Login

Letting Your Mane Down

by TheBandBrony

Chapter 1: The Eternally Awful Sound of Metal Against Metal

Load Full Story Next Chapter

Letting Your Mane Down
——

"Alrightee, Miss Sparkle. For your last manecut, you asked to take three inches off all around, except on the bangs. Would you like that same thing again? Or would you prefer to try something different this time?"

The question, of course, terrified Twilight Sparkle.

“Uh—well,” the alicorn stammered, “if I take off three inches, will that make me look the same way I did before? I mean, I don’t want to get three inches cut and having it end up looking like four, because we both remember what happened when we cut four inches off, and I do not want to give Rarity another panic attack when she sees me.”

A hoof, previously perched on Twilight’s shoulder, batted at her mane with casual contemplation. “I promise, Miss Sparkle. That... manestyle which shall not be named will never find its way onto your head again, so long as I have scissors in my hooves.”

Despite all of the stylist’s reassurances, Twilight still found herself fidgeting nervously in the padded cushion that held her up. It hardly looked the part it played—a faded-brown rectangle stuffed with foam, bound to a shining metal base with a foundation of chrome and hoof-operated pedals to raise the whole contraption up and down—but then again, most torture devices looked as innocent as any hobbyist's whimsical weekend invention until put into use.

Her eyes, no matter how much she tried to focus on the mirror containing her doppelganger and the mare behind her still examining her mane, could not be torn away from the cornucopia of sharp, dangerously pointy objects lining the thin countertop in front of her.

“You’re sure,” Twilight murmured again. “You won’t mess up and turn me into some sort of monster at whom the entire town freaks out?”

The stylist laughed again, a thin, breathy affair that left Twilight wondering how many times she had seen this same level of skittishness and hesitation over a simple manecut. “If I do,” she chuckled, “it would be more of a blight on my own reputation than yours. Having a royal princess of Equestria speak ill of my shop because I messed up her mane would just kill my business, and I wouldn’t want that now, would I?”

While the comment was surely made to ease whatever troubles Twilight harbored under her horn—the fresh fit of giggles from the stylist confirmed that—the only tangible thing it served to accomplish was turning the butterflies flitting about inside of her into solid lead. She loathed nothing more passionately than ponies turning the pair of wings on her back into scales on which they judged their own merit and worth, and having to bear the knowledge that she alone could crush this perfectly innocent, perfectly respectable mare’s business sliced at her heart just as the stylist behind her would an unkempt hairdo.

At least she wasn’t addressing her as “Your Majesty” or kissing her hooves. That was always a plus considering she would much rather have this pony focused on her hair rather than her hooves.

“Miss Sparkle?” Twilight’s head turned towards the mare’s voice. “I’m ready to start. Could you turn your head back towards the mirror?” Nodding just enough to get a satisfying bounce out of her slightly-too-long bangs, she relaxed her neck and did her best not to imagine the horrific monstrosity that had been birthed onto her head the last time she had decided to sneeze while the stylist trimmed at her hair.

The metallic snip snip of approaching scissors made Twilight flinch.

“Miss Sparkle,” the stylist spoke up, “is everything alright? Would you prefer it if I started at the front with your bangs?”

“Uh, yes—err, no, everything is A-ok!” Twilight would have an easier time convincing Rarity that dirt was in-season than conceal her pent-up worry, but that didn’t at all stop her from putting on the cheesiest smile she could muster in addition to her stumbling affirmation. “You can just keep doing whatever you were about to do.”

The mare shrugged as she leaned in close once more. This time, Twilight managed to contain her inner nervousness to an all but unnoticeable twitch of the ear as the horrifyingly sharp pair of shears closed around the first strand of hair.

Oddly enough, though, it wasn’t the scissors that had her spooked more than Fluttershy at an air horn convention.

This is it. Nopony will want to hang around with a mare who has a weird mane style. Nopony on the council will take me seriously. My entire future is in the hooves of a mare whose name I can’t even remember even though she just told me two minutes ago. Come on Twilight Sparkle, you simpleton.

Twilight Sparkle was good at a lot of things. Unfortunately for her, controlling her burning anxiety over the menial task of getting her mane trimmed was not one of those things.

“E-excuse me?” she stammered. “Could I get your name again? I—I forgot it.”

The stylist laughed, again. Why did she have to laugh so much and remind Twilight how nonchalantly she should have been taking this whole carnival of tears? What, did she think that this was some sort of daily event for her? “It’s quite alright, Miss Sparkle. My name is Clean Cut—the namesake of the shop you’re in.”

Clean Cut. Of course. It had such a nice alliterative ring to it; how could she have not remembered that? This new little tidbit of information, however small, provided a foundation for her to gather herself on. She was in a salon. She was getting her mane cut because Rarity had told her that it was unsightly for a member of the royal house to go about her duties with her own bangs hanging over her eyes.

She was using the word “was” way too much. She was attempting to distance herself from her present situation.

Drat.

Come on Twilight, pull yourself together. You’re a big princess, and big princesses don’t need to have their hooves held while they get their manes cut. No matter how much she attempted to relax by computing prime factorizations in her head—a neat little trick that Princess Celestia had taught her during the infancy of her apprenticeship—her mind always seemed to turn right around and rationalize the situation she found herself in.

She was still freaking out over a hair cut. And Clean Cut was already moving up to the top of her head, snipping at any out of place hairs with expert ease.

Twilight forced the stale air in her lungs out, jerking her head to one side in the process.

“Miss Sparkle, please try not to move so much.”

Twilight stiffened almost instantly, frightened by the thought of what would happen if she dared defy the request. “Right. Sorry.”

The precariously placed scissors greedily biting off chunks of her mane may have kept her from squirming around like a little filly in an overcrowded classroom, but it certainly wouldn’t stop her from pouting like a little filly in an overcrowded classroom about it.

As she stared straight ahead into the mirror’s reflective eyes, gentle hooves and razor-sharp tools alike having their way with her hair with a balance of comfort and destruction only an experienced pair of hooves with scissors could accomplish, an altogether new—and equally unsettling—thought wormed its way into her head.

It was just a look. Twilight Sparkle was, for lack of a better exaltation, Twilight Sparkle—Princess of Equestria, alicorn spectacular. She shouldn't get worked up over something as simple as a haircut. She didn't even have to do anything, for Celestia's sake—just sit there and let some random stranger decide whether her mane turned out well, or... Twilight didn't want to think of the other option.

Okay, so it definitely wasn't just a manecut.

But what was it, then? Could it be the trigger to some irrational phobia that lay dormant in her mind, slowly infecting it with poisonous fear over simple grooming? It couldn't be so outlandish for her to find merit in that hypothesis—whether she liked it or not, looks were a big part of how ponies saw her, and as much as she disdained the stigma that came along with obsessively wondering whether or not ponies saw her as a princess or merely a disheveled fraud of an alicorn, she still found the royal spa and stylist to be a necessary evil in keeping up with royal appearances.

But this wasn't the royal stylist. This was... what was her name again?

Clean Cut. Yes. This was just Clean Cut. And for all of Twilight's boundless optimism and faith in her fellow pony, that word, "just," cut every last bit of it down like maize under a field worker's scythe.

Just like the giant pair of scissors closing in on her face with murderous intent and Sweet Celestia if it got any closer it would stab her eye out—

The shears stopped, mercifully, an inch away from Twilight's face, focusing on fighting the small tangle of bangs that hung over her eyes rather than attempting to outright assassinate her. The alicorn stopped flinching just in time to watch a small strand of purple float down and land on the thin black tarp draped over her body to keep excess hair from entangling itself in her coat.

It slid on the plastic and settled, finally, on the floor. She stared at it for a second, willing herself to avoid looking at the encroaching pair of scissors and how if they just angled themselves a little farther up, they could turn her hair-do into a hair-oh-sweet-Celestia-what's-on-your-head-and-how-did-it-die-there.

But Twilight Sparkle was curious. Most praised this innate desire to see and know things as they happened, but at the moment it really didn't lend itself to be of any good favor as it forced Twilight's eyes to look up and lock onto the scissors—which now, she noted with no small amount of horror, were taking a cheery little stroll over the ragged edges of her bangs, detouring occasionally to nip at her already-understated sideburns.

Seeing Clean Cut do her dreaded work so closely brought a fresh wave of worry into her subconscious. What if the stylist messed up and shaved her head on accident? What if she cut her bangs at an angle instead of exactly horizontally? The slightest miscalculation could lead to a catastrophe on par with anything Twilight had ever faced in the past. Nightmare Moon? At least her locks flowed with radiant energy. Discord? Well, he really didn't have much of a hairdo to speak of. Chysalis? Her... hair?... fit the new-age look, and being on the cutting edge of fashion had to count for something.

But with Twilight, whose fragile sense of style only disintegrated from the hair down, the consequences would be far more horrifying than reformation, or a millenium in stone, or even violent expulsion from Equestria. No, it would be much, much worse.

Her friends would hate her, of course. They would ostracize her like a leper, leaving her out in the cold darkness of friendlessness to freeze. Rarity would turn up her nose disdainfully, giving an abridged lecture on poise and couture before offering an uppity huff as a fitting final goodbye. Rainbow Dash would laugh—oh, how she would laugh—at her former friend's inadequate manestyle, squeaking out something along the lines of, "it needs to be about twenty-bajillion times cooler." Perhaps Applejack, being the least concerned with fashion, would find some compassion in her heart. But Twilight knew that it would soon fester and turn to pity—a fate worse than any curse. Fluttershy, dear, sweet Fluttershy, would shrink away in disgust, hardly uttering more than a muted squeal before darting away. And Pinkie Pie, always the friend—until now, at least—would surely find a way to unintentionally humiliate her with a Twilight's-Got-A-New-Manecut-Everypony-Look-At-It-Party.

That horrible, unimaginable—albeit imaginary—fate neared with each snip. Simply surviving until the next moment felt more like attempting to outlast Chineighse water torture than waiting for a pair of scissors to take their next foul swoop. She had to calm herself down before she exploded and turned the entire salon into a magical chicken. Closing her eyes, she lifted her hooves to her chest in the familiar motion of self-relaxation.

Only she couldn't. Eyes going wide, she looked down to find a thin black cloth—the very same one that Clean Cut had draped over her only a few torturous minutes earlier to keep loose strands of snipped hair from entangling themselves in her coat—turned to lead and kept her hooves plastered to the cushion beneath her. The first fleeting thought of panic seeded itself in the root of her mind.

“Miss Sparkle?” Twilight opened her eyes. “Miss Sparkle, you seem to be shaking. Please, try to relax. I’ll only have to even out these corners here and get those bangs of yours—then we'll be done.”

She was... almost done? Already? It hardly seemed like a moment had passed since she first plopped down in the chair she now found herself in and surrendered to the inevitable. The entire time, she had adamantly avoided looking at the mirror in front of her—quite the task, considering it was all but the only thing to look at—out of fear for what she might see.

How many times had she conquered her fears before, even when they masked their devilish selves behind rows of razor-sharp teeth, or dark chaos magic, or world-ending cataclysms? She had conquered her fears then—her fear of harm, of failure, of hurting the ones she loved—so why was this one so different?

It didn't, as she recalled with a repressed shudder, have anything to do with the scissors still doing their perilous work so close to so many necessary sensory organs. No, of course not—that would be the most logical conclusion to this mess. The universe was anything if not needlessly, hopelessly complicated, and it seemed to take special delight in dropping its own tangled clumps of crazy right onto poor Twilight's head. If it wasn't that she feared the haircut itself, then the only possible phobia left would be the adamant ostracization from her friends and family—hay, all of Equestria, even—that would surely result if she didn't look her best for the world to see—

Oh... oh.

The truth didn't really hit her, rather slam into her face like an out of control carriage running down the side of a mountain. Twilight Sparkle, formerly the most powerful unicorn in all Equestria and currently the fourth most powerful alicorn in the world, did not fear haircuts. She feared rejection.

As her brain wrapped itself around the hasty diagnosis, she realized that it actually made a lot more sense than she would have previously thought. Why else would she fear her friends' reactions over something as trivial as a haircut? It wasn't as if Twilight had been worried sick over everyone in town groveling in fear because of the new pair of wings on her back—no, she just had to go and get irrational about her mane, of all things.

If Twilight had not been scared still seeing see the scissors hacking away at her hair in the mirror's reflection, she would have kicked herself. The thrice-savior of Equestria, laid low by petty vanity. She could see her current condition troubling the waters of a spoiled schoolfilly's mind just before a big dance—not ruffling the feathers of an all-powerful princess. No normal pony would ever think the two shared a common cause.

Why had it taken her so long to see it? Perhaps if she had just identified it earlier—a few years before she moved to Ponyville, perhaps, nothing major—she could have nipped this little phobia in the bud and gone on with her life a normal pony. But no, she just had to wallow in her own pity puddle and let its murky waters cloud her sight. Self hatred had no place in the mind of a pony who had to make dozens of nation-changing decisions every day before lunch, and now that tiny, worming doubt had made its home inside the mind of the one pony who needed it least. Fantastic.

And who was she, after all, to allow herself to crumble like a brick wall toppled by the nudge of an infant? For a pony who focused so keenly on shattering the walls around conventional magic and science, she sure did a fantastic job of running face first into this hurdle. She pushed herself every day to overcome whatever challenges she found in front of her—so the absence of a solution to this particular one only served to infuriate her all the more.

"Miss Sparkle?" The questioning voice of Clean Cut cut through the worriment spouting from the depths of her mind. "I think we're all done."

Twilight blinked. Done?

Done?

"If you could just take a quick look and make sure you like it, we can finish up."

Done.

Done!

Finally, done!

An imaginary chorus of pegasi, harps in hoof and voices raised to the skies, swooped in at blazing speeds, reducing the roof to dust as they descended around Twilight. Gusts of powerful wind scooped up stray clumps of sheared mane from the floor and flung them skyward like purple-colored confetti. Brass, rich and filling, shoved away the stagnant air of anticipation with sounds of celebration.

From somewhere beyond the imaginary celebraction rose the voice of Clean Cut. "Miss Sparkle? Why don't you tell me how you like it—just in case you want a minor alteration. I wouldn't want to leave you less than satisfied."

Oh, yes, Twilight remembered, she was still in that infernally comfortable chair. And as long as her rear still pressed against the mocking chair that laughed in squeaks and groans at her misfortune, she would still suffer. It didn't take a master analyst to realize that it would be best to just tell the stylist that her mane was wonderful tip her a few bits for all the stress that must have come along with pampering an alicorn princess on a whim, and get the hay out before she said something she might later—her mane was uneven.

Twilight blinked.

Yes. Her mane was definitely uneven.

A breath, yearning to be let out into the outside world, stuck obstinately in her throat. The breath-turned-concrete shifted, squeezing a humiliatingly pathetic whimper from her burning lungs and through her teeth. A fine twitch, honed by years of intense workouts lifting the mental weights of a young pony trying to perform at the magical aptitude of twenty adult ones, made itself known. Mercifully, Clean Cut only mistook the reaction of mild horror to be casual indecisiveness.

"Do the sides look uneven, Miss Sparkle?" She tilted her head, scanning Twilight's mane for outward flaws. "Whoever cut them last time left them a little bit skewed, so I had to put some effort into evening them out."

Twilight hadn't noticed this fresh flaw the last time. How many more errors had been inflicted upon her by the mere mistakes of others that she didn't even know about? Pushing aside thoughts of whipping out a protractor to get a proper angle measurement, she croaked out, "It... it looks a bit, uh, uneven, in the front."

Clean Cut nodded, turning her gaze to the strands of rebellious hair, intent on executing the traitors that dared defile her good standing. "Up here at the front, of course. I can even that out real quick."

A short eternity and three snips of the scissors later, Clean Cut nodded to herself and pulled away. "That better?"

No, it was not better. Twilight Sparkle still dreaded what her friends would say. Her heart still leapt like a frightened filly watching her first scary movie at the mere mention of her friends' eyes, floating about her head in a maddening spiral, whispering condemnation into her ear. Could any simple manecut fix such complex an issue as that? At least Clean Cut had fixed the unevenness in the cut.

"Yeah," Twilight replied, "that looks—better."

Clean Cut beamed. "Wonderful. If that's it then, you can hop on out of the chair and get on your way."

Time slowed for a brief moment as Twilight all but leapt from the chair, shrugging off the black gown that pinned her to the infernal device. It fell to the floor with a gentle breeze—hardly the bone-rattling clank of chains that she had been expecting. Her befuddled stare at the piece of cloth, though, went ignored by Clean Cut, who trotted up to the front of the shop towards the main counter, still flashing the same excited smile.

Twilight wanted to do nothing more than embrace the wonderfully cold floor and expel—preferably with violence—any memories of scissors and uneven bangs from her head. In a testament to her will, she stiffened her legs against the impulsive pull of gravity and trudged around to the opposite side of the counter.

"Now, for a standard manecut without any styling—not that you’d need any, Princess,” she giggled, “your total comes out to—”

Clean Cut blinked, seemingly confused by the very concept of numbers and monetary exchange. “Wait a minute, what am I saying? You’re Twilight Sparkle. Your approval of my humble shop means more to me than all the bits in the world. Consider this cut on the—”

“Stop.”

Twilight, ever the pillar of calm, repressed another round of twitches. Those words—the very same ones that had almost gotten out of the stylist’s mouth—tore at the fraying edges of her sanity as if they were not mere sounds, but an angry timberwolf.

It’s just one drink, Princess. It’s on the house—

A princess, at my bistro! It would be my honor to serve you, Madame Sparkle—on the house, of course—

Wait a minute, what am I saying? You’re Twilight Sparkle. Your approval of my humble shop means more to me than all the bits in the world. Consider this cut on the—

A razor-sharp talon, piercing and intangible, took a swipe at Twilight’s heart. If she had a nickel for everytime some store owner had groveled in front of her and said those exact words, she wouldn’t need to take much of anything “on the house” ever again. But it wasn’t just that. The reason why some ponies thought it necessary to up and give away their hard-earned services had eluded her for as long as she had heard that miserable phrase uttered at her. Did they think that the act would curry favor with her? Perhaps they just didn’t know their princess well enough to realize that such spectacular self-degradation was a practice that would not fly with her.

"Please," Twilight finally muttered, holding up a hoof to shush any attempts of rebuttal, "just take it. You did a good job—just let me pay like a normal pony."

"But—"

"As a royal princess of Equestria, I command you to take my bits."

A small stack of coins hit the counter, but Twilight couldn't hear it, her thoughts being occupied with all of the ways she could tactfully leave the shop as quickly as possible without seeming rude. Turning her head, she flashed a clearly-forged smile at Clean Cut—who, much to her surprise, stared at the stack of bits as if it was made of moon gems.

"The princess... likes... my business!" All that tact and composure that Clean Cut had exhibited so gallantly earlier slipped right out of her hooves as she squeaked gleefully. Not wanting to stick around and see this pony make a fool of herself further—were those tears of joy welling up in her eyes?—Twilight bleated out a final, hesitant goodbye and backpedaled out the door as gracefully as her legs would allow.

The door shut behind her with a muted tinkering of bells. The quiet midday streets of Ponyville called out to her, tempting her with the promise of a straightforward passage. Twilight knew better than to heed the street's calls, though, instead opting to travel incognito through the nearest shadowy alley, lest one of her friends see her in this self-afflicted state.

Tragically, the back streets of town did not extend into her house. A long swath of uninterrupted road lay between her and her hideaway home—a considerable hurdle, given that anypony could happen upon her at any moment and see what surely had to be the most mangled mess of a mop they had ever seen.

But, as Twilight knew, just standing here wouldn't do her any good. Stomping her hooves weakly into the dirt, she snorted and ducked into the day.

"Well hey there, Twilight! Fancy meetin' you out here today."

And, just like that, her plan crumbled to dust and flung itself to the wind. Great.

Slowly, achingly, Twilight turned her head towards the voice, finding none other than her future ex-friend Applejack—who, much to the unicorn's relief, still wore her usual chipper grin.

As much as she would have loved to stay there and hypothesize about the chances of her mane being so atrocious that it actually broke Applejack, there was a much more pressing matter of escape to worry about. She could see the gnarled upper branches of the library. She could see them, spouting just above her friend's stetson. All she needed to do was focus on them, and she would be there before Applejack could so much as frown at her for her awful, friendship-ruining manecut.

"That's a nice new manecut you got there—reckon you just got that today."

Nice...

Wait.

Nice?

Twilight's hypothesis turned a miraculous one-eighty. She now found herself fighting to realign the cogs grinding together in her head. "You... mean... it's not the most terrible, most hideous thing you've ever seen?"

"Of course not, sugarcube. Why would you thi—"

"You mean—you're not going to ostracize me and stop being my friend forever because you don't want to be associated with me?"

"Ah would hope not. What're all these questions about anyway—"

"You're not going to convince Princess Celestia to strip me of my alicorn status or my Element of Harmony and send me into exile while you purge the Canterlot Archives of any trace of my existence?"

"Uh, no? Is this one of your psy-cosmology studies you've been talking ab—"

Twilight squeezed the rest of the inquiry from her lungs, barreling into the surprised earth pony and wrapping her forelegs around her midsection.

"Oh, you have no idea how glad I am to hear that!" she breathed into her friend's shoulder. "I've been so worried since the moment I sat down in that stylist's chair, and then I couldn't do the breathing exercises that Cadence taught me because I was under that awful black cloth, and—" She only cut herself off this time, bleeding the anxiety out of her system in the form of a near-hysterical laugh. “I thought you’d all hate me if it came out bad.”

“Hate you? Because of a manecut?” Now it was Applejack’s turn to look confused. “Did you forget to send a friendship report to the Princess again? I can all but see the crazy leakin’ outta your ears.”

“Geez, is it really that bad?” Twilight muttered, coughing bashfully. “Maybe I shouldn’t have put so much stock in what everypony else would think about me without giving them the benefit of the doubt—or letting them see me, for that matter." She giggled. "I got so terrified thinking you might reject me, I thought the only solution was to hide myself away from anyone who might reject me.”

“And a load a’ good that woulda done for you,” chuckled Applejack. “For what it’s worth, you could have the meanest-lookin’ manecut in all the world, and we’d still love the rest of you too much to care—which, by the way, doesn’t need Equestria’s greatest styler to shine.”

Giving Twilight’s mane a careful tousle, Applejack added, “It's just a manecut, after all."

Her friend's words brought a familiar pang to Twilight's gut.

Just a manecut?

It wasn't just a manecut.

But perhaps it would do her some good to start thinking of it as such.

——
The End

Author's Notes:

Edited by the fabulous trio, MaskedFerret, FroydienSlip, and Amacita.

Next Chapter: Polish Translation by aTOM Estimated time remaining: 20 Minutes
Return to Story Description

Login

Facebook
Login with
Facebook:
FiMFetch