did she even do that?!" Twilight retorted with a frustrated groan, although she sounded more baffled than irritated to me.

I glanced over in the direction that Pinkie Pie had trotted off in and found that she was almost completely out of sight. I then took off my safety goggles and set them on the charred remains of a table nearby. "Well… Do you think we'd be better off not knowing how Pinkie Pie works?"

"By this point… I'd say that's wise." Twilight grumbled before letting out a groan while she seemed to stretch. That zap, while certainly nonfatal, seemed to have left her quite sore. "Ooh… I'm gonna be feeling this for a while…"

I kneeled down beside her and placed my hand on her back. "Would you prefer it if I carry you back to town?"

My proposition seemed to really catch her by surprise. She glanced at me suddenly and asked, "Huh? Carry me? Are you sure?"

Seeing that she did not refuse my offer, I smirked before lifting the forward half of her body and causing her to lean back before my arms scooped her up. While certainly heavier than Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, Twilight is still fairly light. Now, Applejack and Pinkie Pie, those two I can truly count as heavyweights. But I digress.

Twilight looked up at me with an awkward grin before letting out a faint giggle. She looked very cute just resting there in my arms. "Well… I guess I'm your passenger for now. Lead on, James." I nodded with a cheeky grin before leaving the wrecked remains of Twilight's makeshift lab and started walking back towards Ponyville.

The walk through the meadow was calm and quiet. I did not speak at all while merely focusing on walking. I could hear the wind blowing through the thousands upon thousands of blades of grass in the meadow. It generated a sound that is actually different from the sound of leaves swaying in the trees. It almost felt…magical.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Twilight's large purple eyes were more often than not looking at me and nothing else. After I saw them look right at me for what I think was the tenth time, I finally looked down at her directly. "Yes?"

Twilight's curled forelegs drew closer together while she let out a quiet giggle. It seemed she was not expecting me to notice her gaze at all. "Well… I was thinking. Today… And right around this time too… Today last year was when I first met you."

Once again, my memories of that day flickered through my memory. "Yeah… And you were the first person I met in Equestria."

She then asked after a moment of pause, "James… I've been wondering this for a while. Was it Princess Celestia and Princess Luna who brought you to Equestria?"

Having known Twilight for as long as I have, I felt I could trust her with the truth. "Yeah, they did. Just don't tell anyone, all right? I think it's a national secret or something like that."

My friend nodded in agreement before tilting her head to look in the direction we were moving. "I'll be sure to thank them today… I'm glad they brought you here."

"Really?" I asked, though more out of curiosity than doubt.

Twilight turned her gaze towards me and began to speak softly as if she was becoming completely relaxed. "Well, I'll be honest. When you first came to Ponyville, I didn't think for a second that you and I would've become as close as we are now. I mean, I did want to be your friend, but… I'm just amazed by all that's happened. I thought my circle was complete when I met my five closest friends. But you managed to carve out a place for yourself in the puzzle, if that makes any sense."

I looked down at Twilight without speaking a word while just taking in her words. "And now you even have your own Element. The Element of Humanity. Even if it isn't a part of the Elements of Harmony, it still intrigues me. I wonder if we'll ever figure out its true history."

"Well, I'm guessing the more crises we end up having to solve, the more often it will be used. Although I hope we don't have very many more to deal with…" I replied in kind, also wondering about the full history behind the Element that was bound to me. Oh well. That is something I am sure will reveal itself when the time is right.

Twilight nodded with a slight frown, but soon relaxed once more in my grasp. "Yeah… But still… I'm really glad I met you. You've always been good to us. And it feels like you and I have so much in common. I swear… I think I see myself in you."

I could not help smiling at those words. "Same here, Twi. You sometimes remind me of myself."

She then brought up a subject that I had all but forgotten about. "You know… Fluttershy once told me what you said to her about your past. Especially your days in high school. Did that really…cause you to have no interest in friendship?"

My walking slowed as I felt a twinge of bitterness fill my heart. "She told you, huh? Well…yeah. Since there was no one in the entire school I could even remotely bring myself to like, I had no friends. And as a result, I even felt like I didn't even need friends."

There was a moment of silence between us while Twilight seemed to avert her eyes. I just continued to walk while keeping my eyes forward. However, I froze and stopped in my tracks when I felt something touch the fingers I had curled over Twilight's chest. I looked down at her and saw that she was resting her right hoof upon them. She then spoke with a more somber expression on her face. "You and I have more in common than I thought, James. I used to have no interest in friendship either."

"You…didn't? But you seem like someone who values friendship more than most other things." I replied while finding it difficult to comprehend Twilight not wanting anything to do with the concept of friendship.

She nodded in confirmation, but never once took her hoof off my fingers. "Mmhm, but not for the reasons you're thinking. It was entirely by choice. I was obsessed with studying and following Princess Celestia's instructions. I shut myself away from everyone who had no real connection to my interests. But…that all changed when I came to Ponyville." She then turned her gaze to the town that was in the distance. "It was honestly the best thing to ever happen to me. Now I can't imagine being without friends. And the atmosphere in Ponyville is just so much better than in Canterlot. I used to think most of the ponies in town were crazy, but I guess that was because I wasn't used to such jovial hospitality since no one here is nearly as uptight as the majority of the ponies in Canterlot."

I could not help rolling my eyes. I had almost forgotten that Canterlot was originally her home. "Canterlot isn't exactly the friendliest town in Equestria, is it?"

"Well, in hindsight… I guess it isn't." Twilight replied while letting out a faint giggle. We both chuckled lightly before we shared a momentary gaze. I honestly felt quite calm in Twilight's presence. As if I was rediscovering her in a new intimate way. She then smiled warmly at me and even seemed to gain a blush on her face. "I'm really glad I met you. It feels like we were meant to meet."

With my arms occupied, I was not able to really return any affection she was giving me. So instead, I lowered my head to her and nuzzled her nose with my own. "Same here, Twi. You've always been precious to me."

My friend giggled slightly while grinning broadly as I pulled my face away from her. Once I began to walk at a brisker pace again, she let out a long sigh while still looking up at me. "You know… I did say I would always love you, right?"

Those words roused some memories from deep in my mind. "Yeah… That was quite a while ago too. I had almost forgotten about it."

Twilight averted her eyes for a moment before continuing to speak. "I'm not surprised you forgot. I've been trying hard to not let those feelings show when I'm around you. And it gets really hard to hold them in when it's just you and me. And I really have been trying to let go of those feelings. But… I just can't seem to cut those last few threads. My feelings…just won't let go of my heart."

"Well… Why have you been keeping your feelings concealed?" I asked, having already been on the receiving end of such feelings from Rainbow Dash and Rarity.

My dear friend's expression became more somber before she replied. "Because…I don't want to get between you and Fluttershy. I can't stand the thought of being a burden to any of my friends or doing anything that would hurt them… That's why I couldn't let those feelings out."

"You know… That sounds like something I would do." I spoke softly, relating to her even further as she spoke. And as I looked down at my frowning friend, I could not help smiling softly at her. "But Twilight… You should let go of those fears. Because…" I then gently lowered my face and placed a tender kiss on her forehead. "You're not the only other girl whose heart reaches out to me."

Twilight's big purple eyes opened wide the instant my lips touched her soft purple coat on her forehead. Her eyes quivered as what seemed to be tears began to form at the edges of her eyes. "What… How… Why did you do that? I thought you and Fluttershy were…"

For as long as I have known her, Twilight has always been keen to the workings of friendship despite always being eager to learn more. However, she always seemed to have very little knowledge about the workings of the heart. So I was hardly surprised to see her so confused. "Yes, Twilight. Fluttershy and I are a couple. But that does not mean I can't share my love. I'd be willing to give you some if you are willing."

My friend was rendered speechless. Her eyes darted back and forth while clearly trying to find the words to reply to me. I decided to speak first. "Confused, huh?"

Twilight rapidly nodded before finding words to speak. "Yeah… It just… It sounds too good to be true. I mean… Isn't that…cheating? What would Fluttershy do… Wait. Would you ever really cheat on her?"

I was not surprised by her confusion. It takes an open mind to think the way I do. "No, absolutely not. There's no way I would ever cheat on my girlfriend. Just… How do I explain this again? I know I spoke about it to Rarity lately…"

The mention of our beautiful unicorn friend really seemed to shock Twilight. She looked up at me with bulging eyes and spoke rather loudly, "Rarity?! Her too?! I know you and her have always been close and that she does seem to have some kind of strong interest in you, but… She…really loves you like that?"

"In all honesty, I'm pretty sure she and I would've ended up in a relationship if Fluttershy had not sent me that love letter when she did. We both keep the virtue of Generosity constantly in our hearts, so I guess we do have a subtle natural attraction to each other." I replied while feeling myself becoming rather warm as my mind began to recall the memories of the day she finally confessed to me.

Twilight looked away from me for a moment, her eyes closing while she let out a long sigh. "I think you might be right… You and her have been close since the start. But…" She then looked back up at me with a very curious gaze. "What do you mean…sharing your love with me? Can you really do that and keep yourself reserved for Fluttershy?"

I did my best to explain it as carefully as possible. "Well, you have every right to question my integrity. I don't think most men would be capable of doing it while staying loyal to that one special someone. But let me make things clear. Twilight, I can't be your boyfriend. I can't give you my body. And I can't give you my heart. But I can still give you my love. And before you ask, it wouldn't be the first time I have given love to more than one woman while still keeping my heart reserved."

She looked at me in silence. Not speaking, but seeming to be deep in thought. "To actually be able to do something like that… You must have a limitless amount of love in your heart… It's like you can love anyone."

"Well, I try to keep an open mind. That's what I feel is the key to being happiest." I replied without hesitation.

Twilight let out a long sigh while looking up at me with an endearing gaze. "Words of wisdom. How did you come to that conclusion?"

I took a moment to reflect on those words. Why am I so open minded? I tried to reply as honestly as I could. "Well… I have no real answer to that. But I guess I can try to explain. I guess… Over the years, I have seen many forms of prejudice and discrimination in various types of fictional media. And that made me wonder why there was so much discrimination. I saw no reason to be so hateful towards people of different appearance, whether they be mutated or covered in fur or scales. Who knows? Maybe those experiences sowed the seeds for me to be able to not judge until I had grown to know them. And I guess it only extended from there. As for being able to share love with others…"

This took a longer amount of time to find the right words. Twilight looked on in silence, awaiting my response. "Well… I have found that I enjoy making people happy. And I especially enjoy making people feel loved, especially women. Where I come from, women tend to receive more discrimination than men, and that saddens me. So I would try to help them feel as loved and appreciated as possible whenever I spoke to them. At least through text. I am way too shy to approach a woman in person like that."

Twilight nodded with a slight smile while looking up at me. "You are pretty shy… I could see that when we first met. Very reserved. But…still, why offer me your love like this?"

"Funny you mention that. I once wrote stories as a hobby. And there was one line I wrote in a chapter that I think left quite an impression on some of the readers." I replied before pausing to recall the line in question. "Love is a universal good. Do not deny it to anyone, especially when they seek it from you alone."

I swear I saw a tear trickle down Twilight's cheek when she heard me speak those words. She then nestled her head against my chest while I carried her. "There's a lot of power in those words… And I can relate to them. You're the only man I've ever sought that kind of love from before…" Suddenly, she glanced up as her horn was coated by her pink magic aura. My shirtsleeve was covered by an identical aura before it was pulled up, revealing my cutie mark. "After hearing that… I think I know what the true meaning of your cutie mark is."

I glanced down at the mark in the center of my upper arm. Two white dove shapes facing each other with wings spread while creating a perfect heart shape between their bodies, their forms also creating the vague shape of a heart themselves. Twilight then explained, "There is a heart shape between them. And the two birds are doves. Symbols of peace and everlasting love. It shows that not only are you a gentle peaceful individual who tries to avoid conflict when possible, but also someone who has potentially limitless love to share."

"That…is a pretty deep explanation, Twi." I replied, not certain of what else to say. I would expect such a thorough description from her, but it still left me without many words to say.

She then looked up at me with a rather somber smile. "And to your offer… I do understand what you mean. And…I would be honored if you would share your love with me, but… I want to be safe on this. I'll ask Fluttershy about this first and then I'll get back to you. I'm sorry. It's just…I don't want to risk doing anything that may upset my friends. You understand, right?"

I nodded readily, knowing exactly where she was coming from. "Understood perfectly, Twilight. That actually sounds like something I would do." My friend let out a soft giggle; apparently knowing I would say that too.

"Seems I was right. You really are my other half." Twilight spoke with a grin before reaching up and nuzzling my cheek. "Like a long lost twin brother or something."

I could not help but snicker for a second before placing a kiss on her cheek. "Well, I always did love you, little sis." This prompted another rather giddy blush from my friend. It is always entertaining to see her get flustered. Sometimes even creepy. "But anyway, that choice is all up to you. We can stay ordinary friends if that's what you would prefer. It's your call, Twi."

"Thanks, James. I do plan on meeting up with Fluttershy today, so I'll talk to her about this then… Actually, now that I think about it… Is Rarity the only other mare who loves you that much?" Twilight replied before her expression became one of surprise, as if that thought popped into her head out of nowhere.

"Well, believe it or not, Rainbow Dash is the same way." I replied briefly. I wonder what that rowdy mare is up to right now.

Twilight stared at me with a truly bewildered expression for a moment. "Rainbow Dash… Is that why she was with you and Fluttershy when you visited my house on Hearts and Hooves Day?!"

I nearly snickered at her response. She only just then realized that? "Yup. Pretty much a double date."

A few minutes of soothing silence passed while I continued to carry my dear friend towards Ponyville. However, a thought suddenly entered my mind. "Hey, Twi? I know this is right outta nowhere, but was Pinkie Pie still wearing those slippers when she headed home?"

My friend seemed rather bothered by those words while she held a hoof to her chin. "Those house slippers? Uh… She… Uh oh."

The instant she finished speaking, I felt a brief tremor in the ground as an explosion of arcing electricity and smoke rose into the air far ahead in the distant. "Oh snap, that renegade bug zapper is still at it!" I yelled out while trying not to laugh. I was hoping Ponyville was not in ruins by the time I got there.

"Quick! Put me down!" Twilight shouted as she began to squirm in my grasp. I turned her over and set her down as quickly as I could. "Let's chat later! I gotta find her and stop her from blowing up the town!" Twilight then charged ahead while letting out a yell. "PIIIIINKIIIIIEEE! YOU BETTER NOT BE ANYWHERE NEAR MY HOUSE!"

I could not help hunkering over in snickering laughter. "Oh god, life is never dull when you girls are around."

Not certain of the time, I decided to hurry on over to the spa before I had the chance to be late. The trek through Ponyville was relatively uneventful and quiet, although it was not like I had time to stop and chat with anyone anyway. Although I did catch sight of Twilight trying to chase down a cackling Pinkie Pie, who was still wearing those house slippers while shuffling along at speeds that no one should be able to reach while moving their feet like that.

Eventually, I saw Rainbow Dash swoop down and grab Pinkie Pie, apparently having been enlisted by Twilight for some assistance. The only problem was that the nut job mare had already accumulated quite a charge in her body and ended up zapping Rainbow Dash upon making contact in a large burst of electrical discharge. Rainbow's mane and tail ended up looking a lot like Twilight's did when she got zapped, just without the singed hair. She seemed greatly stunned, falling stiffly onto her side and dragging Pinkie down with her. That gave Twilight more than enough time to catch the two of them in a levitation spell before sliding the slippers off of our crazy pink friend's hooves. Once again, I could not help snickering at the absurd sight and walked backwards to watch them for as long as I could before having to turn around to make certain I was staying on the right path.

I reached the spa without further trouble or distraction and stepped inside to find Aloe seated at the front desk. "Morning, Aloe. I'll just punch in and get to my post."

My employer responded while looking over a magazine, speaking in her very heavy accent. "Thank you, James. We have a few customers right now, but none of them have requested a massage. Although we do have a pair of reservations requesting the full suite of services in ten minutes. So please be ready when they arrive."

"Will do. Just let them know I'm ready when they are." I replied before entering the spa's main chamber. I then went right over to the hot tub and dunked my hands in for a few minutes to get them softened up before taking a seat by the massage tables. I then reached into a cabinet located right under me and pulled out a clipboard with the names of every single customer I had ever massaged on a sheet of paper being held in place on it. After massaging someone for the first time, I always add their name to the list and include a check mark or an X next to their name to discern which of them have overly sensitive cutie marks and which do not.

A quick glance around the chamber revealed three customers. From what I could see, the sauna was currently being used by, of all ponies, Eleina and Ruby Ring. In case you have forgotten, Eleina is Button Mash's mother while Ruby Ring is the mother of Diamond Tiara. With how infrequently I stop by the jewelry store she runs, I took a moment to recognize her. "Moms' day out, I guess."

At the far end of the spa seemed to be a mare taking a mud bath with Lotus supervising her. Judging by the pale yellow coat on her face and the two shades of pink and dark blue in her mane, it seemed to be Bon Bon. I must admit she and I never really interact much, so I can hardly call her a friend.

While I waited for a customer to show up, I snatched up a magazine that had been left near the massage tables. The latest copy of Equestria Digest. The cover seemed to show Hoity Toity standing outside what seemed to be a fancy restaurant. Perhaps he also serves as a part-time food critic? I do not recall much about what I read or saw. I was pretty much just flipping through the pages to pass the time, waiting until I saw a sight in the photos in the magazine that would catch my attention.

I did not wait long before I heard Aloe speak from nearby as the familiar sound of hooves clopping drew near. "Right this way, your highnesses."

At first, I continued to look through the magazine without a second thought. But a second later, Aloe's words registered with me. "Your highnesses?"

I immediately set the magazine down and looked towards the entryway into the spa's main chamber. Aloe entered first and was promptly followed by two mares who instantly put a smile on my face. Luna and Nightmare Moon.

I remained silent at first, waiting for them to look my way. And they very soon did just that. Luna cast her gaze in my direction first, her expression instantly brightening before she trotted right over to me. "Well, hello! Good to see you, James! And you will be providing our massages today?"

I held out my arms to her, allowing my friend to come in for an embrace. I replied while she wrapped her arms around me, "I most certainly will. And how are you two ladies doing? Something important happening in Ponyville today?"

Nightmare Moon then approached us and nodded with a smile. "Oh, absolutely. We are here on important business. But the time of meeting is not for a few more hours, so Luna and I decided we may as well see what the spa is like. We could use a day off every now and then." She then stepped closer and gently nudged her sister aside. "All right, that's enough, Luna. I am entitled to my dearest friend as well."

Luna backed away with a nervous snicker while a rather giddy grin spread across her muzzle. "Yes, yes, so sorry. You know how I am when I have an opportunity to meet my first true friend. I don't get to see him as often as I desire."

However, Nightmare Moon then gave her a rather sly smirk. "What about all those times you invade his dreams? Do those not count?" I could not help breaking out into chuckles while trying to restrain myself.

"Well… Yes, I suppose those count. But you dive into his dreams just as often, I'm sure!" Luna replied with a jeering tone. I swear, those two really loosen up when it is just them. They hardly act royal at all aside from their speech patterns.

"Yes, I am quite guilty of that." Nightmare Moon replied with a rather awkward smirk, having been cornered by Luna. But she then grabbed me in an unexpected embrace. "But can you blame me?"

I remained silent while wrapping my arms around my beloved royal friend. Luna then leaned in close to me and whispered into my ear. "It is a rare event when she goes the entire day without once speaking your name. She truly adores you."

Before I could even retort to that, we heard Nightmare Moon speak up. "I heard that, Luna." All three of us then burst into shared laughter. Oh, I would never trade my friendship with those two mares for anything.

After a minute more of playful banter, Nightmare Moon then turned to Luna and asked, "So, sister. What should we start with first?"

The beautiful Princess of the Night glanced around the chamber, apparently weighing her options. "Hmm… Well, I am eager to try out our friend's 'magic fingers' for myself, but that hot tub looks quite inviting."

I decided to offer my input at that moment to help them decide. "In all fairness, nearly all of my patrons take a soak in the hot tub just before they let me massage them. I think my massages will be more effective if you let the warm water soften your flesh up a bit first."

"Then it's decided! Excuse us for a moment, James." Nightmare Moon spoke before she and Luna went behind the hot tub, the wall along the poolside preventing me from seeing them. While they were back there, I heard metallic clinks along with their voices in conversation. "Did Celestia say whether or not she will be attending too?"

I then heard Luna speak in response. "Well, she said she would follow if she could. However, I doubt we should get our hopes up. She is likely busy today with us not being there to assist her."

The two royal mares stepped out from behind the hot tub soon afterward. However, I could not stop myself from gazing at them. They had cast aside their jewelry and metallic attires, their bodies bare. Luna seemed to notice my constant gaze and asked, "Uh… James? Is something wrong?"

I could not help flustering. It must have been especially unbecoming of me to gawk at the rulers of Equestria. "Well…uh… I know you two normally don't wear much to begin with, but… Well… I guess I just can't help staring at your beauty."

My two royal friends returned my stare, never once blinking. And… I swear, there was a shade of pink slowly filling their cheeks. Luna, without looking away from me, glanced up at her sister out of the corner of her eyes. "Our beauty, he says."

Nightmare Moon nodded before her blank stare turned into that sly smirk she always shows whenever her mischievous side starts to come out. "You're quite bold, you know that?"

I averted my gaze, feeling myself getting backed into a corner. "Uh… I meant nothing by it. I'll just be waiting over here for you ladies to finish so… Uh…" I was interrupted when I felt something soft touch my chin and direct my face back towards the two alicorns before me. It turns out that Nightmare Moon was manipulating her mane much like a hand. I do believe that trait is something only she possesses.

"No need to be modest, my friend. The compliment is appreciated." She spoke while letting out a suppressed giggle deep in her throat. "Don't you just love a man who has an appreciation for beauty, Luna?"

Luna grinned brightly as they walked past me before offering a retort. "Oh, absolutely. Tis a shame there is not more of them in this world."

I watched in silence while the two royal sisters walked up the steps that led to the hot tub before slowly submerging themselves into it. They both let out long satisfied sighs as the warm bubbling water reached up over them. Once they had both lowered themselves as deeply as possible, they both dunked their heads below the surface. A few seconds later, they raised their heads above the water. As expected, their long flowing manes were completely soaked and weighed down by the water. They were no longer constantly billowing and seemed to be ordinary hair now. The colors seemed slightly darker due to their hair having absorbed some water. What surprised me most was that Nightmare Moon's mane and tail, which is actually somewhat translucent, seemed completely opaque while wetted down. The light purple gaseous aura around their edges also seemed absent. I could still see the 'stars' in the central blue section of Luna's hair though. The sparkling stars in Nightmare Moon's mane seemed to be absent, making her hair seem like a vast expanse of blue.

"Comfy?" I asked softly while leaning against the side of the pool.

Luna glanced over at me and gave a quick nod. "Yes, very much so. Excellent recommendation, James."

Nightmare Moon then crawled closer to us with her beautiful exotic eyes focused on me. She remained silent for a moment though before asking, "James, has something caught your eye? You seem to be staring quite a bit."

Heh, I suppose I should not be surprised that my royal friends are so observant. "Well, I just find it interesting how different your manes are when they're wet. They hardly look the same. I'm especially surprised that yours is still there, Nightmare Moon. When it's dry, your hair almost looks gaseous."

Luna's face twisted into a grin while she let out a chuckle. "Yes, it is, isn't it? I often like to stand behind her tail and address the guards and servants from there. They always seem to forget that I can see them through it." Nightmare Moon merely shook her head while rolling her eyes. I suppose she must have found it rather silly how Luna would sometimes use her tail as a comedic prop.

"You gotta love a ruler with a sense of humor. I bet the guards enjoy your shenanigans every now and then too, considering how uptight they are more often than not." I said while imagining all of the guards I had encountered so far. Definitely some of the strictest men I have ever passed.

Nightmare Moon spoke next. "Peh, them? I keep thinking they're golden tin cans dressed up to resemble ponies with how constantly still and silent they always are. Sometimes I decorate them to make them a little easier on the eyes and to add to the atmosphere of the chambers."

I nearly burst into laughter at the thought, but Luna added onto that little quip before I could. "Oh, I still remember the time where you placed ivy from the garden over two of them! Celestia thought they were indoor plants until she called for the guards. I still remember the shriek she made when those 'plants' started to shamble towards her."

That was all I needed to burst out laughing along with my two friends. While we were laughing, I noticed Eleina and Ruby Ring pause at the chamber's exit before shaking their heads at us with amused smirks before departing. Eventually, I felt the need to ask. "Do they ever get annoyed with that kind of treatment?"

Nightmare Moon cleared her throat before putting together a response. "Well, I did ask them once if they would rather be treated like men or like interior decorations. Only they did not reply at all."

"The strangest thing is that Shining Armor and Estoc seem to be the only members of the royal guard who seem willing to speak or crack a smile while on duty. Granted, they do become quite focused during situations that require it, but they always seem willing to be themselves at all other times. I swear they even encourage the rest of the guard to loosen up as well." Luna explained while seeming genuinely baffled by just how unnecessarily uptight the royal guards tend to be.

"You think they assume being that way just makes them look cool and respectable?" I asked, wondering if the guards tend to have egos that cause them to act in such ways.

Luna let out a sigh, apparently disheartened by such a thought. "That is quite a possibility. A shame they do not learn that much from their superiors outside of weapon use and protocol. Shining Armor and Estoc seem to understand it much better. It is best to be yourself and to harden your nerves only when the situation calls for it. Not to seem like a stone wall at all times."

Nightmare Moon then smirked before directing her gaze at me. "That honestly sounds quite a bit like you, James."

Those words brought back memories from not too long ago. "You know… That's what Rainbow Dash said too. That I'm not cool and tough all the time, but only when I need to be."

"I can vouch for that." Nightmare Moon replied with nod and smile. I know she was thinking back to when she and I ended up clashing in the Everfree Forest. But for her to actually not seem bothered by the thought… I suppose it is something we can all look back on and laugh by now. It was truly a dreadful event, but we gained so much from it as well. And I could not be more grateful for what I gained that night. Almost as if on instinct, I reached out and dragged my fingers through the soaked mane of Nightmare Moon.

"Hm? James?" My royal friend asked upon feeling my touch. She and Luna looked directly at me with rather curious gazes.

"Uh… I was just wondering how your hair feels when it's wet." I replied meekly as I felt myself becoming cornered. My fingers were resting within that wet expanse of blue, though I could feel the many strands of hair within it.

After a moment of silence, Nightmare Moon's expression changed from one of puzzlement to one that seemed to show adoration. "Well, how does it feel?"

Feeling myself relax a bit, I stroked my fingers through her hair some more. "It feels like…wet hair." This generated a snicker from the two mares. I mean how else could I have described it?

After several more minutes of playful banter and chatting, Nightmare Moon let out a long yawn. Apparently from having allowed herself to become too relaxed. "Oof… I think I'd like to try a massage now. I don't want to end up too waterlogged."

"OK then. Just come on over and we'll get started." I replied while glancing back over at the massage tables behind me.

Nightmare Moon began to crawl away from Luna and myself and towards the poolside at the far edge. However, as she started to climb out of the hot tub, my eyes became glued to her gorgeous form. Her mane and tail were like two sheets of solid blue, the water in her dark coat causing her to glisten. Much to my dismay, Luna was quick to notice my constant stare and smirked while calling out, "Sister, it seems you have an admirer."

I winced at those words and glanced at Luna. "You cheeky…!" But before I could scold her further, Nightmare Moon's eyes looked at me over her shoulder. I could feel my face becoming hot as I felt myself becoming intensely nervous. What was she going to do?

I was tempted to cover my face and hide. However, I then noticed Nightmare Moon smirk at me whimsically. "Why do you stare, my friend?"

"Uh… Would you prefer an honest answer?" I replied while Luna burst into snickering while holding her hooves over her mouth.

Nightmare Moon rolled her eyes at me. "What kind of question is that? Of course I want you to be honest."

I then decided to swallow my pride and speak the truth regardless of the consequences. After all, with how close we are, I doubt Nightmare Moon would ever harm me. "Well… I'm staring because of… Well… You're beautiful."

Judging by how briefly that look of surprise on her face lasted, I suspect she was expecting such an answer. She then flashed me a wink and replied, "That's all? Well, if you really appreciate my beauty that much, then you may admire me as much as you desire."

I continued to watch her for a moment more while Nightmare Moon wrapped her very large mane in a towel with the highly absorbent fabric tightly wrapped up atop her head. As she walked down the steps and over to me, I could not help but ask, "Just how did you even fit that all in there?"

"That's what she said." Luna spoke up suddenly beside us while flashing us both an impish smirk. Both Nightmare Moon and I could not help chuckling like fools at that very unexpected and naughty joke.

"Please hold the jokes for now, Luna. I need to focus when I massage. Don't want to lose track of time." I spoke while leading Nightmare Moon over to the nearest massage table. "After you, m'lady."

"Thank you, my good sir." The Princess of Dreams replied before bounding up onto the table and turning around to face the hot tub before lying down. Luna moved to the far end of the tub and just reclined with her shoulders and head resting on the edge.

After examining my friend for a moment, I extended a hand toward Nightmare Moon's left wing. "Shall I start on your wings?"

She glanced to her left wing before spreading it as if on reflex. "Hm? My wings? You can do that?"

I replied while I reached out and began to feel along her wing's frame, "I do. Pegasus wings tend to get pretty tense when they're used a lot. And it seems difficult to massage them when you only have hooves… Hmm…"

If you have ever seen Nightmare Moon, you have likely seen that her wings have an unusual structure when they are spread. Their shape seems similar to bat or demon wings. While they are covered in feathers like those of any other pegasus, I was quick to discover through my tender touch that the frame of her wing was very different from every other pegasus wing I had ever massaged. And instead of just two joints, I found three. "Uh… Your wings are pretty unusual, Nightmare Moon. Maybe even unnatural."

My friend gave me a rather forlorn expression while I felt along her wings. "You know I did not come to be through natural means. Even I am not entirely certain of my exact origins. Though whatever it was that gave me life, I can be all but certain that the means were foul."

I looked towards me dear friend and sighed while trying to show her a reassuring smile. "Well, that may be true. But you're no demon. You're a wonderful mare." I then left her wing and gently held her head in my arms. "Beautiful to boot too."

I felt her head twitch in my arms as a suppressed chuckle rumbled deep in her throat. "You are too sweet, my friend. And thank you. I know not what brought me into existence, but I am still a princess of Equestria."

A cheeky thought then popped into my head while a slight smirk spread across my lips. "Although you're not as beautiful with your mane wrapped up in that towel on your head, to be honest."

"Oh, shush! Now get back to work! My wings need massaging!" Nightmare Moon playfully retorted while nudging me away, a sly smirk on her face. I could not help snickering under my breath at her response, though it was too obvious to me that she was just being playful.

Once I was standing beside her again, I gently felt along Nightmare Moon's wing until my fingers detected the joint where the wing connected to her torso. "All right, just keep your wing still for me. It'll take three minutes to massage each joint."

Nightmare Moon remained very still while my fingers kneaded her wing joint. A long sigh escaped her lips as she became increasingly relaxed. "I never knew just how enjoyable this could be… That's the spot. Right there…"

"That's the reaction I usually get when a pegasus gets massaged there for the first time." I spoke with a slight smirk. I was honestly tempted to laugh under my breath at just how predictable her reaction was.

One by one, I went from one joint on her wing to the next. I nearly forgot about the third joint since I have been used to only massaging two joints for each wing. I know doing these massages is very time-consuming, so I will withhold as many of the details I can. Regardless, once I had finished massaging every joint in Nightmare Moon's left wing, I walked over to her right side. "Right wing now, please."

My friend did not immediately comply, instead flexing and slowly flapping her left wing. "Mmm, that really did the trick. I can't remember the last time my wing felt this limber… Oh, right wing, you said?" She then folded her left wing and extended her right. I then proceeded to repeat the process, starting with the joint connecting her wing to her body.

"You tend to get rather silent while focused on a task, don't you?" I heard my friend ask once I moved on to the second joint.

"I guess. I try to take whatever job I'm doing seriously." I replied briefly while keeping my attention on what I was doing.

I noticed Nightmare Moon smile at me with a calm and very relaxed gaze. "You're very serious and not one to joke around. I'm sure your friends value your input highly."

"I suppose so. Doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good dose of humor now and then though." I retorted briefly while moving onto the third and final joint.

For the next moment, my friend watched me constantly. As if she was scanning me for weaknesses or staring into my soul. Eventually, just as I was finishing up the massage on her third wing joint, she broke the silence. "You're someone who takes pride in your work. Commendable."

I was not expecting that type of praise at all and let go of her wing. "Huh? Really?"

"I was watching you, after all." Nightmare Moon spoke with a calm smile, her wing reaching up and caressing my face with its supple moist feathers. "You're meticulous in your actions. Slow, yet steady and alert. Definitely someone with attention to detail."

I felt quite flattered by her praise. I could only smile sheepishly while averting my gaze. She also gave me a rather amused grin before folding her wing. "So, what's next? Or were my wings the only thing to get a massage this time?"

"Oh, there's more. Now for the rest of you." I replied while climbing onto the massage table and straddling the beautiful alicorn below me.

Nightmare Moon turned and looked at me over her shoulder. "This is…awkward. Are you sure this is the most effective method?"

"No one else ever seems to mind. And it allows for easiest access to all the joints I need to reach. Oh, and please keep your legs close to your body. They'll be easier for me to reach that way. Now, be still." I retorted before feeling along her neck to find her vertebrae.

The massage went off without a hitch. Nightmare Moon was mostly silent throughout the whole thing while often letting out long deep sighs. She was clearly under the spell of my 'magic fingers', as I am sure she would call them. I mostly took it in stride, using the lack of conversation to my advantage to remain as focused as possible.

One thing I was quick to discover about Nightmare Moon is how lithe her body is. Although I have massaged Celestia before, so I suppose I merely forgot since they have the same body structure. There was little muscle obstructing my access to her joints. Despite this, she never once seemed physically weak. Perhaps she has the same muscle as an average unicorn, only just more spread out in her taller and lankier body.

After quite a long time, I finished massaging the forward half of her body and climbed down from the massage table to start on her backside. Nightmare Moon was quick to notice me climb down and asked, "Are we done?"

I then climbed back onto the table while facing the opposite direction before straddling her once more. "Almost. I just need to get your flanks and hind legs."

However, while I looked down at my first target, her flanks, I took note of Nightmare Moon's cutie mark. Especially the purple layer of color that seemed to represent the night sky behind the crescent moon. It did not seem to cover just the sides of her flanks, but even slightly reached around the curves of her backside and curved inward while leaving a gap between where her creases met her…

I jerked my head upward and my gaze towards the wall before me before covering my face with a hand. No, I was not going to let myself have any thoughts about that! Not towards a princess of Equestria. However, Nightmare Moon seemed to notice my significant delay in resuming the massage. "James, are you well? You seem…distracted."

Intense heat filled my body as I feared that I had been caught. I glanced over my shoulder at her and chuckled lightly in a nervous fashion. "Oh, I'm fine. It's just I noticed that your cutie mark seems to cover quite a bit more space on your flanks than most others do."

My friend gave me a long blank stare that went on for nearly twenty seconds. However, she then gave me a rather awkward gaze with one eyebrow raised exceptionally high. "You're not getting any naughty thoughts in your head, are you?"

Busted. Still, I tried to feign ignorance to avoid any trouble. "Uh… What if I was?"

I felt sweat begin to ooze all over my body. Nightmare Moon was starting to give me a very smug stare. "Would you mind turning around?"

"Huh? OK then… Hey!" I did as I was told and jumped when I was smacked in the face by Nightmare Moon's long billowing tail. Across from us, I could hear Luna snickering and giggling like mad.

"Silly man." I heard my friend speak behind me while letting out an amused giggle. I rubbed my face to get any stray hairs off of it, but then glanced back at her. Much to my surprise, she did not seem the least bit offended or bothered. If I did not know better, I would even say she appreciated the observation I made. Trying not to think too hard on that, I resumed my duty and started to massage Nightmare Moon's flanks. A moment later, I realized that I had forgotten to ask if her cutie mark is sensitive. But it seemed my worries were groundless since she never once suddenly gasped or shuddered at my touch.

A short while later, I finally finished with the last of Nightmare Moon's joints and climbed down from the massage table. "That took a lot longer than any other massage I've ever done. How do you feel?"

Nightmare Moon let out a long yawn before climbing down from the massage table. She spread her magnificent wings and flexed her neck and legs. She groaned and grunted, checking every single joint. "My…word… I feel…simply spectacular." She then gazed at me with a very happy smile. "You've got quite a bit of talent for this. How long have you been doing this?"

"Pretty close to a year now, actually." I replied, remembering that today marked the end of my first year in Equestria. "Again… I'm really sorry about before. I really didn't mean to glance down at your…"

My dear friend sighed while shaking her head. She then stepped forward and reached out before tenderly touching her muzzle to my cheek. I felt a twinge of warmth at her touch. A traditional equine kiss. "My dear, there is no need to apologize. There is nothing you can say or do that will ever offend me. If anything, I am flattered that you find my beauty that blinding."

I averted my eyes once more. Nightmare Moon… What would I do without her? I then whispered quietly, "You want to visit me in my dreams tonight? I would like to spend more time with you today."

The Princess of Dreams smiled warmly at me before slowly nodding her head. "It will be my pleasure. I'm eager to see what other amazing worlds your memory can show me."

The two of us shared a tender loving embrace. Her coat felt so smooth and supple against my hands, her wing draped over my back. Eventually, I asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Nightmare Moon released her grasp on me before glancing around. "Hmmm… Well, that sauna catches my eye. I think I will relax in there before seeing what else the spa has to offer. Again, thank you for this amazing massage, my friend." I nodded with a smile and watched as my friend walked away and stepped inside the sauna while releasing a cloud of steam from the chamber.

Without anyone else to draw my attention, I turned my gaze towards Luna. While Nightmare Moon and I were locked in conversation, she had pulled herself from the hot tub and had wrapped her gorgeous flowing mane in a towel of her own. She then trotted down the steps from the poolside and over to me. "The two of you have fun?"

"Well, it was an…interesting time we spent together." I replied while still feeling uneasy at the thoughts I had just before being smacked with Nightmare Moon's tail. I suppose I deserved that too.

Luna let out a small chuckle, apparently having also found the sight to be entertaining. "Oh, don't worry about a thing, James. My sister adores you far too much to ever harm you. She was just being playful with you."

While Luna approached the massage table and climbed onto it, I asked, "Is she normally this playful back at Canterlot?"

"No, not normally. I mean, yes, she can certainly get rather playful with the guards when she is bored, but she seldom has the opportunity to let loose like this. Although I feel that is because she is without the company of her dearest friends." Luna replied while lying down and bringing a pillow or two under her forelegs.

"So, she gets pretty frisky when she's with me?" I asked while soaking my hands in the hot tub for a minute to freshen my palms and fingers up for the next massage. While Nightmare Moon's body was not hard on my extremities, I wanted to be at my best if I was going to massage a princess.

Luna flashed me a playful wink of her own. "Oh, I would say so. She adores you quite a bit. I would even say that you and her share a very special bond that few have."

"That's mighty flattering, Luna. But shall we get started?" I retorted while shaking the warm water from my hands.

The Princess of the Night nodded with a smile before extending her right wing. "Yes, let's. You prefer to start with the wings, right?"

"That I do. Please be still." I retorted before feeling along her wing's frame. While Luna's wings are significantly larger than those of the average pegasus, I found that the bone structure is very similar. Although I was quick to notice that like Nightmare Moon, Luna's wings also have three joints each. "Huh… And I thought Nightmare Moon was the only alicorn with three joints in her wings. Do all alicorns have three in each wing?"

Luna glanced at the wing I was clutching in my hand before carefully flexing it. "Hmm… I suppose so. It never occurred to me. I suppose our larger than average bodies require larger wings for flight. And larger wings would likely require more joints. If they had too few, they would be unwieldy."

"Then why didn't… Oh, wait. I guess Celestia also has three joints per wing as well. I guess I forgot about that day. I suppose I cast that thought aside since I'm so used to massaging ponies with wings that have only two joints." I caught myself while remembering that I had once given a massage to Celestia herself when she visited the spa for the first time while I was on duty.

"Oh, she did mention that you gave her quite a massage on your birthday! But yes, normal pegasi have only two joints in their wings due to their smaller size." Luna replied before glancing over in the direction the sauna was in. "Although… I suppose you're right about my sister. Nightmare Moon's form does not seem…natural at times."

When I moved onto Luna's next wing joint while glancing at a nearby clock to keep track of how long I massaged each one, I tried asking Luna a few questions. "Well… Do you know how she might have come to be?"

My friend glanced at me out of the corner of her cyan eye. "Your guess is as good as mine. I honestly cannot even say when the moment she and I became two separate minds occurred. There was honestly a time where I saw myself as Nightmare Moon and not as my true self. It is a rather puzzling enigma, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah, it is. But she's been a wonderful addition to the Equestrian royal family, hasn't she?" I replied with a question of my own, my fingers gently kneading the flesh under her feathers.

Luna's more serious expression became one of reserved delight. "Oh, most definitely. She carries her duties well and she makes for a fine conversation partner. It's also nice to have somepony around who appreciates the night on the same level I do."

Another question popped into my head while I put the finishing touches on her second joint. "Well, how has Celestia been treating her? I heard she wasn't exactly accepting towards Nightmare Moon at first."

"Well, that is certainly true. Though you must understand, she personally had to confront Nightmare Moon herself in the distant past. They were enemies at one time. But she has been very catering towards her since she was crowned. She tries to not pick favorites, treating Nightmare Moon and me with equal dignity." Luna responded while glancing once more over at the sauna, where her sister was likely still relaxing.

I felt a smile spread across my face while my fingers moved along Luna's wing to the third joint. "I'm glad to hear that. Celestia always did seem like a sweetheart to me. She's quite a hotty too."

I know I was being bold with Luna, but I know I could get away with it since we are such good friends and have an appreciation for humor. However, Luna's response to my compliment was not what I expected. Not an amused smirk or even a chuckle of agreement. Instead, it was an irritated frown. "Yes, she gets that kind of attention more often than you would expect."

This was unusual for Luna. I thought she had long since let go of her jealousy of Celestia since her return to the throne before I ever showed up in Equestria. "Are you OK? You seem…jealous."

"I do, hm? Well, perhaps that is because I am." Luna replied with a rather blunt tone of voice. I remained silent, wondering if she would explain to me. After a moment of silence, she did. "Even though I have gained the appreciation of my people in recent times, I still am partially in my sister's shadow. Everywhere we go, she always draws the vast majority of the attention. There are times when I even feel invisible during important events when we attend. Like I cannot be seen while my sister's shadow is cast over me."

Hearing her words actually got to me quite a bit. My massaging slowed to the point where I could hardly even focus at all. Luna was looking straight ahead and not at me at all, although I could still see the rather forlorn expression on her face. I decided to be as honest as I could. "Well… I think you're beautiful, Luna."

"Thank you… I suppose a little appreciation is better than none." She replied halfheartedly, almost sounding as if she hardly cared about my input at all.

From what I could see, it seemed as if Luna had endured not only the impression that her people had completely shunned her handiwork, but also that she had effectively played second fiddle to her sister in just about everything since day one. And…that is truly a depressing thought when one considers how long she and Celestia must have ruled over this land.

I reached out to my friend and cupped my hand over the opposite cheek that was facing me. "Luna, I'm serious." I then placed a soft kiss on her cheek while gently pulling her head closer to me. "You're beautiful. Any fool can see that."

At first, Luna did not show any form of a response. Her face seemed to have become as stiff as stone. I remained silent, fearful that I may have struck a nerve with my words. However, I nearly flinched when I saw a single tear trickle down her cheek. Without facing me, she spoke softly. "I'm sure you can see beauty in any mare, James…"

Very slowly, she turned to face me. Her mouth curved upwards into a melancholy smile. "Thank you… I truly mean it."

I smiled as warmly as I could before throwing my arms around my friend's neck. "I mean it, Luna. You're beautiful. And if I had to choose, I would ask for your company over Celestia's any day."

A deep sigh escaped Luna's lips next to my ear. I then felt her wrap a single foreleg around me in a tender embrace. "It tickles me to hear you say that, my friend."

"Just remember. You're beautiful, Luna. It's just that not everyone can see it. And besides… Um…" I took a moment to think my words over carefully. "Think of it like this. Celestia is basically the sun, right? Her radiance draws in much attention. And just between you and me? I honestly thought she was a goddess when I first saw her. She is that gorgeous."

"I'm not surprised. But what did you think of me?" Luna asked while casting her beautiful eyes towards me.

I thought back to when we first met in the loft at the library. "Well… To be honest, I was more drawn to you than I was to Celestia at first glance."

I think I saw a pinkish hue fill the beautiful alicorn's cheeks as I spoke the truth to her. "I… I'm honored, James. But you were saying?"

"Oh, right. Um… Where was I…? Oh, well, where she is the sun, you are the moon. And since the moon is not always visible as often as the sun, that means not everyone can appreciate it for as long. But because the length of time it can be seen is much briefer than the sun, it gains a much more sincere and earnest appreciation from the few who appreciate it to its fullest."

Luna stared at me in silence for a moment while seemingly contemplating my words. But before long, she then cast me a slightly more…mischievous smile. "And you appreciate me that sincerely?"

I nodded and spoke honestly. "I do, m'lady."

Her next action caught me entirely unprepared. She reached out and placed a soft kiss on my cheek before looking at me with a slight blush on her face. "I appreciate you too, my friend. More than you know."

I raised my hand to my cheek, having not been expecting that at all. While I did so, Luna placed her hoof on my hand and smiled. "You know… In one more week or so, it will have been a full year since you and I first met. And…I am grateful that you have not faltered as my friend since that time."

"Man, time sure flies, doesn't it? Back when I was a kid, it felt like it took forever for a year to go by." I replied while gently lowering her hoof from my face. "But I know what you mean. I'm glad we met too."

Before long, I went right back to massaging Luna's other wing before climbing atop the massage table to start on her torso. The whole thing went by like clockwork. But I then ran into the same issue as I did with Nightmare Moon. As I may have explained some time before, Luna and Nightmare Moon share the exact same cutie mark aside from coloration. Right down to the point where they wrap around the outermost curves of her flanks. Needless to say, it was a struggle to not think about what was under that gorgeous billowing tail with their close proximity drawing my attention to it. As a result, I could not remain focused enough to really continue the massage. That nearly black shade of blue skirting the curve of her flanks… Why in the world did I find that so alluring?

Luna must have noticed that I was hesitating since she looked over her shoulder at me. "James, is it supposed to take this long for you to… Wait. You're not looking at where I think you are, are you?"

The last thing I wanted to do was offend a very dear friend, so I responded right away. "No, of course not! I was just noticing how your cutie mark…uh…covers so much more of your flanks than most other cutie marks."

"Are you… Wait, it does? Um… Would you mind dismounting me for a moment? I wish to inspect something." Luna replied while looking rather bewildered. I did as she requested and hopped down the massage table.

While Luna stood up before bounding down from the table, I felt the need to ask. "Luna, do you think your hair is dry by now?"

My royal friend's eyes seemed to glance up at the towel that was still wrapped around her head. "Hm? I would assume it is. That massage certainly took quite a while." Her horn was coated by her billowing blue magic aura before the towel was unfurled and cast aside. Luna then gave her head a few good swings to get her hair loose, that long gorgeous mane spreading like a flag before returning to its natural wavering state. She then approached a rather tall mirror nearby and turned her back to it while looking over her shoulder. I made certain to stand from an angle that prevented me from seeing her reflection out of respect for her privacy.

Luna even went so far as to move her tail aside while inspecting herself. "Hm! It seems you're right. That dark shade of blue wraps halfway around my flanks. And I was thinking it was more like a patch on the sides."

While Luna was walking back over to me, I decided to offer my input as well. "Yeah, it looks good on you. That dark coloration really accentuates the curves of your flanks. I honestly think it would look better if they completely covered your flanks."

Those words caused Luna to stop dead in her tracks. The brightest blush I had ever seen on her filled her cheeks with a bold pinkish hue. And that look in her eyes… It looked as if she just had an emotional overload of sorts. "I…uh… I beg your pardon?"

I felt my temperature skyrocket as I realized what I had just said. Most women would like be offended by such a remark. "Uh… I didn't mean it like that! I was just…uh…making an observation!" I took a step backwards, worried that I had made a massive mistake. "I didn't mean to offend you in any…"

I paused as I felt Luna rush forward and place her hoof on my chest. "No, no, it's all right. I… I know you did not mean it like that. It's just… I have never received such a compliment before. I appreciate it… I really do."

I was honestly surprised by how well Luna was taking my words. "Uh… You're not offended at all?"

The blush in my friend's cheeks slowly began to die down while she nervously averted her eyes. "No, not in the slightest. I suppose I was just…shocked. But please rest assured; I am not bothered at all. If anything, those words make me feel…attractive."

Very slowly, I felt my fear die down. "Well… I really didn't mean any harm by it. I just think you're beautiful and wanted you to know it."

Luna let out a long sigh while a warm smile spread across her lips. "I know… And I do feel beautiful. Definitely more so than before. I think every mare wants to feel like they are attractive. But they can never really know if they are until somepony says they are." She then looked back at herself before giving me a slight smirk. "You say the dark coloration accentuates the curves of my flanks, do you? How would you say they compare to Celestia's?"

Oh, I could see where this is going. "Hmm… Well, I say that… Uh… Permission to speak freely, m'lady?"

"Permission granted." Luna spoke as her smirk became even broader.

"Well… When all is said and done… Between you and Celestia, I say you have the hottest flanks." I spoke while feeling my face and head becoming hot. I could only hope I would not regret my words.

Luna burst into giddy snickering, her hoof being held over her mouth. "Is that so?! Oh, I can't wait to rub this in Celestia's face when I see her next!"

"Trying to make her jealous, huh?" I asked while a smirk of my own formed between my jaws.

"After living in her shadow for as long as I have? I say she is well overdue for some jealousy of her own." Luna replied with a rather impish grin. Oh, those two must always keep things interesting when they're together.

We resumed the massage without a hitch, my hands beginning to massage her flanks once we were both atop the massage table again. Seeing as how Nightmare Moon's cutie mark is identical to Luna's, and with how they were at one time the same person, I assumed that Luna's cutie mark was no more sensitive than hers. Boy, was I wrong. The instant my fingers dug into the crescent moons on the sides of her flanks, Luna let out a loud gasp.

"By the full moon! What is that?!" She shrieked before glancing back at me with a truly bewildered expression.

"Huh? What do… Oh, come on! Not this again!" I grumbled upon realizing what I had done. Honestly, how often do I screw this one thing up?

"James… What exactly did you touch?" Luna asked while her eyes seemed to be looking carefully at her flanks. "Was that my cutie mark?"

I let out a groan of mild irritation. "I've honestly lost count of how many times this has happened with my customers. It's like roughly half of the mares I massage have cutie marks that double as pleasure points."

"Pleasure points…?" Luna asked before she gave me a rather…interesting sly smirk.

"Whoa, I don't think I care for that look. What're you up to, Luna?" I asked while feeling myself becoming increasingly nervous.

Luna then spoke while constantly keeping that look on her face. "Does that mean you've 'touched' more than half of the mares in Ponyville?"

I was honestly tempted to yell when I heard that line. "What?! Luna, you know I'm not like that! I'm not some shallow fool who tries to… Oh, sure. Now you start laughing."

My friend was giggling like a little schoolgirl, her hoof covering her mouth. "I jest, I jest! I know you're not a skirt chaser. You're too timid to even consider such a thing." I merely rolled my eyes while letting out a grumble. I then went back to massaging Luna's flanks while being mindful to avoid the white crescent moons on the sides. Although while my eyes looked along the dark curves of her flanks… Uh… All right, best keep those thoughts to myself.

The rest of the massage did not take much longer. Once I finished with her hind legs, I jumped down from the massage table. "Finally, we're all done. How'd I do, Luna?"

I watched while my royal friend climbed to her feet. She groaned and yawned while flexing her wings and legs. "I feel…simply stellar! No wonder Celestia had such praise for your work. I should come by more often."

While Luna stretched to loosen herself up, I noticed the clock on the wall. "Dang, it's past 1 PM? Massaging you alicorns takes a long time! I better go get some lunch while I can."

Luna also glanced at the clock and seemed equally surprised. "Oh my, I'm so sorry if I kept you waiting! Um… I'll just go join my sister in the sauna. And thank you for this lovely massage. I shall make certain to stop by again soon."

"Well, I work here on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays if you need to know my schedule. And I'm glad you liked it." I replied before seeing my friend off. Once Luna had ducked into the sauna, I reached into the cabinet behind the massage tables and pulled out my clipboard. I flipped over to the next sheet of paper and took a pencil in hand that I always keep with it. I had quite a few names on the list and it was time to add two more.

"Luna and Nightmare Moon." I muttered while writing down their names. I put a check mark next to Luna's name while crossing an X next to Nightmare Moon's. "Not gonna be repeating that mistake again."

Before leaving for lunch, I decided I needed to take care of something first. Massaging Luna had left me…bothered and I did not want to be distracted by that for the next few hours. I placed the clipboard back inside the cabinet before reaching further in and pulling out my secret weapon. The latest edition of Playcolt. With magazine in hand, I let my employers know I would be taking a lunch break before ducking into the spa's restroom. And… Oh, who am I kidding? That information is too private to share. Regardless, once I had finished up in there, I returned my magazine to its hiding spot and left the spa to go grab a bite.

The walk to my destination was uneventful with me only occasionally waving and saying hello to passing ponies who know me. I did not notice anyone I know that well. Regardless, I reached my destination without a hitch. The local café. It seemed only mildly busy with a few tables occupied. But it was upon drawing closer that I noticed the waiter I always see ducking into the café itself before emerging with a polished wooden stool on his back.

"Hm?" I mumbled to myself while I drew near. Upon approaching the first empty table I came across, the waiter trotted over to it as well before sweeping one of the piles of hay set around them away and placing the stool down in its place. I was left wondering about this behavior before I realized it was possibly due to me being such a frequent customer. I dine at the café for lunch almost every workday. "Oh, thank you!"

The waiter bowed rather gracefully before also passing me a menu and walking over to another table that seemed to have a young couple ready to make an order. I then sat down on my stool and flipped open my menu. However, I did not get to look through it very long before I heard the sound of hooves clopping coming from somewhere behind me. I did not pay it much mind and dismissed them as those of a passing pedestrian. However, my vision suddenly became dark when someone covered them. I then heard a familiar voice speak up from right behind me, "Guess who!"

I knew the voice all too well, so I decided to respond in a more silly fashion than I normally do. "Lemme guess… Somepony with orange eyes, a lyre cutie mark, and an unusual interest in humans. And someone with strings in her heart."

This got a good chuckle out of who was behind me. She removed her hooves from my face and trotted up alongside me. "Bingo! How're you today, James?"

Sure enough, it was Lyra. I reached out and gently ran my fingers through her mane. "I'm doing OK. And sure, pull up a…uh…a stack of hay."

Lyra trotted over to the other side of the table and took a look at the pile of hay that was there as a seat. "Well, there is one good thing about having piles of hay for use as a seat." To my shock, she took a bite out of the pile and started munching on it. "If the stuff you ordered wasn't enough to fill you up, you can just top yourself off with a little of this!"

"Lyra, you don't know where that stuff has been! And who knows who was sitting there last!" I spoke up rather loudly while feeling rather disgusted at the thought of eating something that… Ugh, forget it. "You may as well be eating someone's underwear!"

That last quip got her to stop cold in her tracks. She then spat out every last golden stick of hay while seemingly gagging. "Ugh, you're right! Why did I never think of that?!"

I facepalmed while snickering under my breath. That was about as random as one can get. And I certainly did not expect to see that from Lyra. My friend took a seat on the rest of the pile while looking rather disgruntled. "You know, I see why you always use a stool instead of the hay. They need to swap these out for some real seats! We ponies eat hay, you know! I feel sorry for any kids who might get the idea to snack on this stuff."

"Heh, this coming from who only just now took a bite out of said hay?" I replied with a playful smirk.

"Well, it looked like a good idea at first!" Lyra groaned while looking a little green in the face. Well, greener than she normally does.

For a moment, we looked over our menus. However, Lyra eventually broke the silence. "Say, James? I know it's been a while, but I was hoping I could ask you some more questions. You know, about Earth?"

I felt myself tense up just slightly at those words. "About what exactly?"

Lyra paused for a moment to seemingly think her response over. "Well…uh… It's just that… I've noticed that you don't seem to have the best view of your people back where you come from. So… I guess I'd like to know more about why."

I know this is going to sound very bizarre, but I feel a very strong urge to write this despite what I am thinking of being virtually impossible. If you who is reading this happens to be a human from the planet known as Earth and have a positive or at least tolerant view on the state of Earth's human population, I highly recommend skipping the next…um…..thirty-eight paragraphs since it is very likely you will find my words to be highly offensive.

"I should warn you now… I don't have many good things to say about it. I'm not even sure of where to start." I spoke with a sigh, my head bowed.

"It's OK. Take your time. I know this isn't an easy subject for you to think about." Lyra spoke with a rather sympathetic gaze.

I took a deep breath to gather my composure while also trying to find a starting point. With so much to complain about, it was difficult to find a spot to start from. "Well… I guess I can start with… Well, you can't go wrong with anything involving war."

"Oh, that… Well… What can you tell me about that?" Lyra asked while looking noticeably worried.

I thought my words over carefully. Just thinking of such things was putting me in a sour mood. "It is no exaggeration that there have been countless wars on Earth over the centuries. I'm honestly surprised the human race has not gone extinct yet with how often they kill each other. Even now, there are likely wars raging somewhere in the world for rather pointless reasons. I sometimes wonder if these wars only exist because many humans just really find pleasure in watching others die."

Lyra was clearly unnerved by those words. "Finding pleasure in…death? What… I can't even…"

"I wish I was lying. Some men just want to watch the world burn. And what is more, deadly weapons, weapons of mass destruction, have been developed in recent decades capable of wiping out entire cities. And from what I understand, there are so many all over the world that there is enough of them to wipe out all life on the planet several times over. And they continue to develop more. Why do you suppose they do that when just using them will spell doom for the human race?" I continued on, wondering exactly how Lyra would take my words.

My friend was silent for a moment, her eyes glancing around showing she was trying to find a response. "Uh… Well… I…honestly can't see a possible reason behind it. No, there is no logical reason behind that. Why make enough of them to wipe out the entire world? That makes no sense. Does the human race really want to destroy itself?"

I let out a long sigh and shook my head slowly. "In all honesty… I do think humanity on Earth is suicidal with how obsessed with death, destruction, and war it has become. Even more so in recent years. It is the most dominant interest in virtually all forms of media. There are even books, video games, and films that delve into what the Earth would be like if all the weapons of mass destruction were used. A post-apocalyptic scenario. And the sad truth is…that will happen one day. Probably not within my lifetime, but it is very likely it will happen."

"It will? Are you certain? The human race isn't really THAT obsessed with destruction, is it?" Lyra asked while looking understandably baffled.

"Well… If it had been several years ago, I would have viewed that outcome as being possible, but not guaranteed. But now…I can honestly say it is all but assured that it will happen someday. There are nations out there that are even ruled by evil, corruption, and greed that possess such weapons. And the greatest powers in the world, those who actually do have the power to stamp out these wretched governments, consistently fail to do so and just stand by idly and let them amass more power and inflict more harm on their own people. They fail to understand that there are times when those who spread suffering must be destroyed instead of being negotiated with. Cowards. And that complacency will only spell trouble in the end. Mankind has placed the arrow in the bowstring. All they have to do now is let go."

I could feel my bitterness rising more and more as I spoke. It felt satisfying to let my frustration out, but it also left me feeling rather angry. "Oh, and it does not stop there. Not only is there corruption in many governments of the world. There are even organizations that thrive on evil acts. Organized crime. Can you imagine a world where life is cheaper than a single gold coin? That is how the world of organized crime works. Some even operate in broad daylight, and those in charge of the nations they operate in consistently fail to put in the resources necessary to wipe these evil organizations out. And the fact that there are people out there who actually want to join these organizations… It just makes my head hurt thinking about it. Just…why…"

I had to stop for a moment. My anger had left me feeling mildly disoriented. Lyra seemed to notice this and placed a hoof on my shoulder. "It's OK, James… You can take a break now, if you want."

I gently removed her hoof from my shoulder and set it on the table. "No, I can keep going. I need to get this out of me…"

I took a deep breath to calm myself and to try to find more to discuss. "OK, what next… I don't think I mentioned what the human race has done to other species of creatures in the world. I understand that humanity is the dominant force in the world, but does being the dominant race require you to view all other life forms as sources of wealth to the point of driving them to extinction? Have you ever seen a bay where dolphins are herded year after year for slaughter to the point where the sea turns red?"

Lyra had no words to say. Heaven forbid Fluttershy ever discovering what I had just said. "Entire races of animals have been wiped off the map. Either for food or just for wealth. Some even through the introduction of dangerous invasive species as a result of sheer stupidity or obliviousness. Even in the modern day, where governments are more aware of the plight of such animal species, some creatures have recently met with extinction as well. Whether or not this was due to simply being impossible to stop or being unwilling to put in enough effort and resources to get the job done, I don't know, but it proves that humanity's greed is stronger than ever. Actually, that alone sums up what is wrong with the world. It is a world where money is the most important thing, even more so than life. Because there, nothing can be done or acquired without it."

I was not expecting Lyra to offer any response. And she did not. That expression she was giving me… She was clearly unnerved by what I was telling her while also not wanting to interrupt. And so I continued. "In similar context to what I just told you, there is a rather absurd level of pollution being pumped out into the environment in various ways. Some nations are even infamous for how unchecked the pollution is. Toxic chemicals into the oceans, the ground, and even food sources at times, poisoning wildlife and even the people. And rather than put a stop to these factories that poison the world, they are allowed to continue operating in order to produce various products."

A moment of silence passed while my mind wandered. I was really not happy thinking of such terrible things about my world. It is even outright miserable for me to recall this moment to write it down. I just want to get this part over with.

I decided to wrap my complaining up with one last bit. "I really don't want to keep talking about this, so I'll make this the last part. Where I come from… The nation I hail from, it is regarded by many as the most powerful and prosperous nation on the planet. Land of the free and home of the brave, as they say. A big melting pot of different cultures. But do you know where it all started?"

"I'm honestly afraid to ask…" Lyra replied while looking noticeably uneasy.

I sighed deeply before continuing. "The natives of my home were people who respected nature on a level few have ever done. They practically worshipped the land they lived in and respected all life. True, they did hunt, but only for what they needed. And they made certain not a scrap of their prey was ever wasted. From the flesh to the bone, everything was put to good use. I dare say they may have been the overall most peaceful race of humans in the world. If they did wage war with other tribes, they were likely few and far between. And I am honestly proud to say that I do carry some of their blood in me." I then looked towards Lyra and managed to crack a smile. "If they ever met you, they would probably view you as a spirit and revere you."

This coaxed a flattered grin from my friend. "Huh? Revere me? I'm not that special…"

"Well, that's how they viewed things. They honored and respected the wildlife of the land and were grateful for the creatures whose bodies sustained them. They only hunted when they needed to, never for sport or excess." I spoke with another sigh escaping my lips.

"So…what happened to them? Are they still around?" Lyra asked, apparently noticing that my smile had faded.

"Well… Yes, they are still around. But only on small reservations. Bottom line… The majority of my nation is run by the descendants of the people who came from overseas and…overran the place. The natives tried to be diplomatic from what I understand, but the invaders dishonorably forced the natives to fight in order to keep their lands. And in the end, the natives were slaughtered to the point of surrendering and being forced onto much smaller reservations provided for them that greatly harmed their ways of life. And the entire nation today is built upon the corpses of the good people who once honored and cherished the land while most continue to desecrate it with urban sprawl, pollution and senseless littering, and so forth while apparently just trying to forget what came before. That is the nation from where I came from."

Lyra was silent. She was clearly trying to find something while struggling to comprehend such things. I could tell that Equestria is not a land that has ever witnessed such wretched sin. Finally, she looked my way and asked, "Well… What about you? You're human too, so does that mean you're just as bad?"

I was not surprised she said that. I sighed while placing my face in my hands. "I just don't know anymore. Am I a selfish monster? Am I a good person? I just don't know what to think of myself. I just…don't know…"

A moment of silence passed before I felt someone wrap their arms around before I heard Lyra's voice speak to me. "No. You're not a monster, James. I know this because I've known you for almost a year now." I looked at her, seeing Lyra giving me a compassionate smile. "You actually do try to make the right decision whenever you can. You genuinely care about people. I don't blame you for feeling so frustrated and bitter about the world you came from. I would be too if I knew about so many terrible things happening all the time."

I did not speak. I could only wrap my arms around her in a halfhearted manner. She then asked, "James… Do you hate the humans of your world?"

A question I was actually expecting. Without letting go of her, I found the words I wanted to speak. "As much as I probably have every right to… I don't. If anything, I'm just…gravely disappointed in the human race of Earth. So much potential and they constantly squander it year after year. Rather than help the world… Ugh, just forget it. Thinking about this makes my heart ache."

"But…there are good humans there too, aren't there?" Lyra asked while nuzzling my cheek to seemingly calm me.

"Yes… There are a lot of good humans too. Just not enough of them to really influence the world into following the right path. And I feel so sorry for them having to live in a world where so much of the human population care only about hate, war, violence, and satisfying their own selfish interests at the expense of others. They deserve better… I don't hate humans. I am just disgusted with what humanity has come to represent on Earth." I retorted with a long sigh. "Good people have done many things to try to open the world's eyes. Written novels pointing out the evils of prejudice, made films that condemn war and promote peace, and some even being willing to sacrifice their lives to make a difference. And these efforts constantly fall flat and are wasted. The state of the world today is proof of that."

"It's no wonder you feel so much happier here in Equestria. I know this isn't a perfect world, but from what you've told me, it is thousands of times better than Earth. I hope you never have to go back." Lyra spoke softly while resting her head on my shoulder. I am glad she was taking my words as well as she was. I did not want her to hate humans, but she had the right to know about all that was wrong with my world. There was so much more I could have said, so much more I could have brought to light. But I chose not to. I was too emotionally drained and frustrated to care enough to say more.

Lyra then asked with a much more sympathetic frown, "But… Now that I think about it… How do good people get by when so many awful things happen on Earth, even if they never see it?"

"Same way I coped with it, I guess. Just try not to think about it. Sometimes the only way to cope is to push it out of your mind and preoccupy yourself with something else." I replied rather coldly, feeling the bitterness setting into my heart. If I did not do something soon, I was going to end of feeling like that all day. I needed to end that conversation right there.

"Lyra… I have a favor to ask. Please don't ask me anymore questions about the world I came from. Thinking about all that happens there just… It leaves me feeling bitter and I do not enjoy feeling like this." I asked while holding onto her gently.

Lyra lifted her head and looked at me with a smile before nodding. "I promise. I can see just how unhappy thinking about that place makes you. I've heard enough." She then placed her hoof on my shoulder and nuzzled my cheek. "Whatever happens there does not matter now, James. You're here in Equestria now, not on Earth. Focus on what happens in this world and not that one. Sound like a good idea?"

I felt my lips curl upward into a smile at her words. "Yeah… Good idea." Thank god that is over with. Just thinking back on that moment left me feeling drained. I never want to have to write about something that emotionally taxing ever again.

Not even thirty seconds later, the waiter approached us once more. I asked for my favorite pasta dish and a side of grilled carrots and a house salad with sesame ginger dressing. With today being the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Equestria, I felt it was acceptable to indulge a bit. Lyra ordered the same pasta too, but without the shrimp and scallops and also with a side of grilled asparagus.

I fell silent for a moment, still feeling somewhat bitter from everything I had just spoken of. Lyra seemed to notice this and spoke up to lighten the mood. "So… Uh… How have things been with you and Fluttershy? You haven't been fighting, have you?"

"No, not at all. Neither of us are really the fighting type." I replied briefly while just lazily looking around. The day was quiet. Perhaps too quiet. "Ugh… They should get some music playing out here. The day feels too lazy without it."

Lyra cracked a smile and nodded. "Yeah, summer days tend to be like that. Maybe they could hire Octavia for a little solo work here."

"I don't know if a lone cello player would be enough in terms of variety, Lyra. They would have to hire a whole band." I retorted while just trying to focus on having an enjoyable experience with my friend.

Fortunately, the waiter did not take long to return with our orders. And if there is one thing I can tell you about fine dining, there is nothing like a flavorful hot meal to lift your spirits. Along with the food we had ordered, there were two tall bottles of sarsaparilla with the caps removed and the pasta had been topped with partially melted strips of shaved parmesan cheese. I could tell by that hungry look in Lyra's eyes that she was very pleased with the food laying before her. "Mm, I can see why you like this dish so much, James. Shall we dig in?"

I felt my spirits lift slightly while I took a fork in hand. "By all means."

We spoke little while we ate. I in particular was not in the mood for conversation and really just wanted to do what I had to in order to get myself back into a good mood. The pasta was delicious and rich with flavor while the carrots went well with the side of barbeque sauce that came with it. The salad was crisp and satisfying and the dressing was tasty and even healthy. I can tell you right now that no one likes limp flimsy lettuce. It always has to have a crunch to it.

Needless to say, our meal was very satisfying and we enjoyed every bite. I felt exceptionally satisfied and full. I was tempted to go home and take a nap, but knew I could not since I had to get back to work in a short while. "Well, that gave my mood a boost. You think we're all done here, Lyra?"

My friend glanced at me before letting out a belch. "Oops… I guess that means 'yes'. Sorry!"

"It's cool, Lyra. But I should be getting back to work really soon." I replied while reaching out and gently running my fingers through her mane.

Lyra cracked a smile and sighed while I dragged my fingertips against her scalp. However, she soon then left her seat and gave me a tender embrace. "It was good talking to you, James. Also… Don't worry about where you came from anymore. Focus on where you are now. Equestria is your home. All right?"

I returned Lyra's affection by wrapping my arms around her. "I will, Lyra… Thanks. Just remember though. Don't ask me anymore questions on that."

"Oh, no worries! I think my curiosity has been completely satisfied!" Lyra retorted with an awkward grin. Not wanting to get in trouble for returning to my post too late, I said my goodbyes to Lyra and placed a handful of bits on the table. We waved farewell before trotting away while I turned and hurried back to the spa at a brisk pace.

My return to the spa was uninterrupted. Once I stepped through the door, I found Luna and Nightmare Moon apparently discussing something with Lotus at the front desk. Before I could even speak, Nightmare Moon glanced my way. "Ah, just who we were hoping to see."

"You ladies enjoy your visit?" I asked while drawing near. I was glad I got back in time to see them off.

"Oh, very much so! We practically took a full tour of the spa. Excellent service and superb treatments. We should come by more often!" Luna retorted with a broad grin. She certainly did seem quite relaxed at that moment.

"Yeah, you do seem really calm now. What was your favorite part of the tour though? The sauna? The hot tub?" I asked in return out of sheer curiosity.

Nightmare Moon and Luna glanced at each other before smirking whimsically. The Princess of Dreams then directed her gaze towards me and spoke, "The massage, of course. It is no wonder so many refer to you as the 'man with the magic fingers' back in Canterlot."

The mention of Canterlot caught me by surprise. "Canterlot? But I don't… Oh, wait. I have massaged a few of Rarity's clients during their visits. Almost forgot."

Luna then approached me and held me in a tender embrace. "It was splendid to see you again, dear friend. We must depart for now, but we will be seeing you again quite soon."

"I hope so. I don't get to see you beauties often enough." I retorted while prompting a delighted giggle from the two sisters of the night. The three of us said our goodbyes before Luna and Nightmare Moon headed out the door. I wonder what else they had to deal with in town.

After passing a brief greeting to Lotus, I returned to my post. It seemed that Bon Bon had finished up her visit in my absence seeing as how the main chamber was empty. With nothing else to do, I decided to make certain all of the stations were stocked. Aloe was already on that and finished restocking the supplies that were starting to get low. So I returned to my post at the massage tables and snatched up a magazine to pass the time.

Before long, I was greeted by a familiar voice right in front of me. "Hello, darling! Did we catch you at a bad time?"

I lowered my magazine to see who was standing before me and found Fluttershy and Rarity standing before me. "Oh, hey! Should've known I would see you two!" I dropped to my knees and gave those two beautiful mares a hug, wrapping an arm around each neck while they too returned my affections.

"I did say we would be coming in today. Did you forget?" Fluttershy asked while I felt her nuzzle my cheek.

"Um… Maybe?" I retorted while feeling rather sheepish. I suppose I had forgotten while I was tending to Luna and Nightmare Moon. Usually on days they attend, Fluttershy and Rarity are my first customers.

"That's quite all right, darling. All that matters is that we're here now." Rarity spoke softly while she and Fluttershy planted a kiss on my cheeks. I could not help returning the affection and placed a kiss on their snouts. Both of those lovely mares winced and giggled just slightly before Rarity turned to face Aloe, who had her back turned to us. "Aloe! The usual!"

"Sauna first, then hot tub, then massage, and then the rest?" Fluttershy asked while glancing around the spa.

"Sounds good to me. It would probably be best if you save the facials for after the massage. I wouldn't want to gunk up my hands with that green…whatever that stuff is."

"Oh, yes… That is certainly meant for the face and not the hands… Very well! Sauna first!" Rarity replied in agreement before she and Fluttershy trotted over into the sauna where Aloe was already waiting for them. A moment later, I heard a familiar hiss as some steam escaped through the entrance.

I was too far away to make out anything that the two ladies were discussing, though I suspected it had something to do with a Canterlot celebrity. One thing I have noticed is that whenever Rarity and Fluttershy are out having a good time, it is normally Rarity who does most of the talking while Fluttershy mostly just listens. I can certainly relate to my girlfriend on that.

They were in there for a good long while. Probably close to fifteen minutes. Eventually though, they did emerge and went straight to the hot tub. Aloe seemed to head off in a different direction, probably to prepare the facial station. "Ah, my pores are just screaming now! Ready for a little dip, Fluttershy?"

I swear I could see glistening moisture lining their coats. They were quite a sight to see, especially when the light hit them just right. "Ooh, I'm ready. The steam is nice, but there's nothing like a soak in bubbling hot water." Fluttershy added while following her friend up the steps to the hot tub's poolside. Very slowly, they stepped in before dunking their heads under the surface and lifting them once more. Their manes were completely wetted down with Rarity's curls being completely absent. In fact, when it is wet, Rarity's mane bears an uncanny resemblance to Fluttershy's.

"Whoa… Hey, could you girls come over here for a second?" I spoke up while motioning with my hand for them to approach me.

"Hm? Is something wrong?" Fluttershy asked while she and Rarity crawled over to me at the edge of the tub.

"Be still for a minute." I spoke softly while reaching my hands into the tub and reaching down with my fingers touching their manes. "Huh… Your manes are pretty much identical in length. I never would've guessed your hair was as long as Fluttershy's, Rarity. I guess it just always looks shorter because you keep it curled up."

The two mares glanced at each other with puzzled expressions before reaching down with a foreleg and lifting one side of their manes above the water's surface. "Wow. Our manes really are just as long as the other." Fluttershy spoke softly while looking over her lovely pink mane and Rarity's beautiful indigo hair.

Rarity seemed to grin brightly for a second before commenting on them herself. "Well, I have been growing my hair out for as long as I can remember. The longer one's mane and tail are, the more impressively you can style them."

I was hardly surprised by Rarity's views on it. "Very true there. I also have to say I think long hair really draws more attention than shorter hairstyles."

The two lovely mares before me glanced over at me before looking at each other. The two of them then gave each other a playful smirk before turning their gazes towards me. Fluttershy then asked, "So, you like long hair on mares?"

I saw no need to hide my opinion. "Yeah, I do. Why?"

Rarity then flashed me a smirk and reached her arms around me while Fluttershy did the same from the other side. "Well, why don't you come in here and join us?"

Immediately after they said that, the two mares began to lift and tug at me in an attempt to pull me into the hot tub over the side. Needless to say, I was not very keen on the idea of getting in there myself. "Whoa, girls! Quit it! I don't have any dry clothes here!"

While my hands gripped the sides of the tub to try to keep myself out, Fluttershy also started speaking to me with a much sneakier tone of voice than usual. "We'll just use a hairdryer to fix that."

Before this little stunt could go on for much longer, a familiar voice spoke from not very far away with a very strong accent. "Miss Rarity, Miss Fluttershy, what are you doing to James?"

All three of us froze and turned our heads to look in the direction I was facing. At the far end of the room past the side of the hot tub was Aloe. And that look she was giving us… Well, she was clearly baffled by exactly what we were doing. I glanced at Rarity and Fluttershy as we all began to show awkward grimaces on our faces while beginning to snicker. Finally, they released their grips on me while we all burst into raucous laughter as I staggered back and dropped down to one of the massage tables for support. Aloe then just rolled her eyes and trotted out of sight.

"Ooooh, that was such an awkward moment. So sorry about that, darling. You know how friends tend to just let themselves go when they're together." Rarity spoke after managing to calm herself down a bit.

"Especially when we have the entire place to ourselves." Fluttershy added while brushing her very long mane out of the way of her eyes. And she was right. With the exception of Aloe running around checking on our beauty supplies and Lotus standing at front desk in the lobby, the spa was completely empty save for us.

I stood up and brought myself back to the edge of the tub before dunking my hands into the bubbling water again. "Well, you ladies certainly are a heck of a lot cheekier than I've ever seen you get. Especially you, Fluttershy."

My beloved girlfriend grinned brightly at me. "Well, I guess I'm just so loosened up because nopony is looking and that I'm with my best friend."

I could not help smirking as a retort came to mind. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Ponyville's two loveliest mares are the best of friends. You both are extremely high on the beauty meter."

Rarity giggled loudly and covered her mouth while Fluttershy grinned sheepishly. "Oh, darling, you flatter us!"

"Nothing wrong with being honest, right?" I asked in return while reaching out and gently caressing their beautiful soaked manes.

Rarity retorted with a sly smirk. "Are you sure you're just not being a little cheeky yourself, James?"

I looked at her for a moment while Fluttershy seemed to back away slightly. I felt my cheeky side coming out upon hearing those words. "Cheeky? You mean like this?" With a sweep of my hand, I sent a small wave of the water rolling into Rarity's face.

The refined unicorn mare coughed and shook her head to get the water out of her face before looking at me with a very mischievous grin. "Oh, it is ON! Fluttershy, would you be a dear and give me a little assistance?"

I did not like that look in my girlfriend's eye. "Oh, absolutely. Ready?"

I got a bad feeling in my gut as they brought the forelegs they had facing each other to the surface of the bubbling pool of water. "Girls… I don't think that's a… Hey!" I jumped out of the way just as they both swung their legs forward, creating a much bigger wave than I did and sending it rolling over the side of the pool and hitting the floor with a splash.

Needless to say, it was hard to not hear that splash. Aloe came running over in an instant and saw the large puddle on the floor between the hot tub and massage tables. She instantly looked at me with a glare of irritation that I had never seen on her before. "James, you shouldn't tease the customers! Go get the mop in the closet." She then pointed her hoof towards a door in the wall nearby.

I seriously felt like I had made a big mistake and silently acknowledged her command. I went over to the closet and opened it to find numerous tools that you would likely find in a janitor's closet. Since I'm usually the first one out of the spa at closing time, I have never had to access the closet before today. I found the mop propped up against the corner right away, although it was noticeably smaller than any I had used before.

Not wanting to risk upsetting Aloe further, I grabbed the mop and hurried back over to the puddle that was on the floor. I suppose Aloe had faith that I would do the job properly since she left the spot once I started. The green dried mop head quickly turned dark with moisture as it soaked up the liquid. It was not terribly soaked, so I suppose there was no need to fetch a bucket. I set it down near one of the spa's windows to let the sunlight speed up the drying process. However, while I was there, I swear I noticed someone walk out of sight in the distance. "Was that…Shining Armor and Cadence?" Of course, since I was on duty at the time, I could not go check. So I instead went back over to the hot tub.

Before I even reached the two lovely mares soaking in the tub, I noticed just how uneasy their expressions were. Fluttershy spoke first with a very quiet tone. "I… We're sorry. We didn't mean to get you in trouble."

"It's OK. I made the first splash. Let's just try to keep things mellow for now." I replied while caressing my girlfriend's head, my fingers delicately tracing over her ear.

"But it was us who started the whole thing. Can you ever forgive us, darling?" Rarity asked while her beautiful azure eyes pleaded with me.

I suppose it was then that I felt the need to ask. "Come to think of it, why are you two so wound up today? I mean I know you two are best friends and that there's nopony around to cramp your style, but is that all?"

Fluttershy and Rarity looked at each other for a brief moment before nodding. Rarity then looked at me and spoke softly, "Well… Friends tend to do silly things when they are together. But…I suppose ponies tend to be even sillier…when they are in love."

That again… I felt my body temperature instantly rise at those words. Fluttershy then spoke softly with a noticeable pink hue in her cheeks. "We love you, James. And…I guess we just can't help having fun when we're with you like this."

After a moment of averting my eyes and trying to find the right words to reply with, I finally bowed my head and let out a chuckle. "You girls… Come here." I then held my arms out to them. Bright grins soon adorned their faces as the two mares moved forward and threw their arms around me for a tender embrace while I did the same with mine.

For a time, there were no words spoken. I was just holding those two endearing ladies in my arms while they did the same. My beloved Fluttershy and my dearest friend Rarity. "You girls have done a lot for me over the last year. Thanks."

Fluttershy spoke first, her whispers flowing into my ear. "I'm glad we met you, honey. You've been a great friend to all of us."

"Whatever flaws you may have, they are irrelevant to your strengths. It has always been a pleasure having you with us, darling." Rarity added while placing a soft kiss on my cheek.

"Thanks… Come to think of it, who wants to be massaged first?" I retorted, our grasps on each other loosening.

Fluttershy spoke first. "I wouldn't mind soaking for a while longer. Why not let Rarity go first?"

"Many thanks, Fluttershy! Just give me a moment and I'll be right there." Rarity replied before slowly making her way to the far end of the tub and hoisting herself out of it. And much like with Luna and Nightmare Moon, my eyes were glued to that lusciously long mane and tail being weighed down with water. Just as she was beginning to levitate a towel over to herself to wrap her mane up, that lovely unicorn mare noticed my gaze. While she initially looked baffled, that expression changed into one that was much more whimsical. "Oh my, don't you know it's rude to stare?"

Before I could even offer a retort, Fluttershy let out a giggle while glancing at me out of the corner of her eye. "I'm not surprised, Rarity. He loves long manes on mares."

Rarity then gave me a rather mischievous smirk before speaking, "In that case, what about long tails, darling?" With a sway of her hips, Rarity swished her long wet indigo tail through the air.

This was more than I could handle. I called out rather loudly, "Rarity, please! Someone might be watching!" I can only imagine what Aloe and Lotus were thinking if they were hearing everything we said.

My two companions snickered and laughed together while I tried to avert my eyes. As hot as Rarity is, it felt wrong to ogle her outside the privacy of her home. Even if there were no bystanders to notice us. Once Rarity had her mane wrapped up in a towel, she trotted down the steps next to the hot tub and right by me. "So sorry if I was going too far, James. It's just that you are so much fun to tease!"

"Gee, thanks. That makes me feel special." I replied with a mildly annoyed scowl. As much as I adore her, that was still an awkward experience.

Without missing a beat, Rarity hopped up onto the nearest massage table and turned around to face the hot tub. "I'm all yours, darling. The usual."

"As you wish, m'lady." I replied while climbing atop the massage table. I could have checked the list of clients I have had to see whether or not her cutie marks are sensitive to touch, but I have massaged her and Fluttershy often enough to know by heart.

The first half of the massage went by like clockwork, Rarity remaining still and silent while my fingers went to work on her joints. But when I turned around to massage her flanks, I was in for quite a surprise. My hands grasped and kneaded her shapely hips, but when I started to massage the spaces between the blue diamonds that made up her cutie marks, her hips shifted slightly. This caused my fingertips to press into one of the blue diamonds. Only instead of a shocked gasp, I heard a long sigh escape Rarity's lips.

"Uh… Sorry about that, Rarity. I'll be more careful." I spoke without even looking back at her. I was feeling fairly nervous by then, but felt nothing but bewilderment when her hips shifted again, causing my fingertips to once again prod her cutie marks. "Rarity, what gives? Are you forcing me to touch you there?"

I looked back at Rarity while she turned her head to look at me. Further ahead, Fluttershy was covering her mouth while seemingly trying to not laugh. My elegant unicorn friend then gave me a rather alluring smirk. "Whatever do you mean, darling? Oh, you mean when I do this?" While we were talking, my hands were still resting on her flanks. And at those words, she shifted her hips again and sighed as my fingertips dug deeper into those blue diamonds.

By then, I was becoming both worried and annoyed. "OK, what are you up to? I know you adore me and I certainly adore you as well, but I don't think I've ever seen you this…frisky before."

Rarity seemed to suppress a snicker while she turned her gaze towards Fluttershy. "I don't think he can tell, darling. Should we tell him?"

"Tell me what?" I asked, starting to feel rather nervous of what my friend was getting at.

Fluttershy also seemed to be on the verge of laughing while she looked at me. "What she means is… I don't think you can smell it."

I tilted my head to one side in bewilderment. Smell it? Smell what, exactly? "Huh? Smell it? Hang on a sec." I then turned around and grabbed Rarity's tail before lifting it to my face, prompting a yelp of surprise from her. I inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of whatever it was Fluttershy was referring to. However, all I noticed was the faint aroma of some perfume. I then released my grasp on her and looked back at my girlfriend. "What, the smell of perfume? She always smells like that."

The two mares burst into laughter and snickering at my apparent obliviousness. I watched in silence, more curious than annoyed by that point. Finally, Rarity looked back at me and explained rather vaguely. "Not that smell, darling! I mean… It's that time of the year again."

"Time of the year? What do you… Wait…" I felt myself become hot as my mind started to decipher exactly what it was she was referring to. "You mean… In heat?"

Rarity flashed me an unnervingly alluring gaze at those words. "Right on the money."

"OK, that's more than I needed to know! I don't want to get any ideas in my head!" I spoke rather loudly while trying to not think about what such a state entails. "Wait a second. Are you in heat too, Fluttershy?"

My girlfriend shook her head lightly and replied, "No, not yet. We don't all go into heat at the same time. I think I'm not due to enter my heat cycle for another couple of week."

"Ooh, better make sure you use some contraception when that time comes, darlings… Oh, wait. You can't because it wouldn't fit, am I right?" Rarity retorted while smirking at me. And I instantly knew what she was referring to.

"What the…?! Fluttershy, you told her?!" I winced while I felt my face becoming quite hot as I remembered when… Actually, forget it! That is one event I am not going to reveal! Although my girlfriend and Rarity were clearly getting a good laugh out of my embarrassment. I pray Aloe and Lotus were not looking our way.

When they finally stopped laughing, Rarity looked at me with a more endearing gaze than before. "Don't you worry yourself over that, James. Size isn't everything, you know. It's all about how much love you can give your partner. Isn't that right, Fluttershy?"

Fluttershy nodded with a great smile spread across her lips. "Oh, most definitely. And he always gives so much love."

"Honey, stop. You're flattering me." I spoke briskly while an awkward smirk spread across my face. What an interesting visit this was turning out to be.

Once I had convinced Rarity to be still for the remainder of the massage, I went ahead with the procedure. Rarity was as still as stone for the rest of the massage. Once I had finished up, I hopped down from the table. "There we go. Feel better, Rarity?"

Like every time before, Rarity jumped down from the massage table and began to stretch and flex her body to make certain I got out all the kinks. Although I swear that this time she was deliberately doing so in a way that kept giving me a good view of her posterior… Of course, I was not complaining, but it was still about as awkward as the situation could possibly get. "Mmmm, splendid as always! A full year and I still have not become even remotely tired of this treatment!"

"And I never get tired of giving it to you. It's always good to see you girls in here every week. You make for some great company." I replied while gently removing the towel that was wrapped around her head. Once her mane was left unrestrained, it gently fell back into its natural curled state. My guess is that she keeps it that way so often that her hair has come to recognize it as its natural shape.

"I guess it's my turn now. I'll be right down." Fluttershy spoke while Rarity and I looked her way. And much like Rarity, when she lifted herself from the hot tub, my eyes were glued to her soaked body.

"Ooh, darling! Spread your wings for your beloved!" Rarity called out while she too watched in earnest.

"Huh? You mean like this?" Fluttershy replied before doing as she was told, spreading her soaked wings for us to see. She… Well, I was quite taken aback by her raw beauty. Truly every bit as gorgeous as Rarity.

"Ah, perfect! Don't those wings just add such a healthy dose of grace to her, James?" Rarity asked while motioning towards my beautiful girlfriend. Fluttershy was clearly blushing with a pinkish hue in her cheeks, though it was difficult to see it from behind her mane.

"Well… I do have to say that wings do give ponies a more graceful visage, if you ask me." I retorted while Fluttershy wrapped her very long mane in a towel. I felt myself relax slightly once that luscious hair was out of sight.

While she trotted down the steps next to the hot tub, Fluttershy turned her gaze towards us before approaching. "I do think you have an affinity for anything with wings, honey. It's no wonder you chose Angela to be your pet. And… Maybe that's why Rainbow Dash really likes you?

"Meh, you never know. Anyway, shall I get started on you?" I replied while motioning for Fluttershy to take her place on the nearest massage table.

Once Fluttershy had situated herself on one of the massage tables, I proceeded to climb atop it too before straddling her. While I did so, Rarity hung up her towel and began to head towards the lobby. "While you two lovebirds are busy, I'll be waiting in the lobby. Take your time, darlings."

"Will do. I'll try to not keep her for too long." I replied while my fingers gently dug into the back of Fluttershy's neck.

For a good while, Fluttershy and I did not speak. But once I was halfway through massaging her vertebrae, I felt the need to ask her something. "Hey, honey? Are you sure you don't mind it when Rarity gets extra cuddly with me?"

My girlfriend looked at me over her shoulder and gave me a calm smile. "Of course I don't mind. I think it's really cute when she acts like that around you. Besides, what can I do? Tell her to stop loving you?"

"Cute, huh? Well, she certainly has quite an allure." I retorted while glancing over at the doorway that leads out into the lobby. "But are you sure you aren't worried I might cheat on you? Or that she might try to seduce me?"

Fluttershy's smile became more reassuring while she spoke to me. "Oh, don't worry, James. She and I had a long talk and I know there's no way she would ever do that. She loves you with all her heart, but she would never be so cruel to take you from me. She's my best friend, after all. And I know you won't ever cheat on me with anypony. You're heart is too big to do that."

I felt myself calm somewhat as I became relieved that she did not doubt me. I would never abandon the woman I am sworn to. Such a thing is below me. "I'm glad you understand that, honey. I do love her, but I love you most."

The rest of the massage was uneventful, although I did mess with Fluttershy a few times by gently poking her cutie marks. Finally, I hopped down from the table and began to massage her wings. By then, they had completely dried. "Just be still for a bit, honey."

Fluttershy sighed in relaxation while she extended her left wing to me. While I started on one of the joints, she tried to make for some simple conversation. "Who else came in for massages today, dear?"

"Well, aside from you and Rarity, there was also Luna and Nightmare Moon. I think the last time I took that long to massage one pony was when Celestia came to the spa back on my birthday." I replied while making certain to get to the joint from every angle I could reach.

"Oh, I saw they today too. It was really interesting to see both of the princesses of the night out and about together." Fluttershy spoke while directing her gaze to me.

"Actually, Luna is the Princess of the Night. Nightmare Moon is the Princess of Dreams. They told me that themselves." I retorted while moving onto the next joint.

My girlfriend seemed to blush ever so slightly at my explanation. "Oh, right… I keep forgetting that since they're kind of the same person. Or they used to be, at least."

After another ten minutes or so, I finally finished with Fluttershy's wings and helped her hop down from the table. "All done. Did I get everything?"

Fluttershy groaned and yawned while flexing her wings and body. While she did so, I removed the towel from around her mane and let it fall free. "Ooh, that really hit the spot. I never get tired of these massages, honey… Hm? Is that Applejack I hear?"

I became silent for a moment to listen for whatever it was Fluttershy had detected. As it turned out, she was right. I could vaguely make out her voice apparently speaking to Rarity in the lobby. When Fluttershy and I made our way over to the doorway that led out towards the front door, we did indeed see Applejack chatting with Rarity. The instant she saw me, Applejack turned my way and waved. "Well, howdy! I was wonderin' when I was gonna see ya today!"

"Hey there, AJ. What's happening?" I retorted while waving at her. It is not often that I do not encounter Applejack for the first time that late in the day.

"Oh, I was swingin' by ta pass a lil' message from Pinkie Pie. She wants to see Rarity and Fluttershy at her place pretty soon." Applejack explained before looking towards Fluttershy. "Y'all wanna head on over?"

Rarity replied while closing a magazine she had been reading. "Well, I do believe we are quite done here. Shall we be off, Fluttershy?"

My girlfriend nodded before leaning towards me and nuzzling my hand. I replied in kind by gently stroking her mane. "It was great to see you, honey. I'll see you again in a little while."

"It was a pleasure seeing you ladies. Take care." I replied while seeing my friends off. All three of them trotted out the door while I returned to my post.

However, not even ten minutes passed before Lotus came trotting in and over to me. "Mr. James, you can head on home if you want."

"Really? It's a bit early for that, isn't it?" I asked while glancing at the clock on the wall. From what I could see, I was getting out an hour early. I normally punch out at 6 PM.

"Well, normally. But Miss Pinkie Pie wanted to see you at this time. I don't think we'll be getting much more business before closing time, so you can go see her now if you don't mind clocking out early." Lotus explained in that very thick accent of hers.

By that point, I was starting to put two and two together. Considering what day it is out of the entire year, I could see why Pinkie wanted to see me. "She does, huh? Well, thanks. I'll get going then. See you soon, Lotus." I then said my goodbyes and headed on out. I knew what to expect when I arrived at Sugarcube Corner.

While I walked through town, I felt a rush of nostalgia as I was struck with a case of déjà vu. The warm summer breeze, the hissing of cicadas, the noticeable lack of activity around me. It was a second coming of my very first evening in Ponyville. While I trekked on, I reflected on what this town had come to mean to me over the last year.

As I glanced around at the humble town, I felt a smirk creep across my face. I remember feeling so apprehensive and even afraid when I first walked into town. Looking back on it now, I even felt tempted to laugh. I must have seemed like someone who was desperately trying to hide something. I never had anything to fear at all from this town and its people. And now, I honestly cannot imagine myself living anywhere else. "If only other worlds were more like this one…"

I hurried along to Sugarcube Corner, finding nothing out of the ordinary upon arrival. However, I did find one thing a bit off. On the door was a sign that read 'Closed for private party'.

"Peh, you're losing your touch if I can predict what's happening behind this door, Pinkie Pie." I spoke to myself while pushing the door in. However, I froze upon seeing what was on the other side. On the floor while facing me were three antique cannons. And they seemed to be loaded. "Holy… Don't shoot!"

Unfortunately, they did go off. But instead of being bombarded by three heavy cannonballs, I was showered with streams of confetti. I then heard the sound of three little girls shout, "Cutie Mark Crusaders Party Cannon Operators!"

Once I had allowed myself to calm down a bit, I noticed that Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo were standing with the hooves on their forelegs pressing down on the backsides of each cannon. I felt a grimace spread across my face as I asked, "Did Pinkie Pie put you girls up to this?"

The three fillies looked at each other before bursting into laughter. Apple Bloom then replied, "She sure did! And looks like we surprised ya after all!"

"And here I thought that goofball was running out of ways to surprise me." I spoke with an amused smirk. I then kneeled next to the three fillies and caught them up in a group hug. "Anyway, what brings you girls over here?"

Sweetie Belle then motioned her foreleg towards more of the storefront. "See for yourself!"

I then took a good look at my surroundings. The entire storefront had been decked out for a party. Normally, I only see such a high volume of decorations and sweet treats used for royal visits. "With all this, you'd think one of the princesses would be visiting."

"Well, we are." A familiar voice spoke from behind me. The instant I turned, I found Luna standing beside me. The beautiful alicorn then flashed me a delighted grin. "I did say I would be seeing you again soon, didn't I?"

"I guess you did. I just didn't expect it to be within the same day." I replied before releasing my grasp on my three little friends and holding Luna in a tender embrace while she returned the favor.

Scootaloo then spoke up, "Oh, right! Nightmare Moon's upstairs. And so is… Heads up, big brother!" Right when she said that, I felt something small jump onto my back while grasping my shirt collar.

"Yaaah! Look alive, Sir James! The forces of evil are upon us!" A familiar boyish voice spoke from just behind my head while rocking me back and forth.

"Who is this little imp?" Luna asked while I was jerked away from her. Of course, I knew who it was.

"Button, what's up?! Get off me, you little scamp!" I spoke up before reaching behind me and grabbing whoever was riding me like an ogre. When I pulled my hands back in front of me, I found none other than Button Mash hanging from my grasp.

The two of us shared an awkward grin for a moment before he briefly spoke, "Hi, James. What's happening?"

I nearly snickered under my breath before turning my gaze towards Luna. "I know this party is to celebrate the anniversary of my arrival in Ponyville, but just who exactly is invited?"

"From what Pinkie Pie told me, everypony who is your friend." Luna explained with a calm smile. "And quite a few guests have already shown up. And it seems one more has arrived." Her gaze was turned towards someone who apparently was standing right behind me.

Before I could even turn to face who Luna was looking at, a familiar heartwarmingly motherly voice spoke. "Button, don't give James too much trouble. This is his party, you know."

"I'm not, Mom! I'm just saying hi to the coolest gamer in town!" Button Mash replied while waving at the owner of the voice. When I turned to see who it was, I found Eleina standing just inside the doorway.

"Heya, Eleina! Don't worry about Button. He's being cool." I replied before tussling the cute little colt's mane. Although I had to lift his beanie first. "You here for the party too?"

Eleina flashed me that beautiful alluring smile I always see on her and explained, "Well, you've been a good friend to Button since the day we met you. So it felt right to let him attend. Though may I stay too?"

"Of course! It's a pleasure having you here." I replied while reaching out and holding the sweet mother mare in my arm. I heard an adorable giggle deep in her throat while she too threw a foreleg around me.

Once the two of us had released our grasp on each other, I set Button Mash down next to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. "OK, Button. You and the kids have fun now."

Button Mash grinned up at me before turning to face the three fillies beside him. "OK, girls! Who wants to play? I brought my Joyboy!" The three girls started speaking all at once, making it difficult for me to make out what they were saying. I then noticed Button lift his beanie before pulling a very familiar electronic device out of it. Was that the same device I saw Ruby with on the day I met Trixie? Regardless, the four children trotted off to the far end of the storefront to have some fun together.

"Your kid's cute, you know that?" I spoke to Eleina with a smirk on my face.

"Well, he is cute as a button. Why do you think I named him that?" She replied with a chuckle. I then watched while she trotted over to the food table to help herself to the goodies that had been provided.

"She seems like a very sweet mare." Luna spoke passively while watching Eleina walk away.

"Yeah, she's a sweetheart. Very likeable." I replied while letting out a sigh. Now that I was at the party and fresh off from work, I was really in the mood to relax and have a good time. However, I then turned to face my royal friend and asked, "Come to think of it, will Celestia be attending?"

Luna's lips curved downward into a slight frown. "I doubt it. She knows this party is taking place, but she has duties to fulfill. She even took on some of my own and Nightmare Moon's just so we could attend."

"Oh… That's a shame. I know she and I aren't exactly the best of friends, but it would've been nice if she could've made it." I replied with a twinge of disappointment in my heart. Still, I know the life of a ruler is not easy and she must be very busy. If I were offered a throne and a crown, I would turn it down without a second thought. The royal life sounds like more of a burden than a privilege.

Luna gently reached out and nuzzled my arm. "Even so, she does send her best. My sister is fond of you, much like she is with most of her subjects. If given the chance, I do believe the two of you would be dear friends to each other."

"Well, that would certainly be an honor. But for right, would you mind if I took a look around? I want to see who else has shown up." I replied while noticing Lyra and Applejack mingling over yonder.

My royal friend glanced over at them for a few seconds before nodding with a smile. "By all means, go ahead. Everypony who is attending is a friend, after all. I will be upstairs with the rest of our guests should you wish to see me again." I watched as Luna walked up the stairs behind the main counter before directing my gaze over at the two other partygoers. For all I knew, there could be a few more around the corner.

I approached casually while Lyra and Applejack spoke to each other. Lyra had a cup of purple punch floating next to her while it and her horn were coated by her magic aura. From what they were talking about, I think Lyra was discussing when Applejack will have whipped up another batch of cider. I suppose that stuff must be ambrosia to the ponies of Ponyville and is only served seasonally. Finally, I drew closer and spoke. "Evening, ladies."

The two mares looked my way and instantly smiled. "Howdy, James! Can't believe it's been a full year already! And I still remember when I first saw ya wander into the farm." Applejack spoke first while gently nudging me with her hoof.

"I still remember when I first spoke to him at the café. Anyway, how're you doing, James? I didn't think I'd see you twice today!" Lyra added while casually waving at me.

"Well, I only just got here. What's been… Huh?" I replied before pausing upon hearing a shriek from nearby. From around the corner came two terrified fillies that I recognized instantly. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Right after them…with her head sticking out of the floor…was Ruby. That silly ghost filly was snapping at their heels while her body was probably running along on the foundation of the building just under the floorboards.

Applejack gave Ruby one of the most bewildered expressions I had ever seen on her face before she glanced up at me and asked, "Uh… James? You've know her longer than I have. Just how the hay does she do…THAT?"

I had to hold back a laugh. I cannot fault her for being so baffled by Ruby's supernatural abilities. I doubt there is a ghost like her anywhere in Equestria. "It would take too long to explain. Just roll with the fact that she's a ghost, OK?"

My farm pony friend tilted her head to one side while looking even more baffled. "A ghost? Uh… Whatever ya say, pardner." I then walked over to the three fillies while they pretty much ran around in circles.

"You're creepy! How're you even doing that?!" Silver Spoon yelled while being backed into a corner with Diamond Tiara. She seemed genuinely freaked out, not that I blame her. If I bumped into a ghost filly for the first time while she looked at me with glowing yellow beacon-like eyes while her head stuck out of the ground and she was constantly chomping at my feet, I would be intimidated too.

Ruby spoke in a falsely menacing tone while giggling all the while. "I am the ghost of the floor boards, she who has come to enact vengeance on thee for all of the spilt drinks me and my brethren have endured!"

I could not help snickering when I heard that line. I then got down on one knee and patted my silly little ghost friend on the head. "That's quite a robust vocabulary you've got there, Ruby. What's up?"

The two former schoolyard bullies looked up at me before looking back at Ruby while she turned around and looked up at me with a grin. "Hiya, James! I was just having some fun! But now it's your turn!" She then suddenly moved forward and gnawed on my foot for a moment. "You have dishonored the… Bleh, your shoes taste weird. You spill something on them?" For whatever reason, I could not hold back at that part and burst out laughing for several seconds. Even Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara got a good giggle out of Ruby's plan not working as well as she had hoped.

Once that was all over, Ruby hopped straight up and stood upon the floor with the rest of us. "Anyway, how's the party?! I just got here a little while ago."

"I just got here myself." I replied while gently stroking her head. "What about you girls? You haven't been causing any trouble for old time's sake, have you?"

Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon waved their hooves while backing away somewhat. I suppose they had not forgotten when we first met, even if that was not quite a full year ago. "No way! We've been good! No more bullying the blank flanks!" Diamond Tiara spoke rather loudly while grinning quite nervously.

I felt myself smirk while I heard them speak. I then reached out and gently rubbed the tops of their heads, although I had to take care to knock Diamond Tiara's…well…tiara off her head. "Good to hear. And just so you know, I still have that cutie mark removal tape at home."

The two fillies still gave me some rather nervous grins, although they seemed more playful than genuinely terrified. Silver Spoon then replied while gently pushing her head into my hand, "Don't worry, we're still being good. And it's nice to have ponies actually smile at us instead of always being angry."

"Better to have friends than enemies, right?" I retorted while then scratching my ear along the little gray filly's ear, causing it to flick in response.

Diamond Tiara then looked up at me with a rather forlorn expression, as if something was on her mind. Eventually, she cracked a more somber smile and spoke, "You know what? I can't believe I'm saying this, but…..thank you."

"Thank you? For what exactly?" I asked in return while being pretty baffled as to why she was thanking me. Even Silver Spoon and Ruby seemed… Wait, where did Ruby go anyway?

"Well… I guess for setting me straight." She replied while letting out a sigh. "I guess I was always just such a jerk because I've always been able to get what I want…and I guess I felt more important than everypony else. Who would've thought getting put in your place could be good for you?"

That was an unexpected show of humility from someone who used to be a pompous brat. Even Silver Spoon seemed quite surprised. Still, I could not help but smiling at the filly before me. It seemed she had learned much over the last year. "You either learn from your wrongdoings or you keep digging your own grave deeper and deeper. I'm glad you learned from that day. I have to admit it didn't feel that good to do what I did to you, but I just really…REALLY hate bullies." However, a thought then came to mind. "But I guess it's my turn to be thankful."

Now it was Diamond Tiara's turn to be baffled. "Huh? Thankful for what? I don't think I ever did anything good for you."

"No, you didn't. But if you hadn't forced me to hide in the Everfree Forest back then, I probably never would have met Mitta and Ruby. And who knows what would've happened with Nightmare Moon." I explained while casting my gaze to the left. Mitta was standing nearby while browsing some treats that had been arranged on a few shelves. "Actually… Could you excuse me for a bit? I want to go say hello to her."

The two fillies looked over at Mitta before looking at me with a smile. "OK. We'll be… Huh?!" Diamond Tiara spoke before yelping as I noticed a small gray filly's muzzle reach up out of the floor behind her and chomp down on her tail.

"I hope you're ready for a ride." I spoke while not being able to stop myself from cracking a smirk. Right after that, Diamond Tiara was forced to turn around and fell on her belly with a yelped while silly little Ruby started dragging her all over the storefront from somewhere under the floorboards, Diamond Tiara yelling and screaming all the while.

"Hey! That's not funny, Ruby! Knock it off!" Silver Spoon called out while galloping after her friend. I could not help bowing my head as I snickered under my breath. I suppose it would be foolhardy to not expect a ghost to get a little impish from time to time. And in hindsight… Maybe Diamond Tiara deserves a little playful abuse.

With no one else to distract me, I headed on over to Mitta. She did not seem to notice me coming since she kept moving her head back and forth along the rows of many sweet treats. "Mmm… So hard to decide…" I heard her mutter lightly.

I then wrapped my arms around her from behind and spoke my recommendation. "How about starting with a chocolate drop? Can't go wrong there."

Sure enough, Mitta looked over her shoulder at me and gave me one of the brightest grins I had seen all day. "Huh…? James! Hello!" She then wiggled out of my grasp before turning and throwing her forelegs around me in a very tight embrace. In fact, it was nearly painful thanks to her earth pony strength.

"Whoa! Ease up, you're gonna snap me like a twig!" I yelped once I heard myself pop and crack in a few spots. Hopefully those were only my joints.

Mitta released me in an instant while grinning sheepishly. Clearly out of embarrassment for nearly hurting me. "Sorry, sorry! Are you OK?"

I flexed my neck and arms for a moment to work out the kinks and to make certain she had not hurt me. "Yeah, I'm good. Anyway, it's good to see you here. Been having a good time so far?"

Mitta turned to look around before turning her gaze back to me. "Well, I only just got here about…um… I guess around ten minutes ago. I just had no idea where to start with all these goodies…" However, after a quick glance at all that was all around us, she looked at me with a slightly more reserved smile. "But anyway… This party is to celebrate the one year anniversary of you coming to Ponyville?"

"More like the anniversary of me being brought to Equestria itself. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that it's been that long. And to think in one more week, it'll have been a full year since the day I first met you." I replied while also remembering what I had just spoken to Diamond Tiara about.

"I know." Mitta spoke softly before gently nuzzling her head against my chest while my hand stroked her crimson mane. "I still remember that night. I didn't think I would ever see you again… I'm glad you proved me wrong."

I felt a dull sting in my heart upon hearing those words. To think I had waited close to eight months before coming back to her. "Sorry I took so long. I just…"

Mitta shook her head before gently touching my cheek with her hoof. "It's all right, James. I wasn't ever expecting to see you again in the first place. And eight months really isn't all that long to someone who's been cursed for over a thousand years. It didn't feel like that long of a wait. I'm just glad you did come back for me."

I felt myself relax greatly upon hearing her words and feeling her touch. "I still wish I went back sooner. It's just… I wasn't sure of how to go about telling anyone about you. A village in the Everfree Forest full of zombies? I was worried that things would only get worse if I brought it up. I was just following my gut feeling…"

"Maybe it was for the best that you did wait for the right time to act. Everything got so much better so fast that night…" My formerly undead friend spoke before looking up at me with an almost tearful smile. "You know… You're the best thing to ever happen to me."

I honestly had no words for that. All I could do was hold that sweet little mare in my arms and rest my head against hers. I can still remember the night where we first parted ways. I remember how helpless I felt, knowing I could not aid her at all while knowing she did not deserve such a wretched fate. And now she stood before me. Alive, well, and very happy. I felt compelled to kiss her, so I did. I placed my lips on her cheek before whispering, "I'm glad things have gotten so much better for you, Mitta. You're a very sweet person."

I felt the mare in my arms sigh deeply before returning the favor, her lips being planted upon my cheek for a few seconds. "So are you, James. Really… I can't tell you how happy I am that I met you that night."

The two of us just held onto each other while I remained kneeling beside her. It almost felt magical, really. Like I did not want to let go of her. However, a surprisingly deep woman's voice soon spoke from very close by. "Ah, I was going to provide a proper greeting, but perhaps I shall wait to avoid intruding."

I instantly glanced up at those words. "Now there's a voice I haven't heard in a while." When I looked back over to the front of the storefront, I found none other than Zecora gazing at the two of us. "Zecora! You were the last person I was expecting to see!"

The mysterious zebra mare returned my greeting with a delighted smile while she approached us. Even though I do consider Zecora a friend, I very seldom see her. I suppose her skills as an herbalist require her to spend quite a bit of time scouring the Everfree Forest for ingredients. Although I do occasionally venture into the forest to visit her for medicinal salves and even some tea. At times, she even invites me to stay and sample new brews she concocts. Anyway, I digress.

"Miss Pinkie Pie visited me today to inform that today makes the first year since you were welcomed into her arms so warm. With today being an anniversary of an event dear to us so, how could I have possibly said no?" Zecora explained in her constantly rhyming tone. I swear I never get tired of hearing her talk.

I extended my arms to my friend, prompting her to draw near and embrace me as well. "Thanks for coming, Zecora. It's a shame we don't see you more often."

Zecora actually did show a slight frown in response to my words while pulling her head away from me. "Indeed… The gathering of herbs does rob me of much personal time…" However, she then flashed me a calm smile. "But that only serves to make visits from dear friends even more sublime. While it takes great patience to practice my herbalist arts, I still keep those precious to me close to my heart."

Mitta then took a step forward and greeted Zecora as well. "Hello, Zecora. I don't think we've ever met before. I'm Mitta."

I then spoke to Zecora before our friend from the forest could reply. "You remember when I visited you a while back while wearing that armor? She's the friend I went to help that night."

Zecora seemed genuinely baffled by those words. She glanced at Mitta and then back at me before asking, "Your friend…from the village of the dead? How can she… She seems quite alive instead."

Mitta smiled somberly before proceeding to explain. "Yes, I came from Sunny Town… And it's thanks to James that I'm a normal person now. He saved me."

"To think the dead could return to the living… Surely this could only be the work of the princesses so giving." Zecora replied while seemingly trying to wrap her head around how someone who is undead could be brought back to life. Although I suppose Mitta had never truly been undead. Just cursed.

"Yes… It was Princess Luna who cast the curse in the first place. But Princess Nightmare Moon lifted from me when I first met her." Mitta replied while glancing up at me with a smile.

At first, Zecora seemed rather shocked to hear the name of the Princess of Dreams. However, she seemed to immediately calm herself. "Ah, the Mare in the Moon who brings the most wonderful of dreams? She has been truly turning her reputation around, it seems."

"Yeah, it does my heart good to see her image becoming more positive. She's got a long way to go to make the people look past that 'Mare in the Moon' legend. But at least she's welcome in Ponyville now." I retorted while remembering that Nightmare Moon was likely upstairs. "Speaking of which, I would like to go see her. May I be excused?"

Mitta smiled broadly at me before stepping out of my way with Zecora. "Go right ahead. We'll be heading upstairs shortly to see what's up there."

"Just make certain you enjoy yourself at this party without compare." Zecora added, nearly making me laugh with how she combined her words with Mitta's to form a rhyme. Even Mitta herself was quick to notice this and chuckled while holding a hoof to her mouth.

When I came closer to the stairs that led up into the loft from behind the store's counter, I could already hear some peppy music playing while being partially drowned out by several voices speaking at one time. I recognized quite a few, but I then peeked into the kitchen to find Mr. and Mrs. Cake hard at work whipping up some more treats. From cupcakes to chocolate drops to lollipops, they were whipping up a smorgasbord of sweet treats. Even though I was off the clock, I decided to stick my head in and say hello. "Evening, Mr. and Mrs. Cake. Need a hand?"

Mr. Cake was the first to look my way and immediately grinned at me. "Well, hello! I was hoping we'd have this last batch finished before you showed up, James. Been enjoying the party so far?"

"In all fairness, I only just got here. But it's looking great so far." I replied while my eyes scanned the various unfinished goodies on the counters. I was feeling my mouth water from the delightful aroma filling the kitchen, although I was also making a mental note to eat a heaping salad later that night.

Mrs. Cake then slid a cupcake tray into the oven before closing the hatch and turning towards me with that sweet motherly smile she always has. "A lot of your friends have already arrived and are waiting upstairs. Be a dear and go say hello to them, OK?"

"Will do, Mrs. Cake. I'll be around." I replied before waving goodbye and ducking out of the kitchen. But when I looked up the stairs that led into Pinkie Pie's loft, I felt myself becoming increasingly nervous. I have never been one for being the center of attention and I had not felt this particular type of fear since my days as a kid. Still, the party was being thrown in my honor and I did want to be with my friends. After taking a deep breath to steel my nerves, I marched up the stairs.

Just before I reached the top, I decided to spot and take a peek between the wooden support beams that stood next to the stairs. As it turned out, the entire upstairs area was packed. There was a long table with a big punch bowl, a tray of chocolates, and a towering cake at one side of the room like there usually is when Pinkie Pie throws a party at home. And… Well, I do not believe I had ever seen so many people in that room before. In all, I saw Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, Luna…uh… Who else was there? Oh, right. There was also Pinkie Pie, Nightmare Moon, Rarity, Eleina, Spike, Derpy Hooves, Lyra, Big Macintosh, Button Mash, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and… Well, I certainly was not expecting to see Shining Armor and Cadence there. While Armor did not seem to be clad in anything in particular, Cadence was still wearing the elegant pale gold attire I had seen her in during the Grand Galloping Gala. But just before I could decide how to approach my friends, someone suddenly stuck their head into my few mere inches away from my face. "Hi! You're just in time!"

I very nearly stumbled back down the stairs from how sudden this move was. "Jeez, Pinkie! You don't do that to people who are on the stairs!"

Apparently, my raised voice caught Shining Armor's attention since he then looked my way. "Well, look who's here! It's been a while, James!"

I felt myself become cornered as more and more eyes fell upon me by the second. Well, except for the eyes of the four foals in one corner. Button Mash seemed to be playing a small handheld game device while the Cutie Mark Crusaders were looking over his shoulder to see what was happening on the screen. I finally decided to climb to the top of the stairs. "Uh… Hello."

Rainbow Dash was the first to reply to my words. With a quick swoop, she rushed over to me and gave me a surprisingly tight hug. "Happy anniversary, big guy! Can't believe it's been a full year already! Just don't expect me to fall on you to celebrate it." That actually got a chuckle out of Twilight, seeing as she is likely the only person to have witnessed when Rainbow Dash and I first literally bumped into each other.

Feeling myself relax somewhat in the firm embrace of my brash pegasus friend, I returned the favor by wrapping my arms around her as well. "Still feeling a little extra crispy today?"

She pulled her head away from me before looking me in the eye with a truly bewildered gaze. "Extra crispy? What're you… Oh, you saw that?! I had no idea what hit me!"

Pinkie Pie giggled loudly, clearly remembering the moment when Rainbow Dash helped 'capture' her that afternoon. "James called it the 'zappity zap zap' treatment! Like this!" She then shuffled her hooves along the rug nearby and poked her hoof into Rainbow Dash's flank. I heard a sudden click just before Rainbow Dash let out a yelp.

"Ouch! Knock it off! I got more than enough of it this afternoon!" Rainbow yelled while most everypony present chuckled at Pinkie Pie's antics. I could only hope she had no house slippers nearby.

With that said, Pinkie Pie hopped up in front of me. "So, James! I know I already said hello today, but now that you're here, the real party can get started! So, what happens first?"

What, was I suddenly in charge of the party? Once Rainbow Dash had let go of me and had begun to hover next to me, I took a look at the guests. With the exception of the peppy music coming from Pinkie Pie's phonograph, the room had gotten very quiet. With all eyes having fallen on me, I felt that familiar uneasiness returning. I took a good look at all the friends of mine I had made over the past year. After a moment of hesitation, I managed to put some words together. "Uh… I really wasn't expecting something like this to happen today, so…I'm not sure what to say."

Nightmare Moon then decided to speak up in response. "Then why not just thank us for arriving and ask us to enjoy ourselves?"

"You know what? That's…a good idea. Thanks for coming, enjoy yourselves, and I'm going to grab a drink and relax for a bit since I only just got off work." I replied while everyone before me burst into laughter. Once that was over, the partygoers began to disperse and return to whatever it was they were doing.

At the moment, I was merely in the mood for something to drink. A beer is actually at its best just after you finish with a long job and I was wondering if there was any hard cider around. Sure enough, there was a table nearby with three wooden casks set upon it with each having a spigot on the front. "Sweet. But why three?"

When I drew near, Applejack also approached me. "Howdy, James! Need some cider?"

I took one look at my friend and smiled at her. "Sure. But which is which?"

Applejack took a few steps forward and motioned her hoof before the casks. "Well, right here is the simple cider. Ya know, just in case anypony's not in the mood for a stiff drink. And this one here is the typical hard cider if y'all want a lil' kick ta it." Sure enough, a large black '5%' had been painted onto the front of the middle cask to set it apart from the other by showing the alcohol content.

I was about to ask for a dose of hard cider, but I then took a look at the third cask. I felt myself become rather wary when I saw that it had 'XXX' painted on the front. "Um… I'm getting the impression that this one is some sort of devil's brew."

My farm friend chuckled at my obvious wariness and stepped towards it. "Nah, it ain't anythin' like that. This is just somethin' Granny Smith whipped up. But…yeah. I can't just let anypony have some. It's mighty potent stuff."

"How potent we talking? What's in it?" I asked while glancing at the cask again. For it to have the timeless 'XXX' on the front, it must have had a lot of rum or something in it.

"Well, the ingredients I know 'bout are a bit of brown sugar, a bit of hard cider, a heapin' helpin' of apple juice for extra flavor, and pretty much the rest of it is her own homemade moonshine." Applejack explained while my eyes widened just slightly at the mention of the last ingredient.

"Moonshine?! That sounds like some powerful stuff!" I spoke rather loudly, having never actually encountered such a product before. "Wait… If that hard cider is 5%, then what is this concoction's alcohol content?"

Applejack did not immediately reply. She glanced at the cask before holding her hoof to her chin. "Uh… I reckon 50%, but I can't say for sure."

Even she did not know how much alcohol was in that stuff? "In others, you better keep that junk away from Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. You know those two can't hold their liquor."

"No worries, pardner. I ain't leavin' my stall now that everypony's here. Anyway, what can I do ya for?" Applejack replied while glancing at a stack of tankards and small plastic cups.

As much as I feared what might happen if I ingested such a potent brew, I was still curious of how it tasted. "Actually… Mind if I try a shot of that apple moonshine just to see how it is? Just a shot, to be safe."

Applejack gave me a cockeyed gaze, clearly wondering if I was being serious. "Really? Well, all right. Help yourself, pardner."

I took one of the smaller plastic drink cups and placed it under the cask's spigot before allowing enough of the brew out to fill the cup halfway. The liquid still had the same brownish color as most types of cider, although a quick sniff revealed the strong nose-tingling odor of a strong drink similar to most types of wine. "Well… Bottoms up."

I tilted my head back and chugged the entire drink, which was really just a mouthful. I recognized the sweet flavor of apples, but I was almost immediately hit with a powerful surge of heat at the back of my throat that made me wince and gag. "Whoa! That's some potent stuff! Still good though."

Applejack got a good laugh out of my reaction to her grandmother's potentially illegal concoction. "Yeah, Granny Smith tried ta make it taste as good as possible without skimpin' on the potency. You gonna be all right, James?"

"Yeah, I'm good. I think I'll wait until later before having more. In the mean time, could you pass me a tankard of the hard cider?" I replied while directing my gaze towards the middle cask.

"Sure thing, pardner. Coming right up." Applejack spoke while reaching for a tankard. With her ankle joint clutching the handle, she held it under the spigot and poured me a full dose of the sweet brew while leaving a layer of white foam at the top.

"Many thanks, AJ. I'll be back for more later." I said with a smile before taking a sip of the much weaker beverage. "Much better. Just remember to keep Rainbow Dash away from that moonshine. She can't handle it."

"Don't have ta tell me twice! She ain't gettin' any of this!" Applejack spoke with a very watchful gaze. Rainbow Dash was at the far side of the room while seemingly chatting with Rarity. While Applejack watched that brazen pegasus like a hawk, I made my way over to a large soft cushion and took a seat on it to relax.

While I was seated and sipping my drink, I took the time to look the room over. Despite having the loft being as packed as it was, I could still make out the little details of the decorations. Along with confetti littering the floor, I saw that long ribbons were still attached to the walls and extended up into the ceiling with balloons tied to the railing and bottom edges of the walkway on the room's walls. When all is said and done, it seemed to be very similar to the party we had on the day I was brought back from Earth three weeks after my arrival in Equestria. I still cannot believe that was nearly a full year ago…

After a few minutes of just sitting there and relaxing, I took a sip from my tankard, but paused when I heard the sound of hooves clopping over the noise of the party. For me to be hearing that, it must have been coming from very close by. My eyes glanced to my right without turning my head or lowering my drink. Out of the corner of my vision, I saw Cadence standing only a few feet away from me. "Uh… Hello, Cadence. Long time, no see."

The alicorn princess gave me a very sweet smile while her horn was coated by a very pale aura with a shade of blue, perhaps a light hue of cornflower. At the same time, another round cushion floated over to her while coated in the same billowing aura. "May I have this seat?" She asked with that pure tender voice of hers.

"Go right ahead." I replied while scooting myself and the cushion I was seated upon over a bit more to give her some room. Once that was done, Cadence set her own cushion beside me and took a seat. I did not pay much heed as to why she wanted to take a seat beside me and continued to sip from my drink. However, I froze as I felt a slight tickling sensation on my cheek. When I glanced to my right, I noticed that Cadence had extended her left wing and was lightly dragging its tip against my cheek. "That tickles, you know."

An adorable giggle was contained in Cadence's lips while her eyes squinted shut in delight. "I thought that would get your attention." She replied while folding her wing. "So, how have you been? I haven't seen you since the Grand Galloping Gala back in April."

It was then I realized that Cadence had approached me to engage in conversation. I lowered my drink from my lips and turned to face her. "Things have been really good. I actually don't think things could be much better in Ponyville."

Cadence continued to smile while she gave me her undivided attention. "I'm glad to hear that. Twilight always did say that you really seem to prefer Ponyville to Canterlot. And I have to say this town, while not nearly as extravagant as Canterlot, is absolutely delightful to spend time in."

"Why do you suppose I like this place so much?" I retorted with a slight smirk.

The elegant princess grinned while a very brief chuckle escaped her throat. At least I assume she is a princess. Even after all this time, I am not certain if she is even a true princess or simply has the title for the same reason that pompous Blueblood lout does. While she is clearly an alicorn, her body lacks the physical attributes of Luna, Celestia, and Nightmare Moon. "Um… Not to sound rude, but are you truly a princess and not a noble who carries the title due to hereditary reasons?"

She seemed surprised by my question. I assume it is not a question she gets very often. "Well, you're right about one thing. I was actually adopted by Celestia herself when I was just a filly as her niece."

This was a very unexpected revelation to me. I honestly thought that Cadence was directly related to Celestia in some way. It never once occurred to me that she may be adopted. My eyes glanced her over once more before I spoke, "You know…this is going to sound weird, but…I'm getting the impression you weren't always like this."

Cadence flashed me a rather silly grin. "Very perceptive! And you're right! I was originally a pegasus."

I nearly ended up spilling my cider all over me when I paused while bringing my lips to my tankard's edge. She was originally a pegasus? Then why… "Uh… How does that even work? Are you saying that anypony can become an alicorn?"

A much more uncertain expression spread across Cadence's face. I think even Cadence was puzzled by just how something like that occurs. "In all honesty, I'm not certain how that process works. I was very young when it happened, so I don't remember it at all. I can't even really remember the days when I was unable to use magic. But to answer your question… Yes. I think anypony can become an alicorn." She then turned to face Twilight Sparkle, who seemed to be chatting with her bother over yonder. "Who knows? Perhaps Twilight will join me as a princess too someday."

Those words… I cannot remember the last time I have ever felt such a chill in my heart from just hearing something. I turned my gaze towards Twilight as well. Twilight…as a princess… That… I felt such a sickening sensation of dread fill my gut. It had been quite a long time since I felt so stressed. Cadence was quick to notice my tension and gently rested her hoof on my leg. "James? What's wrong? You don't look so good. How do you feel?"

My response was brief and honest. "Rather terrified, actually."

Those words clearly shocked her. She then asked with a very concerned expression, "Why? Was it something I said?"

I looked back over to Twilight. That dear friend of mine. "Cadence. How often does Celestia actually have time to visit us?"

"Well, aside from official visits, very seldom… Oh my… You're not thinking that, are you?" Cadence replied while clearly showing that she was beginning to catch on to just what I was feeling so upset about.

I bowed my head while my hands grasped my tankard of cider tightly, my eyes gazing at my reflection in the dark yellow liquid. "I don't want her to be taken away from us…"

Cadence was silent. I think she could see just how bothered I was by such a thought. But after a good long moment of silence, I felt her place her hoof on my shoulder. "James… You're worrying too much over this. Relax. If I know Twilight as well as I think I do, that will never happen."

I returned the alicorn's gaze with a slightly bewildered stare of my own. "How are you so sure?"

"Well, I have known Twilight since she was a toddler. So I know her better than most. Probably even better than Celestia herself. And I can promise you right now that she will never leave you or her friends for anything." Cadence replied before looking over at her husband and sister-in-law. "If Twilight was the same mare I've known since her childhood, she would very likely jump at the chance to acquire a crown of her own. She had little interest in friendship as a filly and even into adulthood and was obsessed with everything Celestia assigned to her. But look at her now."

I turned to look towards Twilight once more while staying silent to allow Cadence to continue. "She could always leave Ponyville and come back home to Canterlot to be with Celestia once again, and yet she chooses to stay here. And I think you know why. She cherishes her friends above all else now. If she had to choose between a life on the throne and a life with her friends, I think you know which choice she would make." She then leaned closer to me and whispered, "And to be honest, I don't think she'll ever be willing to leave you especially from what she has told me."

Those words actually caught me by surprise. "What she's told you? Something happen during one of her visits?" Even though I have not ever chronicled such a day, Twilight Sparkle does occasionally leave Ponyville to head to Canterlot to visit her brother and Cadence. I do miss her whenever she is gone, but those visits are very infrequent and only last a few days each time.

Cadence gave me a very warm smile before she began to explain. "On one occasion, she told me about you. How she was the first person to actually approach you when you arrived in Ponyville, and how she truly felt about you. But she also told me something that I think says a lot on why she holds you so close to her heart. She said that she sees herself in you."

I turned my gaze back towards Twilight at the far end of the room. She sees herself in me. That… That is exactly why I hold her so close to my heart too. I see a great deal of myself in her too. We have so much in common. "I think…I feel the same. That's why I don't want to see her go."

"Well, I don't think you ever have to worry about that happening. Twilight has changed since her days at Canterlot Academy. I can promise you that she will always be happier living a life in Ponyville with her friends than living a life on a throne away from them." Cadence spoke with a very confident tone. However, as I took those words in, a thought came to mind.

"Come to think of it… That sounds like one of those 'friendship reports' Twilight sends to Celestia now and then." I spoke while a small smile crept across my face.

I think I saw a playful gleam in Cadence's eye while she smirked at me. "It does? Well, let's pretend I'm Celestia for a minute. What would you say to me?"

I rolled my eyes, finding this childish approach to be rather amusing. But I suppose a babysitter needs to have a childish side to her if she wants to be on good terms with kids. "OK… Dear Princess Celestia. Today, I realized that life can go in many different ways. It can lead to a life with friends in a humble rural town. Or it could lead to making it big in a bustling metropolis with wealth and fame. There is no right or wrong way to lead your life while still being a good person. But in the end, quite possibly one of the most important things one should ultimately do is to live the life that makes one happiest. Your humble subject, James."

Cadence gave me a very broad grin once I had finished my 'discovery' to her. "Very well said, James. I think even Celestia herself could take something to heart from it. It's definitely a very wise lesson to keep in mind."

"Thanks. At least that's how I feel about it." I replied while taking another sip of my cider. It was starting to get a little lukewarm, so I wanted to finish it quickly.

Cadence remained by my side for a moment while the two of us said nothing for a moment. But after a good while, I noticed her giving me a much more analytical stare. As if she was pondering something. I felt myself tense up just slightly when I saw her horn become coated with her billowing magic aura. "Uh… What're you doing?"

"I'm just checking something, James. Don't worry." She replied while holding her horn close to me. After a few seconds, the aura began to billow more fiercely and even grew. Cadence looked rather shocked by this development. "Oh my… Twilight was right."

"What exactly are you doing?" I asked while wondering just what kind of spell the alicorn princess was casting.

Finally, Cadence dismissed her spell and pulled her head away from me. "I felt the need to check and… It's just as Twilight claimed. The amount of love your heart contains… It's virtually limitless!"

I cocked my head to one side upon hearing that. "Uh… Thanks, I guess? Are you sure you're not just flattering me?"

Cadence cracked me a very awkward grin. I suppose even she knew just how awkward of an icebreaker that was. "I suppose that does require an explanation, huh? Well, not long after Twilight and I met up here at the party, I asked how you and Fluttershy have been getting along. And that led to a discussion about Rainbow Dash and Rarity. You've been sharing your love with them while staying completely faithful to your girlfriend?"

I felt myself become extremely warm. Not many would likely understand. "Well… Yeah."

Knowing that Cadence is a married mare, I was expecting her to condemn my actions. It certainly is not a normal action. However, I was mildly surprised to see her look at me not with disgust, but with a deep curiosity. "Could you explain how that works? I can't imagine my husband being that way."

I tried to explain the whole thing the best I could. "Well… It's not something just anyone can do, I can say that much. I guess…I just like making people happy. Especially those of the opposite gender, but that's largely due to natural preference. And… Well, I don't see why I should deny someone love when they love me so dearly. Just as long as I do not forget who my heart and body belongs to, I feel there is nothing genuinely wrong with sharing my love with others. Especially with those who actually want it."

Very slowly, I saw Cadence's lips curve upward into a calm smile. "Hmm… I can see what you mean. I have to admit, it takes a very open mind to think like that. And it takes a lot of faith in yourself to do such a thing without being unfaithful to your partner. Fidelity is important in a relationship. You're very brave, James. Fluttershy is fortunate to have someone with such strong principles as a sweetheart." She then gave me a wink while cracking a more playful smile. "Just be careful. Don't let passion get the better of you. But you already know that, don't you?"

I could not help but snicker for a second. "I already have experience from a three-year relationship, Cadence. I know how to be faithful."

Finally, Cadence stood up and gently nuzzled my cheek. "Well, I really enjoyed speaking to you, James. It really feels like I got to finally get to know you this time."

I replied with a smile of my own while my hand gently stroked the back of her neck. "It was a pleasure, Cadence. You're a sweetheart."

Cadence grinned brightly while also letting out a sigh at my touch. "You're very sweet too. It's no wonder you have more than one with their eyes on you. Most mares prefer the sweeter guys." She then glanced over at Shining Armor and Twilight before looking back at me. "Excuse me for a while, James. I've got a craving for some strawberry cupcakes right now, but we'll chat again before the party's over." I nodded and said my farewells before Cadence walked towards the two siblings.

I spent the next couple of minutes just chugging down my cider before it could get warm. Although since cider has a bit more powerful flavor than beer, I had to pace myself since my taste buds would easily get overwhelmed. But just as I was about to get up and look for something to eat, I froze when I noticed a flash of light to my right. And when I glanced over, I found Twilight Sparkle looking right at me. "Uh… Hey, Twi. What's ha…"

My speaking was silenced when Twilight placed her hoof over my mouth with great tenderness. The two of us shared a long stare. I could see a rather forlorn yet relieved look in her expression as an almost tearful smile spread across her lips. I could see what was on her mind. Cadence probably spoke to her about our conversation. Without words, I reached out and held my dear friend in a tender embrace while she did the same.

"I wish you told me how you really feel a long time ago, James…" Twilight whispered into my ear before falling silent once more.

"I could say the same to you." I replied while a small smile formed on my lips.

For a moment, the two of us just sat there with each of us holding onto each other as if afraid to let go. I have no idea how no one noticed us sitting there while embracing each other. Or maybe they did and just respectfully left us alone.

Finally, Twilight pulled her head away and looked me in the eye with a very relieved smile. "Cadence told me everything, James. Don't worry about a thing." Before I could even offer a reply, she placed her hoof over my mouth again. "When I was studying under Princess Celestia and dedicating all my time to books and research, I thought I was happy. But now that I'm here in Ponyville with the best friends I could ever ask for, I actually KNOW that I am happy. I wish I came here a long time ago. This is where I want to be. And I don't ever want to leave. So don't worry. You and the rest of my friends will always have me."

Any and all worries I had from several minutes ago flew right out the window upon hearing those words. And there was only one thing I could say in response. "Thank you, Twilight… Love you."

My friend responded with an absolutely elated smile before once again wrapping her forelegs around my neck. "Love you too…"

For a moment, we just sat there in each other's arms. Not moving. Not speaking. Just savoring this moment of tenderness. However, I noticed over the noise of the party Eleina calling out. When I glanced around, I saw her standing near the stairs. "Oh, children! Mr. and Mrs. Cake have fresh cupcakes right out of the oven! This way!"

Sure enough, every last filly, colt, and dragon child in the room trotted, galloped, and ran over to the motherly mare while bantering about all sorts of things. It seemed that Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon, and Ruby had come upstairs since I had sat down with some cider and had joined the rabble of children before following Eleina downstairs. "Huh… You think that was staged?" I asked Twilight while she too turned her gaze over to the stairs.

"Hmm… It kinda felt that way. There are fresh pastries all over the store by now, so I don't see why a few more would be a big deal." Twilight replied while looking just as intrigued as I probably was at the time. Before we even had time to think about it, we noticed Pinkie Pie trotting over to us. "Hey there, Pinkie! Nicely done on getting this party set up."

"Thanks, Twilight! Are all the kids gone?" Pinkie Pie retorted once she had drawn near, her big blue eyes glancing around in an abnormally suspicious manner.

I looked around to make certain none of the kids were still in the room. It seemed that not one of them had stayed behind. "Seems that way… Hang on. Did you ask Eleina to escort them outta here?"

Pinkie Pie giggled with a very sly smirk on her face. What was she up to? "I sure did! Because now…" She then reached into her mane and pulled out what seemed to be an empty cider bottle. "Now we can play some 'special' games!"

At first, I had no idea what Pinkie was getting at, but Twilight seemed rather shocked with how she was looking at her friend. But before anyone could say anything, Pinkie Pie turned around and held the bottle high. "OK, everypony! Who's up for a game of Spin the Bottle?!"

"Wait… What?! You're just messing with me, right?!" I spoke with a louder tone of voice than I usually do. I was feeling especially apprehensive because if the rules for 'Spin the Bottle' are the same in Equestria as they are back on Earth, then I knew there was more than one mare in the room who would not mind giving me a kiss.

"Nope! I'm being totally serious! Besides, it's just good clean fun!" Pinkie replied while turning to face the guests again. It seemed that the area had quieted down significantly with the exception of the music that was coming from her phonograph. "That's right! Spin the Bottle! Who wants to play?!"

Pretty much everyone there gave that silly party animal rather baffled or shocked looks. Nightmare Moon then proceeded to ask the most obvious question. "And what exactly is this 'Spin the Bottle' game you speak of?"

"I'm so glad you asked!" Pinkie Pie replied before setting the bottle down in front of herself. "We all sit in a circle and the one whose turn is up gives it a spin!" She then smacked the back end of the bottle, setting it into a spin. "And when it points to someone…" She then grabbed the bottle between her hooves, forcing it to point to a surprised Twilight Sparkle. "You give them a big hug!"

Before Twilight could even react, she was swiftly snatched up in Pinkie Pie's arms for an enthusiastic hug. Twilight did not seem to mind much and returned the favor by wrapping her own arms around Pinkie Pie as well. But the hug was short-lived when Pinkie pulled away before looking back at the rest of the partygoers. "Buuuut if it lands on somepony who is the opposite gender as you…" She then turned the bottle so that it was pointing towards me. "You give them a smooch!"

I had no time to react before she suddenly lunged at me and planted a quick kiss on my cheek. I suppose some rules of this game are the same as back on Earth. I had to suppress a chuckle from this sudden display of playful affection. Pinkie then looked back at the other guests and spoke, "That's all there is to it! Who wants to play?"

Everyone seemed to look towards Nightmare Moon for some reason. Possibly because she was the first person to actually question the game itself. However, she then glanced at me for a second and… What was with that look? Well, regardless, she then seemed to smirk playfully before looking towards Pinkie Pie again. "Count me in."

"Sounds like an interesting change of pace. Mind if I join in, dear?" Shining Armor spoke while turning towards Cadence.

That sweetheart of an alicorn gave her husband a rather playful smirk before replying, "That's fine. But only if you give me twice as many kisses tonight." Armor grinned while chuckling, an obvious blush showing through the white coat on his cheeks.

One by one, more and more of the partygoers responded. And in a minute or two, I was seated in the center of the room with eleven of my friends gathered in a circle with that bottle in the middle. Along with myself, the players included Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Mitta, Shining Armor, Big Macintosh, Derpy Hooves, and Nightmare Moon. Fluttershy was seated to my right while Mitta was on my left. Luna, Cadence, Lyra, and Zecora watched from nearby. Before we could begin, Fluttershy spoke up. "Um… Are there any other rules we need to know?"

Pinkie Pie looked back and forth at us before explaining further. "Well, if you spin the bottle and it points to somepony you've already kissed or hugged, you lose a turn. The one who wins is the player who gives a hug or kiss to all the other players!" She then looked towards me and extended her hoof. "Since you're the guest of honor, why don't you go first, James?"

"OK then." I replied briefly before reaching forward and grasping the bottle at the center of the circle. After turning it counterclockwise to give myself a bit more room to wind up, I spun the bottle clockwise. For several seconds, it spun in a circle. I heard a few of the players inhale and hold their breaths in anticipation. I swear, Rarity and Rainbow Dash were giving the bottle hilariously hopeful looks that made me roll my eyes while smirking. However, I do not believe any of us were expecting to see the bottle stop where it did. When the bottle ceased to spin, I felt myself tense up as an awkward grimace spread across my lips. The first mare I was to kiss was…..Nightmare Moon.

There was an audible gasp as several of the players looked on in mild shock. Even I was unsure of what to say to this. And Nightmare Moon herself was clearly caught by surprise as well. That look she was giving me and the bottle was one of true disbelief. However, it was soon replaced by a very…unnerving smirk. "Well, it certainly wasted no time, did it?"

I felt myself freeze. Warm sweat began to ooze from my pores as I felt my body temperature soar. Even though it was just a game, there was something about kissing a princess in front of others that made the whole thing feel very…improper. However, Pinkie Pie still tried to bark encouragement. "Come on, James! You spun the bottle, so you have to go to her!"

"Uh… Are you sure this is acceptable?" I asked while feeling extremely unsure about this one. I mean… Well, I suppose you have to actually be put in my place to understand it. It felt like something I should not do.

I swear Luna looked like she was ready to bust a gut. She was holding a hoof to her mouth and snickering constantly. Finally, Nightmare Moon spoke up while her horn and my entire body was covered by a deep blue magic aura. "Enough stalling. You know the rules, so come here."

Everyone around me began to snicker and laugh while I began to slide across the floor. I kept trying to scoot myself away from my friend, but to no avail. Rainbow Dash's laughter was becoming especially loud while she spoke out. "Oh, come on, James! Just go with it! It's not everyday you get to smooch a princess!"

"But... But I…" I stammered out while trying to find the right words. However, I was silenced when I found Nightmare Moon's face right up in front of me. The room fell silent in anticipation. Everyone was watching.

The two of us shared a long silent gaze. I was not certain of what to say. Soon, Nightmare Moon broke the silence. Whispering so lightly that I am sure only I heard her, she spoke to me. "I was wondering if I would ever have this opportunity."

Before I could even respond, she was upon me. Nightmare Moon rather forcefully sealed lips with me for…one of the most passionate kisses I had received in quite a while. I was even pushed to the floor while letting out a muffled grunt. I was tempted to push her off of me, but…I was quickly starting to find myself enjoying it. I heard a murmur roll through the players while they watched, some even beginning to laugh at how into the whole thing Nightmare Moon was.

Deciding to just go ahead and enjoy the kiss for what it was worth, I closed my eyes and held onto my dear friend. While the kiss was rather rough, it was also full of passion. I can say right now that Nightmare Moon was really enjoying it. I even soon felt her lips part, her tongue reaching out to mine. And I responded in kind with my own. Just… Man, merely thinking about that kiss gives me goose bumps. Applejack even spoke with a more subdued tone of voice, "Whoa… Get a room, you two."

Soon, I felt someone pulling me up before starting to pull me away from Nightmare Moon. Just when I was starting to wonder who was doing it, a sweetly soft voice spoke in a slightly louder tone than usual from right behind my head. "That's enough! He's already…oof…taken!"

That was clearly Fluttershy trying to separate us. I suppose she was starting to get a bit jealous from watching Nightmare Moon make out with me like that, even if it was under the rules of a game of Spin the Bottle. Finally, the Princess of Dreams relented and I was yanked away from her. There was only one thing I could say while I wiped our combined saliva from my lips and chin. "Whoa… Have you been practicing?!"

Nightmare Moon grinned brightly at me while trying to not laugh. "Not at all. That was my first real kiss."

"Seriously?! You're a natural!" That was all I could say as everyone else burst into laughter. What a way to start the game. But it only got more awkward when I looked at Rainbow Dash. "Rainbow, put those away! No one wants to see that!"

That brazen pegasus mare glanced to her left and right while everyone else looked at her. Both of her wings were spread wide in an impressive wingboner. She then spoke loudly while blushing in embarrassment, "Hey, don't look at me like that! That was one hot kiss! How would you want me to react?!"

Once I had returned to my spot, Mitta was up next. With some meekness, she reached out and gave the bottle a smack near the bottom. The bottle went into another spin before coming to a stop and pointing right at her. My friend could not help letting out an awkward giggle before asking, "Oops… Am I supposed to kiss myself?"

"Nah! If it lands on you, just spin it again!" Pinkie Pie replied while everyone continued to watch. I have to admit it was getting to be rather thrilling wondering who would kiss or hug who next. Mitta grinned sheepishly before smacking the bottle again. Just when it looked like it was going to point to her a second time, it stopped short and pointed at me.

Mitta and I looked at each other. I certainly was not ever expecting to ever have to kiss her. "Uh… Well, looks like I'm a popular guy today. Are you sure you didn't rig that bottle, Pinkie?" I spoke in an attempt to throw some humor into the moment.

Pinkie Pie got a good giggle out of that accusation. "No, it's entirely up to chance! Go ahead, Mitta! Smooch him!"

My friend looked at me with a very uneasy smile. What, had she never really kissed anyone before? "OK… Uh… Shall we?"

I could not help but smile at how meek she was being about the whole thing. I then reached out and held my friend in my arms while she too embraced me. "All right. Pinkie, does it matter what kind of kiss it is?"

Our silly pink friend shook her head. "No, it can be whatever kinda kiss you're comfortable with. It can be a really deep passionate one, or a soft and tender one. Whatever floats your boat!"

I looked at Mitta while she looked at me. I could make out a slightly reddish hue under the gray coat on her cheeks. She was nervous. Still, I tried to be as gentle as possible and slowly stroked my hand over her back to calm her. We slowly brought our lips together for a very tender kiss, although it did not immediately end. Unlike the one I received from Nightmare Moon, which was filled with passion, this one felt much more gentle. Just what I would expect from that sweet mare.

I heard a soft aww come from some of the mares who were watching. Lyra then asked, "Would you just look at those two. James, are you some sort of professional kisser or something?"

Once we finally broke the kiss, I looked her way and replied while a silly grin spread across my face. "Well, I have experience from more than one relationship. I guess you have to get pretty good after that."

I then turned my gaze back to Mitta, who was looking at me with a bashful smile. "How was it?"

My friend replied with a tighter embrace than before. "That felt really good. Thank you… You're really sweet." I could not help returning the favor, my arms holding her against me for a moment. While I certainly do not think Mitta has ever once held romantic feelings for me, she is definitely one of my more precious friends. I am glad to have her in my life.

With the order of players going clockwise, it seemed Rainbow Dash was next. With that wingboner of hers still present, I am sure she was eager for the release of some tension. "All right, come on!" She spoke rather loudly before smacking the bottle to send it into a spin. I almost laughed from the way she was hunkered forward with her hooves pointing upward. I could almost see a pair of curled fists instead of hooves. "Big money, big money, big money, big..."

If you were expecting me to say 'Macintosh' as the punch line, you would be wrong. Although it would be rather poetic it the bottle did end up pointing to him. Instead, it stopped on Applejack. Rainbow Dash rigidly lifted her head until she was looking at Applejack with a rather…interesting expression. Almost one of desperation and frustration, if I could call it anything.

Applejack let out a chuckle before holding her arms wide open. "All right, Rainbow. Come 'ere. I can always spare a hug."

For whatever reason, Rainbow Dash did not respond. I know she was disappointed that the bottle did not point to me, but still… Very shortly after that, Rainbow's rather desperate expression changed to one of irritation. "Oh, what the hay?"

Rainbow Dash suddenly swooped at Applejack, who seemed very unnerved by Rainbow's words. "Rainbow, what're ya… Mmph!"

Everyone looked at the two mares with shocked, amused, or dumbfounded expressions. Me? I burst into some of the heartiest laughter I have had in a long time. Rainbow Dash had pinned Applejack to the floor and was giving her a very forced kiss. "What the hell, Rainbow?! Bwahahaha! What's wrong with you?!" I swear, I nearly fainted from that bout of laughter with how lightheaded I felt at the end.

After only a handful of seconds, Applejack managed to place her hind hooves against Rainbow's underside and vaulted that desperate pegasus over herself and onto her back. "Get off, Rainbow! You know my barn door don't swing that way!"

We all looked on, wondering what Rainbow Dash would do. Finally, she sat up and let out a frustrated groan. "Dang it! That wasn't nearly as satisfying as I hoped!"

Once Rainbow had returned to her spot, it was Derpy's turn. Although Rainbow was giving Applejack a very embarrassed and apologetic grin while our farm friend glared at her with a rather irritated frown. But even though Rainbow had gone against the rules and kissed someone of the same gender, the game continued without interruption. "OK, it's my turn! Who's it gonna be?" Derpy spoke before smacking the backside of the bottle to send it into a spin.

I was all but certain something odd would happen with Derpy being at the helm. Almost as if in spite of my concerns, the bottle stopped spinning without any oddities occurring. And the bottle was pointing towards Fluttershy. My girlfriend's wings sprang open surprise while she looked at the bottle. "Huh? Me?"

Derpy gave Fluttershy a big grin before trotting over to her. "It sure is! Gimme a big squeeze, Fluttershy!"

Fluttershy could not help but give the mailmare a tender smile. "OK. I can always spare a hug." We all looked on with warm smiles, watching the two mares cuddling for a minute before Derpy returned to her spot. It was certainly the most uneventful turn we had seen yet. Once she was seated between Rainbow Dash and Rarity once more, Derpy looked at me and smiled brightly. "Fluttershy always gives the best hugs, doesn't she?"

"No argument there. And I get some every single day." I replied while Fluttershy and I gave each other a wink.

Next up was Rarity. Her horn was coated with her light blue magic aura, as was the bottle. "All right, who's going to be the lucky mare or stallion this time?" Without even touching the bottle, she sent the dark glass container spinning before releasing her invisible grip. We all watched in silent until the bottle came to a stop. I was hardly surprised to see it point towards me.

"Ooh, a kiss from Rarity! You're one lucky guy today, James!" Pinkie Pie spoke up while Rarity gave me one of her more alluring gazes, her lovely azure eyes being batted at me.

Of course, I regularly receive kisses from Rarity. But still, I was not about to turn this offer down. "Heheh, OK. I'm ready, Rarity."

With the grace of a queen, that beautiful white unicorn walked towards me with her head held high. Once she was standing before me, she then glanced around at the other players. "Watch closely, ladies. I will show you how to deliver a proper kiss to a gentleman."

My beautiful friend turned her gaze back to me while she gently rested a hoof on my shoulder. I could already feel the tension in the air as everyone present gave us their undivided attention. With our faces so close, I could make out a tiny detail I had overlooked earlier. Rarity's eyelashes were growing out quite nicely. While not up to the same glory as the false lashes she had been wearing for who knows how long, they were making great strides in their growth and looked quite dainty around the edges of those beautiful eyes. I whispered to her in as quiet a tone I could muster without anyone else hearing me, "Your lashes are looking better with every week."

That gorgeous mare whispered in an equally quiet voice while giving me a gaze of absolute adoration. "It's all thanks to you, my prince."

Without further delay, the two of us closed our eyes and joined lips while I pulled her close to me. A muffled moan rumbled in Rarity's throat, her lips parting almost immediately to allow our tongues to touch. I did not resist. The two of us sat there, enjoying each other's caresses and taste. I swear I always just lose myself in those ungodly sweet kisses. I love that mare and would not trade our friendship for anything.

That kiss went on for quite a while. But we did not care. I know Rarity was enjoying every second, as was I. Even so, I am sure some of the players were starting to get impatient. Twilight soon asked, "Um… Is there a time limit for how long a kiss can go on? I really don't think this is how the game's supposed to work."

Pinkie Pie then spoke up, though she sounded rather unsure herself. "Ummm… I don't think I ever saw a rule in the book about time."

I then heard Applejack let out a quiet whistle. "Still… Land sakes, James. I never knew ya know how ta make a mare feel good like that."

Rainbow Dash pretty much stood up for me right there. "You're surprised?! It's always the gentle quiet guys who know how to make a girl feel good the most! But still… Good grief, that's one hot kiss!"

"Eyup." Big Macintosh added while he too looked on. Considering how quiet and gentle he always seems, I would assume that Big Macintosh also would make a very loving boyfriend to someone. I know he is going to make one lucky girl very happy someday.

Finally, I heard Cadence speak up in a playful tone. Judging by what she said, she was talking to her husband. "You know, Armor? I think he might be a better kisser than you."

He did not seem to like the sound of this and spoke up in a rather playfully annoyed tone. "Oh, come on, James! You're making me look bad over here! And I'm a married stallion!" Most of the other players burst into shared laughter at his words. Not like I could help it. I was just trying to be as gentle and loving as I could be.

Finally, Rarity and I slowly pulled away from each other. I could tell by that look in her eye that while satisfied, she was very eager for more. But of course, it would have to wait until much later. We had a game to play, after all. Even so, she still managed to whisper to me one last time. "Splendid as always, darling."

"Likewise, m'lady." I retorted while wiping our combined saliva from my chin. I have to say that Rarity gives the most sickeningly sweet kisses out of any girl I have ever kissed.

Rarity then turned to face the rest of the players before gesturing towards me with her hoof. "And that, ladies, is how you properly kiss a gentleman. Commit it to memory!" Quite a few of the mares burst into hearty applause, although I swear Rainbow Dash was looking more and more desperate by the minute.

Remembering Shining Armor's words, I turned towards the captain of the guard and gave him a smirk. "So, I'm making you look bad, Armor? I give lessons, you know."

That little quip instantly planted a very unnerved expression on his face. His ears folded back against his head while he leaned away from me. "Ewwww, I'll pass!" That got a good laugh out of pretty much everyone there, although it seemed Nightmare Moon was eager to poke some more fun at him.

"What's wrong, captain? I think you could learn quite a bit from him. That kiss he gave me was certainly of high caliber." The Princess of Dreams spoke with a jeering tone while making Shining Armor look more and more uncomfortable.

"Denied! Absolutely denied! I don't swing that way!" He replied rather loudly while starting to seem mildly frustrated as well.

Finally, Luna started to get in on the fun as well. She lowered her head near him and spoke with a very sly smirk. "You know, we could always pay these two a visit in their dreams tonight. Maybe with a little…dream twisting, we could…"

Shining Armor clearly wanted nothing to do with whatever it was the two sisters of the night were planning. "Gah, no! Please, leave my dreams alone! Can we please just continue with the game already?!" Despite all this, Cadence was howling in laughter from nearby. It is good to see she was taking all this teasing in stride.

"All right, fellas! My turn!" Applejack spoke up to quiet everyone down. With a smack of her hoof, that bottle went into another spin. It actually spun for a surprisingly long time before slowing to a stop. And of all ponies it landed on, it landed on her brother. Big Macintosh.

"Uh… Y'all sure this is OK?" Big Macintosh asked while looking noticeably unnerved. Shy guy indeed.

Applejack seemed nervous as well, though not quite to the same degree. "Uh… Well, it's just a game, big brother. Let's just roll with it." We all watched while the farm pony walked past Nightmare Moon and gave Big Macintosh a quick peck on the cheek. Nothing special. Just a sweet smooch. Neither of them seemed particularly bothered by this display of affection. But knowing how seriously Applejack takes family issues, I suppose she is very close to every member of the Apple family.

Once Applejack had returned to her spot, Nightmare Moon reached out and gave the bottle a spin. "Hmm, who will it be this time?" It did not spin for long before coming to a stop with the bottle pointing at Mitta.

Mitta was just as surprised as Nightmare Moon herself. The two of them shared a brief gaze before Nightmare Moon smiled warmly. "Well, I certainly do feel you are overdue for a royal hug."

Nightmare Moon rose to her feet and slowly walked through the circle of players and over to Mitta with the elegance I would expect from a princess. Mitta responded in kind by rising to her feet to meet the Princess of Dreams better in height. Once the two were standing before each other, Mitta spoke with a somber smile. "Thank you again, your highness…"

I knew what she was referring to. It was Nightmare Moon herself who removed the curse that had been placed on her ages ago. And Nightmare Moon was all too willing to return the feelings. She gently draped her neck over Mitta's in a traditional equine hug that was absolutely endearing to look at. In fact, it reminded me of how Celestia and Twilight often share a hug together. "It was a pleasure. I pray that you have been well since that time."

No words were spoken while we watched. This was more than just a simple hug and should not be interrupted. Eventually, Nightmare Moon did return to her spot, though she did pass Mitta a playful wink, most likely as a sign of friendship. Mitta giggled just faintly from next me just before also giving me a grateful smile. I smiled as well while stroking my hand over her back.

"Your move, big brother. Give it a good spin." Applejack spoke up while our eyes fell upon Big Macintosh. The very calm earth pony stallion gave the back of the bottle a smack, although I suspect he may have been holding back. It went into quite a spin, taking a good ten seconds to come to a stop. And the person it pointed to was probably the last player in the circle any of us was expecting. It was pointing to the guy right next to him. Shining Armor.

The captain of the guard and the local powerhouse of Ponyville looked right at each other with expressions that clearly showed that neither of them were expecting this. Rainbow Dash was quick to poke fun at this and spoke loudly, "Sweet! Who can hug the hardest?!"

The two stallions glanced over at her before looking back at each other with playful smirks. Shining Armor was the first to speak. "Well, may the best stallion win, Sir Macintosh."

"Eyup." Big Macintosh replied briefly while he and the unicorn stallion rose to a standing position before flexing and loosening themselves up.

"Ooh, this is gonna be good! Who wants popcorn?!" Pinkie Pie called out while holding a large stack of bags of popcorn. Come to think of it, where did she even get those? Regardless, everyone was watching as the two stallions threw their arms out to their sides before grabbing each other in a tight embrace. Although I suppose it was more of a bear hug.

The competition did not last long. Probably no more than five seconds in, there was an audible crack while Shining Armor threw his head back while letting out a yell. "Aaaaagh! I give! Uncle! Uncle!"

Big Macintosh responded right away, his arms letting go and allowing the humiliated captain of the guard to fall into a crippled heap. Quite a few of us burst into laughter while Rainbow Dash once again provided fitting commentary. "Oh, how embarrassing! The captain of the guard beaten out by a civilian!" Big Macintosh could only grin bashfully while he returned to his seat.

"Uh… Are you going to be OK, dear?" Cadence asked with a tone of concern. However, she also looked like she was trying to not laugh.

"Send word to the guards that I'm gonna be on leave for a few weeks… Be sure to let Estoc know I am placing him in command for the time being… Ow…" Armor groaned while lying on his side. Poor guy. Whatever it was that Big Macintosh popped out of place, it must have hurt.

"Your turn, captain. Give it a good whirl." Nightmare Moon spoke while we watched the crippled stallion.

"Does it look like I can actually do anything?! I'm in more than just a little pain here!" He groaned in irritation without budging from the spot. Just what did Big Macintosh do to him?

Twilight Sparkle, who was sitting right next to him, rolled her eyes while a silly smirk spread across her lips. Her horn was then coated by her pink magic aura. "Easy there, brother. I've got this."

Before anyone could object, the motionless unicorn stallion was also coated by that billowing pink aura before being lifted into the air. Armor seemed to be rather unnerved by this and asked, "Um… Twily? What're you… AGH!"

Out of nowhere, Shining Armor's body suddenly twisted and bent backwards to the point where his horn nearly touched his tail. "Twily, this hurts! Wha… Ow! Cut it out! This… Agh! Stop it! You're… Yeowch!" Twilight began to twist and turn him, audible cracks and pops being heard from somewhere inside his body. With each different pose lasting for less than two seconds, I did not have time to actually commit any of these bizarre positions to memory. Needless to say, they looked rather painful.

Finally, after maybe a dozen twists and turns, Twilight set her brother back down on his feet. "Better?"

Armor gave his sister quite a frustrated glare. I can only imagine how uncomfortable that whole thing must have been for him. "That wasn't funny, Twilight! What were… Huh?" It was then that he noticed that he was standing on his own again while his forelegs were clearly responsive. "Hey! I actually feel really good! That got out all the kinks!"

"Just make sure you spin the bottle before you try to hug me. You know the rules." Twilight responded while giving her brother a whimsical wink.

"Oh, right. In that case, lemme move this game along." Armor replied before taking his seat and smacking the bottle to send it into a spin. It did not stay spinning for long before it ended up pointing at the mare on my right. Dear little Fluttershy.

Fluttershy instantly blushed the moment the bottle pointed at her. Even Shining Armor himself seemed a little uneasy. "Whoa… Uh… James? You sure this is OK? I mean she is YOUR mare, after all."

I shrugged my shoulders while cracking a smirk. "It's just a game, man. Besides, you should be asking her. She's the one the bottle pointed to."

My girlfriend averted her eyes a bit while managing to stammer out a reply. "Uh… Well, it is just a game… I guess… Um… Could you just give me a kiss on… Uh… On my cheek?"

Shining Armor nodded with a slight smile. "Sounds good to me." He then walked over to Fluttershy and stretched his neck out before planting a soft kiss on her cheek, prompting a tiny giggle from the lovely pegasus mare. Although… I must admit that I did feel a twinge of jealousy when I saw that. It was tiny. Hardly even noticeable at all. But it was there, even though I know Fluttershy would never leave me. I have to wonder… Is that how she feels when she sees me kiss Rarity or any other mare?

Once Armor had returned to his spot, it was Twilight's move. Much like Rarity before her, Twilight used magic to spin the bottle. We all watched in silence while the bottle whirled around on the floor. But when the bottle stopped, I felt a twinge of nervousness fill my heart. The bottle was pointing at me.

"Huh?! Really?!" Twilight asked while her gaze turned towards me, a noticeable blush forming on her cheeks. And considering the chat we had earlier that day, I could only imagine what thoughts were going through her head. While she and I looked at each other, her expression became even uneasier while her ears drooped. She was obviously incredibly nervous about the whole thing and I was hardy surprised.

Shining Armor seemed to notice Twilight's hesitation and gently nudged her forward. "Go on, Twily. It's your turn. Or would you rather spin the bottle again?"

Twilight's purple eyes glanced about uncertainly for a few seconds before she finally muttered out a response. "No… I'll do it." She then stood up and began to walk towards me with the slowest and most uneasy gait I had seen in a very long time. I could see that look in her eyes. She was scared. And it is very rare to see her look so… I am not even certain how to say it, but she seemed very unsure of herself.

All eyes were on the two of us. The room had become quiet enough to hear a pin drop. For a moment, Twilight looked at me with a stare that I think I understood. She wanted to do this, but was worried that it might be a bad idea. However, her eyes then glanced to my right at Fluttershy. I too looked at my girlfriend, who gave us both a nod while showing a calm smile. To try to help Twilight relax, I reached out and gently caressed her cheek. "What kind of kiss would you like, Twilight?"

She very subtly leaned into my touch. It was very hard to notice, but I did. After a few seconds of contemplation, she leaned forward and whispered into my ear. "The best you can give, if that's OK…"

I nodded and gave my dear friend a warm smile. Very slowly, I pulled the wise unicorn mare towards me. She slowly closed her eyes while clearly placing all faith in me. I too began to close my eyes and then gently pressed my lips against hers. The entire room was silent aside from that music Pinkie Pie had playing on her phonograph. Weirdly enough, the song that was playing at that moment was a calmer tune that better fit the mood.

The kiss was long and tender. I soon even felt Twilight starting to wrap her forelegs around me in a tender embrace. Remembering what she had just requested of me, I decided then to move along and make the kiss even more intimate. I reached out with my tongue, the tip soon gently rubbing against her closed lips. Twilight soon responded in kind and parted her lips to allow me in. And the instant our tongues touched, I felt Twilight quiver in my grasp while she just melted against me like putty in my arms.

"Whoa… You OK there, Twilight?" Shining Armor asked from nearby. I supposed it must have been an odd experience for him to see his sister in such a situation. As for Twilight… She was in bliss. I could feel it in her body and subtle moans in her throat. She was completely submitted to these new sensations she was likely experiencing. And I did not want to disappoint her. My arms hoisted her against me so she would not slide to the floor. That taste… I could taste the faint flavor of tea. Was that pomegranate and raspberry? A favorite of mine.

Finally, after a good minute or two, I decided it was time to stop stalling. I very slowly pulled my lips away from hers while feeling a string of our combined saliva rest against my chin. That look in her eyes… She appeared to be intoxicated. Almost completely unresponsive. Was that the first real kiss she had ever received? "Um… Are you feeling all right, Twi? Was that too much?"

Everyone remained silent while Twilight looked at me with a completely blank expression. It fact, it was very worrying to see that empty look in her eyes. Did she faint? Fortunately, I did not wait long for some life to return to her eyes. Her mouth curved up into a groggy yet pleased smile. She then spoke in a tiny whisper while a single tear oozed from the corner of her eye. "Thank you…"

I followed up Twilight's turn with a gentle kiss on the forehead. "You're very welcome, Twilight." After that, she stood up and turned before walking back to her spot while an absurdly love struck expression adorned her face. Her gait was ridiculously unsteady with her swaying and dipping as if her legs would give out from under her at any time. While most everyone else burst into laughter at this bizarre reaction to that kiss, I snickered while covering my face with a hand. Just what did I do to her?

Finally, Twilight spun around before dropping back down into a seated position to the left of her brother with a thump. Shining Armor was displaying a very awkward smile while looking at Twilight, who seemed to be having trouble keeping her stance steady while still looking just as dazed as before. "So… How was your first kiss, Twily?"

My wise and scholarly friend replied with a very slurred voice. "Reeeeally goooood…"

Wanting to stop myself from bursting into laughter, I turned to Pinkie Pie in the hopes of getting the game going again. "Uh… Isn't it your turn, Pinkie?"

"Oh, right! It is! Here we go!" Pinkie replied before smacking the back end of the bottle to send it into another spin. And when it stopped…it pointed to me again.

"OK, what's the deal, Pinkie?! You rigged that bottle! Admit it!" I spoke up in bewilderment while also trying to poke fun at just how many times the bottle had ended up pointing at me during the first rotation alone. Quite a few of the other players got a good chuckle out of it too, although Rainbow Dash was looking all the more frustrated by it.

Pinkie Pie let out a giggle at my question and replied, "Oh, James! You know I can't rig a glass bottle to point at you all the time! Besides…" She then… Whoa. Where did that look come from? She then gave me a much more sultry gaze that looked more like a stare Rarity would give me in private. Anyone who knows Pinkie Pie probably sees her in a rather childish and cute light more than anything. But I swear… The instant she gave me that look, her sex appeal just skyrocketed. "Who are you to complain?"

I… I had no words. And that gaze was getting me very hot and bothered. Still, I managed to crack a nervous grin. "Heh… I guess I don't have any right in complaining. OK, Pinkie. Come here and… Urk?!"

I have no idea what happened next. First thing I see is a mass of pink coming my way, then something moist engulfing my entire front side before I fell over in a type of frozen fetal position. Just… What the hell did she do?! Was that her lips?! It all happened so fast, I did not have time to memorize anything I saw! Still, I managed to force out a few words while my senses tried to stabilize. "She…psyched me out…"

Clearly I was not the only one there who seemed disturbed by what happened. Everyone else in the room was giving Pinkie Pie extremely uneasy stares while Pinkie just looked around at them with that smile she constantly wears. Even Twilight seemed to have been awoken from her stupor by…whatever the hell it was Pinkie Pie did. Rainbow Dash then spoke out, "Good grief, Pinkie! Creepiest kiss ever!"

Not wanting to think about what just happened, I looked to my girlfriend. "Well, it's your turn, Fluttershy."

"OK then… Here I go." Fluttershy spoke softly before reaching out and smacking the back of the bottle rather lightly. It did not spin for long before coming to a stop. Not too surprisingly, it was pointing to the pony who was seated to her right.

"My turn again? Aw, you shouldn't have!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed before turning to Fluttershy and catching her in a big hug. Fluttershy could not help grinning brightly while returning the favor. It was a very short display of affection, but I could tell the two ladies enjoyed it.

With my next turn, the first full rotation had been completed. And it would likely be a long time before the game actually ended. I gave the bottle a good spin while everyone watched in silence. When it did come to a stop, it pointed at quite possibly the last person in the room I expected. Applejack.

"Uh… I didn't see that one comin'…" Applejack spoke upon seeing the bottle pointing at her.

"You know the drill, James! Give her a big wet one!" Rainbow Dash called out while making Applejack give her an annoyed scowl.

"That's her call, Rainbow. I'll kiss her the way she wants." I retorted while I stood up and walked over to my country friend. When I dropped down to one knee so our faces were closer, I asked, "So… How should we do this, AJ?"

My friend seemed speechless at first. Even I never imagined I would ever have to kiss her. After a second, Applejack raised her hoof and motioned for me to move away from the circle with her. "Right over here, pardner."

I soon found out what she had in mind. Once we were a few feet away from the circle of players, Applejack took off her hat and held it sideways with our heads behind it. A classic trick to hide the 'action' from prying eyes. Rarity let out a groan of disappoint from nearby. "Oh please, Applejack! Don't hide anything from us!"

"Nice trick, AJ. So, what kinda kiss would you like?" I asked while trying not to laugh at such a trick to mess with the other players.

Applejack's eyes looked away out of their corners while she tried to think of a response. "Hmmm… How about…" Actually, why reveal the truth when Applejack went out of her way to hide it? Feel free to use your imagination on what happened behind the hat. It is more fun to keep the readers guessing.

Needless to say, the two of us got more than a few annoyed glares once we went back to our seats. "You killjoys! Are you certain you have nothing to hide?" Nightmare Moon asked with a playful gaze. Applejack and I dismissed her with chuckling laughter while Mitta reached out and gave the bottle a spin.

I suppose it will take forever if I have to describe what happened on every single turn, so I will narrow it down to the turns that actually had something worth mentioning occur. Once Mitta gave a tender hug to Derpy, it was Rainbow's turn again. I honestly felt a little sorry for her with how she had a constant wingboner since the start.

"Come on, come on, come on…" My brazen pegasus friend chanted while the bottle spun before us. Twilight even rolled her eyes at our friend's obvious desperation.

"Rainbow, it's not like we're gambling anything. Don't you think you're taking this a bit too…huh?" Twilight spoke up before stopping upon seeing the bottle stop spinning. And… Well, Twilight pretty much took the words right out my mouth when she gave Pinkie a rather suspicious stare. "You know, I think James might be onto something when he says that you rigged that bottle." If you cannot guess what she meant, the bottle was pointing to me once more.

For whatever reason, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut when I looked over at Rainbow Dash. She was silent at first while giving me a very sly smirk. After a brief moment, she suddenly went airborne and let out a shout. "JACKPOT!"

Next thing I know, I am tackled to the floor with that brazen tomboy giving me one of the more forceful kisses I have gotten in a while. Even the kiss I had received from Nightmare Moon was not quite this rough. So much so, I was feeling rather overwhelmed and not in a good way. "Erf… OK, enough! Back off already!"

I managed to push Rainbow up and force her to take a seat before me. She instantly blushed upon realizing that she had really let herself go with such a large audience watching. But before she could say anything, I brought myself to a sitting position and pulled her closer to me. I then looked my friend in the eye and smirked as my playful side started to come out. "All you had to do was ask."

Before she could even say anything, I brought my lips to hers and began to kiss her firmly, yet sweetly. At first, Rainbow Dash did not respond at all, but she soon pressed into the kiss while wrapping her arms around me. It felt so…nostalgic when our lips parted to allow our tongues to meet. I still remember the first time we kissed on Hearts and Hooves Day not even four months ago. And she still felt as sweet and passionate as before. Slightly rougher than Fluttershy, but filled with tender passion.

The kiss ended up going on longer than I intended. I suppose Rainbow Dash had been itching for another chance to kiss me like that since the last time. I know she loves me. And to be honest, I love her too. Despite being impossible to be even more of a polar opposite to me, I find Rainbow Dash to be shockingly attractive. In fact, the only real issue I have with her is her constant ego. Aside from her occasional egotistical moments, I find her to be very attractive. I suppose she was right. Opposites do attract.

We finally parted lips while we both lightly gasped for breath. I felt very warm all over. And Rainbow Dash… I had never seen her face so red before. You could clearly see it through the light blue coat that was covering her cheeks. I whispered to her, "As good as the last time?"

She soon smiled warmly and whispered back to me. "Even better. Thanks, big guy. I really needed that." Sure enough, her wingboner was gone by that point.

After several more spins of the bottle and a few more hugs and kisses were given, it was once again Pinkie Pie's turn. But I was in for a surprise when the bottle came to a stop after she gave it a smack. Upon looking at who the bottle was pointing to, she grinned brightly and spoke, "Oooh! Big Hunky Macintosh!"

The instant he heard his name being spoke, Big Macintosh's rather lazy eyes opened wide. He then glanced over at Pinkie Pie, who was giving him the same shockingly alluring gaze she had given me. Since he was not trying to get away from him, I decided to give him my two cents. "Big Macintosh."

The big burly stallion glanced my way without turning away from the pink mare who was on the verge of pouncing. I then spoke just one word. "Run."

"Pucker up, big guy! You know the rules!" Pinkie Pie spoke rather loudly before lunging at Big Macintosh with her…lips expanding wide enough to consume him if given the chance. Just…try not to think too hard about that. I still cannot comprehend what I saw entirely.

Fortunately, Big Macintosh was quick to react and bolted from his spot in the circle of players. "Nope!"

We all burst into laughter at the sight that ensued. Pinkie Pie was chasing Big Macintosh all around the room while frequently planting kisses onto the floor every time she missed him. Even though it was all harmless fun, Big Macintosh was fleeing in sheer terror. And considering how freaked out I was when she smooched me, I cannot say that I blame him.

Finally, Pinkie Pie seemed to have Big Macintosh cornered. And sure enough, that goofball of a mare struck. She lunged at him while those lips expanded to absurd proportions in an instant and engulfed the poor stallion. I even saw a few of the mares in the circle look away from how unnerving the sight was. However, we were all in a surprise when the kiss relented. "Woo, that felt good! You OK, Big… Huh?!"

When we all looked at the big red earth pony stallion, I think I felt my jaw drop before I burst into laughter. "What the… Zecora?! Mac, why'd you do that?!"

Big Macintosh, from the looks of it, had grabbed Zecora from nearby and was holding her up to take the blow for him. Despite Zecora always being a very serene and calm individual, she looked rather…traumatized by what Pinkie Pie did to her. She was a bit drenched in saliva while one eye twitched nervously. "Can somepony please reveal to me…why these lips are the size I see?" She seemed little slow on the draw since Pinkie's mouth seemed completely normal to me at the time. But considering that she was in a mild state of shock at the time, it is understandable.

Pinkie Pie returned to her spot without much argument while Big Macintosh did the same. But that look on his face… I am sure he felt like the luckiest guy in the world for having dodged one of Pinkie's really weird kisses.

Over and over, the bottle spun. I gave hugs to Big Macintosh and Shining Armor and gave plenty of gentle kisses to the mares. Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle took the opportunity to give me a second helping of their more impressive kisses whenever my turn ended up having the bottle point to them. However, once I had already had a friendly cuddle or kiss with a quarter of the players, I started to lose some turns since the bottle kept pointing to players I already had a turn with. Pinkie Pie seemed to be the most successful player aside from me, with her getting quite a few cuddles in. All the while, Shining Armor would look very tense whenever she had a turn. Being the last man standing in the circle, he was clearly dreading one of her kisses.

Finally, it ultimately came down to me and Pinkie Pie having just one person left to hug or kiss. I had landed on everyone in the circle besides Fluttershy. How fitting that it would save the best for last. And Pinkie Pie only had Shining Armor left to kiss. Good grief, the poor guy looked tense. Hopefully I would get the last turn in and win before She could. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. With one last spin of the bottle, Pinkie Pie landed on a horrified Shining Armor.

"Ooh, looks like it's your brother's turn, Twilight!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed while Armor's ears drooped significantly. I never thought I would see the captain of Canterlot's royal guard look so frightened. Good thing none of his men were there to see that.

"Uh… Yeah. Just go easy on him, Pinkie." Twilight replied with a rather uneasy smile. I can only imagine how awkward it must have been for her to see her brother about to be smooched in the creepiest way possible.

"Pucker up, captain! You're the last one!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed while she started to approach Armor as if she was prowling for prey. I am sure she was just really into her game, although it is still understandable that he would be intimidated.

Just when it seemed Pinkie was about to pounce on him, Shining Armor's horn was coated by a billowing pink aura that was identical to that of Twilight's magic aura. "Honey, forgive me!"

And then she struck. Pinkie Pie lunged at him while her lips… You already know. However, once the kiss ended, we all just stared in silence at who was being held in front of Armor while looking just as mentally overwhelmed as Zecora was. Twilight spoke first. "Wha… Cadence?!"

Sure enough, Armor's wife had taken the hit for him. Even Pinkie Pie seemed shocked by what she had done. Finally, Cadence regained her bearings and looked over her shoulder with a glare on her face and spoke to a very sheepish Shining Armor. "You're sleeping on the sofa tonight."

I was glad that the game was finally over by that point. It had been going for way too long by then. However, I did look at Fluttershy, who then let out a sigh. "I was hoping I would finally get a chance…" My girlfriend did not even get the chance to land on me herself. Very unlucky.

Of course, I could not leave her feeling like that. So, with a smirk, I wrapped my arm around the beautiful pegasus and pulled her closer to me. "Who says I don't have to?"

Before she could even respond, I pressed my lips against hers. I was honestly expecting her to nearly faint. However, Fluttershy held onto her integrity and let out a muffled moan before embracing me tightly. Our kiss quickly deepened, my tongue tasting the familiar flavor of feta cheese in her mouth. As brief as the kiss was, it was very satisfying for both. A few of the other partygoers even gave us some applause in support of our relationship. When we finally broke the kiss, Fluttershy gazed into my eyes with a blush in her cheeks. "Much better. Thank you, honey."

Once the players had begun to scatter, Pinkie Pie started pulling some stuff out of a closest nearby. Was that a collapsible stage she was setting up? Maybe she had some standup comedy in mind? Regardless, I went over to the main food table to get myself some cake, punch, and some veggies to balance out my palette. While I did so, I noticed Twilight speaking to Fluttershy nearby. Over the sounds of conversation and the music that was coming from the phonograph nearby, I could not make out anything they were saying. Soon, Rainbow Dash even came over to them and joined in. Feeling it was not my place to interrupt, I returned to the cushion I had been using a little earlier.

I found the cake to be a marble style cake, mixing yellow cake with dark chocolate cake for a superb combination, and the icing was very soft and smooth to the point where I nearly mistook it for marshmallow spread. Man, that was some good cake. However, I did not wait long before I noticed someone approach me out of the corner of my eye. At first glance, I thought it was Cadence again. But when I turned to actually face the person in question, I found that it was Derpy Hooves instead.

"Hey there, James. Aren't you bored over here?" She asked while looking at me with her unfocused eyes.

"Nah. I just prefer to do things to the beat of my own drum. I know it might look like I'm taking this party in stride, but I'm really having a good time." I replied while taking a sip of my punch. I may not be the most enthusiastic guy around, but I still enjoy a good party at my own pace.

Derpy nodded while showing a slight smile before taking a seat by me. She then reached into her wing and lifted out an envelope by her teeth. "For me?" I asked before taking the envelope in hand. It was certainly addressed to me, although I did not see a return address in the corner.

"That envelope showed up at the office just after I finished my route today. Since I knew this party was gonna happen today, I decided to just bring it to you directly." Derpy explained while seemingly focusing on the stamp in the corner. I cannot recall what was on it, but it looked…tropical. That much I do remember. "I think it was from a friend who couldn't make it. Pinkie Pie started sending out invitations a full month ago, so this person must've been pretty far away for it to show up today."

"Well, let's see who it came from." I replied while sliding my finger under the envelope's closed flap to tear it free. Once it was open, I lifted a sturdy folded letter from the envelope. In the center of the side that was facing me was a familiar symbol I almost recognized. It seemed to depict a magic wand with a light blue star on the tip while a flowing light blue shawl floated behind it. It took me a moment, but I eventually recognized it. "Trixie?!"

"Huh?! Oh yeah, that's from Trixie Lulamoon! I guess she must be on tour somewhere right now. What's it say?" Derpy asked, apparently knowing Trixie's full name from having to deliver to her before at some point.

"Let's see…" I muttered before I flipped the letter open. Lots of text in black ink was written throughout the entire sheet. I suppose Trixie was trying to be careful to not run out of space.

"To Trixie the Illusionist's Greatest Friend. How have you been, James? Has it really been nearly two months since we crossed paths? Time certainly flies when you are on the road. I must thank you again for your advice. My tours have drawn me much praise and admiration just like the good old days. At last, all is well once more. I am currently on vacation in Cantercun and soaking up the sun and surf for some much needed relaxation. I just recently received a surprise invitation to a special party in Ponyville in a couple of weeks, although it may have already happened by the time you get this message. As much as I wish I could attend, I simply have no means to cancel the rest of my tour and make it back in time. My sincerest apologies, dear friend. I hope you enjoy yourself without me. And have a happy anniversary. I hope to see you again someday soon!"

"Well, that was certainly sweet of her to… Hang on, what's this?" I spoke before noticing that there seemed to be something else in the envelope. When I reached in and pulled it out, I actually paused for a moment while staring at it. "Dang, Trixie…"

It seemed that Trixie had sent me a photograph along with that letter. The photo seemed to depict Trixie herself on a beach while reclining on a beach chair. As the beach spread far into the background, it curved to reveal the waves of the ocean nearby. She seemed to be holding a cocktail glass filled with a yellowish orange liquid in her ankle joint with a bent straw sticking out of it and a lime slice stuck on the edge. As for Trixie herself… Wow. She was clad in a one-piece swimsuit that seemed to be the same light shade of purple that made up the majority of her hat and cape. A pair of sunglasses rested on her nose, but she was looking over them at the camera while clearly making certain whoever took the photo could make out her eyes. She was clearly having a good time, judging by that smile. Lastly, over an empty patch of sand in the bottom left corner were the words 'Wishing you well! Trixie the Illusionist' written in black ink. I recognized the stylish handwriting as Trixie's since I see it on that poster I have framed back home every single day. Still… I certainly was not expecting to see her like that. While I am certain Trixie was not trying to be flirty, I will admit she looked quite hot in that swimsuit. Then again, she is very physically attractive. I would not be surprised if her looks alone draw a significant amount of her male fans to her.

"Wow, looks like she's having fun over there." Derpy remarked while looking over my shoulder at the photo.

"Yup. And I think I know where I want to have my honeymoon if Fluttershy and I ever get hitched. And that place is called Cantercun?" I replied while taking note of Trixie's surroundings. I have not been to a tropical resort in quite some time and would love to go again.

Derpy looked at me and nodded with a smile. "Yep! It's one of the most popular seaside resorts in Equestria. If you go, bring me a souvenir!"

I rolled my eyes at Derpy's playful request. However, I then remembered that there was one other possible friend who did not seem to be attending the party. "Hey, Derpy? How's the doc doing? Was he unable to come?"

Derpy sighed while also looking rather disappointed. "No, he had some important business to take care of. He's usually really busy, you know. But he did want me to give you his regards."

"Thanks, Derpy. Next time you see him, tell him I think he's pretty cool." I replied while stroking her mane for a moment. The Doctor has revealed a bit more about himself since the first time we met. Something about being some sort of 'lord' and apparently being able to travel through time, although I cannot quite wrap my head around that part. Even so, I think we have become good friends. It is just a shame he is not around more often.

While Derpy and I were chatting, I was quick to notice that some of the kids had come back upstairs. Button Mash seemed to be rooting around in the corner of the room where he had been playing his little handheld a bit earlier. "Oh, come on! I know I left it over here!"

Fortunately, it did not take long for Ruby to pop up out of the floor with a familiar device in her mouth. "Hi, Button Mash! Is this Joyboy yours?"

The little colt turned to face the ghost filly and beamed brightly at her. "Oh, sweet! You found it again! Thanks, Ruby!" I was wondering who that device belonged to the first time I saw her find it a short while back. Now I know.

Before I could call out to Button Mash, I heard Pinkie Pie call out from one side of the room. "So sorry to keep you all waiting, everypony! I'd have gotten this stage put together faster, but my termite farm thought my old one was a private resort for them!"

Right off the bat and she was already doing standup? Turns out Pinkie Pie had assembled a small stage at the far end of the room and had even set up several round tables here and there. Many of the partygoers were already seated at the tables with plates and tankards of food and drink. Seems Pinkie had decided to liven up the party with a little standup comedy gig. She then looked around while holding a microphone in her ankle joint and asked, "Hey, Shining Armor! So nice to have the captain of the guard show up for the party! How's the married life so far?"

It turned out that Shining Armor, Twilight Sparkle, and Cadence were seated at the front row together. Armor then replied, "Oh, it's been going great! Ever since the wedding, life's been smooth and steady."

"That's what she said!" Pinkie Pie suddenly replied in a barely masked innuendo that got the crowd laughing. Cadence in particular placed her hoof in her face while snickering loudly under her breath.

Shining Armor, on the other hand, seemed to laugh with a slightly uneasy grimace on his face. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?" Come to think of it, what does Cadence and Shining Armor do when… No, I am not going there!

Even so, as silly that joke was, I felt a little worried that the kids in the room might have heard it. Fortunately, they seemed a little preoccupied with talking and playing to be listening to any of Pinkie Pie's jokes. That, and I think Pinkie Pie knew better than to let any of the naughtier jokes get too obvious.

After a couple more jokes, including one that implied Pinkie Pie had once gone on an 'interstellar journey' in Luna's mane and met an alien race that get different weather patterns depending on what type of conditioner she uses, that silly mare pointed at me. "Hey, James! Do you know any standup routines?!"

I glanced up at her upon hearing my name. "Huh? Me?!"

Eleina looked my way and cracked a smile. "Good idea! Are there any comedy skits or jokes you have to share?"

I certainly was not expecting to get called to the stage. And it did not help that I am normally too shy to stand before a crowd. Even so, I tried to search my memory for anything prominent to share. "Uh… I don't think I know any… Oh, wait. I do know just one. But can you give me a minute to get ready?"

While I walked over to the cider casks, Fluttershy looked my way and asked, "Um… Get ready for what?"

I looked back at everyone and replied with a slight smirk on my face. "You know I'm too shy to get on stage as is. I need some liquid courage first."

Applejack stepped out of my way to let me get to the casks. I suppose she was making certain no one would take the really strong stuff by accident. I then filled a tankard halfway with regular hard cider before filling the rest of it with that 'moonshine'. Applejack seemed rather baffled by this approach and asked, "Uh… James? Are ya sure you wanna drink that?"

"Yep. I need some of the strong stuff to loosen me up." I replied before beginning to chug the stuff as quickly as I could. Even with the weaker of the two ciders sweetening the drink a bit, I still felt a surge of heat at the back of my throat that nearly made me gag a couple of times. In less than two minutes, I had finished the drink and set the tankard down. "OK. Now to wait."

Sure enough, I started to feel a little warmer a few minutes later while Pinkie Pie continued to spout more and more jokes, including one joke about how she found a bookworm named Twilight sleeping in one of her cookbooks one morning. And then I felt it. I became slightly listless and I found my eyes unable to focus perfectly while I could not stop myself from swaying just slightly. Knowing I was now mildly intoxicated, I decided to get ready for the show. I waited for Pinkie Pie to finish her current joke before calling out. "Hey, Pinkie? May I borrow the toaster from the kitchen downstairs?"

Everyone gave me some very weird looks when I made that request. And I do not blame them. Why would I want a toaster, right? Despite how odd that request sounded in retrospect, she still agreed. "Uh… Sure! Just don't break it!"

I smiled sneakily while approaching the stairs with a more carefree gait than I normally walk with and headed down the stairs and into the kitchen. It seemed Mr. and Mrs. Cake were finishing up the last batch of treats at the time. Without paying them much mind, I went over to the counter at the far side of the kitchen and unplugged a shiny silver toaster from the wall. Just the kind I needed too.

While I looked the toaster over, I tried to figure out how I would make this work. "Uh… Mr. Cake? Can you give me a hand with this?"

After a few minutes of gathering up the needed components, the Cakes soon had the toaster resting against my belly while wrapped up in a very long cloth strap that was hanging from my neck. Finally, Mrs. Cake asked the most obvious question. "Uh… James? Just what are you going to do with our toaster?"

While I grabbed a pair of spoons from a drawer nearby, I snickered and replied, "Why don't you come upstairs and see for yourself?"

A minute later, Mr. and Mrs. removed the last batch of goodies from the oven and followed me upstairs. Everyone's eyes were on me while I walked over to the stage with that toaster hanging prominently from my neck. Pinkie Pie let out a giggle while she left the stage and asked, "You weren't kidding about the toaster, huh? What're you gonna do with it?"

Once she was seated before me with the rest of the partygoers, I decided t oget the show started. I was still feeling slightly nervous, although the alcohol in my body was keeping most of my inhibitions at bay. "I'm so glad you asked."

I held the toaster in one hand before lifting it higher for everyone to see. "This is a Toastmaster 4-slice concert model. I like the…" I was interrupted by some snickering in the background. Apparently Spike and Rainbow Dash were getting a good chuckle already at what I was doing. Even so, I continued while everyone else watched in intrigued silence. "Ahem… I like the crumb tray-down position a little better acoustically. You might've read about it in Toaster Player."

Once again, I got a few more chuckles out of the crowd before me. With the intro out of the way, I pulled the two silver spoons out of my pockets and began to tap them against the metal shell of the toaster to beat out a rhythm. Everyone fell silent as I started my skit while speaking in a soft and smooth tone of voice.

"All around the country and coast to coast…" I spoke during a pause in the taps. Once I finished that verse, I tapped out another verse of metallic clacks with the spoons. All the while, everyone was giving me some of the most bewildered, if not amused, stares I have gotten in a long time.

"People always say what do you like most?" I spoke before…actually, make a mental note as you read this. Between every verse, imagine me pausing while tapping out a rhythm on the toaster before speaking again.

"I don't wanna brag, I don't wanna boast….. I always tell them I like toast." Once I finished those two lines, I tapped out a longer series of taps while a few of the partygoers laughed or chuckled lightly at my rhyming. However, once they had lowered their guard, I yelled out in the most obnoxiously sudden and high-pitched voice I could muster on the spot. "YEAH, TOAST!"

That sudden yell did far more to the audience than I expected. Along with everyone suddenly jumping at the sound of my voice, Luna was so badly startled that she ended up spewing the cider she was drinking right into Zecora who was seated at the table in front of her! I have to say Zecora looks quite lovely with that mane of hers weighed down with water…or cider, in this case. Although it was clear she was far from pleased since she gave Luna a very irritated glare while the Princess of the Night covered her nervous toothy grin with a hoof as a bright blush filled her cheeks. Nightmare Moon and Rainbow Dash, not to mention myself and just about everyone else in the room, were howling in laughter.

"So sorry, Zecora! I… I didn't see that coming at all!" Luna spoke apologetically while trying to not laugh herself silly.

Rainbow Dash then called out, "Hey, James! That wasn't it, was it?!"

Realizing that I had paused due to Luna's unexpected spit-take, I quickly tried to regain my composure. "Right, sorry! Let that be a reminder to everyone that for the sake of your fellow partygoers, please refrain from partaking in the consumption of drink during this skit!"

I then tapped the toaster a few times before beginning to speak quickly. "Uh… Where was I? All around the country and coast to coast people always say what do you like most I don't wanna brag I don't wanna boast I always tell them I like toast… Oh, right. YEAH, TOAST!" Once again, I caught everyone off guard with that sudden outburst and triggered quite a few laughs. I then decided to continue on to the next verse while speaking in a less subdued tone of voice.

"I get up in the morning around 6 AM… Have a little jelly, have a little jam… Take a piece of bread, put it in the slot… Push down on the lever and the wires get hot, I get toast." By then, over half of the partygoers were chuckling and laughing whenever I paused in speaking. And then I surprised them all once more. "YEAH, TOAST!" This triggered another bout of stronger laughter from the ponies before me just before I tapped the toaster for a moment longer. "YEAH, TOAST!"

"Now, there's no secret to toasting perfection! There's a dial on the side and you make your selection. Push to the dark or the light and then if it pops too soon, press down again. Make toast!" The laughter would always come every time I stopped talking to tap out a tune on the toaster between each line. I wonder… Have these people ever heard so much about toast in such a short time before? "YEAH, TOAST!" I shouted once more while causing quite a few of the audience to break into heartier laughter. I could see Big Macintosh clutching his gut, as he seemed ready to fall off his stool. "AGH, TOAST!"

"When the first caveman rolled in from the dregs…didn't know what would go with the bacon and the eggs. Must've been a genius, got it in his head…plug the toaster in the wall, buy a bag of bread and make toast." And as usual, I followed that with a quick tapping on the toaster before yelling, "YEAH, TOAST!" Thankfully, I did not have that much further to go at the time. It would not do for a skit to get stale, no pun intended. Actually…yes, that pun was absolutely intended. I then followed that shout with a voice that must have made me sound like I was in some mild discomfort. "UUUGH, TOAST!" Everyone sounded like one big laugh track with how constant their chuckling and laughing was. And it was then that I got to the trickiest part of the skit as I began to speak with a fairly poor French accent.

"Oh, oui monsieur bonjour coquette… Uh huh croissante vous a ver! Maurice Chevalier, Eiffel Tower! Oh oui Marie baguette bon soir!" While that random gibberish may have gotten quite a dose of laughter out of my audience, Rarity in particular sounded like she was going to pass out from laughter at some point since she is likely the only person in the room who had any idea what I was saying since I was likely being completely incoherent. "FRENCH TOAST!" I yelled out, putting a spin on the punch line and hearing several thuds as some of the audience fell out of their seats. "FRENCH TOAST!"

And then, it was time for the last stretch. Deciding to improvise, I came up with the last line of real speech in the skit. "In Manehattan around the Flim and Flam show…" After tapping out another rhythm on the toaster that stopped short, I held my arms high and shouted, "YEEEEEAAAAHHHHH TOAMMPH!" Turns out that Applejack of all people had tossed, or likely bucked, a slice of bread right into my mouth. If I had to guess, she was not exactly pleased of me mentioning the names of who I would find out from her that evening are two of her shadiest business rivals. Even so, I brushed the interruption off without missing a beat. I tapped out another tune on the toaster while the audience laughed at how I kept going with a slice of bread hanging out of my mouth.

"Ymmm hmmm mmm hmmmm!" I hummed through the slice of bread hanging from my mouth while swaying side to side in a very exaggerated manner before taking a bite out of the bread to free my mouth and letting the bread fall to the toaster hanging from my neck. I then stuck my arms out to my sides with the spoons still in my grasp. "Toast."

The audience before me burst into one last bout of laughter while also giving a very noisy round of applause. I took one bow before lifting the toaster from around my neck and stepping down from the stage. Rainbow Dash yelled out while hovering in the air to apparently get a better view of the stage. "Man, and I thought Pinkie Pie could be random! Where'd you pick that skit up?!"

Rather than answer her question, I decided to get cheeky with her. "Skit?! What skit?! I just really like toast!" That earned me yet another bout of hearty laughter. Heh, that was really fun to do.

I decided by that point to head downstairs to get me some water to counter the alcohol I had consumed. For those who do not know, the best way to prevent a hangover is to keep yourself hydrated. But right as I was entering the kitchen, I noticed the front door just starting to creak open. I did not pay it any mind though and proceeded into the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. Wasting no time, I snatched a large drink cup and filled it with water from the kitchen sink while also taking the opportunity to place the toaster back where I got it from. While I could have returned to the party, I decided to take a break from it and stepped out through the back door for some peace and quiet.

Come to think of it, I never really did get around to describing the backside of Sugarcube Corner. While the front of the building looks like that of most stores in layout, the back seemed to have the look of a backyard to some degree. It was fenced in by a rounded fence with two shades of pink painted over the wood while most of the posts seemed to be topped with white icing, staying in the bakery look of Sugarcube Corner. There was a gap in the fence right ahead from the door to allow for easy access. There were a few bushes right next to the building itself and a patch of grass with little dainty flowers spread out on it here and there. There was also a patch of grass to the left of the door with a 'peninsula' of the ground reaching into it. The grass seemed to have been allowed to grow quite tall while having been carefully tended to in order to prevent it from becoming overgrown, much like a hedge. And to the right of the door was a small round table with a stool by it. I then took a seat with my back to the building behind me while taking long drinks of the water in my hand.

After a minute or two of basking in the silence of the warm summer evening, I heard the door open behind me once more. I did not mind it though. Probably just Mr. or Mrs. Cake setting out a bag of garbage. However, I then heard the sound of hooves drawing closer to me before a familiar voice spoke up from behind me. "What are you doing out here? You're missing your party."

I did not immediately recognize the voice, probably due to my mild intoxication at the time. I started to turn myself around on the stool while replying, "I'm on break right now. I'll be back in a bit to spread some more jam onto the toast jo… Huh?" I paused for a minute while beholding the last person I was expecting to see at the party. "Uh… Celestia?"

Indeed, the Princess of the Dawn herself was standing before me with a rather bemused expression on her face. "Spread jam on the toast… Did I miss something?!"

I dismissed her question and asked one of my own. "But… I thought you weren't coming. Did something happen?"

The alicorn before me immediately giggled rather cheekily before rolling her eyes. "Well, I did have a fair amount of work to take care of today. However, after a while, I thought to myself. I am one of the true sovereigns of Equestria. I can take a break whenever I desire and my servants cannot say otherwise! And so, I locked the doors to my chambers and jumped from the balcony before flying to Ponyville. And now, here I am!"

I got a good laugh out of that. I never took Celestia for the adventurous type, but I was not entirely surprised either. "And no one in the palace knows you're here?"

"Probably not." Celestia replied while also letting out a chuckle. However, she then looked directly at me with that tender smile she always has. "And before you ask, the reason I am here is not just because this is a fun party. It marks a very important event that occurred one year ago."

Tipsy as I was, I was coherent enough to realize the seriousness of the situation. "Yeah… The day you and Luna brought me here."

Celestia drew closer and stood by the table. I preferred to remain standing while in conversation, so I rose from the stool I was using so she could use it before leaning against the side of the bakery before me. Celestia then continued to speak. "Precisely. And now I feel it is the best time to ask. How have you enjoyed your first full year here? Was it to your liking?"

I let out a long sigh. A full year. How time has flown. I still cannot quite wrap my head around that fact. "In all honesty… I wish I came to this world a long time ago." I then looked directly at her. "This world… It almost feels like something out of a child's fantasy book. Only…it's very real and plausible. The people of this world are open and friendly and very accepting. I have come across a few bad apples in the mix since I showed up, but as a whole… I don't think I'll ever see a world closer to being a true paradise than this one. It's not perfect, but I don't think there's another world in the entire cosmos that comes as close to being perfect as this one."

Celestia gave me a very warm smile that almost seemed rather flattered. "Thank you, James. I, along with Luna, have been doing all we can to guide this world and to keep it as peaceful and prosperous as possible. And I feel flattered to actually be receiving praise for it."

"Well, you've been doing a far better job than the politicians on my home planet. I guess you have to actually experience living in a far from perfect world to appreciate the superiority of a world like this."

The princess before me bowed her head with a smile. "I know. And I have been hearing nothing but good things about you. But that brings us to the question I have been waiting quite some time to ask you." She then stood up from the stool and approached me slowly. "Now that you have a much firmer grasp of life in Equestria, now is the time to ask. Which world would you rather live in? Luna and I can send you back home, if you desire. Or you can continue to stay here."

I did not wait long at all to give her my answer. "Do you really have to ask that? With all the conveniences my world has, I would much rather live in a simple paradise than in a complex world that is constantly sabotaged by greed and corruption. I want to stay here, Celestia. Is that OK with you?"

She nodded promptly while showing a genuine smile. "Of course! And I am glad you wish to stay with us. You have been a good friend to many and my sisters would hate to see you leave. It's a pleasure to have you with us."

"Thanks, Celestia… And thank you for bringing me here." I replied while reaching out an arm to her for an embrace, but then stopped myself from doing so upon remembering that she is a princess and not exactly a friend of mine. Or so I thought. Before I could lower my arm, I noticed Celestia's horn become engulfed in her billowing golden yellow magic aura. My arm was being held in place while coated by the same aura.

Before I could inquire about why she was restraining me, Celestia spoke up. "Do not feel the need to restrain yourself, James. While I will not deny that you and I are not the closest of friends, I do still see you as one. So, please…"

I felt myself smile at those words. Without further delay, I reached out and held the Princess of the Dawn in a tender embrace while she returned the favor by draping a wing over me. I felt as if I was in the presence of someone I could place all of my faith in. Someone I could always rely on. I find it odd I feel such a presence from Celestia and not Luna or Nightmare Moon, but I suppose that should be expected since she is the eldest of the three royal sisters and obviously has more experience in reigning over Equestria due to Luna's millennium-long absence after the birth of Nightmare Moon.

"Luna was right. You are a cuddly sweetheart." Celestia spoke softly with her head resting on my shoulder.

"I try to be." I replied sincerely while my hand stroked the back of her long neck. This seemed to prompt a very relaxed sigh from the beautiful princess in my arms. It must be a hard spot to reach for her.

"Well… Enough delays." Celestia said after a moment longer before lifting her head from my shoulder before looking right at me. "Shall we return to the festivities?"

While that did sound like a fun idea, I was still in the mood to just relax for a bit. "Um… I'd actually like to stay out here for a bit, if that's OK. The whole reason I'm out here is to get away from the noise for a bit."

"Ah, I see! That's fine. Take your time." Celestia replied with a bright smile. While still clutching my drink cup in one hand, I began to just wander around the yard without ever really leaving it. I allowed my mind to wander while my eyes took in the sight of the town around me. Things were rather quiet at that time. Very few ponies passed by and the wind was warm. I could hear the hissing of cicadas, as the sun was low in the sky. I was surprised by just how late it was already getting. Just how long did that game of Spin the Bottle take to finish?

After a few minutes of just meandering around and savoring the moment to just let my mind wander, I finally noticed that Celestia had not gone back inside at all. She had returned to the stool next to the table and was watching me with silent interest. "Uh… I thought you were going inside to party."

She covered her mouth with her hoof while letting out a quiet snicker. It seemed she found it funny that I had only just then noticed that she was still there. I suppose that 'moonshine' had dulled my senses more than I expected. "Oh, I was just waiting for you. And…did you have too much strong drink? I'm noticing a slight sway in your gait."

"I didn't have that much to drink, did I?!" I exclaimed, not really thinking I was that loosened up by that point. "Pinkie Pie invited me for some standup, so I tried to loosen myself up with some liquid courage. It did the job pretty well, but I swear that I'm nowhere near being drunk."

After wandering around a bit more, I heard Celestia speak up. "You seem to be a man with appreciation for the simple things in life."

I shrugged my shoulders, not really certain if I should feel proud of that trait. "I guess… Maybe that's why I love living in this town so much. It's much more simple than the likes of Canterlot."

A minute later, I glanced over at Celestia once more. Before I could look away, she motioned for me to approach her with her hoof. Without a word, I complied and walked over to her before leaning against the wall opposite the table. "Have Luna and Nightmare Moon been enjoying themselves since they arrived today? I think they said they were going to stop by the spa to see you before the party."

"I suspected that's why they were there when the party started. Have they been OK back in Canterlot?" I replied while glancing up at the window above the back door. I think that may have been the window in Pinkie Pie's bathroom since I saw no movement up there…oh, wait. Her bathroom is in the room at the very top of Sugarcube Corner. I forgot how the room's walls are rounded all around the place. I suppose I should not be surprised I forgot since I almost never go in there. Well, I still saw no one looking out the window. Pinkie Pie was probably keeping everyone entertained and preoccupied with some jokes.

When I looked back at Celestia, she continued speaking. "They have been quite fine. In fact, I think Luna has been happier since she first met you. Before you arrived, she used to always have a very serious expression on her face whenever she and I were not out enjoying ourselves together. But now, I think I know why."

"She was resentful of you always taking the spotlight. Am I right?" I retorted, having already heard testimony from Luna herself while at the spa that day.

Celestia seemed rather shocked by my words. "How'd you know? Actually, don't answer that. But yes. I do believe that was the reason. But ever since meeting you, she smiles more often than ever before. She is more talkative and seems so much happier now." She then smiled brightly at me and spoke softly, "Having someone who truly appreciates her as a person and as a friend has done wonders for her, James. I don't think you know how important you are to her."

I lowered my head. Those were some very heavy words. Had I really made such a difference in the life of the Princess of the Night herself? Absentmindedly, I turned my head up to look at the window that was above the back door. And speak of the devil; Luna was standing behind it while looking down at me. After a few seconds, she waved her hoof at me while showing a calm smile before also waving at her sister. She did not seem too surprised to see her there. Had she anticipated that Celestia would sneak away from the palace to attend the party?

Once she and I had shared a friendly wave, Luna looked away as if someone had called her. She then glanced at me and winked; displaying that lovely light blue eye shadow she always wears before walking out of sight. However, I was suddenly pulled backwards and ended up dragging my heels along the ground while it felt as if someone had grabbed me by my shirt collar. When I came to a stop, I heard Celestia speak softly into my ear with a more menacing tone. "By the way… What is this talk of Luna's flanks being 'hotter' than mine?"

I felt myself instantly tense up upon hearing those words. No wonder Luna was not surprised to see Celestia out here with me. They had likely already encountered each other inside before she came to me. "Oh snap, she told you that?!"

"I do not take kindly to insubordination, you know." Celestia spoke with a hiss into my ear. I felt like I was in for a lot of pain right there. I squinted my eyes nearly shut while gritting my teeth. What was she going to do to me? I did not wait long for an answer before she whispered loudly into my ear. "Gotcha!"

I was suddenly pushed up onto my feet while Celestia giggled giddily behind me. "So sorry, I could not help myself! That subject was just begging for a retort!"

I turned and gave Celestia an amused grimace. "Hey, I was just speaking my mind at the time! Your sister is gorgeous!"

"Well, you can't help but feel at least a little jealousy when your sibling is complimented for something you both share while you are not. Am I right?" She retorted while winking at me. I have to say, Celestia can be a lot of fun to be with. Worlds need more rulers like her.

"I guess so. But make no mistake, you're gorgeous too." I retorted while reaching out and stroking my hand through her massive billowing mane.

"Well, it is certainly no mystery why my sisters are so fond of you." Celestia spoke while glancing up at the window Luna had been standing at a moment ago. She must have known that Nightmare Moon was likely up there at that time too. "Nightmare Moon cannot go a single day without mentioning your name. It is rather endearing to see how close she holds you to her heart."

This caught my attention. And considering the kisses she and I shared in that game of Spin the Bottle… "Uh… Just what do you two talk about whenever the subject shifts to me?"

Celestia seemed to scan my face for a moment before letting out a chuckle. "Oh, don't worry yourself. I know what you're thinking and that is certainly not the case. She has never once mentioned a romantic interest in you. But you are certainly precious to her. Very precious."

"How precious are we talking?" I asked, finding myself becoming more and more intrigued with every word I heard.

When confronted with this question, Celestia's rather jovial expression became one that seemed slightly darker. "Well… How do I word this? Is there someone in your life that you just cannot imagine yourself being without? Someone that, regardless of how many friends or loved ones that may fill your heart, you just cannot bear losing?"

That was a very serious question I would not have ever expected from her. And at first, I was not sure of how to answer. Even so, I crossed my arms for a moment to think. I tried thinking back. All the way back to exactly one year ago. That was a stressful day, to say the least. I was alone. I was lost. I was not certain of what to do. At least until I met… "There are six people in my life right now I can't imagine myself losing. Twilight Sparkle. Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie. Applejack. Rarity. They're the six most important people to me."

My words prompted a very warm smile from the princess's face. "I can see that. They are all very close to you. Although, I am curious. What of Nightmare Moon? I know you and her had a very difficult reunion that night a few months back."

That brought to mind some unpleasant memories. And in all honesty, I was not certain of how to respond. "Yeah… But… I…" I let out a long sigh. "I just don't know… I mean… She's beautiful. She's likeable. But I…"

Celestia then spoke rather sternly towards me. "James. I saw the journal you had with you when I arrived in the Everfree Forest to assist your friends. Tell me. What did you really feel when you initially defeated her? And what did you feel when she fell before you a second time? The moment where she 'lay dead' before you?"

I felt tears beginning to gather at the edge of my vision as if summoned from nowhere. Images of those dreadful moments flashed through my mind of that night. I brought a hand to my eyes and held my face. "I thought I lost her…"

"What is she to you, James? I know you always held sympathy for her, but I do not think you were feeling merely sympathy for her at that time. I took the liberty to read over that entire journal while you rested from that ordeal. It was not an invasion of privacy, mind you. I wanted to make certain that I understood exactly what unfolded that night." Celestia spoke while showing me a very serious expression. And I suppose she was entitled to look over my writings at the time to make certain there was not a detail I overlooked that could point to future trouble. "From what I gleaned from your writings, you felt very strongly for her at that time. You were in turmoil. I am amazed you never once drew your sword on her. Never once attacking until the very end in order to defend Rainbow Dash. I could see in your writing the emotions you were feeling when you thought you had failed to save her."

She and I shared a very long silent gaze. I could find no words to speak. I feel she was right. But no words came to me. Clearly seeing I was not going to speak, Celestia spoke for me. "I feel Nightmare Moon may be one of the most precious friends in your life. And I can assure you she feels the same. If my sister were to ever lose you… There are no words to describe the devastation she would suffer. James. As sister to the Princess of Dreams, I implore you. Treasure your bond with her."

I wiped the tears away from my eyes. Those were powerful words to listen to. "I will… I won't ever leave her." I then began to approach Celestia before taking a seat on the fence near the table. "What about you though? Is there anyone like that in your life?"

Celestia seemed to not be expecting that question if that look she gave me served as any indication. "Me? Well…" She then looked away from me for a moment while adjusting her position on her stool. "There are two."

"Do tell." I replied while feeling my mood slowly rising through the magic of friendly conversation.

Celestia then glanced at me with a calm smile. "I am sure you can guess one. Luna. She and I have shared a powerful bond since our days as children millennia ago. She is the moon to my sun. Someone who shares a very special and powerful bond with me. If you are lucky, you too will find somepony like that someday."

I was hardly surprised to hear that Luna is that precious to Celestia. She always does seem like a doting older sister to the Princess of the Night. "Yeah, I can see that sometimes. And who is the second person?"

I did not expect Celestia's expression to darken like that. She almost instantly became quite somber. "Yes… The other one…"

"Take your time. I'll listen." I spoke softly while trying to make certain she did not feel pressured. I could tell that it was not going to be easy to talk about.

After taking a deep sigh to calm herself, Celestia began to speak while directing her gaze towards the sky. "I knew him since my childhood. Luna and I were dear friends with him for… I cannot even recall how long. Close to four thousand years, if I had to make an estimate. And he always knew how to make us laugh and smile."

I listened intently. I was not expecting to see Celestia of all people look so melancholy. I was also quick to notice a single tear slide down her face. "But as the centuries went on, I began to see something within those eyes. A powerful sorrow. He always tried to hide it and did a fine job of doing so, but it never truly went away. And as the centuries dragged on, that sorrow only continued to grow. And with it, I saw an underlying madness beginning to fester. I saw it…but I did not want to believe it. I thought that my friendship with him and Luna's friendship as well would be enough to fight what was building inside him." She then looked my way, tears staining her ivory cheeks. "I was wrong."

Those tears… I never thought I would ever see Celestia in such pain. "My best friend is gone, James… The sorrow and madness consumed him. And Luna and I had to act. We stopped him, but… I lost someone important to me that day…"

She ceased to speak while turning her gaze to the ground before allowing her tears to fall. To see beautiful Celestia, the jovial Princess of the Dawn, in such a forlorn state… I did not think it was even possible. What had she endured?

I felt a long sigh escape my lips. Without waiting for her to speak, I stood up and walked over to her before lowering myself slightly. I gently stroked her shoulder to let her know I was there. When Celestia looked at me with those sorrowful pink eyes, I gently wrapped my arms around her to try to comfort her in any way that I could. Whether she was a princess or not, I wanted her to know that I was there for her.

A sniffle came from right beside my ear before I felt Celestia wrap one foreleg around me. "Thank you… You are a great listener."

"I try to be." I replied briefly while my hand gently stroked her back. "But…who was this friend of yours? I've never heard of him."

Celestia was silent for a moment. When she did reply, I did not get the response I was expecting. "He was… That is a story for another day, James…"

The memory must have been especially painful for her if she could not bear to speak of it further. I did not inquire further and merely held Celestia in my arms to try to keep her calm. Eventually, she did lift herself from my grasp and gave me a tearful smile. "Thank you. I really needed that."

"It was no trouble, m'lady… But wait. What about Luna? Did you end up… You know. A thousand years ago? How did you endure that?" I replied before asking about that infamous day where Nightmare Moon was born into the world. Having to send your own sister into the moon itself for a full millennium… That has to be hard on one's conscience.

Celestia sighed deeply before looking away for a moment, although her response was not nearly as heavy as the last. "It was not easy… But I always had Philomena with me. She helped soothe the solitude I had to suffer. And I always clung to the hope that Luna would return. Even though I had doubts at times, I knew my sister was still out there, just waiting to return. I was praying that when she did return, there would be a way to purge her of the darkness that had plagued her soul. And thanks to Twilight Sparkle and her new friends, I finally got my beloved sister back." However, she then looked at me with a very grateful smile. "And in hindsight…perhaps it was for the best in the long run. Because through all that, I gained a new sister because of you. Now I have not just Luna, but Nightmare Moon as well. Thank you, James."

I averted my eyes momentarily at that praise. "I… Well, I guess it was a lot of trouble in the end. But I'm glad Nightmare Moon is with us too… But did you ever figure out just HOW she came to be? Luna becoming Nightmare Moon… That couldn't have possibly been natural, right?"

Celestia nodded in agreement. "You are quite right. That transformation was by no means natural. But even after all this time, none of us have even the slightest idea what could have caused it. But it couldn't have been the result of the meddling of a malevolent being. Still, whomever it was who brought about Nightmare Moon's birth, I am sure they must have been quite disappointed to see her become a true princess alongside Luna and myself."

I snorted just slightly while I tried to not laugh at that thought. "Heh, I'll bet. To see your ultimate weapon become one of your enemy's most powerful allies has got to have you kicking yourself in the end. But who do you think could have done it?" A thought then came to my mind. Just how old is Celestia and Luna? And what may have happened so long ago? "Celestia… Has there ever been some evil tyrant or anything who might have done something to create Nightmare Moon? Someone you might not have told me about?"

Celestia's response was stern and brief. "I'm sorry, James. There are some things that this world is better off not remembering. I cannot tell you anymore than that."

Taking Celestia's word for it, I decided to drop the conversation there. And considering how peaceful and wonderful this world is, I suppose any dark times from so long ago would be irrelevant by this point. Better to focus on the pleasant present than a dark past that happened so long ago that it will probably never happen again under the guidance of the three royal sisters.

"Well… You think we should get back to the party by now?" I asked while bringing myself to a standing position.

Celestia glanced at Sugarcube Corner behind herself before looking back at me with a smile. "I believe so. It wouldn't do to keep crying at a party. Shall we?" I nodded before holding the door open to allow Celestia back inside before following. The kitchen was empty at the time, so we headed right out to the storefront.

When we stepped out from behind the counter, the two of us found Fluttershy, Eleina, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight Sparkle either engaged in conversation or just helping themselves to the various goodies located around the place. I even saw Mr. and Mrs. cake going about tending to the waste bins and bus tubs in a couple of spots. Despite being a relatively small party, the place was getting a lot of use.

Before anyone could say anything, Twilight was the first to notice Celestia and trotted right over to her. "Princess Celestia! I thought you weren't able to come!"

"I know, but who says one of the rulers of Equestria can't take a break for some fun now and then?" Celestia replied with a cheeky grin on her face. Once Twilight had drawn near, I saw the two of them share a traditional equine hug. Twilight reached out with her head and rested it against Celestia's chest while the Princess of the Dawn lowered hers and draped her neck across Twilight's upper back. It was rather endearing to see those two being so cuddly. "I wouldn't miss this party for the world. I hope I didn't miss anything significant."

Pinkie Pie then trotted over and let out a laugh. "Oh, you missed an awesome standup from James! He really reeeally likes toast!"

Celestia then lifted her head and looked at me with a smirk. "You like toast, do you? Well, I like bananas."

There was something…unnerving about that look she was giving me. I raised my hand and opened my mouth to speak, but then lowered my hand while my mind failed to find a proper retort. "Uh… I can't think of a standup routine involving bananas. Sorry."

Not too far away, I saw the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Spike gathered around in a circle with Button Mash pointing at the center. It seemed that they were discussing some sort of video game while moving around colored pieces of paper. Were they comparing gaming experiences?

While I looked on, my eyes fell upon Spike. I have to admit that if there is one person I see frequently but have not interacted with on a personal level very often, it would be him. I see him nearly every time I visit Twilight. In fact, half of the time I encounter her outside of her house, Spike is with her. Almost as if they are some sort of dynamic duo or he is her sidekick.

Eventually, Spike walked away from the group and over to one of the refreshment tables while trying to refill his drink cup with punch. Due to his small stature, he could not quite reach the punch bowl and began to look around for something. Probably a stool to prop himself up on. Seeing his need for assistance, I stepped forward and grabbed him by the sides. "Lemme help you with that."

Spike yelped slightly from apparently not seeing me coming while I lifted him into the air and held him near the handle of the punch bowl's ladle. Once he realized what I was doing, he glanced over his shoulder at me and smiled. "Thanks! I needed that." He then reached for the ladle and lifted it from the bowl before pouring the beverage into his plastic drink cup. But before I could start to lower him, he looked back at me. "Hang on a minute."

I watched in silence while he quickly chugged the contents of his cup before filling it again and repeating the process. Once he filled his cup for the third time, he tapped my hand. "Thanks. You can put me down now."

While I lowered the dragon child to the floor, I spoke to him. "Not easy being short, huh? You get all you need?"

Once he was back on the floor, Spike seemed to instinctively or reflexively brush his sides off. "Yeah, it's not always fun being this short. But it's no big deal." He then took another sip of his drink before looking up at me with those big green reptilian eyes of his. "So, what's up? You having a good time?"

"Yup. What about you? We hardly ever get to talk." I replied while looking down at him. I was almost expecting to see Twilight approaching us, but a quick glanced showed me that she was locked in conversation with Celestia at the time.

He also looked over at Twilight for a second before looking back at me. "Yeah, sorry. I usually only talk to Twilight unless something important comes up with one of her friends. I don't get a whole lot of free time as her assistant. But it's fine! I really don't mind it at all."

I reached out and ran my fingers over the green spines running over the middle Spike's head. "You're a good kid, Spike. I'm sorry we don't chat more often."

Spike snickered while playfully pushing my hand away. "Don't do that! I'm a big boy now!"

"Right, sorry. It's just that you're cute." I retorted while Spike rolled his eyes. Typical boy behavior. Most boys do not enjoy being called cute. While I looked at him, a thought passed through my mind. And in hindsight, I am surprise I did not notice it before. "Hey, Spike? Are you the only dragon in town?"

He clearly was not expecting that question. "Huh? Me? Well… Yeah, I am. I don't think most dragons want anything to do with ponies."

"What makes you say that? I think dragons are really cool and majestic creatures. I've had a deep interest in them for years." I replied while glancing over at Twilight and Celestia again. They really seemed to be deep into their conversation.

That look Spike was giving me… He seemed utterly flabbergasted by what I had said. "Majestic…? What dragons are you talking about? The only dragons I ever met were total jerks!"

My eyes scanned Spike carefully. Total jerks? That certainly did not sound like him. While Spike and I do not interact with each other very often on a social level, I can still see that he is a good kid. He is hardworking and eager to please those he cares about. In some ways…I can actually relate to him. "That doesn't sound like you at all. I've never once felt any bitterness towards you. Well…except for the few times you slammed the library door into my face."

Spike sighed while looking down. He seemed to be looking at his reflection on the surface of the punch in his drink cup. "I guess that's because I was born and raised by ponies. And you know how nice they are most of the time, right?"

"Oh yeah, definitely. The all around nicest folks I've ever met in my life… Wait. Have you actually met other dragons who live their lives more traditionally?" I replied while taking note of Spike's rather forlorn look.

He let out a long sigh while looking at himself in his reflection. He seemed genuinely upset or even remorseful over something. Had he done something he had come to regret? "I'll just say that 'real' dragons aren't exactly good people. It's no wonder you never see them hanging out with ponies anywhere in Equestria."

I could only imagine what he meant by that. Could it be that dragons are naturally unpleasant or even violent by nature? If that is the case, it is clearly no small wonder why they have not been socially accepted into Equestrian society. But at the same time… Spike is nothing like that. As I said before, he is a good kid. Perhaps living among the genuinely pleasant ponies of Equestria can influence one enough to suppress their more unpleasant and destructive tendencies. That would certainly explain how humans lived in harmony with them so long ago. At least I assume they did. I looked down at him and gently stroked my hand over his head and spines. "Well, that's certainly not how you are. You're a nice guy, Spike."

This time, Spike did not refuse my touch. Instead, he turned his head up to look at me with a slight smile on his face. "Yeah… I'm glad I live with ponies instead of dragons. I don't know what I would do if I never met Twilight."

"No kidding. They're a great influence on others, aren't they?" I replied while running one finger over the curve of the spine that stood directly on top of his head. "Come to think of it, where did you meet Twilight?"

Spike took another sip of his punch before looking up at me with a more passionate smile. "Oh, I've known her since the day I hatched! She was supposed to hatch me from my egg as part of some sort of… I dunno… An entrance exam into the Academy for Gifted Unicorns? I was just a baby back then, so I don't remember a single thing. I'm not sure if that's what it was even called."

I got a weird feeling while looking at Spike after hearing that bit of testimony. He had not been born normally, but through an egg? I am not sure why, but it felt rather odd to be looking at this very likeable child and knowing he came from an egg. Just… Well, perhaps it is because where I come from, the only sentient creatures on the planet are humans and we are born live. So I suppose knowing that someone with human-level intelligence and emotion, not to mention human abilities, could be born from an egg. I suppose that is just something I will have to become accustomed to. Although this also raised the question of exactly where and who Spike's egg came from, but it probably would be for the best I did not ask. I cannot imagine Spike's true mother and father being good people after what he had told me about traditional dragon behavior. If anything, whoever gave Spike's egg to Twilight to hatch may have ended up saving his life. "I guess that makes sense. And Twilight certainly is gifted when it comes to learning spells. She's got quite an extensive spell pool, huh?"

"Yeah, you'd think she likes looking up new spells to learn for kicks by now!" Spike retorted while glancing over at our brainy unicorn friend. Upon noticing Twilight's cutie mark, I instantly felt it represented the glowing spark that forms around a unicorn's horn when he or she focuses greatly to cast a spell. I see it most often when she takes a moment to use the teleportation spell. With how frequently she uses it, you could be forgiven if you assumed it is her favorite spell. And I certainly see her using magic more often than Rarity.

Just before he and I could converse further, I noticed Twilight walk right up behind her little dragon friend and speak with a slightly jeering tone. "So, what are you boys chatting about?"

"Oh, you know. Boy stuff. Right?" I replied while trying to be funny. Spike then looked behind himself and saw Twilight looking down at him with a smile.

"Uh… Hey there, Twilight! I'm having a blast! What about you?" Spike asked while chugging down the rest of his drink before chucking the cup into a waste basket nearby.

She then gave us both a delighted grin. "I'm having a great time too! You know any party Pinkie Pie throws is always going to be great." However, she then glanced down at Spike before looking up at me. "Come to think of it… Isn't tomorrow the one year anniversary of the day where you two first met?"

"How could I forget that?! He greeted me with a door to the face!" I replied while almost being able to remember how unpleasant it felt to get smashed into Twilight's house with her front door. I still peek through the closest window every time I am about to go inside to make certain no one is coming.

Spike did not seem entirely pleased to be reminded of that. I noticed a slight pink hue shining through his scaled cheeks while he scratched the side of his head. "Uh… Yeah. Sorry about that. I don't think I had my hands free that day."

"And come to think of it…" I muttered before looking over at the kids having fun at the far end of the storefront. "Tomorrow is also the day I first met them. I should take those girls out to dinner."

"What about me?! Can I come too?" Spike asked while clearly becoming excited at the mention of anything involving food. Kids. Heh…

Knowing that I had no real say in what Spike was allowed to do, I looked at Twilight. He too turned towards her and pleaded with his hands clasping each other. "Please, Twilight? Can I have the evening off tomorrow?"

Twilight did not take long to think up a response. She rolled her eyes while cracking a smile. "Oooh… All right, Spike. You can go. But you'll have to finish up your chores as soon as you get back."

Spike jumped for joy before giving Twilight a big hug. "Oh, thank you! I promise I'll get my chores done extra fast tomorrow!" He then ran off towards the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Button Mash, apparently to either rejoin their conversation or to spread the word.

"He wasn't giving you any trouble, was he?" Twilight asked while drawing a little closer to me.

I glanced back over at Spike at the far end of the room before looking down at her. "Nah. He's a good kid. Does he do his job well?"

Twilight glanced at her little assistant and smiled back to me. "Oh, he's always helpful and efficient. He never tires and is very diligent. He's been a great friend to me for as long as I can remember."

"Despite being as young as he is, he's not one to tire easily despite working all day? Dragons must be really hardy creatures." I retorted while also looking over at the little purple dragon boy. He seemed to already be lost in conversation with the other kids already.

For a moment, the two of us did not speak. I grabbed a drink cup from the table nearby and filled it with punch for myself. However, I soon felt Twilight gently nudge my side. "I spoke to Fluttershy."

I instantly knew where the conversation was going and immediately cast my gaze towards my dear friend. "And she said…?"

Twilight let out a long yet satisfied sigh. "She's very lucky to have you. She told me she can't believe that so many girls feel so strongly for you, yet you stay loyal to her. She is sure that if anypony else were her boyfriend, they would have left her for somepony like Rarity. She says she feels like the luckiest mare in the world that you can be so close to so many mares while keeping your heart reserved for her." She then seemed to smirk sheepishly upon realizing that she was not being very specific on what she wanted to say. "What I mean is… She's all right with you sharing your love with me… That just sounds so odd to me."

I chuckled for a second before gently caressing her mane. "You don't seem like someone who has much of a grasp on love."

While I lowered myself to the floor to give my friend a tender hug, she looked into my eyes with a calm pleading expression. "Will you teach me?"

"I would be honored, Twilight." I replied while wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close to me.

Twilight returned my embrace, her forelegs wrapping around me in a loose grasp. It felt pleasant to just lose myself right there, being in the warm embrace of a friend who could have very easily have been my mirror. However, she soon spoke up in a whisper. "You know… Rainbow Dash had talked to Fluttershy as well."

"Really? I was wondering what you two were discussing with her… Uh… Wait. Rainbow Dash? Really?" I retorted while my memories went back to my first Hearts and Hooves Day experience with her. I could still remember the guilt I felt when I could not accept her feelings for me. But with how things have become between Rarity and me in recent months… She surely would have become madly jealous if I would continue denying her that. I suppose if anything, the only reason why I had not informed Rainbow of such a thing was out of worry of what Fluttershy would feel since Rainbow Dash did try to come between us once before. Even though she did back out before she could go too far with it.

My friend seemed noticeably unsurprised by my reaction. She cracked a smile while pushing me onto a stool that was right behind me. "Uh huh. She just happened to come over while I was discussing…well…our chat from earlier with Fluttershy. She did seem really jealous when Fluttershy agreed to let you… What do you call that again? Sharing your love?"

"Well, that's the best way I can describe it. My heart and body belong to Fluttershy, but I have plenty of love to give." I replied while feeling slightly awkward about the whole thing. First there was Rainbow Dash, then there was Rarity, and now Twilight Sparkle. Though to be fair, she started developing feelings for me during my first week in Ponyville at roughly the same time Fluttershy did. It is indeed an odd feeling knowing there is more than one woman who wants you. Though as I explained in an earlier entry, it is not something that is new to me.

"Yeah. Well, Fluttershy felt it was all right for Rainbow Dash to do the same. But…she gave Rainbow that 'stare' of hers and seemed to warn her that you are her man. Come to think of it, did something happen between you two a while ago? Fluttershy really seemed like she was trying to hammer in a fact or something." Twilight explained while looking rather baffled the more she spoke. Just thinking about the scene she described caused me to smirk whimsically while being tempted to laugh.

"Oh, you have no idea. Rainbow Dash met up with me in the park for a picnic lunch and tried to trick me into drinking a love potion of some sort. But she backed out and knocked the cup outta my hand at the last second. I'm not surprised that Fluttershy would still be a bit wary of her after that." I retorted while shaking my head at the memory. Being a sucker for romance, the thought of such a brazen and bold mare using a love potion to get the man she secretly wants sounds really cute despite being about as morally bankrupt as one can get.

My words seemed to catch Twilight be surprise if that look said anything about it. "Love potion?! I was wondering what she wanted that book for… The last time I lent that book to anypony, the Cutie Mark Crusaders took it. I heard something…weird happened last year before I got it back."

"With those girls?! Well, it must've been something pretty crazy. Too bad I wasn't here to see it." I spoke with my voice being a bit louder than usual. Those three fillies can certainly get themselves into a lot of trouble when someone is not around to keep them on the right path. Fortunately, my input during their meetings has largely kept them out of trouble for a while. Mitta's presence also probably helps with that.

Twilight then seemed to proceed to finish up our conversation. "Well, I think I've distracted you long enough from the party." However, she then began to cutely curl her left foreleg around her right while nervously rubbing it. While averting her eyes, she then spoke rather meekly. "Also… Next time you come by my place and Spike isn't around… Do you think we…uh…"

I could see that she was not used to being in love at all and was feeling very insecure about herself. So I reached out and tenderly caressed her mane. "Twilight, I always have time for a kiss and cuddle. I'll teach you all I know about how to love."

Her expression instantly brightened before she pushed her head against my hand. "Thanks. I love to learn and I want to learn all I can about love. Just…uh…make sure Spike never sees us getting too cuddly. I don't think he's mature enough to understand this kind of friendship."

"Yeah, definitely not. Anyway, let's get back to having some fun. No telling how long this party will last." I replied while feeling eager to get back to enjoying the festivities. Parties like that one do not happen very often.

"Oh, sure! Well, I'll be around if you wanna chat. Now, where did Princess Celestia go?" Twilight spoke while she trotted away before heading up the stairs. With no one else in the way, I set my sights on the Cutie Mark Crusaders at the far end of the storefront.

As I drew near, I could hear Button Mash going on and on about some video game he had played. But after listening a while longer, I could make out from the mention of a paladin and archer that he was referring to the spectacular Equestrian Heroes he and I had played together not that long ago. By all means, try that game with a friend or three. The more players you have, the better the experience is.

Finally, I decided to speak up in a way only he would understand. "Well, good day, little archer. You been keeping your aim sharp since our last outing through the forest?"

The Cutie Mark Crusaders and Spike looked up at me quite suddenly. But before either could speak up, Button Mash beat them to the punch while waving at me. "You bet, Sir James! Keep that sword sharp, because who knows when the dark lord will strike next!"

"What's he talkin' about, James? Did he see ya in yer armor or something?" Apple Bloom asked while I brought myself to a sitting position beside her and Scootaloo.

"Huh?! Armor?! You have armor?! You're a real knight?!" Button Mash spoke up in excitement, apparently having instantly caught on to Apple Bloom's words a little too easily.

Before I could even counter his words, Sweetie Belle stood up and spoke in my place. "You bet! It looks really cool with all that dark blue and gold with a pair of really big white wings! It's also got a helmet that has a really big pretty mane coming outta the back that looks like an aurora around the night sky!"

I tried to get a word in there and started to open my mouth to speak. But, as expected, Scootaloo beat me to it. "He's also got a big sword and a really big shield! You should've seen him! He did a cool rising spinning slash! Like this!" She then grabbed a plastic fork from a plate nearby in her mouth before suddenly doing a spinning jump with it sticking out to her side. Her little wings flapped rapidly with letting out a familiar clicking buzz in the process, carrying her a little higher before she dropped back down.

Just as I was about to interrupt, Spike spoke up too. "Oh yeah, I saw it too! And that sword's blade glows in the dark! And the light feels warm, like from the sun."

This was all it took to send Button Mash on a spazzing tirade. He suddenly climbed onto me while looking at me with extreme excitement. "That all sounds so cool! Did you slay any dragons?! Did you ever fight the real Nightmare Moon?! How big is that sword and shield?! Did Princess Celestia ever knight you?! What kinda monsters have you gone up against?! Does your sword really glow?! What's your armor made of?! Can you show me it sometime?!"

Over and over, he spouted question after question. Kids… And every few seconds I would speak his name to get his attention, only to be drowned out by his constant questions. Finally, after close to a full minute of bombarding me with questions and requests, most of which I do not even remember, I resorted to shouting his name while placing my hand on his head. "BUTTON!"

That got him to shut up. He looked right me with a rather wary look as if I had intimidated him. I then spoke more calmly. "Yes, I do have a sword and shield. Yes, I do have a winged suit of armor. Yes, I have gone up against the real Nightmare Moon. Yes, the sword really does glow in poor lighting. No, I have not slain any dragons. No, Celestia and Luna have not knighted me. And… I don't know if I'll ever be able to show you. It's not like I can wear it at any time. Besides, I don't know if I would be comfortable having access to it whenever I want. It's best to only use it when you need it instead of all the time."

Button stood silent the entire time as if he was just drinking in my words. Every now and then, he would nod. Finally, the little colt beamed at me. "Only use it when you need it and not all the time? Got it." He then looked over at Scootaloo and grinned broadly. "Your big brother's really cool, Scootaloo!"

"You better believe it! I heard he took on a timber wolf a little while ago!" Scootaloo replied while looking rather proud of the fact.

"Hey, that wolf just needed to be reminded that they can't even digest meat. I didn't really fight the thing." I replied while remembering the day I spent with Derpy not very long ago. It was then that I remembered something I should have said earlier. "Speaking of that day, thanks for that wooden sword you girls crafted for me. It really came in handy that day."

Sweetie Belle gave me a big smile while looking at Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. "It did?! Wow, I thought you'd never have to really use it! But Apple Bloom did most of the work. We just carried all the wood and supplies to make it."

I looked down at the little farm filly and rubbed her head while she smiled at my touch. "Well, you did a fine job on that, Apple Bloom. You used some good wood too since it's still no worse for the wear after that little scuffle."

The little farm filly then caught me by surprise with what she said next. "Yeah, I was goin' for tough wood that won't break or crack when it hits somethin', so I used some Ipê wood since that wood's some sturdy and durable stuff. It stands up ta water really nicely too and termites won't bother it. It also don't burn that easily."

It was especially surprising to hear that little filly speak so professionally about how she did it. Just how does that girl not have her cutie mark yet?! She is so obviously a master of woodworking and design! Well, maybe not a master with how young she is, but it is clearly her calling. Still, I am sure it will not be much longer before she figures it out. Even Scootaloo, Button Mash, Sweetie Belle, and Spike seemed a bit lost while listening to her talking about the details of the type of wood she used.

There was an awkward silence in the air from listening to Apple Bloom do into such detail, so I decided to break I. "So…uh… Oh, right. Spike, did you let them know yet?"

The little dragon boy seemed a bit lost. Perhaps it had slipped his mind. "Uh… Sorry, I forgot. What was I supposed to say?"

I rolled my eyes while cracking a smile. I then looked at the three fillies around me and asked, "Do you know what tomorrow is? Or rather, do you know what will have happened a full year ago by tomorrow?"

The three fillies seemed noticeably confused. Scootaloo spoke first while rubbing her head. "Uh… The one year anniversary of the day I first thought up my wind walk trick?"

Apple Bloom spoke next. "The one year anniversary of when I choked on my first apple core?"

It was Sweetie Belle who successfully guessed it. "Ooh! I know! It's the one year anniversary since the day we first met you, James! Right?"

I grinned at the unicorn filly's answer and gently patted her head. "Yup. It's also the one year anniversary of when I met Spike too. I was thinking… How would you four like to go out to dinner to celebrate?"

Scootaloo jumped into the air and hovered for a few seconds in excitement while her little wings buzzed. "To celebrate the day I first met my big brother?! You bet! Come on, girls! I'm game!"

Apple Bloom looked up at me and smiled brightly. "You bet! I still remember how ya snatched Diamond Tiara's cutie mark right off 'er flank! That got 'er good!"

However, Sweetie Belle suddenly looked a little uneasy. "Wait! You're not gonna invite Diamond Tiara, are you?"

I honestly almost laughed at that question. "Are you kidding? She might be a nice girl now, but that day was when she became my first real enemy in Equestria. I'm not inviting her along to celebrate that!" The rest of us got a good laugh out of that. If I was going to celebrate anything with Diamond Tiara, it would be a celebration of the day where she finally learned the errors of her ways. And that would not be until a week later. "Anyway… You kids wanna stop by the arcade after dinner for some fun tomorrow?"

Spike seemed pretty stoked for that suggestion. "Oh, you bet! I'd love to try out that Equestrian Heroes game!"

Button Mash then spoke up with a look of desperation on his face. "What about me?! Can I tag along too?!"

Having Button Mash along for the ride did not sound like a bad idea at all. He really is a fun kid. Cute as a button too. "Sure thing, Button. Let's try for 6:30."

Not much later, I decided to leave the kids alone to play and headed back upstairs to see what was going on. By the time I got there, I saw that Pinkie Pie had already put away her collapsible stage and the little tables set out throughout the room. It seemed that everyone had gone back to just enjoying themselves while also enjoying the delicious treats set out on the refreshment table. I saw Celestia engaged in conversation with Twilight Sparkle before Nightmare Moon joined in. However, I then felt something lightly touch my cheek. Obviously a kiss.

"Happy anniversary, honey." I heard a quiet meek voice speak. And sure enough, Fluttershy was hovering right next to me. And I was quick to return the favor with a quick smooch on her lips.

"Thanks, Fluttershy. How's the…huh?!" I said to her before suddenly feeling land on my back. Even though it was enough to make me stagger forward, it did not feel all that heavy. "Someone there?"

"Heya, James. Sup, Fluttershy? You two digging this party?" A familiar voice spoke up from just beside my head. With a quick glance, I saw that Rainbow Dash was piggybacking on me.

Fluttershy got a good giggle at the random entrance our brazen friend made. I certainly would not expect her to jump on like that. Good thing she is such a lightweight. Fluttershy then proceeded to offer a retort to Rainbow's question. "It's been a great party so far. Definitely one of Pinkie's better parties. How about you?"

"Oooh, I'm just loving it. Good food, great friends to chill with, and the nicest hunk in town makes it all complete." Rainbow replied, although I was beginning to notice a bit of a slur in her speech. What was more, I noticed how…direct she was being about her feelings towards me, which is strange when one considers her ego and the fact that quite a few other ponies were around us.

"Uh… Rainbow? Are you feeling OK?" I asked while turning my head to look at her. When we locked eyes, I saw that her expression was blissful, yet listless. There was also a noticeable pink hue in her cheek. I swear that she also felt surprisingly warm to the touch… Warm… Oh good lord.

"Oh yeah, I'm feeling good. Really gooooood… Hey, I got an idea. How about we duck into the bathroom for a little while?" Rainbow Dash spoke in that slurred voice while looking positively stoned.

"Uh… Why? What's happening in there?" Fluttershy asked while looking increasingly creeped out. This was certainly bizarre behavior from Rainbow.

Rainbow Dash spoke again without once looking away from me. I could feel myself beginning to sweat with how hot and nervous I was becoming. "Why? Well, you ever heard the saying that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? I bet you wanna see what's at the end of mine, big guy."

By this point, I was beginning to have my suspicions. And Fluttershy was just looking on with her jaw hanging open. Without offering a reply, I looked over at Applejack at the far side of the room. She was looking on from right next to ciders casks with a somewhat bewildered expression on her face. "AJ, you only let Rainbow have some of the %5 cider, right?!"

"Uh…" Applejack stammered before grabbing a used tankard that was resing on the table. She took a quick sniff of it before turning it upside-down and letting a leftover drop of its contents drip onto her tongue. A second later, she frowned and let out a groan. "Dagnabbit, that was the %50 cider!"

"Oh, well, that explains everything, doesn't it?!" I replied in exasperation as I realized right there that Rainbow Dash was not getting frisky with me, but rather that her inhibitions had been removed from being drunk!

Rainbow dash grinned at me with a drunkenly lustful smirk before speaking to me. "Yeah, so what if I had some of the strong stuff? Come on, big guy. Let's head on up." She then started to flap her wings as if to try to pull me backwards to the steps that lead up to the second floor of Pinkie's loft and towards her bathroom. Fortunately for me, the flapping of her wings was so out of sync; they were hardly generating any lift at all.

"Knock it off, Rainbow! That's just the booze talking!" I spoke rather loudly while trying to get away from her or find someone who was willing to pry her off of me. However, I was not having much luck since pretty much everyone was starting to burst into laughter at my predicament. Though to be fair, I too was tempted to laugh. "Stop laughing, guys! This isn't funny!"

All the while of me trying to reach behind me and yank Rainbow Dash off me, that drunken pegasus mare kept trying to coax me into ducking into Pinkie Pie's bathroom to see 'what lies at the end of her rainbow' or however she said it. "Come on, James. I know ya want me. Quit playing hard to get!"

"All right, fine! Pinkie, can we use your bathroom for a bit? I need to have a word with this…nympho." I finally spoke up with a groan while looking towards my silly pink friend.

Pinkie Pie was covering her mouth with one hoof before pointing to the walkway that rounded the room higher up against the wall. "OK. Just head up the steps over there and go through that door. You can't miss it." She explained before forcing out another giggle.

With an annoyed scowl on my face, I climbed the steps before making my way to the blue wooden door at the far end of the room. Upon stepping through that door, I found myself in a very cramped stairwell. And upon reaching the top and stepping through the door at the top, I found myself in Pinkie Pie's bathroom at the very top of Sugarcube Corner. The bathtub was located in the very center of the room and seemed to be of one of those old fashioned designs, being all white and being atop four black 'feet' on the underside. The faucet was unusually high above the tub and seemed to be more like a showerhead, giving it more than one function. A ring that looked like a red and white peppermint hula-hoop hung above the tub while a light blue shower curtain hung from it. The whole thing was adorned with images of various treats liked wrapped candies, cupcakes, lollipops, cookies, and so forth. Definitely fitting for Sugarcube Corner. A sink with a design that brought to mind a ceramic flower planter was nearby with a faucet that was very similar to the one over the bathtub. Just behind it was an oval mirror with a pink frame that was adorned with yellow baubles that gave me the impression that they might be lights. The top of the frame stuck upward while bearing a strong resemblance to a club you might see on a playing card. A magenta heart design adorned the frame just above the mirror itself. A toilet was between two of the windows and did not seem worth describing, though it had a fluffy pink topping for the seat cover. There was a window at each of the cardinal directions of the room's walls with long pale blue curtains at their sides. And surprisingly enough, the tub was already filled with warm water.

"Sweet. You ready for some fun, big guy?" Rainbow Dash mumbled to me while looking at me from right next to my face.

By that point, I knew exactly what I wanted to do to her. "No, but I'm ready to drop you like a bad habit." Without further delay, I grabbed one of her hind legs and yanked her off of me before dropping her right into the tub with a splash.

Seconds later, Rainbow Dash lifted herself from the tub and coughed up some water. I was not trying to hurt her. In fact, I was hoping a good dunk in some warm water by bring her back to her senses a bit. However, she soon looked at me with that lustful look on her face again and panted. "Playing…hard to get…huh?"

Not wanting anyone to walk in on us during this chat, I locked the bathroom door to prevent any intrusions. Rainbow then hopped out of the tub and flung water everywhere while shaking herself off like a wet dog. She then slunk low to the ground and began to playfully narrow the distance between us with a very unsteady gait. I suppose she is really someone who cannot hold her liquor. The most I had ever seen her drink was six or so tankards of the %5 cider, but I suppose a single full tankard of %50 cider trumps that by a landslide.

Finally, I held up my hand and spoke one word. "Stop."

Rainbow seemed to listen and stopped her approach, but she still had that smirk on her face while staying low to the ground. Seeing that I had her attention, I decided to ask her the most obvious question. "Do you know you're drunk?"

"So what if I am?! I'm still me! And I know what I wanna do now." Rainbow replied before starting to draw closer again. But when she came close enough, I grabbed her by the shoulders to hold her down.

"Knock it off! You know I'm with Fluttershy, Rainbow! I told you before that this is the one thing I can't give you. So stop it." I finally raised my voice to her while being as strict as I could be. It did not feel good to have to put my friend down like that, but I had to draw the line.

At a painfully slow rate, I saw Rainbow's drunkenly blissful expression start to sink into something far from joyous. Soon, she gazed at me with a mournful expression that seemed vaguely familiar. "You think I don't know that?!"

Seeing that she had likely lost the drive to do whatever it was she wanted to do before, I let myself relax and took a seat on the floor. "Are you OK?"

Drunk as she was, Rainbow Dash let out a sigh and turned her head away. "I don't even know… I mean… I remember that day… I can still remember your touch… I can even kinda remember your taste…"

"You…never really were able to let go of your feelings, were you?" I asked as a feeling of guilt began to well up inside my heart. That occurrence on Hearts and Hooves Day still lingers at the back of my mind at times. And it is not always pleasant to recall.

Rainbow Dash looked right at me and took one step before stopping, as if waiting for a signal. I saw what she wanted and held out my arms. She then walked forward and fell into my arms before a sob escaped her lips. "I can't… You're… You're the first guy I ever felt this way about… I can't let go, James… I just can't bring myself to stop loving you… It feels wrong to let go…"

A long sigh escaped my lips. My arms wrapped tenderly around her, holding her limp form against me. It was very rare to see Rainbow Dash looking and acting so vulnerable. The alcohol in her system was definitely allowing her to let go of her inhibitions in order to let out her true feelings. She must have been holding in these painful emotions for quite some time.

While my hand tenderly stroked her mane, Rainbow continued to speak. "There are times…when I lie in my bed at night… I still remember that last kiss we had… When it felt like you were mine, even just for a minute. I swear my body aches for you sometimes… I wish you were mine, James… I wish I could be your mare… And I don't care how corny that sounds."

I had no words for her at that time. I mean, what could I say to that? Sorry for making her miserable by getting into a relationship with another woman? All I could do was hold her close to me before placing a kiss on your forehead. "Rainbow… I don't know what to say about all that…"

"Well… Could we just sit here for a minute? I just needed to let that out… I don't wanna put you on a guilt trip… I just needed to vent…" Rainbow Dash muttered softly without really moving in my grasp.

"Sure…" I replied softly. But after a moment more of silence, I decided to try to speak to her. "Rainbow… I want you to know that I do love and cherish you. As much as we bump heads over your ridiculous ego, I just can't imagine being without you. You're important to me."

Rainbow Dash took a long deep breath before lifting her head to gaze at me with her beautiful rose-colored eyes. "Come to think of it…I don't think we've been bumping heads as often as we used to… I guess you've been rubbing off on me, huh?"

"I guess that's how things work with those you love. Maybe you subconsciously adjust your habits in order to make those people more comfortable around you." I retorted while looking down at her. "Still… Just remember, Rainbow. I can never give you my heart or my body. But I have plenty of love to share."

A rather forlorn smile spread across her lips while the tears began to slow. "Yeah, I know… Fluttershy and Twilight told me about it." She then nudged me with her hoof and gave me a smirk. "And just how long were you planning on hiding that from me? Been smooching Rarity behind my back, right?"

She had a good point there. Why had I allowed Rarity to get so close to me while not paying much mind to Rainbow's feelings towards me? "Uh… Good point. Well…better late than never, right?"

I then felt that brazen pegasus wrap her arms around the back of my neck before giving me a lustful smirk. "Then how about you give me something you've been keeping from me for a while?"

Before I could say anything, I felt her lips upon mine. Almost instinctively, I pressed into the kiss as well. I felt the passion she was exuding. The boldness. Her feelings towards me are no mere crush. They are true. I felt the touch of her tongue. The taste within her mouth. It had the faint strong taste of an alcoholic beverage, but also the sweet aftertaste of apple cider. The instant we broke the kiss, Rainbow Dash let out a long sigh of sincere satisfaction. "Oh man, I needed that… Just as sweet as the last time."

"Yeah… For someone as wild as you, you really know how to give a good kiss." I retorted while stroking her rainbow-striped mane.

Rainbow Dash gave me a drunken grin before tenderly nuzzling her head against my chest. "Sweet as honey, but tough as nails when you need to be. It's no wonder so many mares want you, James. And for you to have the balls to be willing to share love with them while keeping your heart reserved for your real sweetheart… That takes some serious guts. I don't think a lot of folks would understand that."

"Thanks for understanding, Rainbow. You want another smooch before we head back to the party?" I asked, knowing that Rainbow was likely aching for some attention after the last time we spent such quality time with each other. However, I did not get the response I was expecting.

My wild mare of a friend looked at me and raised one hoof. "I'd love to, James. I really would, but not this time. I'm drunk. Even I know that. And I swear that if we have another kiss like that right now, I know I won't be able to stop myself from pinning you down and riding you until dawn. And I don't wanna do that to Fluttershy."

"Uuuuuuuuuuuuh….. Point taken, I guess…" I retorted while rather unnerved by that particular thought. At least she had the foresight to give me that warning.

Before I could stand up, Rainbow Dash nuzzled her head against me once more. "Still… Thanks for doing this for me, James. If I ever catch you alone, you better expect a smooch from me. And remember… If anything goes wrong between you and Fluttershy, I'll be there for you. I know that probably won't ever happen, but you'll always have me."

"I'm flattered, Rainbow. You're one awesome girl. Now, let's get back to the party before the others start to wonder what's keeping us…" I replied before my eyes fell upon the toilet at the far end of the room. "Actually, could you head on down without me? I'd like to take the chance to use the bathroom while I'm up here."

"Huh? The bath…oh, I getcha. OK, I'll see you down there." Rainbow Dash spoke with a nod before staggering to her feet and unlocking the door. But just after she left the room, I heard a yell and numerous crashes and thuds. Did she just fall down the stairs?! Fortunately, my fears were swiftly grounded when I heard Rainbow call out. "I'm OK!" I broke down into a snickering fit at that unexpected slipup and locked the door behind me. Once I was done reliving myself in the bathroom, I headed back downstairs to enjoy myself with the rest of the partygoers.

The party went on for quite some time. By the time the very first guests had begun to leave, the sky was already painted black and dotted with stars. It still impresses me how subtle Luna and Celestia can be when lowering and raising the sun and moon. I have been in Equestria so long; I do not even remember at times that they are responsible for it.

The first guests to depart were the youngest. Eleina had to get Button Mash home to get him ready for bed so he would be rested for school tomorrow. The poor little guy tried to argue with his mother for quite a bit, but his frequent yawning was a clear sign that he was reaching his limit. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon departed without incident as well, though I have no idea what became of Ruby. That filly just comes and goes as she pleases. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom had to depart soon as well, so Big Macintosh decided to escort them. Applejack insisted on staying longer though and Scootaloo decided to try to stay up as late as she could. Then again, there was no one home at the time, so it seemed wrong to send her on without Fluttershy and myself.

One by one, the other guests began to depart. Lyra and Zecora headed out first while Mr. and Mrs. Cake began to clean the place up. In all honesty, it felt rather…sad to see the party end. I took a seat on a stool in the storefront and gazed at the area before me. Much of the snacks and sweet goodies had been consumed and several unfinished cupcakes had been left here and there. Everyone else was likely upstairs while Pinkie Pie did a bit more standup. Even though I was enjoying a bit of respite from the party, the atmosphere felt much quieter than before. Almost depressing, even. Parties like this are quite rare, even with Pinkie Pie, and I was certainly going to miss it.

Out of nowhere, I heard a voice speak up beside me. "Hiya, James! Having a good time?" Somehow, Pinkie Pie had snuck up on me despite having been doing some standup just moments before. I must have really been lost in my thoughts to not detect her.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I'm just chilling for a bit to pace myself. I'll be back in the action soon…" I replied while letting out a yawn. However, I think Pinkie Pie was quick to notice I did not seem entirely happy.

"Are you OK? Did something happen? You look like you're feeling kinda down." Pinkie inquired while lightly patting my shoulder. It is not often that I see her mellow out like that. She is almost always really peppy and jumpy.

Seeing no reason to be dishonest with my friend, I looked around slowly while explaining my mood to her. "Well… I guess the only problem is that the party's over. It just feels…sad to see such a fun event having to end, even though you know it has to. It would be one thing if it happened again tomorrow, but parties would not be parties if they became daily routine." I then looked at her and smiled just slightly. "Kind of funny how they are at their most enjoyable yet most depressing when they are kept spread out, huh?"

Pinkie Pie mirrored my expression. She smiled as well, though it was hardly noticeable. "Uh huh. I know what you mean. That's why I do my best to make every party the best it can be. So it will have been worth the wait! Did I do a good job on this one, James? I did set it up just for you, after all."

"Definitely one of the most enjoyable and memorable parties you've set up since I came here, Pinkie. You did a fine job." I replied while rubbing my hand over her poofy mane. "Actually, will you be throwing this party again next year?"

"You bet! You're the first human ever seen in Equestria, so it's an important anniversary!" Pinkie replied promptly while performing one of her springy hops. "I hope it'll be just as fun for you next year. I really wanted to make you smile with this party. I hardly ever see you smile. My other friends smile all the time, but I think I only see you smile half the time."

I suppose she has a point there. Despite Pinkie and I being on very good terms with each other, I am actually impressed by how little in common we have. Where she is peppy and optimistic, I am much more mellow and…not nearly as optimistic. She is definitely my foil. Come to think of it, I believe that is the same kind of connection she has to Twilight Sparkle as well….. Huh. I suppose Twilight and I have more in common than I expected. Of course, just because we have so little in common does not mean I dislike her. I sincerely appreciate Pinkie's exuberance and hold her close to my heart.

"You notice that, huh? Well, it doesn't mean I'm unhappy or anything. I'm just really relaxed most of the time." I explained, wanting to reassure Pinkie that I am not a depressed person.

My friend grinned brightly at me before speaking. "Yeah, I know. But it feels really good whenever I make you smile. The smiles you don't see very often are usually the nicest to see."

"Aww… Come here, Pinkie." I spoke while holding out my arms to her. She did not miss a beat and quickly wrapped her arms around me while I did the same. However, I soon felt a familiar sensation as more and more arms embraced me in a group hug. Next thing I knew, my other five dearest friends were around me and holding me in a tender embrace. "Girls…?"

Applejack spoke first. "Happy anniversary, pardner."

"One full year already… How time flies. Right, darlings?" Rarity added without even opening her eyes.

"And hopefully the first of many." Twilight spoke with her lips being almost right next to my ear. This group hug… I had received one just like it on my first night in Ponyville. How nostalgic…

Before much more time had passed, the sound of hooves clopping could be heard coming down the stairs. And soon, I noticed Derpy stick her head out from behind the wall of the stairwell behind the counter and look at us. "Uh… Bad time to say goodbye?"

At her words, my friends let go of me and scattered a bit. Rainbow, noticeably less drunk than before, spoke up first. "Uh… Nope! What's up? You heading out?"

Derpy grinned before trotting over to us while Celestia, Nightmare Moon, Luna, Mitta, Cadence, and Shining Armor soon followed. "Yeah, I need to get home to rest up for tomorrow. Postal workers gotta stay on top of their schedules!"

She went right over to me for a goodbye hug and that is exactly what I gave her. "It was great to have you with us tonight, Derpy. Have things been better at your workplace?"

The mailmare nodded while looking at me with her yellow derped eyes. "Uh huh. I do get criticized when I screw up, but they don't rub it in anymore. I just have to learn from my mistakes so I don't keep making everypony mad. But anyway, I need to get going. See you later! And happy anniversary!" With one last wave, Derpy trotted out the door and took to the air just before the door could close.

"Derpy's such a sweetheart, isn't she?" Fluttershy asked while Cadence and Shining Armor began to draw near.

"Yup. It's always nice to have her around." I replied to her while I turned my gaze to the young couple who was looking at me. "You guys heading out?"

Shining Armor nodded while gesturing with his hoof. "Yeah, I got a bunch of new recruits in and need to teach them how to properly use spears tomorrow. And Estoc doesn't know the first thing about using spears."

Twilight then trotted over her brother and gave him a traditional equine hug while he draped his foreleg over her back. "It was great to see you, bro. You coming for Nightmare Night in a couple of months?"

For some reason, Armor seemed to smirk while pausing to think for a moment. "Oooh… Maybe. We'll have to come with some costume designs first." However, he then looked over at Cadence and gave her a wink. "Honey, I don't think you and Twilight have done 'it' since the last time. Wanna fix that?"

Twilight and Cadence immediately glanced at each other before grinning enthusiastically. They then winked at each other before standing before each other and… Actually, I am very sure I already described this little skit during the journal entry I wrote on the night I first attended the Grand Galloping Gala. Regardless, they chanted together while the rest of us looked on. "Sunshine sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!"

Quite a few of the partygoers around me got a good giggle at just how adorable that performance was. I merely crossed my arms and shook my head while smiling broadly. "Man, that never gets old."

Once Cadence and Twilight had shared a hug, Cadence then approached me and extended a hoof to me. "It was a pleasure getting to know you a bit better. We really didn't have much time to chat last time."

I smiled while reaching out and holding the lovely alicorn in a tender embrace while she did the same. She really is quite the sweetheart, almost as if she is just bursting with tenderness. "Likewise. It was great to see you again."

Armor and I shared a friendly handshake before he and his wife made their way to the doorway. "Awesome party, but it's time to get going. We don't wanna miss the last train to Canterlot. Take care!" We all bid them farewell and watched them head off into the night.

Lastly, it was the royal sisters' turn to say farewell. They did not seem to have much time to actually speak though. Celestia was quick to share one last equine hug with Twilight before the three of them made their way to the door. Luna spoke first while showing a satisfied smile. "It was great to see you all again, but we must be returning to Canterlot at once. The guards and servants must be in quite an uproar by now since they cannot find my sister anywhere." She rolled her eyes before smirking at Celestia.

The Princess of the Dawn giggled rather nervously while backing away towards the door. "Oh, come now, Luna. It was worth it! I seldom get to just let loose at parties like this!"

Nightmare Moon then chuckled while using magic to hold the front door open for her sisters. "We really should attend these parties more often. But yes, it is time for us to depart. Thank you for the invitations. And sweetest dreams for all of you, my friends."

While my friends bid them farewell, I was left silent for a moment. The last of the princesses to head out the door was Nightmare Moon. And as she stepped outside, I noticed her glance back at me for a second just before the door closed behind her. A sense of desperation came over me. Celestia's words from earlier echoed in my mind. I had to do something before they could depart. "Excuse me."

Without much thought, I pushed my way through the front door and looked around. The area was dark, a half moon hanging in the sky. I glanced around quickly, catching sight of the three alicorns as they ascended into the air with wings spread. I did all I could to get their attention and called out. "Wait!"

Fortunately, they were not quite out of earshot. The three princesses stopped ascending and began to hover in place. They were quite a sight, their grand wings spread wide while flapping to keep them airborne. All three gazed down at me. I was unsure of what to say. I was not even sure of what I wanted. However, Celestia then inched closer to Nightmare Moon and seemed to whisper something to her. Immediately afterward, the Princess of Dreams descended and landed before me. Her gaze showed curiosity. "You wished to see me, my friend?"

Celestia must have known exactly what I had wanted. I did not even say anything. Even so, I tried to be honest. "Well… Uh…" I then took a step closer. "I kind of…don't want to see you go."

A pained expression filled the beautiful and exotic eyes of the mare before me. Her response was soft while her sisters hovered above us. "I… I do not wish to leave either."

After a moment more of silence, I reached out to her at exactly the same time she did. I then held my friend in my arms while she did the same. I could feel myself quiver for an instant. Was I…falling in love? No, it could not possibly be that. She is precious to me. Oh so precious. But my heart belongs to Fluttershy. Even so… What was I feeling? It was certainly a rare sensation. I just felt so…serene in her grasp at that time.

I could hear every sigh that escaped my friend's lips as I held her against me. My hand caressed the back of her neck with long slow strokes. Soon, she spoke softly to me. "I will see you before long in your dreams. Wait for me, my friend."

"Sounds good to me." I replied briefly, my lungs releasing a long sigh of my own.

I am not certain exactly how much time passed. But when we did release our grasps on each other, it was too soon. I could still see the want in her eyes. I wish we could have spent more time together, but I know her duties as princess come first. A burden of royalty that I have no love for. Even so, she did crack a smile and whisper to me. "My sister dropped something off at your home. She will send some guards to retrieve it in the morning, so enjoy it this evening."

I was baffled by this revelation. Celestia dropped off something for me to borrow for the night? Now I was curious. "Um… Thanks?"

As much as I did not want to see her depart, I had no choice. After one last tender embrace, I watched as Nightmare Moon spread her sable wings and rose into the air. She and her sisters waved at me while I waved back at them. They then turned and soared higher into the night sky and flew east until they vanished from sight.

I did not look away until the three royal alicorns could no longer been seen against the deep blue canvas spread over the night sky. But when I turned around to head back inside Sugarcube Corner, I found all of my remaining friends already standing outside waiting for me.

"Ya forget to say goodbye?" Applejack asked while my friends drew near.

"I guess you could say… Wait, where'd you find them?" I retorted while noticing that Spike and Scootaloo were fast asleep on Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy's backs respectively. Did they finally succumb to their internal clocks and pass out somewhere?

Mitta flashed me a grin before proceeding to explain. "I found them asleep under the refreshment table. The tablecloth was hanging low enough to hide them."

Pinkie Pie then rubbed her hoof against her chin in pondering. "Hmmm, I was wondering why we were two guests short for the last twenty minutes. I didn't think they left."

Twilight giggled in response while looking back at her sleeping passenger. "Well, it is past Spike's bedtime. And Scootaloo has school tomorrow, right?"

Fluttershy responded before I could. "Oh, right. She does. We better get her home so we can get her in bed."

However, Rainbow Dash then spoke up with a voice that sounded even more slurred than the one she was speaking with a few hours earlier. "Hey, you just leave that to me. I'll…ugh…I'll drop her off at your place for you. And you two can bunk at my place for toni…for… What was I saying again?"

Every last mare there was giving her funny looks after hearing that. And with how she was constantly swaying… I finally had to address this. "Rainbow, I thought you were just about sober by now!"

"She ain't! I saw 'er drinkin' from the %50 cask! I reckon she downed at least a tankard of the stuff before I got to 'er!" Applejack explained while looking mildly annoyed. Was she just going for the strong stuff because of how easily it loosened her up? Rainbow Dash has never given off the vibe of an alcoholic. Perhaps she just really digs the cider Sweet Apple Acres cranks out now and then and goes out of her way to gorge herself on as much as she can whenever the opportunity arises.

"Yeah, I did! So whaddya say we… Uh… We head on over to my place for some…fun games and…and… Whoa, I'm seeing triple the goodness now! Wanna make it a threesome? Or a…foursome?" She spoke up without any shame. And…was she suffering from double vision?!

Rarity was clearly unnerved by just what Rainbow Dash was hinting at. No subtlety at all. "Rainbow… I believe all that alcohol has finally gone to your head… Perhaps you should get home right now and guzzle some water to avoid a hangover when you wake up in the morning."

Before Rainbow could inquire further on my decision, I decided to settle it right there. "Before you say anything else, no. I'm not bunking with you tonight. Not like I could anyway, seeing as how your house is made of clouds."

This clearly got through to her, even if her judgment was greatly hindered at the time. "Ooooh, good point. Well, maybe some other time! I guess I gotta swap out all that cloud for some wood."

Rainbow Dash then went airborne, albeit while constantly swaying from side to side with her wings flapping out of sync. Twilight was clearly concerned for our drunken friend and called out to her before she could fly off. "Rainbow, you're too drunk to fly properly! Just walk until you get home!"

However, Rainbow was having none of Twilight's advice. "What are ya talking about?! I've flown drunk before! Besides, I'm unstoppable! Anyway, I'll see you girls to…ow!" Sure enough, she flew smack into Sugarcube Corner's roof while we all looked on with laughs and chuckles filling the air. In all honesty, it was hard not to laugh.

"Ugh… I'm OK! Anyway, I'll talk to ya some…oof!" She spoke out before being interrupted by a face-first collision with a house across the road. "I mean… I guess I'll…Argh! Aw, forget it!" Finally, after another loud thud, she just swooped out of sight without saying anything else. However, we then heard another distant crash and a yell from Rainbow Dash while we all burst into hysterical laughter. "DANG IT!"

"Well, can't deny she makes for some great entertainment when she's in that state! And I guess I learned something new today! Never fly drunk!" I spoke up once my laughter had ceased.

"Is she always that heavy a drinker?" Mitta asked while wiping some tears from her eyes. She must have been laughing especially hard.

"Well, when it comes ta my cider, she drinks like a fish. Gotta remember ta keep 'er away from the stronger stuff from now on." Applejack replied while shaking her head with a big amused smirk on her lips.

"Well, I really need to get back inside and help clean the place up. We're open tomorrow, you know! And thanks for coming!" Pinkie Pie spoke up before heading back over to the front door. But just before she could open it, my party animal of a friend looked over at me and gave me a wink. "And thank you for coming to Ponyville in the first place, James!"

"I know… Can you believe it's only been a year by now? It almost feels like it was just a couple of months ago." Fluttershy replied while looking up at me with a timid smile.

"I can hardly believe it myself. Man, time flies. But in all fairness, we really should be getting home now. Gotta get Scoot to bed." I replied while looking down at the sleeping filly on my girlfriend's back.

"Right, we really shouldn't be keeping you. We'll all chat again very soon, darlings. Let's be off now, Mitta. And stellar party, Pinkie." Rarity spoke next before she began to walk off into with Mitta by her side. However, Mitta then looked over her shoulder and waved at all of us.

"I really enjoyed the party! Let's do this again sometime!" She spoke loudly while Rarity too waved goodbye. One by one, we all said our farewells before heading home. As fun as those kinds of parties are, they tend to wear you out.

Fluttershy must have been just as tired as I was on the way home. We hardly spoke at all. Although I suppose it would be hard to speak considering the atmosphere. The occasional hiss of cicadas serenaded the chirping and ringing of crickets while we were bathed by the glow of the moon. Definitely a little bit of magic you can only hear in summer. And when we began to cross the meadow that our home stood in, the audio magic was joined by a visual form of magic that you seldom get to see. Hundreds upon hundreds of fireflies rapidly flashing their glows like malfunctioning holiday lights. Fluttershy and I could not really bring ourselves to speak as we walked. If you heard and saw what we were experiencing at the time, you too would likely be rendered speechless while indulging yourself in such sights and sounds.

Scootaloo stayed fast asleep throughout the entire trek. Once we finally did reach our home and step inside though, I noticed something slightly out of the ordinary. Sitting in the middle of a small round blue table just past the fireplace was a shiny silver chalice with a lid on top. "Waaaaiiiiit a minute… Do I know that from somewhere?"

Fluttershy seemed to know exactly what I was thinking and winked at me. "Maybe. Why not take a look inside?"

We approached the table together while Scootaloo remained sprawled out on Fluttershy's back, light snores coming from the little pegasus. When I removed the lid, I saw exactly what I was expecting. A shifting and swirling liquid consisting of a dark blue and white. A familiar liquid metal that I had not seen for a while. I then smirked while looking down at my girlfriend with a shifty stare. "You asked for this to be delivered to us, didn't you? Care to explain why?"

Fluttershy snickered a bit under her breath, apparently finding it funny that I figured it out so quickly. "Well… Yes. I sent a message to Princess Celestia asking if she could bring your armor down here today so we could use it tonight. I was thinking that…um…" She then began to blush, though she hardly seemed afraid. "I was wondering if…if you would like to go out for a…moonlit flight with me. Just the two of us to celebrate this anniversary together."

A flight under the moon with the girl I love? Could she have possibly come up with a more romantic way to spend time together? I sighed while looking down at her with a warm smile. "How could I possibly say no to that? That is one of the most romantic scenarios I've ever heard of." While Fluttershy grinned brightly as a giggle escaped her throat, I gently lifted Scootaloo into my arms. "Just let me get the scooter princess to bed and I'll suit up."

"All right. I'll be out back checking on the chickens. See you soon, honey." Fluttershy replied sweetly before trotting right back out the front door. With no one else to speak to me, I carried my little sister into the side room. I saw little Angela perched on a lantern in the corner. Seeing that my pet dove was fast asleep, I decided to let her sleep in peace.

After pulling down the covers on the little bed, I gently set Scootaloo on the sheets while making certain her head was rested upon the pillow before covering her. While still light, I swear she is significantly heavier when asleep than she is awake. Once covered, I made certain to tuck her in.

Dear little Scootaloo… I cannot fathom that it has been just one day shy of a full year since I first met her. And now she sleeps before me as my own adopted sister. Although… I do have to wonder. Whatever became of her parents? Do they still live? Was she truly orphaned or merely abandoned?

I shook my head while letting out a sigh. There is probably no one in Ponyville who knows the answer by now. And by this point, I suppose it is irrelevant. I am the only family she has now as her brother. And I will confess, while she can be a handful at times, she is quite fun to hang out with. I do not regret allowing her to stay with Fluttershy and me at all.

I feel warmth fill my body while I looked down at the pegasus filly before me. Her head was resting on its side, a barely noticeable smile on her lips. Despite being a complete tomboy, she is just such a precious child. And I adore her for what she is. However, I did not want to keep my lover waiting long. As silently as possible, I lowered my head and placed a soft kiss on Scootaloo's cheek. "Sweet dreams, sis. Love you."

Not wanting to keep Fluttershy waiting any longer than necessary, I walked back into the living room before sliding my shoes off. I then stuck my hand into the liquid and waited. I felt the liquid creeping over me. Sliding and stretching. It covered every bit of flesh and cloth on me, but I never once felt my clothes become wet from absorbing any of it. Bit by bit, the liquid hardened and solidified into a cool metal. And soon, I stood clad in my armor once more. I had all but forgotten how spectacular its design is. And I soon remembered the wings on the back when I tried to get through the front door.

I actually had to take a minute to get myself through the door's frame. I normally have to duck through the doorway already, so having to do so with a suit of sturdy plate armor on with a pair of large wings folded behind my back certainly does not help. Normally, pegasi and alicorns have their wings neatly and compactly folded against their sides. But because my wings have to be much larger in order to lift both my own weight and the armor's, they are simply too large to fold in the same way and hang down behind me instead. That takes up quite a bit of space.

Finally, I managed to squeeze my way out the door and closed it behind me. I then decided to get myself reacquainted with my armor's functions. Namely, the wings. Almost as if reacting to my will, the white wings on my back spread wide open. Despite having not flown for around three months, I soon found everything coming back to me like an old pro and began to ascend into the air. Deciding to catch Fluttershy by surprise, I flew right over the bushy roof of her cottage and spread my wings wide to slowly descend towards the chicken coop in the backyard.

The chickens began to squawk and scatter while I slowly and silently floated down from above. Fluttershy was not facing my direction and clearly did not see me coming. "What's wrong?! Girls, please calm down!"

I cracked a smirk at Fluttershy's obliviousness and landed with a light clank just outside the coop. Even she did not overlook that sound and turned to face me. Her gaze became one of…I cannot find the right word for it, but she fell silent without once blinking while she looked up at me. "Oh…my…"

"Hey there, honey. Ready to fly?" I asked while waving at her with a smile. I had forgotten that I had my wings spread and was reminded of it when I felt myself lean to one side when my left wing got caught in a gust.

"I had completely forgotten how amazing your armor is, James…" Fluttershy spoke softly before hovering up to me. She ran her hooves over my wings while closely inspecting them. "I love how the moonlight shines right off of them. Rarity was right. Your armor is simply fabulous."

I suppose she had a point right there. I had actually forgotten that my wings have quite a luster to them. Despite looking and feeling like soft feathered wings, they are entirely composed of a sturdy metal. And that gives them quite a shine under the light. "Heh, I guess so. Stylish and functional, the best of both worlds."

When Fluttershy looked away from me, she seemed to notice that the chickens had ducked inside the coop for the evening. Or perhaps they were just hiding from me. "Well… I guess it's just us now." She spoke softly before ascending a bit higher into the air. She then looked down at me and gave me a wink. "Shall we?"

I smirked while preparing my wings for flight. "Absolutely. Lead on, honey."

With a great flap, I propelled myself into the air and took off after the lovely pegasus. We rose higher and higher into the night sky, there being hardly a cloud in the sky to obscure Luna's beautiful moon and the shimmering stars dotting the night sky. Our rate of ascension was fairly low; though I am sure Fluttershy preferred it that way. She is not exactly one for heights. While we flew lazily over Ponyville, I felt so calm and relaxed while just gliding along. The sense of freedom that comes from self-generated flight… I can now say that if I had to choose what kind of pony I would like to become, it would have to be a pegasus. Or an alicorn, if possible. You cannot beat the convenience of both flight and magic. But I would definitely choose to be a pegasus if my choices consisted of just the three primary races.

Fluttershy and I would often glance at each other. At one point, we even got into a game of aerial tag. While my larger and stronger wings allowed for greater speed, Fluttershy's smaller form made her a bit more nimble and harder to touch. It was a silly little game, though we both got some laughs out of it. And it was just us and no one else.

Finally, I happened to notice something float in front of the moon. Quite possibly the only cloud in the sky. Being in the mood to just chill for a while, I called out to Fluttershy before pointing to the cloud. She seemed to understand and flew up to it along with me. I almost expected to fall right through it, but it felt quite solid against my armored form. Try to imagine the softest cushion you could possibly touch. That is the best way to describe it.

Fluttershy bounded right over to me and gave me a very content smile. "There's nothing like resting on a cloud, is there?"

"Nope. No wonder Rainbow Dash keeps nodding off when she rests on these. If someone could find a way to turn these things into bedding for unicorns and earth ponies, they could easily start a monopoly on the mattress market." I retorted while snuggling myself into the white cushion below me. Overall, it was not terrible large. Perhaps half the size of our bedroom back home. And despite not wearing my armor's matching helmet, my head rested firmly upon the cloud as well. Must be some sort of magic that affects the entire body that is built into the armor.

My girlfriend giggled at my words, apparently finding the thought of mattresses made of clouds being sold in stores to be rather silly. I could already imagine Rainbow Dash rushing in and obliterating them with punches and kicks for…well…kicks. Perhaps selling these would not be a good idea since pegasi can easily destroy them. Anyway, Fluttershy then curled up beside me with her head resting against the side of my chest.

The two of us just laid there beside each other. My hand tenderly caressed her side over and over, my eyes directed towards the moon hanging in the night sky. "Such a shame it's not a full moon tonight. That would make this moment even better."

"Well, you know what they say. There's a full moon pretty much every twenty-eight days." Fluttershy replied softly while smiling up at me.

Just floating on a cloud in the night sky while being illuminated by the moon and stars. Just… I could not make this up if I tried. We hardly even spoke. We were just basking in each other's presence. Although Fluttershy did eventually break the silence. "I can't believe it's been a full year… I hope we'll have many more years ahead of us together."

"Yeah… Doesn't even feel like it's been that long. But it's been a grand year, hasn't it?" I retorted while leaning down and placing a kiss on my lover's head. However, a thought popped into my head seemingly from nowhere. "Actually… We've been together for quite a while now. Do you think your folks would be OK with us being together?"

Fluttershy did not immediately reply. She did not even look up at me. It was not until after a good ten seconds that she finally did speak. "About them… My parents…"

That was when I made a sudden realization. I have seen Twilight's parents, Pinkie has shown me photos of her family, I have met Rarity's parents, and I have met a few members of Applejack's family, but I have not once seen or heard of Rainbow Dash's or Fluttershy's family members. And I was already getting a bad feeling about them in my gut. "Um… You're not estranged from them, are you?"

My girlfriend shook her head and looked up at me with a rather unhappy expression. "No, it's not that… Um… Well, you did tell me about yours. I guess I should tell you about mine."

I leaned back a bit to allow Fluttershy to rest more easily upon me. I had a bad feeling about what she was about to say. After taking a deep breath, she began to speak. "I never knew my father… And my mother never talked about him. It was always just the two of us. And she was always so sweet and gentle. I really loved her."

The lack of a father in her life actually said quite a bit about Fluttershy's character. Without a strong masculine person in her life, she likely did not have someone to instill confidence into her. But still, I would not have Fluttershy be any other way than how she is right now. Regardless, she continued to speak. Although what she said next was not what I expected. "Do you remember that lullaby I made?"

"You mean the one that starts with 'Hush now, quiet now'? Yeah, that's a very cute and soft lullaby. What about it?" I retorted, knowing that lullaby all too well by that point.

"Well, it used to have different lyrics, but I changed them because…it kept making ponies cry. They were too depressing." Fluttershy explained while looking noticeably disheartened.

"Depressing? Why would a lullaby be depressing? The purpose of a lullaby is to soothe someone into feeling calm and relaxed so they may fall asleep more easily? How could the lyrics be depressing like that?" I asked, finding it difficult that there could be a lullaby that makes one cry instead of feeling calm.

Fluttershy bowed her head for a moment in silence before she looked up at me again. When she did, I felt my heart sink. Tears were beginning to form at the edges of her eyes. "Because…I came up with that lullaby for my mother. I sang it to her when she was on her deathbed…"

I… I did not have any words to say to that. Fluttershy's mother… Dead? I… What could I possibly say to that? No father in her life, and now her mother was gone… Although there was one thing I had to ask. "May I…hear the original version of the song?"

She was clearly hesitant. But she soon nodded. "OK… But just this once. It hurts for me to sing it now…"

I gently placed my hand over Fluttershy's hoof. I wanted her to know that I was there for her. And then… She began to sing. "Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head… Hush now, quiet now, prepare for the path ahead…"

It was then that she spoke lyrics I did not recognize. Lyrics that instantly caused my throat to tighten as if some sort of magic was carried within them. As she softly sang, I could hear her voice breaking. And I am not surprised she had chosen to not sing this version of the song again in so long. "Drift, drift up above, the angels are beside you then… Drift, drift up above, one day we'll meet again…"

Such power in those words… As if summoned from nowhere, I felt the tears flow… I brought my spare hand to my face, holding my fingers over my eyes while I grit my teeth. I shuddered as muffled sobs escaped my throat. How in the world could a song so simple… So brief… How could such a song invoke such powerful sorrow in those who hear it?

I felt Fluttershy wrap her arms around me. I felt her shudder against me as I heard light sobs from her as well… That song… It was her way of saying goodbye to her mother. And what a way to say goodbye it was…

I reached down and held Fluttershy in my arms. I felt her arms wrap around me while our heads rested beside each other. I soon heard Fluttershy whisper with a choking voice. "Now you know why…I had to change the lyrics…"

I sniffled and gasped for a moment longer. I tried to shake off these overwhelming emotions, though it was not easy. "I see your point… But still…that was beautiful, Fluttershy… I think it really fit the moment when you sung it to your mom…"

I felt her nod against my pauldron. "I know… She… She died right after I sang it to her… I hope she heard me…"

"I know she did, honey… There's no way she couldn't have heard you…" I whispered back to her, my hand tenderly stroking her back. "Do you… Do you think she would've liked me…?"

Fluttershy nodded with a slightly more uplifting tone to her voice when she spoke. "She would have loved you… I know she would… I wish you could have met her."

A long gasping sigh surged forth from my throat. "Me too… She sounds like she was a sweetheart…"

Fluttershy soon pulled away from me and gazed at me with her glistening tearful eyes. "I came to Ponyville right after that happened… And…my friends became the most important people in my life… But…you're the most important thing to me now, James… I'm… I'm so happy that you chose me… You could have ended up with Rarity, or maybe Twilight… But you chose me in the end…"

It was then that I came to a powerful realization. When all is said and done… When everything is considered… I believe that it is Fluttershy who needs me most. I gently held her hoof in my hand and gazed into her eyes. She had always been precious to me, but now… I felt that bond deepen further. She needs me. And I want to be there for her.

"You'll always have me, honey. I won't ever leave you." I spoke softly yet firmly.

From that moment forward, there were no words. I held her in my arms while she held me in hers. The two of us gazed up at the moon and stars above. Where I am sure her mother was looking back at us…

That is all I am willing to write for today. This day… It was full of laughs, full of tenderness, and even full of tears. I believe this may have been the most fulfilling and important day I have had in Equestria for quite some time. My first full year here has ended and I can only fathom what lies ahead for me and the wonderful people who have made my life here so enjoyable. There are good times ahead for us and I intend to document them all so I can look back on them and smile.

Thank you all… I cannot express how content I am as I lie in bed now. Fluttershy is beside me sleeping soundly and I will soon join her. I love her… I love her so much. And I will always be there for her and for those I hold dear. I love my friends. I love this world. I… Just…thank you for bringing me here. Thank you.