Kyle has always had nightmares, but never like this, where his unnatural oblong body tapers off not into hooves, but two sensitive pads that splay out on the forest floor as he walks, stinging in the nettles and briars that line it. They're real, these dreams, because he wakes up with his hooves stinging and his heart racing. He's a man now, his parents say, a full-grown man and it's no longer fitting to take long ambling walks through the stinging nettles to the river an hour away, under bristly pines with knotty, sticky bark that would catch a mane if it swung too widely on a trot through the forest. Only when he's well away from all the others can Kyle sit and stare into the water and contemplate why he's like this, what those dreams mean. "Oh, it's dramatic nonsense," his mother tells him, "you're afraid to grow up so you make up these distractions and dream about them." Kyle doesn't think that's so. He knows he has to take up a bow sometime; does it have to be right now?

There's really only one person Kyle can talk to, honestly, about his dreams. He's hardly popular, but he has good friends: Butters, a little centaur with a golden mane that sticks up like it's perpetually matted from rolling around in his sleep; Kenny, who boasts of bedding strange, unearthly women after he helps them across the river; and Stan, whose short, black hair shines under the autumn sun. Stan is the only one with whom Kyle feels he can share his dreams, the ones where he doesn't have a tail. Kyle's tail is his best feature, he's always figured: trailing the ground, a knotted mess of tangled, coarse hair, ginger like the color of autumn leaves or the breasts of robins, which sometimes pick at Kyle's back. He hates the robins, hates all birds, wishes they'd fly away and never come back. Birds chirp all day and hoot all evening and they wake Kyle and he can't get back to sleep. Kyle much prefers the little flowers, which grow along the forest floor in sprinklings of white. When Kyle finally makes his bow, he'll tie flowers to his arrows. He knows it's dreamy; a stupid bit of nonsense for a male centaur to be into, but Kyle doesn't really care, or tries not to. The birds, through — the birds can go fuck themselves. Of that he's certain.

It's Stan who loves the birds, who decides to walk with Kyle to the river on a damp afternoon. The sky is gray and smells of rain, but Stan doesn't mind the weather, unlike the others. Rain runs off his fine, dark coat, dripping down his tail. When it rains, Kyle's curls sag heavy with water, his dark red tail flopping sloppily against his hind legs. It's only because Stan's here today lecturing Kyle about birds that Kyle decides not to mind the coming rain.

"Birds don't live in the forest any less than we do," Stan is saying. "It's their home, just like it's our home. You can't imagine how awful it would be to kill all the birds? That would be…" Stan thinks for a moment. "That would be horrible."

"I don't mean to kill them all!" Kyle protests. "Just, just — let's scare them away."

"How do you propose we do that?"

"With noise," says Kyle, immediately. He's contemplated ways to scare away the birds for years now. "You get, I don't know, a lot of rocks — drums! If you gathered up a great pile of rocks and sent them rolling down a hill at the same time, they'd all crash together — and the women would get together, with their timbrels and their drums—"

"I can play the pan flute," Stan adds.

"Yeah! You—" Kyle blushes. "You sure could."

"Well." Now Stan blushes, sighing. "I don't know that I'd want to. I love birds. You can't chase them away, anyway. They live here because it's their instinct, because this is their home. You can't just chase them away! They'll fly away, but they'll come back. They can't help what they do. They can't help it…" Stan trails off, staring straight ahead. He clears his throat. "Plus, I like those little robin ones. They remind me of you."

"Oh?" Kyle's surprised to hear this, and he flushes, his face becoming hot. It's been like this for some time with Stan, this feeling that comes to Kyle as if his heart is trying to climb up his throat and hop out of his mouth. Kyle dreamed that particular image once, too. That wasn't a nightmare, but it was devastating to wake and find that although in the dream Stan and Kyle had been kissing, in reality, Stan was nowhere nearby.

The river is still today, or just calmer than usual, lapping gently at the reedy banks, not coursing madly. Sometimes Kyle likes to dip his hooves in. Today he settles down on his side, letting the river lick the palms of his hands. Kyle feels his hair in the water, against the mud. For a centaur, he hates being dirty, but Stan is here and Kyle hates to feel abnormal. Stan typifies what it means to be a young male centaur. He runs with the herd sometimes; Kyle's heart begins to mount his throat against when he thinks of Stan pulling back an arrow against the taut string of his bow, the muscles in Stan's arms tensing until he releases it. Stan's father is well-known as a rowdy drunk, but Stan's half-uncle is a great hunter who wears his pelts with pride. This lineage is intimidating to Kyle, whose own father is a rhetorician. Kyle hates to think he'd follow in his father's footsteps, but he can't stand another nagging from his mother, who has become very insistent lately on the subject of the bow: Where is it? When will Kyle get serious about this stuff? River water splashes into his eyes. He hates to think of it.

Stan is there next to him, arms crossed. He's left his bow at home. He never brings it along when Kyle's there, though Kyle sometimes wishes he would, if only to have a memory to cling to when Stan isn't there at night. As foals they slept together in one heap of leaves, but it's been years since that ended; male centaurs don't sleep together, their arms and forelegs locked. Kyle still remembers the day his mother took him aside and told him to stop this nonsense. "Your father and I don't even sleep like that!" she'd barked. "It's obscene." Kyle has never understood what's obscene about it. Before Kyle can think to ask Stan for his opinion on the matter, Stan's settled down next to Kyle, and pulled the wet locks from Kyle's face.

"You seem so distracted," Stan says, running his thumb against Kyle's cheek. That feels more obscene than sleeping together ever did. "What's wrong? Just birds on your mind?"

"No. Nothing." Kyle finds it difficult to sit up, but he does anyway. "It's nothing."

"You said you had something to tell me?"

It's true that this was how Kyle enticed Stan into their walk. "I've just been — dreaming," he says. "It's nothing."

"Is it? You can tell me—"

"Of course I could—"


"—but that would be foolish," Kyle concludes.

"How could anything you ever had to tell me be foolish?" Stan asks. "Do I ever judge you?"

Kyle keeps himself from blurting out, "Well, no, not to my face." But there's a real doubt in Kyle's mind that Stan hasn't figured out how much Kyle isn't like the other centaurs; that he's never going to make a bow or find a mate or hunt. Kyle prefers to be alone with his thoughts, his thoughts of another life where he drapes his tiny, pale body in bright colors Kyle's never seen in nature.

"Come on." Stan reaches for Kyle's foreleg with one of his own, bumping Kyle on the hoof. "What'd we come out here for? I have dreams, too. You can tell me."

"First tell me one of your dreams?" Kyle wants to dip his hoof back into the river, but he's afraid to move it away from Stan's.

"Oh." Stan brightens, then recoils, as if he wasn't expecting to be asked. "Ah, you know, I mostly dream about sex."

"What!" Kyle is delighted, but Stan mistakes his reaction for shock, blushing and covering his face. "No, stop that." Kyle pulls Stan's hand from his eyes. "I dream about that too, sometimes. Doesn't everyone?"

"I didn't know if they did. I've never asked anyone about it before."

"It's perfectly, natural," says Kyle, "I mean, every centaur has desires, and having to wait to grow up and find a mate is excruciating. To be honest … I wonder if I'll ever find one. It's … well, it's excruciating."

"It doesn't have to be excruciating," says Stan. "Don't you ever, you know—?" He raises one eyebrow.

"Ever what?" Kyle asks.

"You know — kind of, like, bounce it around?"

"Bounce what around?"

"Kyle! Seriously, never?"

"Never what?" Now Kyle is starting to feel terrified of what Stan is implying.

"Your — you know!" Stan flinches. "God, I can't say it."

"My what?" Kyle is jabbing Stan in the chest with his hoof, feeling bold. He figures he might know what Stan is talking about, possibly his tail? When Kyle was young his mother used to braid it, tying it up with a little dandelion bow. The way Stan is talking about bouncing reminds Kyle of how his braided tail would smack the bags of his hindlegs and his rump as he trotted. Then one morning when Kyle was 14 or so, his mother refused to braid his tail for him. "You're so old now!" she'd said. "Really, Kyle, sometimes I just don't know what to do with you."

"My tail?" Kyle guesses.

"No, your cock!" Stan says. "Really? Really you don't know?"

Just that mention makes Kyle's cock jump to attention. "What about it?" he asks, voice high with terror.

"You won't have as many dreams if you bounce it," Stan says. "How do you not know this?"

"Know what, what the hell are you talking about? Bounce it on what?"

"On you, on your stomach, on — gah, I'm not responsible for this!"

"But you dream about sex?"

Stan is getting huffy. Kyle wants to check whether Stan is hard as well, but he doesn't date look down, because it wouldn't be easy; Stan's legs are all folded under his haunches, in a fashion Kyle finds graceful. It's not how he's supposed to think of other male centaurs, but he can't help it. "I dream about sex sometimes, of course I do, but what they say is that if you bounce your cock it kind of — I don't know, it like, calms it down. So you don't get like that all the time." Stan nods down to Kyle's hinds. "Welp, there you go." He flops down on the bank and buries his head in his hands.

"Did I ruin anything?" Kyle's voice is still shaky. "Stan?"

Sitting up, Stan sighs. "I'm fine. Just — just tell me about your dreams."

Kyle figures after all this embarrassing talk about sex, sharing his dreams might seem a return to normalcy. Though Kyle's cock is leaking into the moss now, eager to try the bouncing suggestion, Kyle leans over and tugs at Stan's hair. Their hooves are still touching. "Come on, it's okay. About the sex I mean. I feel stupid for not knowing. You know, about the — the bouncing."

"You've seriously never noticed?"

"Noticed what?"

"You know, that everyone's doing that, you know, all the time."

"All the time?"

Stan sighs again. "Just tell me your dreams! That's why we're out here, isn't it?"

"I thought you liked sitting by the river with me?"

"I do, just — tell me?"

"All right." Kyle swallows. He's nervous, feeling too warm for comfort. "I sometimes dream I'm one of those — the things Kenny chases, or brags about chasing."

"Humans," Stan says, as if he knows.

"Yes, I dream — that I'm human." Kyle's heart is beating fast. "You know, sometimes. Last night, for instance. They're like nightmares, these dreams, because they're so real. It's like I'm there, it's like my hooves are all, you know, made of flesh and the things on the ground can hurt me. Sometimes I'm naked and natural, but without a hide it feels so vulnerable, like just anything could fell me. But sometimes I'm not naked at all, my body's all covered with — with unnatural things, with giant sheaths of things—"

"Clothes," says Stan. He swallows. "Humans — humans wear clothes."

Kyle is horrified. "How do you know?" Nobody knows about humans.

"Because," says Stan, lowering his eyes. "I dream about being human, too."

"Oh no," Kyle says, as if Stan's told Kyle that Kyle's infected him with a plague. "Oh, oh no!"

"Dreaming is normal," says Stan, "and those girls Kenny chases, those humans — they're real. I've met them."

"Kenny brought them to you?"

"More like I found Kenny with one of them — she didn't much seem happy about it. This girl, she reminded me of Wendy…" She's the centaur maid Kyle always thought Stan would take for a mate. Wendy has a black hide, too, and a black mane that she braids with little violet morning glory flowers. Wendy is the only maiden Kyle had ever known to make her own bow. She paired off with Eric a while ago. Word has it that Wendy ensnared him with her bow around his neck until he begged anything to be set free. Kyle can't imagine why that's what she would have wanted. Eric is a fat centaur, so fat that now that Kyle thinks about it, he can't imagine Eric could ever bounce his cock against his belly. More like, Eric's cock is forever pinned to his hindlegs.

Kyle determines not to think about it. "But, you dream of being — ah, human?"

Stan nods. "All the time," he says. "I thought everyone did!"

"Is this like cock-bouncing? You thinking everyone has these dreams?"

"No, that's something I know. This is more — ah, just something I supposed. I hate to think these dreams scare you! Kyle, if you ever scare you, just come to me and I'll — well…"

Kyle swallows. "What would you do?" he asks.

"I guess I'd — ah. I don't know, I'd — I'd hold you." Stan's voice has become very small. "Like I used to—"

"—hold her?" Kyle asks.

Now it's Stan's turn to be confused. "Hold who?"


Stan boggles at that. "I've never held her," he says. Kyle notices Stan's tail twitching. "I've never held any maid, you know, I don't like girl centaurs." He shrugs this off like it's totally unexciting, but Kyle is so moved he feels ready to vomit. "I mean, you know, obviously, you don't either."

Kyle doesn't know what to do, whether to protest this or to agree. He gapes at Stan, feeling raw, the sudden weight of his hoof against Stan's noticeable now more than ever. "Would you—" Kyle's voice hitches. It's too late and he's frightened. "Would you hold me right now? I dreamed about that, too."

"Oh, well, yes, I would." Stan is right red, but he rolls onto his back offers his arms and lifts his foreleg. "Come here," he says.

Collapsing into his embrace, Kyle heaves a sob of relief. Stan's arms wrap around him and their legs lock together. Stan pushes Kyle to the moss and Kyle draws up his forelegs. Stan is shaggier, the hair at the bottoms of his legs near his hooves all muddy from trotting down to the riverbank. When they kiss it's slow and deliberate, only their closed mouths touching, until Kyle feels Stan's cock against his, realizing it's hard and slippery, too, and Kyle trembles into the pleasure until Stan pulls away again. Mating is too much to ask for, though the thought of being mounted like a maiden mare forces Kyle to become conscious of his cock trapped between two bellies, his and Stan's. Kyle opens his eyes only to find that Stan's are still shut, though he has a beatific look on his face.

Eyes still shut, Stan says, "Mate with me," and from his tone Kyle's tone he doesn't mean the act, just the idea, becoming a mate. Stan opens his eyes.

It's all Kyle's ever wanted. "Yes," he says. "I want that so much. It's just, my mother. My poor family!"

"Poor family nothing," Stan says.

"What a nightmare! I'll never hear the end of it! Stan—"

"Shhh." Stan kisses the corners of Kyle's eyes, and Kyle's flush cheeks. "Forget about them. This is the end of your nightmares. I promise."

Later, as Kyle's passing out on the riverbank with Stan's fingers in his hair, Kyle thinks back to his last dreams, the ones with stinging nettles in his hooves. He hears his mother repeat, "dramatic nonsense," and he opens his eyes, jolting from the initial stages of sleep.

Stan is pressed to Kyle's chest, drool at the visible corner of his mouth, and he snores. Kyle figures that must be what's awoken him. It's dusk now, and Kyle knows they must be getting back, to help skin the day's game and listen to Kenny's stories of lascivious adventures with human maidens. Kyle is about to wake Stan when Kyle's eyes adjust and the world comes into to focus. The riverbank is alive this evening with dozens of darting fireflies. Kyle wants to bat at one with his hoof, but before he can he remembers the weight of Stan on his chest. Not wanting to wake Stan, Kyle closes his eyes, wondering what will come to him as he dozes.

Instead, he falls into a dreamless sleep.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!