Mistakes were made

by Cackling Moron

Chapter 1: (By me)

Author's Notes:

Why do the things that happen here happen?

Why, so the things that happen here happen, of course.

“Did Ember say what kind of monster?” Spike asked, tapping his claws together and looking over his shoulder. When he realised that Twilight hadn’t stopped walking and was now a good distance ahead of him he jumped and hurried to catch up.

Twilight just gritted her teeth and kept on moving forward.

Today was not going the way she might have hoped.

And things had started so well!

Getting and invite from Ember had been unexpected, but not unwelcome. It wasn’t a short trip but a polite request from a friend was a polite request from a friend - not to be lightly turned down!

That the request to come out hadn’t actually specified why or even really hinted at it either was unusual, yes, but that hardly mattered. All would become clear on her arrival, Twilight was sure.

Spike had more-or-less invited himself along, seeing as how he was as much Ember’s friend as Twilight was, so that was fine. Having company was also a plus as well. Everything was going fine. Even the trip itself was uneventful - scenic, even!

Once in the Dragon Lands things had got a little more tense, if only because the landscape itself was so much more harsh and foreboding, but still, nothing spoiled the trip and eventually arrived with modest fanfare to see what the problem was.

Curtains. Ember wanted opinions on which curtains to hang up. In a cave.

Twilight was surprised but hid this well and gave the best advice she could in the circumstances. Curtain were duly selected and then an awkward silence descended.

It had seemed like an awful lot to have asked her to come out for. Not that seeing Ember wasn’t nice in itself, of course. Friendship and all that. Just seemed a little odd to Twilight. Extremely odd, in fact. Set some alarm bells ringing.

For good reason too, as it turned out.

“And while you’re here…” Ember had asked. “You wouldn’t mind helping me out a little with something else, would you?”

Twilight, ever eager to help a friend and deciding not to assume the worst, had nodded at once, beaming.

“Of course!”

“Good! Great. There’s a monster we’re having trouble with lately and I was kind of hoping you might be able to take a look.”

A few thoughts had gone through Twilight’s head as the smile on her face took on a more rictus quality. Why had Ember not mentioned this before now? Was this the whole reason she’d actually been invited up in the first place and if so why not lead with that? Why couldn’t she go more than two days without some sort of monster rearing its head?

Twilight asked none of these question though, instead asking:

“A monster?”

Ember, checking her talons, had nodded.

“Yeah. Moved in couple months back and set up in a cave about half a day south of here, started causing trouble. Normally it wouldn’t be an issue but it’s, uh, an odd one. Was kind of hoping you might help us out.”

“You know where it lives?” Twilight had asked.

And Ember had looked up from her talons, as though this was a very stupid question.

“Well, yeah.”

Dragons, being dragons, would surely have responded to a monster in a fairly direct manner. Of this Twilight was fairly certain. So to hear that there was a monster - and what did a dragon consider a monster, exactly? - and that they knew where it was but had yet to do anything with it was surprising. Twilight didn’t know what to make of it.

“So why are you asking me?” She asked.

“Because every time one of us has tried it hasn’t worked. You’ll probably be able to pull some of your friendship voodoo on the thing. You’ve got monster experience, yeah?”

“Little bit…”

Didn’t seem fair to Twilight she should be singled out because of this, but she could hardly deny it. Ember held her claws out, palms up, as though this answered everything.

“There you go. It’s weird.”

“What? The monster?”

“Yeah. It’s...weird.”

“You might have to give me a little more to go on then that.”

And so Ember had, though not really. The monster was belligerent, astonishingly resistant to injury, consistently insulting and vulgar and responded to any and all attempts to root it out with acts of violence and petty theft.

It was about that point in Ember’s description that an idea had started nudging its way into Twilight’s head, though she hadn’t liked it and hadn’t wanted to mention it, so she’d just bit her tongue, nodded, and told Ember she would go and have a look.

Honestly, Twilight kind of hoped she was wrong and it actually was a proper monster.

And so that was how she came to be cautiously moving through a pass in the Dragon Lands, keeping a wary eye out. Spike was also there, obviously, though he wasn’t happy about it, also obviously.

“No she didn’t say what kind of monster, Spike,” Twilight said, adding through gritted teeth “Though I’m pretty sure I can guess…”

Jack had mentioned a desire to fight dragons, back in that dungeon in Canterlot. Twilight had been dumb enough to tell him not to do it, which had - in hindsight - probably been exactly what he’d been waiting for. She hoped that in the time since then something else had distracted him, like basket weaving, but she had a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t be so lucky.

And as much as she was bracing herself for the inevitability of meeting Jack shortly, she couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit of excitement. For his numerous faults, she had actually missed him and, worse, been a little worried about him. When you didn’t see someone for a while that tended to happen. Assuming you liked that someone.

Although, that said, she’d mainly been worried about what he might have been doing while he was out of her sight. Though since this was mainly on account of worrying that the consequences of his actions might catch up with him, she felt this still counted as worrying about him on a personal level.


A voice snapped immediately derailed her train of thought and Twilight looked up just in time to see that something was coming barrelling down the mountainside towards them, skidding at speed in a rattling pebbles and a haze of dust. Automatically Twilight’s wings flared out as she shot in front of Spike, horn igniting.

Whatever the something was came on regardless, coming to a halt in a billowing cloud that obscured everything until, with a flap, Twilight blasted it all away, leaving behind something big, bipedal and mostly naked.

“Who goes there? Hah! I kid. I know who goes there.”

“Jack?” Twilight asked, squinting and blinking some of the residual dust out of her eyes.

The shape of the thing was right - she’d never really seen anything else shaped like Jack, not exactly at least - but the details were wrong. This thing was taller, broader and bulkier.

But it was Jack. There was no avoiding it. She’d expected him, and here he was.

If there was a feeling that perfectly combined relief and disappointment, Twilight would have been flooded with it.

“Your magical world does not agree with me, Twilight!” He said, spreading his arms. “Or maybe it agrees with me too much. Look! I got bigger! Then again, maybe it’s my active lifestyle, hmm? Headbutting dragons and climbing mountains? Wouldn’t explain the height though…”

She was just goggling, trying and failing to comprehend.

“You got big. Bigger,” she mumbled. He grinned and looked down at himself, rubbing dust from his face with the back of one arm.

“I really did! Real beefy boy now. Hey Spike. Having fun cowering in terror from me?”

Something in Jack’s delivery got Twilight back in the moment and she blinked. For however much he might look different, he obviously wasn’t any less Jack than he had been the last time she’d seen him. This was deeply, deeply reassuring. Settling her wings and shuffling her hooves she coughed and straightened up.

“And what is that?” She asked, pointing with a hoof. Jack glanced over shoulder and then gave whatever it was that was draped around him a tug so it settled more comfortably. It was big, and it rattled and clanked as he moved it. Parts of it glittered, and other parts didn’t. The whole thing looked like it had been put together in the dark by someone who just didn’t care. Whatever it was.

“My cloak! Neat, eh?”

He gave a twirl. The cloak was so heavy it didn’t even flare out.

Twilight squinted.

“Are those scales?”

“Yep, yep, dragon scales! Metal as fuck, ain’t it?”

“How did you get those?”

“Oh, dragons shed scales all the time. Especially if they’re subjected to sudden or violent forces. This I have learnt. The whole place is lousy with ‘em.”

He gave the cloak a few swishes. Twilight backed up to avoid having her face taken off.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever made in my life. It actually turned out pretty good, don’t you think?”

“Whhhyyyy have you made that?” Twilight asked. Something about the thing made her distinctly uncomfortable for reasons she couldn’t quite put her hoof on. Jack, as was custom, did not notice this at all and merrily tossed it back over his shoulder again.

“Something to do, mainly. There were a lot of scales around. I collected them for kicks then one day I was sat around with all this wire I’d managed to get - don’t ask, it’s not interesting - and I just thought I’d try to do something creative. And I got this! Useful, too. Getting fire breathed on me isn’t great, and this thing really helps make it more bearable.”

Twilight stared at him

“You shaved, too,” she said, finally noticing this. Once she had, she couldn’t stop. Her mental image of Jack did not allow for him not to be mostly hair and beard, and its absence made her oddly unhappy. Apparently having it called out made Jack unhappy, too, as he grimaced a bit as he ran a hand around his jaw and over his scalp.

“Well, my hair kept getting burnt off so it seemed the sensible thing to do. I did mention the getting fire breathed on me, didn’t I? Yeah, happens quite often. I do kind of miss the beard but eh, life. My fault for moving out here.”

He would have carried on and perhaps mentioned the difficulties involved in trying to shave with only a jagged piece of what he assumed might be volcanic glass in a place where he didn’t have any good mirrors, but felt Twilight could live without this detail. This left the pair in awkward silence, which was at least par for the course with the two of them.

Jack cleared his throat.

“Speaking of...you wanna...see my place? I mean you don’t have to I just - you know - if we’re talking might as well sit down, right? Unless you got somewhere you’re meant to be? You probably do. Princess stuff, right? Forget I asked. You probably got important stuff to do.”

“I was asked to come out here by Princess Ember,” Twilight said. Jack nodded as though he had a clue what this meant or who that was.

“Sure sure. Makes sense,” he said. Twilight’s eyes narrowed. She disliked it when he pretended to know things he didn’t. She would prefer it he just admit he had no idea what she was talking about.

“She told me that a strange monster had recently taken up residence nearby and was making life difficult for her and her subjects. She felt I might know more about it and know what to do about it.”

Jack stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“Strange monster? I haven’t seen anything like that around - oh! Oh that’s me isn’t it?”

He looked ecstatic at the realisation.

“It’s you, Jack, yes.”

Grinning, he clapped his hands and rubbed them together.

“Well then! Up to my lair, hmm? Talk the monster to death, hmm?”

He did not wait for any answer and immediately turned away, clambering and leaping back up the slope in a way that was quite alarming to watch. He slipped here and there, but that only seemed to drive him on with greater enthusiasm. Twilight could hear him laughing even as he got further away.

She felt a tug on her leg and, looking down, found Spike peering up at her with wide eyes. He’d been hiding silently behind her the whole time, which was hardly surprising.

“Are we really going to follow him?” He asked. Twilight rolled her eyes.

“Yes Spike. He’s not going to hurt us. Come on, you know Jack.”

“Yeah but he’s a lot scarier looking now than he was before!”

There wasn’t much denying this.

At the top of the slope Jack, who had disappeared, popped his head back up.

“You guys coming or what?” He shouted down at them.

A wordless glance from Twilight was all Spike needed to be told. Sighing, he scrambled up onto her back as she hopped up and flapped her way after Jack. Easier than climbing, she felt.

Nearer the top Twilight started seeing scorch marks, and once at the top she got definite signs of both that Jack lived here and that the place had also come under attack more than once. Claw marks on the rocks, more scorches, bits and pieces of broken junk. Spike clung a little tighter to Twilight’s back as she instinctively ducked on entering the cave.

Inside, it was dim, though as her eyes adjusted Twilight got a better look.

A small hollow, broadly circular but angular enough to have distinct walls. So more like a hexagon, really, or near enough. Against one wall was a vast heap of junk and trash the contents of which Twilight couldn’t even begin to speculate one. Against another was a pile of rugs and curtains and other random fabric that Jack obviously slept in.

In the middle was the dying remains of a fire that Jack was presently poking at with his bare hand and adding more spindly, dry wood to while he sat on a log beside it. He’d shed the cloak of scales and dumped it on the cave floor behind him.

Twilight moved in and sat on a log on the opposite side of the fire, Spike slithering down beside her and huddling there. This seemed a setup Jack was comfortable with, logs around a fire.

“Nice cave,” she said, dryly. Jack just grinned.

“I know, right? It’s basically perfect. There’s a hole in the ceiling that sucks the smoke away and that water in the corner never goes away and doesn’t go stagnant. Don’t ask me why. S’pretty great, altogether.”

He pointed to the corner in question where there was indeed just a pool of perfectly clean looking water. How it had got there was unclear. Twilight wrinkled her muzzle at it before turning back to but Jack was now standing, hands on hips.

“Hey Spike,” Jack said, and Spike looked up at the human with some small level of obvious dread. Clearly he’d rather hoped to remain beneath notice. “You still eat gems, right?”

“Yeah?” Spike asked back, cautiously.

Jack turned and rummaged in the trash heap for a moment or two before turning back again, holding a bulging sack. This he dropped in front of Spike, making the tiny dragon jump, though when the contents of the sack turned out to be what was apparently hundreds and hundreds of gems, Spike’s attitude changed at once.

“You can get stuck into those,” Jack said.

Spike, eyes like saucers, looked from the sack to Jack and then back to the sack. It seemed he could hardly believe that such bounty would simply be handed over to him, and imagined there must be some catch.

“Really?” He asked, and Jack shrugged.

“Sure. What am I going to do with them? Stick them on my loincloth? Not my style. Go nuts.”

Barely had the words left Jack’s lips then Spike leapt forward and disappeared into the sack, tiny legs waving frantically as he dug around within.

“Just don’t make yourself sick!” Twilight said, for all the good it would do. Jack picked the sack up, dragon still wriggling around within, and put it out of the way.

“Thought he might like those. They’ve just been sitting around. This whole planet is lousy with the things, it’s crazy. And how come they come out the ground cut? That’s weird,” he said, dusting off his hands and moving back to sit down again.

Twilight said nothing. She was eyeing the heap with disapproval.

“You really need to stop stealing things, Jack.”

He looked confused but then followed her sightline to the pile and rolled his eyes.

“This isn’t all stolen!” He said, pouting. “Some of this I just found. Like the gems! Those I dug up. Mostly. Most of the rest I just found, honest. There’s cool-looking junk all over this planet, I swear to God. The rest I stole from the dragons that tried to steal from me first. It seemed poetic.”


“The big ones used to bust in sometimes, try to roast me and swipe the stuff so I knocked ‘em around and followed them back to wherever they came from and stole some of their own stuff. Seemed poetic, like I say. The littler ones never had anything good, sadly. But yeah, most of this I just found. Honest!”

This seemed incredibly unlikely to Twilight, but listening to him had put a thought in her head that was urgent enough to make her forget about scolding him for theft.

“You haven’t attacked Ember, have you?” Twilight asked, fearing a diplomatic incident.

It was the sort of thing Twilight would have expected Ember to have mentioned, but it struck her as just as likely that Ember would have kept it to herself while her subjects seethed with rage. That was the bit Twilight worried about.

Jack mostly just looked confused.

“Who? What?”

“Princess Ember? The one I said asked me to come up here?”

He continued to look confused, eyes narrowed as he scratched his head.

“...what does she look like?”

“Dragon. Maybe yeigh high. Blue. Ringing any bells?” Twilight asked, voice perhaps creeping towards exasperation as she held out a wing more-or-less where Ember would stand to. Jack looked at this and then clicked his fingers.

“Oh, the little dragon lady. Has a shiny stick sometimes? No, I haven’t attacked her, Twilight. She’s never hassled me so I’ve never had any reason to. I don’t just go around picking fights at random, you know. What you people think of me! It’s a little insulting, if I’m being honest.”

He looked pensive for a moment.

“Actually, I haven’t fought many dragons at all, disappointingly.”

“You haven’t?” Twilight asked, finding it difficult to keep the disbelief out of her voice as she remembered the clawed rocks and burnt ground outside. The disbelief was thick enough for even Jack to notice. He pointedly ignored it.

“No. Most of them aren’t really interested in fighting me. Oh they’ll try and kill me, sure, and they’re rubbish at that and when they try I’ll lay them out, yeah. But fighting? A good, proper fight? Rare.”

Twilight didn’t draw such distinctions. To her, fighting was violence and violence was fighting. Jack, being as how he spent a good chunk of his recent time in Equestria being punched or punching, had a more nuanced view of things. Or so he liked to think.

“If I’m being honest I had kind of hoped for a little more good-natured aggression out here. A nice scrap or two here and there. No such luck. They just seem to think I’m a pest. That’s no fun.”

“They think you’re a monster, Jack,” Twilight pointed out, but Jack dismissed this.

“Yeah but not in a fun way like you guys did. You guys all ran around screaming, it was great. Here they just, well, they don’t do that. And there’s not even anything fun to break around here! They just have rocks! Have you tried breaking rocks? I have! It gets real old real fast!”

Feeling the conversation was drifting without direction and doing so away from anything useful, Twilight put her hoof on the rudder, as it were, and cast around for something she could use. She saw what appeared to be a shirt, drawn by a five year-old and then realised in real life. She pointed.

“Have you been trying to make your own clothes?”

Sheepishly Jack nodded.

“Just as a bit of a hobby, during the quiet times. I’ll let you in on a secret,” he held up a hand to his mouth and hissed the last part: “I’m not very good.”

He wasn’t wrong. Clearly his success - such as it was - with the cloak had been a one-off.

“Uh...well it’s a learning experience, right?” Twilight offered.

“Probably! You know what really gets to me, though?” Jack asked, brightly.


“I’m little, right? At least compared to the big ones out here. But when I punch them in the face they go reeling back like they got hit with something big, something with a proper amount of mass behind it. I even swung one around by the tail one time - properly Bowser’d it! That should just be impossible, I must weigh a fraction of what they do. If that!”


Twilight could understand this, but him having come out of nowhere with it kind of put her on the backhoof. She didn’t have a clue what she was expected to say. Jack, apparently, didn’t really care anyway and so just kept on going.

“Don’t get me wrong! I’m glad. Real glad. Means I can throw dragons around and that’s dope as shit, and I’m not worried about accidentally punching through someone’s skull like I’m a fucking human bullet. It’s just weird, right? Physics is out to lunch. It’s almost as though the rules of your crazy world were set up primarily for the benefit of sight gags.”

He was looking at her like he she was about to come out with something profound that would clear everything up for him. Twilight had nothing.

“I don’t know what you want from me, Jack,” she said.

He had been smiling, but on her saying this it faltered and he sighed, leaning back and bringing his hands up to his face.

“Probably could have phrased it a little better…” she heard him say.

The fire cracked and the little sticks crumpled, a puff of teeny sparks briefly shooting up. The smoke was indeed whisked away by whatever draught blew through the hole in the ceiling, keeping the air between the two of them surprisingly clear.

Jack was staring into the fire by that point, not saying anything. He appeared to be thinking. Looking at him without a beard was still really weird to Twilight, which in itself was weird. He hadn’t a beard when they’d first met. That had only come later. But for whatever reason she’d just come to always picture him with one, and a big one.

For such a big creature he did look small right then, sat on his log staring silently at his fire.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“I’m fine,” he said, hands still on his face, unaware of Twilight staring.

“Are you lonely, Jack?”

That got him to drop his hands and while he looked angry about being asked this there wasn’t a whole lot of heart behind it. More like annoyance than anything else, and even that came across as paper-thin.

“No! No I am not lonely. Bored, yes. I am bored. But am I lonely? No.”

It looked like he might continue along this line - he had a finger raised to wag at Twilight - but then he stopped himself and grunted, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Damnit Twilight, how do you always do this?”

She was honestly taken off-guard.


“We’ll be shooting the shit about something fun and then you’ll slip in something about my welfare or wellbeing or whatever and then suddenly we’re not having a fun conversation anymore.”

“It’s pretty normal to be concerned about friends.”

“We’re friends?”

Twilight gave him a decidedly unfriendly look for that one. Enough to make him flinch.

“We’ll always be friends and you know that. You haven’t done anything unforgivable, Jack, you’ve just been stubborn. You’re still being stubborn!”

Jack opened his mouth to reply, thought better of it and then shrank a little on his log. For a man as big as he now was, this was an impressive trick.

“...I’ll admit I might have...overreacted in the past. Maybe especially that one time. Which kind of led into the other times. But in my defense - for the first time! - I was upset. That’s not much of a defense, I know, but it’s all I’ve got,” he said.

“It’s nothing you can’t come back from.”

Jack knew this. He’d always known this. Ponies were a forgiving lot. Hell, humans could be very forgiving, in his experience, not that that would ever be relevant again. He just hadn’t been able to stomach the thought of all the effort that would have been involved. Because this was lazy and selfish he hadn’t wanted to admit it. He knew that, too, and remembering that he knew it just made him feel uncomfortable.

He squirmed.

“I think I’ve been doing this for too long,” he said, speaking as he thought, wondering how he might spin this angle into an excuse not to have to do anything. “I mean, I’ve been doing this for, uh, ah….I don’t know, actually. A while. A long while.”

“It’s been about three months since you broke out of the dungeons in Canterlot, and before that you’d been living in Everfree for maybe four, tops,” Twilight said, doing a good job at hiding her glee at finally being able to use this information.

Jack hadn’t expected that. He gaped at her for a second and then once his brain had stopped fizzing he actually added those two together.

“Seven months?! That’s how long I’ve been mountain-manning it?! Only seven months?! And how long since I got here?”

‘Here’ being Equestria, clearly.

“In total a year and a half, if that.”

She did have an exact number, but didn’t want him to think she was too keen. Or creepy.

After that bombshell Jack was quiet for about five minutes straight.

“Jesus I went off the deep end quick, didn’t I?” He asked.

“Little bit.”


After that he was quiet for longer, and once it became clear that he wasn’t going to say anything else Twilight was moved to act. Flapping up and making the fire gutter she hopped from her log to his and settled beside him. Jack did not move.

“I’ve missed you, you know,” she said, delicately extending a wing around him. Jack continued not to move, though now he looked as he was actively making sure he didn’t so much as twitch a muscle. “I missed how we used to talk. When it wasn’t me telling you off.”

Jack said nothing.

“I miss when you wore clothes.”

That at least got a laugh, though he quickly stifled it and again returned all his concentration on remaining as absolutely still as possible. From the look on his face he was nervous, and his eyes kept flicking to Twilight.

This she noticed and, smiling, she reached out and gently placed a hoof onto his hands. He flinched again, but otherwise remained stock-still.

“You don’t need to worry so much about that, you know,” she said.

“I’ll always worry about that,” he said, quietly.

Whatever that might have been about the two of them were prevented from carrying on by a pained groaned from the other side of the cave. They both looked.

There sat Spike, grossly distorted. The sack was much diminished, though not wholly empty. Spike was staring into space and listing to one side, tiny claw resting on a not-so-tiny belly.

“I can see colours.”

“We can all see colours, man. This place is a kaleidoscope,” Jack said.

Twilight, her face a mask of exasperation, retracted her wing she dismounted the log and trotted over, looming over Spike.

“What did I say, Spike?”

“You say lots of things,” he said before groaning again and rolling onto his back. Given that he was now - somehow - roughly spherical this left him helpless.

“Shame there isn’t an element of moderation,” Jack said, which earned him a dirty look.

“I blame you for this” Twilight said, picking Spike up, horn glowing. He continued groaning as he rotated slowly in the air.

“I’ll admit I enabled him but really I’m not responsible for what other people do with the temptations I put in front of them.”

She didn’t see much point in commenting on that.

“Jack,” she said instead, standing up straighter. “I’m going to say something direct and authoritative next and when I do I want you to listen and do as you’re told.”

“Thanks for warning me, I guess?”

“I want you to come with me.”

That got another laugh, albeit a slightly more bitter one than before.

“Uh, has that ever worked? I mean, since I went nuts, you know.”

Twilight’s stern glare was unwavering.

“I’m serious, Jack. Ember asked me to come this way because of you, remember. The monster? The one I’m expected to deal with? I can’t just leave you here to keep making problems for them.”

“Well, you can. It’d be pretty easy.”

“No it wouldn’t be, Jack. Ember is princess, and while her asking me to do this wasn’t exactly a formal request it still wouldn’t look good for me to just blow her off or leave without even looking like I tried. It’s the kind of thing that might cause a diplomatic incident, or be used by those that want to cause one, at least.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

“What? I’m serious, Jack. These are the little things that can spark much larger things. A misstep between species and before you know it Celestia’s here with half the guards in Canterlot,” she said, waving a hoof.

Jack could not tell whether she was bullshitting him or not. To him, it had all sounded pretty convincing, but then again she just might be playing off of his total ignorance of the way politics - such as it was - worked in Equestria. Having the big girl herself coming down all heavy-handed sounded unlikely, but Twilight had been stoney-faced with her delivery, the way she wasn’t kidding around.

While he was mulling this over, she hit him with something else:

“Besides, didn’t you say you were bored here?”

This was an out. A wonderful comfortable excuse. Jack could grab it with both hands and tell himself and anyone else who might care to listen that this was the real reason he’d left. Not because Twilight had asked him or because he’d been concerned with the possible consequences of his actions, but just because his boredom had happened to peak just when she’d appeared. A coincidence, nothing more.

She knew him well. Jack coughed.

“I was thinking of moving on anyway,” he said. “Bored, yeah. This place has been a bit of a bust, if I’m honest.”

“So you’ll come with me?” Twilight asked, hoping she didn’t sound too eager.

“I will just-so happen to move in the same direction as you at the same time,” Jack said, holding up a finger. She frowned.

“How convenient. That means you’re coming back to talk to Ember with me. You’re apologising first.”

At first Jack thought he’d misheard, but when he realised he hadn’t he looked affronted.

“What? Why!”

“Because you were enough of a problem that she invited me here on false pretences because she couldn’t think of any other way of getting rid of you. And you also stole a bunch of stuff.”

“I keep telling you, most of that wasn’t stolen! Well, a lot of it wasn’t.”

Honestly, he’d lost track.

Silently Twilight stared, judging, pinning him in place with her eyes. Jack had expected this, but he hadn’t been prepared. He squirmed more.

“They set me on fire, Twilight! First! Before I stole any of that stuff! Allegedly stole any of that stuff.”

“Then they’ll also apologise to you.”

He tried to stare her out and failed almost immediately, throwing his hands up.

“Argh! You’re all so bloody civil! Fine! Fine I’ll do it. I’ll follow you back into dragontown or whatever, meet up with the blue one, apologise. You want me to prostrate myself, too?”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Twilight, doing her best to keep the triumph out of her voice. Out of all of her interactions with Jack this one seemed to be going unusually well.

“That’s something at least…”

“Please put some clothes on first, though”

Not having expected this, Jack blinked bewilderedly at her. Then he looked down. The loincloth had seen better days, and most heartfelt apologies didn’t even accidentally flashing. Typically, that necessitated further apologies.

“Oh. Oh yeah that might be an idea. Give the right impression.”

He started reaching behind him to the floor.

“Not the cloak. It might send the wrong message,” she said.

He paused, cloak half-lifted, and looked back to her.

“What, really?”


For a moment he deliberated then, withering under her gaze and surrendering to her greater grasp of etiquette and social niceties, caved. He dropped the cloak. He’d have time to come back and get it later, he reasoned. And if anyone else took it he could always beat them up and take it back. Simple enough.

“Ugh, fine. Well, uh, let’s see…”

His eyes wandered over his homemade clothing and kept on wandering without stopping. Even Jack had standards.

Grunting, he rose and shambled over to his nest of blankets and such and started digging around through it for a minute before pulling out what looked like a curtain which he then wrapped around himself.

Twilight watched all this, embarrassed by proxy, Spike suspended in midair beside her, groaning softly.

Filing miserably to turn a curtain into a toga Jack settled instead of just sort of tying it around himself to cover the dangly bits.

“Better?” He asked.

Twilight stared silently for a second and then turned and left the cave without a word.

“And she says she’s my friend…” Jack grumbled.

But he followed her anyway.

The walk back was quiet, barring Spike’s continued groaning, but that quickly became background noise. Twilight did not speak, and without her guidance Jack hadn’t a clue where any type of polite conversation was meant to start. Oh sure, he had lots of ideas for dumb conversations, but he also had the sneaking feeling that now wasn’t the time for those.

That made him feel very lost. So he kept his mouth shut and his head down.

For her part, Twilight was freaking out somewhat internally. That Jack was being so obliging was not what she had expected at all, but it was exactly what she’d wanted. She could hardly believe it was all working out so comparatively perfectly. Jack was actually doing as he was told! If she spoke, she thought, she might ruin it, and then have to start over from scratch.

So she kept her mouth shut, too, while also worrying about just how bored and lonely Jack must have to be for him to be going along with this quite so easily.

Above, the volume of dragons in the air increased, first just as they were passing, but before too long they noticed Twilight coming back accompanied, and so started following her to see what the deal was.

By the time they got back to Ember quite the crowd had gathered to wait and watch.

Ember herself didn’t look particularly happy.

“Why have you brought it back?” She asked, her choice of words not going entirely unnoticed by Twilight.

He would like to apologise,” Twilight said, trying to nudge Jack forward with a wing only to fail because Jack was about as close to an immovable object as could be found. He got the hint though, so stepped forward of his own free will.

Personally, Jack had no issue being called an it. He knew what he was, and didn’t much care what anyone else might have made of him. Back home, he’d sometimes been called the wrong name at work and never bothered to correct them. In his mind, not that big of a deal.

But that was Jack.

Ember looked from Twilight to him, disbelief evident.

“Does he?”

“He does,” said Jack.

“Because Twilight told him to?” She asked him. Jack scoffed.

“Well obviously. You did see her march me back? But I am sorry though. I didn’t think I was that much of a problem for you guys but obviously I was and I’m sorry about that. Though you could have just told me, you know. My cave door is always open. Because it doesn’t exist.”

Twilight kicked him in the shin, though this did nothing at all except hurt her hoof.

“Stop being bad at apologies!” She hissed.

“What? Honesty is good!”

“There’s honesty and then there’s provocation!”

“What are you saying sorry for?” Ember asked, dragging Jack’s attention back to the matter in hnd. He erred.

“Uh,” he said. “You know. Being a dick, really. Just making all your lives difficult. I didn’t meant to. It’s just - well it happens a lot with me. Ask Twilight, she’ll tell you.”

Twilight, put on the spot, could only shrug nervously.

“Enough of this!” Boomed a voice.

A dragon - a proper dragon, a bright red one the size of a house - launched from where it had been perched on a crag and landed with a crash and a dust-billowing flap of its vast wings.

Big as Jack was, he suddenly didn’t look quite so big stood in front of a fully-grown dragon.

“It stole from my hoard! No apology could be sufficient!” It said, jabbing down at Jack with a single pointed talon.

Jack - amazingly - actually looked taken-aback, if only by the sudden jumping down and shouting. But not for long, and once the surprise wore off he yelled back:

“Because you threw me at a mountain! I remember! And I’d steal from you again! Though I probably got all the good bits already!”

Not the choice of words needed to diffuse the situation.

The dragon roared. A claw the size of a cart swiped down with terrible, lethal weight. It stopped dead on meeting Jack, who’d raised both hands and caught the claw over his head. The dragon looked genuinely surprised, though nowhere as surprised when Jack - arms and legs trembling but holding - started pushing back up.

“I’m only little! Come on! You can do it!” He shouted.

The dragon, surprise replaced with irritation, shifted to really put its weight down. Jack had apparently been counting on this as, just before it could really get started on crushing him flat, he slid forward underneath the dragon proper and jumped, uppercutting it in the chest as it jerked forward and sending it reeling back, scattering its smaller cousins in the process.

“Ah, I should have said something cool there…shoryuken or something...” Jack said to himself, walking in a small circle and shaking out his fist as the dragon - who had been knocked onto its back - furiously struggled upright and reared, murder in its eyes and a glow now visible from the very depths of its throat.

Ember could see where this was going.

“Don’t breathe fire on him!” She shouted, waving her arms.

The dragon breathed fire on Jack. The sound was appalling. A rolling, deafening roar that drowned out everything, thundering in Twilight’s ears even as she clamped her hooves over them. The heat though was worse, an almost physical force, forcing her to step back.

The dragon kept it up for a good three or four seconds but it felt much, much longer. Time had seemed to slow from the moment he’d opened his mouth and Twilight had been unable to do anything but watch as Jack disappeared in the flames.

And then they cut out. Smoke billowed as air rushed back from where it had been displaced. The switch in temperature was jarring, the sudden absence of noise like having the rug pulled out. It had all been so immediate and so shocking Twilight could barely comprehend it.

Then she did, and comprehended that Jack had just been bathed in a tide of searing flames and was probably dead. He’d mentioned fire before, yes, but that had obviously just been hyperbole. It couldn’t have been anything like that. How could it have been? That was lethal. Nothing could have survived that!

“Jack!” Twilight called out, her voice catching.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ember said, sighing. Twilight wasn’t sure why she shouldn’t worry, but then she saw why and her jaw dropped.

Jack had emerged from the smoke blistered in places and smoking in others but entirely unharmed otherwise. He was even grinning.

“Now I’m naked!” He said as the ashen remains of the curtain fell away. “And it’s all your fault!”

The dragon looked just as shocked as Twilight did, failing to react as Jack leapt forward and clocked it across the chin, snapping its head to the side. That woke it up though, and when Jack lunged again it was ready, jaws open.

“No! Don’t...eat him...again...ugh…” Ember said, sighing in defeat as the exact thing she was warning about happened, huge jaws snapping shut as Jack dived down the dragon’s throat.

Twilight turned to her, eyes wide, jaw dropping even more.

“He’s been eaten before?!”

Ember looked exhausted.

“This is kind of why I asked you for help. A couple of them have tried it but it always, well…”

The dragon was choking, retching. Flattening out along the ground it wheezed and coughed and sputtered and then gagged, a pale, slimy figure forcing its jaws apart and flopping out onto the dusty ground.

Jack rolled onto his back and leapt onto his feet while the dragon, dazed and wheezing, did its best to gather its wits.

“Eat something that disagreed with you?” Jack asked, panting and laughing, scraping layers of drool off of himself with his hands as he staggered a few steps backwards. The dragon, eyes watering, was still too breathless to respond and just lay flat in a daze. It kept on laying there even as Jack - steadier now - wandered up to it.

“No!” Jack said firmly, a though scolding a dog, waving a finger so close to the dragons’ face it’s eyes-crossed. “Bad!”

He then jumped up and headbutted the dragon squarely between the eyes. This was inelegant, as dragon’s have long muzzles, so it looked more like Jack belly-flopping than anything else. It was, however, very effectively. There was a wince-inducing ‘crack’ of impact and the shock of the blow seemed to ripple all the way along the dragon’s body to the very tip of the tail.

The dragon was out cold. Jack, lying on its face, rolled off and landed in the dirt again.

“Ouch,” he said into the ground before getting up again, more slowly this time.

Twilight’s look of utter horror gave him pause.

“I fluffed the apology, didn’t I?”

“How are you not dead?” She asked, appalled. She knew Jack was robust but this was taking the piss.

“I wasn’t kidding Twilight, something about this place is doing something to me. I’m a Goddamn Hooper, a Space Ork - I just keep getting bigger and tougher. It’s ridiculous. One of these guys impaled me! That guy, over there,” he said, pointing. Twilight saw a slender, sour-looking dragon who, she noticed, had only one horn.

“He got me right here, see?” Jack then said, pointing to himself a little under the ribs.

Squinting, Twilight could indeed see the scar, though it was much faded.

“Other side, too!”

He did an about-face and Twilight saw he wasn’t lying. She felt a touch ill on seeing the other scar.

“H-how...how did you…”

“Through and through! That was a shock, let me tell you. My advice? Never get impaled. I broke off the horn and crawled back home. I thought that was it for me! They must have thought the same, too. But nope! You should have seen the look on their faces when I came back.”

Twilight was speechless.

“Sorry about, uh, me making a hash of saying sorry. I can try again, if you want. Should I try again?” He asked, stepping to the side to try and hide the unconscious dragon from view. He failed, obviously, and somehow him even trying just made it worse.

This last part he directed to Ember, who had her face resting in her claw.

“Just go home,” she said. Jack laughed.

“Haha! Funny joke.”

The laughing stopped. Jack looked down to find that Twilight had grabbed his hand with both her hooves.

“Jack,” she said. “Please just stop talking. Let’s go.”

Any desire Jack might have had to argue - which wasn’t much to start with - vanished the instant he saw the look in her eyes. At that moment, he likely would have done just about anything she might have felt like asking him to do.

He had to turn away. He coughed.

“Probably a good idea,” he said, adding: “Hey Twilight, just to ask - and don’t worry, I won’t be diverting, I’m just curious - but are gryphons more likely to get into a proper fight?”

“No, they’re not. And you said it wrong.”

Jack pouted.

“How did I say it wrong? I said it right! Gryphons! How do you say it?”

“Griffons,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s what I said! Gryphons.”

“No you said - nevermind. Just start walking, I’ll catch up,” she said, pointing.

“By your command,” he said, wandering off with a small salute, utterly indifferent to the murderous looks he got from the dragons as he passed. Not that any of them tried anything.

“Is something burning?” Spike asked, dazedly looking around before his head flopped back again, body still turning gently through the air. “Oh hey, upside-down dragons…” he mumbled.

When Jack was far enough away to be comfortably out of earshot Twilight turned to Ember.

“Well I’m sorry at least, and I know he is too, even if he can’t say it without making things worse.”

Ember sighed but her expression softened as she looked at Twilight.

“If you say so I’ll believe you. I’m just glad you got rid of him, however you did it. How do you know him, again?”

A very good question. Twilight decided to go with a simple answer.

“He’s a friend,” she said.

So simple that Ember was left expecting more. But there wasn’t any.

“Is this a ‘It’s a long story’ type of thing?” She asked.

“Not really. He’s just not from round here,” Twilight said, shrugging helplessly.

The two of them watched Jack walking off, plainly talking to himself as he did so, arms waving, his nudity no-less ludicrous due to the distance. Given that just about everything was naked in Equestria, to look that stupid nude you had to be doing something wrong, or be from somewhere else. It was about how you carried yourself.

“You don’t say?”


Out of all the places Jack might have woken up in without warning, Equestria wasn’t awful.

Sure all the furniture was the wrong size and everything was too bright and the locals came up to crotch-height, making conversations awkward, but these things weren’t the worst.

Being in an alien world was bad in itself, of course. Far from home for no clear reason, unsure if he was perhaps dying and hallucinating, the victim of some cosmic prank or who knew what else. The constant mystery could drive a man mad were he to ponder it too much, which was why Jack left the pondering to Twilight.

That was another thing. Stranger in a strange land he may well have been, but he had also had the good fortune to have landed practically in the lap of the local expert on all things unusual A genuine magical horse princess, no less, and one who had sworn to Jack she would do everything in her not-inconsiderable power to see him safely back home before he knew it.

That had done a lot to calm him down in the early days, when the panic had been fresh and hadn’t wanted to go away, when he’d curled up and closed his eyes because even looking at where he’d ended up was enough to leave him shaking at just how wrong everything looked and how out of place he was.

He was better now, mostly.

All in all though about as pleasant a few months of being stranded and confused as one could hope for. The locals, though short and colourful, were polite and friendly to a fault, the weather was mild and he got to live in a castle of crystal.

All of this did wonders for his spirits, especially in those darker moments when he worried about all the things and all the people he had presumably quite suddenly left behind, all of whom must be wondering what had happened to him and who all - with every passing minute - would be coming closer and closer to just writing him off as gone for good.

Not that any of that was weighing on Jack’s mind this particular day. This particular day he felt unusually chipper. The sun somehow seemed brighter, the sky bluer, the blinding pastel shades that little bit more blinding than usual. Jack had a veritable spring in his step as he tried to hunt down Twilight, for whom he had a question.

Noise from the library drew his attention and so that way he went.

“Hey Twilight, I was wondering: how come some of you ponies are all small and squishy but, like, one or two are all kind of tall and slender and - hey, what’s wrong?”

She was there, as he’d suspected, but she was also crying, which he had not seen coming.

On noticing him she hurriedly sniffled and wiped her face with the back of a hoof, but that didn’t actually stop her crying and so the mess returned. Jack, the innate reaction of seeing something so wonderfully adorable so upset crossed with his genuine fondness for Twilight, rushed over.

“I can’t do it,” she said.

“What do you mean? Can’t do what? Hey, it can’t be that bad.”

He knelt down to get more on her level

“I can’t send you home, Jack. I’m sorry.”

This was so sudden and so blunt he was stumped. But then it hit him.

“Oh,” he said, buckets of ice falling into his gut. “Oh. Oh that’s okay. You tried, right? That’s what counts. But, uh, there are other options, right? O-other people we can ask? They might know? Right?”

“No-one can do it, Jack. It’s impossible.”

Jack swallowed, thinking furiously.

“But, uh, there have to be others, right? Other things in this world? They might be able to do it, right? I mean, magic is crazy, right? Someone or something could do it?”

“It’s impossible, Jack. Nothing could do it. Everything I’ve done has shown the same thing. Something in the way your universe works allowed you to come through, but the way ours works won’t let you go back. It’s impossible. I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. If I could do anything I would, believe me, but...”

Jack’s mind was crunching.

Never at any point had he entertained the possibility that Twilight not been able to do it. Sure, he’d considered it, but he’d decided it was best to be optimistic. And even if she hadn’t been able - he had thought - someone, somewhere could surely have a crack. That Starswirl guy had managed something like it, right? It couldn’t be that hard, right?

But no. Impossible, apparently. So no going back for him.

Just like that.

Jack clenched his fists.

“The universe itself is against me? No! Scratch that! Two universes are against me? My sterile, magic-free universe is set up to let me slip through some fucking invisible crack to here, but this day-glo, magic-infested nightmare hellscape won’t let me go back?! How does that make sense?!”

“I’m so so sorry Jack I’m so-”

“I know you’re sorry, Twilight! I believe you! You tried your best! I just - how is this fair? How does this make any fucking sense?! Magical fucking horse wizards in a candyland of bullshit and I can’t get out? Could get out of my shitty garbage fire of a universe! Could do that in my sleep! Literally! But this place? Magic up the butthole and I’m shit out of luck?! What! What!”

In a fit of pique Jack growled and punched a wall. In his fit of pique he entirely failed to notice that this destroyed a good chunk of the wall. His pique continued fitting and he continued hitting things, yelling all the while, seeing red.

“Fuck this place! Fuck it and it’s too-low doorframes and it’s fucking cutesy-poo rustic aesthetic! The sun is fucking moved around the fucking sky by a fucking physical god and the other local fucking god can enter dreams, but can I get sent home? No! But some horse with a beard - a fucking beard! On a fucking horse! - managed to send some monsters back to some fucking fake version of home! A version of home with more fucking bright colours and more fucking horse puns! Oh yeah! That happened! Of course that happened! Not the real fucking version! Not where I actually need to go! Of course not! Why should that happen? That would be far too fucking easy! It’s arbitrary! Fucking magic! There’s a floating city made of clouds that manufactures weather and a horse version of New-fucking-York and a fucking chaos deity who just shows up to shoot the shit sometimes but can anyone actually get me back home? No! Of course they fucking can’t! Because that’s impossible and that’s the rules. Bullshit! Arbitrary bullshit! Fuck this place!”

Jack was panting.

He realised that the whole time he’d been screaming he hadn’t actually been paying attention where he’d been going or what he’d been doing. Everything had been red and only what was in front of him had seemed to exist, and what was in front of him he’d broken. And he’d just kept on breaking until just now, when the need to actually stop and take a breath made him slow for a minute.

Now the red was fading a little, and the thumping in his head was starting to hurt.

And he noticed that he was outside. When had that happened? Hadn’t he been in the castle?

He turned around. He had indeed been in the castle, but that had clearly been before he’d busted clear through the wall fallen a good ten or twenty feet and then just carried on ranting and raging without even noticing.

How had he not noticed?

His knuckles were bloodied, and only now that he looked did they start to hurt, and even then nowhere near as much as he felt they should.

What had he done? How had he done it?

Everything was very quiet, apart from the sound of his own heartbeat thumping in his ears.

“Oh,” he said, looking around. “Oh. Oh no.”

Ponies. Lots of ponies. They were all looking at him. And not in the friendly, curious way they did when he normally went outside. Not the way they did when he waved at them and they waved back sometimes. They were scared now. Obviously scared. Eyes wide, shaking.

Whatever furnace-heat had been lit in Jack’s chest died instantly and he felt very, very cold.

“I-I didn’t mean to - I didn’t - “

He hadn’t meant to. He’d just been upset. He didn’t mean it. He wanted them to know he didn’t mean it. But as he stepped towards them - to explain, so they’d know - they stepped back. Some even ran away.

“No please - please I didn’t - I didn’t - “

It didn’t matter which way he went or how much he pleaded, it kept on happening. Almost all of those who’d been stuck staring had by now fled. One or two could be seen peering out of windows, but other than that Jack was now alone.

A fluttering sound had him turn around and he saw Twilight descending, wings folding back as she landed.

She looked concerned, and she said nothing.

“Twilight!” Jack practically squawked, falling to his knees and shuffling over to her at speed. “Twilight, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to break your-”

As he spoke he reached out and grabbed her. Twilight winced immediately and he snapped his hands away as though he’d been burnt. Almost at once he swore he could see bruises blossoming beneath her coat. His eyes widened.

“Oh no,” he said, leaping to his feet and stumbling back. “No no no!”

He hadn’t meant it. He hadn’t meant it!

And all at once the weight of his situation hit him again. He wasn’t going home, not ever. He’d never see his parents again. Mum would be all on her own soon. He’d never see his friends again, any of them. His girlfriend. His job. The plans. Everything. All gone. Like that. No explanation. No nothing. Just gone.

And they’d never know why. Never know what had happened to him. They’d always wonder if he might come back though he never would. They’d always be waiting, somewhere, fearing the worst but always hoping, even though it was pointless. How could they know?

And here he was, having just scared off everyone who’d only wanted to help and having just hurt the one who’d tried to help him most. The one who hadn’t had to but had tried so, so hard. It wasn’t her fault there wasn’t anything she could do.

And he’d hurt her. He’d done that.

He couldn’t think straight.

And so he fled as fast as his legs would carry him, which turned out to be considerably faster than he remembered them being able to carry him back home.

“Jack, wait!” He heard her call, but far beyond now, and so quiet he could pretend he hadn’t heard as he headed towards trees in the distance.


In hindsight, he might have acted rashly.

The screaming tantrum - which he was still embarrassed by - was one thing, but the running away afterwards was something else. Looking back, Jack could definitely see that that had perhaps been an error judgement. Shortsighted, you might have said. There were probably a few other, better ways he could have handled things.

But he hadn’t done any of those ways. He had run into the forest. After that, the possibility of simply admitting he had come to regret this was too much to bear. He’d look like an unstable, dangerous idiot and a general-purpose moron to boot.

It hadn’t even been that bad! Sure, punching a hole in the wall of a castle made out of solid crystal was pretty impressive - and certainly something that, up until that point, he had been entirely unaware he’d even been capable of - but much, much worse had been visited on Ponyville in the past, sometimes with Jack around to see it happen.

The difference being those times it hadn’t been him doing it. Gawping at a creature wreaking havoc was one thing, being the one getting gawped at turned out to be quite the sobering experience.

That, and he’d hurt Twilight. That he’d never forgiven himself for. Even if it had been an accident. The look of honest shock and pain on her face as he’d grabbed her just that little bit too hard was forever burnt into his brain.

So he’d run. Again, perhaps an overreaction. And probably a mistake, given where he’d run to. At least a mistake by most pony’s standards.

Jack, having spent most of his time in Equestria inside Twilight’s castle and the rest of the time under supervision just pottering around Ponyville and eating the occasional cupcake, had never got the talk about Everfree. He was aware of a forest being nearby, but that was it. There had been a forest nearby to where he’d lived back home. He’d run into that one once or twice, too, in his more melodramatic moments, so for him this wasn’t even that out of the ordinary.

He didn’t expect to run into anything especially dangerous because it just didn’t occur to him that he might. At that moment, running, he didn't expect anything at all because he was barely even thinking. His mind was focussed on avoiding trees and that was it.

Which was why he didn’t see the weird wolf-thing made of wood until it had loomed out and taken a swipe at him.

Understandably, he had been taken aback. At this point Jack had failed to make the connection between the giant hole he’d smashed through the castle and the fact that he might not exactly be at the same levels of physicality he had been back home, and so he had not tried fighting. He had tried running more.

This had not worked. The Timberwolf - though Jack had had no idea what one of those was at the time - had caught him almost immediately, the sheer mass of the thing bowling him over and leaving him dazed and flat on his back. Before he’d had time to recover it was on him again, paws either side of his head, eyes glowing.

Lashing out without even really thinking about it, Jack had caught the Timberwolf across the jaw. This had taken its head clean off its body, and its body then collapsed into twigs and sticks all over Jack who continued to lie there, panting, for quite some time.

“What?” He managed eventually.

Only then did he start going over recent events, thinking about what he’d done.

He hadn’t liked that, so he’d stopped just as soon as he’d started.

Instead, he climbed into a tree and fell asleep, exhausted, and so began Jack’s life in the woods.

The next day, hungry, he found berries and did not eat them, because he remembered that eating berries you just found was a bad idea. Instead, he waited until it got dark and then snuck back into Ponyville and rooted around in bins to see if any of the locals had thrown out anything that might still be good. To his delight - or at least as much delight as one can experience while digging around in rubbish - they had.

Until he finally caved and tried the berries (which turned out fine) this was Jack’s primary means of sustaining himself. After the berries he had relaxed and found that basically anything and everything that looked like he might be able to eat it was safe to eat, which had shocked him at first but had soon become routine. He’d even caught a fish with his bare hands and eaten a good half of it raw, in a blatant and failed attempt to make himself ill.

This forest was not like the forest back home, he realised. On many levels.

There had been an instance perhaps a few weeks after he’d first gone into the forest, before he’d got properly settled or found his cave or anything like that, when he was still in a little bit of shock over what he’d done and over the concrete, inescapable reality that he was never going to see home again. This instance had been significant.

Looking for some variety from the berries and other stuff he’d managed to cackhandedly forage for, he had snuck back into Ponyville in the dead of the night, hoping that - for whatever reason - someone might have just thrown away a whole cupcake he might stumble upon. His luck wasn’t great though, and he was taking longer than he might have liked but he wasn’t too worried. He was doing his best not to attract undue attention.

This one night, his best wasn’t good enough, and a pony spotted him.

“Monster!” They shrieked before dashing away as fast as their hooves could carry them.

“S’bit harsh…” Jack had mumbled to himself before listening out for any approaching mobs. But there was nothing. It seemed that one pony had not managed to attract any undue attention, somehow, and Jack was able to continue scavenging in peace.

As serendipity would have it, there was an uncovered barrel of water nearby, and the moon was high in the sky. Jack got a sudden, very good look at himself and what he looked like now.

He looked rough. Really rough. Forest life had not been especially kind to him, and in his opinion nature had been pretty unkind to start with.

His hair had grown unkempt and was matted in places and patchy in others, and what had been a reasonable beard was starting to get ideas above its station, expanding to cover his face and hang below his chin. A mountain-man look and no mistake, especially with his clothes having been long-since torn to shreds on branches. The first that anyone in Equestria would have seen of the style, certainly.

Really, from their point of view, he could definitely see why they’d scream monster and run.

And was that such a terrible thing, really?

What else was he, here? He had been a guest but he obviously hadn’t been much good at that, in the end, so what else could he be? It wasn’t as though he belonged here in the first place. He had no reason to be here. So why not carve out a niche? Why not find a comfortable place in the grand scheme of things?

Monsters here weren’t so bad anyway. He’d seen - distantly, agreeably, but still - Twilight and her buddies fighting off at least one. There’d been some light property damage and a little bit of running about from those ponies not directly involved, but no-one had actually got hurt. If anything it had served to spice up an otherwise rather dull day.

That wasn’t so bad. He could probably do that.

The more he thought about it, the more reasonable the idea became. He’d clearly tarnished whatever genial reputation he’d had from before, so there was no going back to that. He could hardly forgive himself for such an outburst, so how could they? No. That was behind him now, Jack knew, and that was his fault. He’d made his bed, and it was in a forest full of things that apparently wanted to eat him but couldn’t and things that he shouldn’t have been able to eat but could.

“I can do monster,” he told his reflection. “Though maybe chill it out a bit, eh?”

His reflection had nothing to add to this.


“Sorry about that. Again,” Jack said once Twilight had caught up with him

“It’s okay,” she said. “Well, it’s not okay, but it’s done now.”

“Story of my life.”

The pair of them trudged silently for a bit before Jack snapped his fingers, making Twilight jump.

“Aww, I forgot my dope cloak,” he said sadly, looking back over his shoulder.

“That’s probably for the best. It was a bit grim.”

“Oh come on, they were only scales. It’s like making a cloak out of skin! Or hair! Or, oh, huh, hmm…”

While he still thought the cloak was dope, he could also sort of see where Twilight was coming from. He went quiet, albeit only momentarily.

“So I’m coming back with you?”

“I thought you were just walking back the same way coincidentally.”

“Ha ha. Don’t take what I said and use it against me.”

“It’s what you said!”

“Yeah but you knew what I meant…”

“You can do whatever you like, Jack. But you do seem to be walking with me. So are you coming back with me?”

“Kind of looks that way, Uh, this might be asking a lot but if - when - we do get back I couldn’t, uh, kind of crash with you, could I? Think I’m done roughing it. If that’s okay with you, obviously. I’m fine either way.”

“I said before, you can stay with me as long as you like, Jack,” Twilight said, smiling. Jack smiled too, unable to help himself.

“Thanks,” he said. “Though I should probably look into getting my own place. Given how I’m not going anywhere. Do you think people’ll mind if I come back? Start actually living there? In a house? Like a normal person?”

“You may have to mend some fences here and there - literally, in a few cases - but I think most everypony’s forgotten about your, ah, initial outburst,” she said, delicately.

“Probably,” he said, and he believed it too. Time had given him, well, time enough to reflect. Ponyville had suffered far worse than him. Though, thinking that did remind of the look on Twilight’s face when he’d grabbed her, which immediately made Jack feel miserable.

This must have shown.

“You don’t still feel guilty about grabbing me, do you?”

“Not so much the grabbing, more the...nearly squashing…”

The event in question was one of those things that Jack kept going over in his mind and as was the nature of all such things that someone went over and over in their head on their own it had got worse over time. Twilight, conversely, had barely thought about since it had happened and so to her it remained barely memorable.

“It wasn’t that bad,” she said.

“You didn’t see your face…”

That was the bit that had really stuck with him.

“Look, Jack, the pony - person, if you like - you did it to is here, next to you, telling you directly that you don’t need to feel bad about it. You didn’t mean to do it. You’ve never meant to hurt anyone. As far as I know you still haven’t.”

“I headbutted a dragon! In front of you!”

She waved a dismissive hoof.

“You know what I mean. You’ve never really hurt anypony. The dragon’ll be fine, they’re tough. Otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. You know that.”

He did, of course. It had actually been one of his reasons for coming out all this way in the first place. Fighting a dragon was cool on its own, but the other side of it was that Jack had been fairly certain dragons also wouldn’t break if he hit them. He’d run out of things in the forest like that - most had started running away from him. Especially after that hydra.

Word got around, apparently, even among animals.

“This isn’t something I’ve ever really had to worry about before, accidentally hurting someone. And it’s so easy now. I worry about it,” he said, staring at his hands.

“Until you punched your way out of the castle you didn’t even know you could and you did fine. I know you’ll do fine again. Because you’re careful, Jack, and better than you think you are.”

Saying this, she floated a still-rotund spike through the air and into Jack’s hands, which were still in front of him. The instant her magic made contact with him it snuffed out and Spike dropped into Jack’s outstretched hands. Neither of them looked especially happy about this.

“Hey,” said Jack.

“What gives!” Spike cried indignantly, stubby arms and legs flailing. His resemblance to a small, angry, blue basketball with a head somewhat undercut what little gravity the situation might already have had. Jack delicately turned him so he was upright and then held him on the palm of one hand.

“You can carry him for a bit,” Twilight said, maybe a little smugly, wings ruffling as she trotted on ahead.

“I think she just used you as a prop to demonstrate a point, Spike,” Jack said.

“Hey! You’re right!”

“If I crushed you to a pulp accidentally it would really undermine her position right now…” Jack said. Spike just glared.

“That’s not funny.”

“Come on, it was a little funny.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

Jack blew a raspberry at the dragon.

“Ah you used to be cool.”

He then caught up with Twilight, Spike expertly balanced on one hand. The urge to whistle Sweet Georgia Brown was intense, but he fought it down.

“Spike still in one piece, hmm?” She asked, without looking, still smug.

“Yeah yeah, whatever. I can be delicate, sure. That was a dirty trick.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I don’t know why I put up with you.”

Spike groaned, this time more with repressed disgust and frustration, and that drew a line under that particular conversation. Silence came again for another few minutes before, again, Jack saw fit to break it:

“Hey Twilight. You think I should be worried about this?” He asked. That got her to look.

“About what?”

He swept his free hand up and down himself. Twilight's eyes went no lower than his waist.

“About the getting bigger and tougher stuff. I made the joke about the Hooper shit but what if it doesn’t actually stop? Being able to just shrug off getting roasted and swallowed is great I won’t deny it but, uh, it ain’t exactly normal for me and mine, you know?”

This was actually a serious concern. Jack had already given a reasonably detailed outline of what a human went through from birth to death to Twilight (because she’s asked) and by his own account he should have stopped growing already. A little bit of muscle was fine, sure, especially given all the running and jumping he did nowadays.

But the height? Half an inch, maybe. A whole inch? Possibly. All that bulk in months? In a land where just about everything was either a rock or scorched? The sudden and increasing resistance to injury?

Even for a mystery creature it did seem unusual.

“We’ll keep an eye on it. I’ll keep an eye on it,” Twilight said.

Jack sighed with relief.


“What did you eat while you were up there, anyway? It’s been bugging me,” she asked.

He frowned and stared ahead.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“That’s not fair! I have to know now! Come on!” Twilight asked, pouting. Jack kept his eyes forward.

“It’s not interesting, it’s just...I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Rocks, gems and any plant he’d been able to lay his hands on. His omnivorous tendencies were getting out of hand, it seemed. The gems he’d done just because he’d seen the dragons doing it, and he’d figured it would be a laugh. On discovering that it had actually worked - to his horror and great amusement - he’d tried rocks, with much the same result, though much less satisfying.

He’d even tried chewing them. It hadn’t been a whole lot of fun, but he’d managed it. Nothing in this place worked the way he thought it should, and everytime he was reminded of this it made him feel even more out of place. Eating rocks? Eating diamonds? That he dug up perfectly cut and faceted from the dirt itself? And finding them filling?

This was obviously not normal, and wasn’t something he was especially proud of either.

On the plus side though, Twilight’s distress on not knowing was delightful to see.

Jack successfully avoided explaining what he’d eaten in the Dragon Lands all the way until they were back in Ponyville, leaving Twilight dangling by a thread. Spike, eventually popped onto Jack’s shoulders, slept most of the way. They arrived when it was dark, and got to the castle without incident.

After tucking Spike into bed - whereupon he fell asleep again - Twilight led Jack back to his room. He remembered the way, but he let himself be led anyway. She seemed to want to do it for him.

The room was exactly how he had left it. The bed had been made since he’d gone, though, and the mess had been meticulously organised - all the weird little bits and bobs he’d collected or been given all neatly lined up on the shelves around the outside. It had obviously been kept clean, too, as there wasn’t any dust anywhere. The care taken was enough to bring a legitimate lump to his throat. Jack was glad it was dark enough to hide his face.

“Thanks, Twilight,” he said, swallowing. “I won’t be here for long, I promise. I’ll get my own place. But thanks for this.”

“You can stay as long as you need to, Jack, don’t worry,” she said, smiling, a wing on his back to try and usher him in. Obviously she couldn’t move him, but he felt it and got the idea, stepping inside and letting her close the door behind him.

“I heard you come in,” said Starlight, making Twilight very nearly jump out of her skin. Spinning on the spot Twilight found the unicorn just smiling at her.

“Yes. Just got back. Thought you’d be asleep,” Twilight said, settling herself. Starlight kept on smiling.

“Was just getting a snack. Right place, right time, you know? Nice trip?”

Twilight was tired enough for the words to properly sum up the trip to just not come. Where was she even meant to start? The bit with the curtains? Watching Jack getting eaten alive? Watching him come back up again?

“Uh, interesting,” she said instead.

Starlight’s smile - now more of a smirk than anything - remained resolute.

“I bet.”

She cast her eyes towards the door as theatrically and as obviously as was ponily possible to do in a dark corridor. Then she looked back to Twilight again.

“So he’s moving back in, huh?” Starlight asked, eyebrows set to insinuate. Twilight did not rise to this bait.

“Until he gets a place of his own, yes,” she said.

“I would have thought he’d prefer being...close...to you.”

Twilight blinked very, very slowly. Even fully awake she wouldn’t have the energy for this.

“I’m going to bed,” she said, turning and leaving.

“Oh come on! Did you share a sleeping bag on the way back?”

“What is wrong with you, Starlight?”

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