Heart and Soul

by Orcus

Chapter 3: When Family Comes Together

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When Family Comes Together

Apini Bee sat motionless in a wooden, cushion-lined chair that faced a large window in her house's living room; her wheel harness laying next to her in case she had to move. She was in the pony form she had made and disguised herself with for a great amount of time, that of a unicorn mare with a blue mane, yellow-colored fur, and an earthly-brown right eye, as the other was still red in texture. Looking out the window with a drooping face, her different-colored eyes were currently as dull as a doll's. She was in a state of passive anger. She was frustrated at everything in the world right now.

Most of all, perhaps, she was depressed.

Her last given mission from her queen, from just over a year ago, was to find and kill a renegade changeling named Habeas Brittle. It was only if she had the small chance to spy him living near where she lived. She did, she went after him as ordered by the directions, and she attacked him with glee she could not hide. She paid for it with a heavy, metal, farm-tool object that dropped on her above before she could deliver a killing blow. To bluntly state the experience, it utterly crushed her lower body; it mangled the lower portion of her exoskeletal and endoskeletal spine, and shattered her legs. Having managed to escape after it occurred, she had long since physically healed from the grievous injuries received, but her lower legs were still without feeling. She hadn't even attempted to move them in months.

Apini had to learn to get around with a wheel harness from then on, and it was a bitter mode of transportation. Her two children - an older, near-adult nymph named Bumble and a greatly younger, smaller nymph named Honey - were all that ever mattered to her, and she hated herself for having to let them see her this way. Were she to be thankful for anything, Apini would be so for how Queen Chrysalis had not yet given her another assignment, in the process most likely finding out about her disability, and in turn discovering her usefulness had come to an end. Whatever consequence that had the chance to follow she did not like to think about.

She still sat in the chair, her one red and one brown eye both gazing out the window to the streets outside, observing the many shapes and colors of the ponies who passed by her residence. Apini spent most of her days now doing this, and nothing else. Rarely, if she was feeling in an energetic mood, she would don her beekeeping gear and roll herself out to the beehives in their yard outside to collect their honey. It was her family's given job from the castle staff who knew them only as simple pony servants, and from the honey they gave away they received a fair amount of love for those who cherished its taste. Apini once did it with vigor and purpose, but most times these days it was her son who would do it for her. Her despairing state of unfettered, uncaring lethargy affected a great many things that were once normal and happy in the household. It even took its toll on her daughter, little Honey Bee.

"Mom, I drew a picture of us together," she would sometimes say, or "Mom, I finished reading a really hard book." Apini would glance in Honey's direction, give her a small smile, sometimes pat her on the head, and then proceed to look back outside the window as glumly as when she began. Honey was but a small infant when her mother received her crippling injury, but even the young nymph knew that she wasn't the same as she was before it happened.

As she stewed over her current situation, the sound of a hoof knocking against the front door went out. It was definitely loud enough to hear, but Apini was indifferent to it. A few seconds rolled by, and the knocking still went out. Since Apini didn't appear to want to move, Honey gladly went to the door herself, changing into her pony form as a precaution, and placed her ear against it's edge.

"Hellooo?" she sang out from her end.

"Hello!" came a happy, but strained voice on the other side. "Can you please let me in? I've got a lot of things in my hooves, and I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to hold them..."

Hurrying to unlatch the lock, Honey opened the door for a big shape, who then came staggering in. His face, and most of his body for that matter, was covered by a mound of what appeared to be packaged items being gripped in one of his hooves, as well as several he was holding in a halo of magic above him.

He quickly started to place his items down on the ground a few feet away with a sigh of relief. Closing the door for him, it didn't take the nymph long to realize that the creature carrying the items was a changeling - a very, very odd-looking changeling, with a small horn growing from the top of his head, and long, sleek wings emerging from the base of his strong-looking, pink, shelled back. His eyes were of a dark greenish color, while his body itself was of a lighter shade. Finishing his piling of the objects, the changeling looked Honey's way, a look of apparent nervousness on his face.

"Listen, I know you may think a weird-looking changeling coming into your house with all of these presents may seem a little strange, Miss Honey Bee," he said. "But if you'll allow me a few seconds to explain, I'm Bombini Bee. And I am your-"

"Dad?" the little nymph finished for him with a tilted and inquisitive head, morphing from her pony form to her real, darkly-chitined form in a wisp of magical green flame. Her teal right eye and red left eye blinked hopefully. "Are you... my dad? I've written a lot of letters to him, and he wrote lots back to me too. The last one he wrote said he had a... 'surprise' coming for us. Are you... him?"

"Yes. Yes, it's me." The adult changeling's cheeks almost covered a part of his shimmering green eyes with how large his smile was. His possessions were hopelessly forgotten as he set his sight onto the daughter he hadn't seen since she was a minuscule grub. "It's me, and this time, I'm never leaving again."

Kneeling down after coming up to Honey's smaller shape, he extended his forehooves to the little nymph and pulled her close to him, wrapping them around her in a great big, warm hug, tears starting to form along the edges of his eyes. Through instinct, and sensing a jolt of familiarity with the feeling of his caring embrace, Honey grinned from webbed ear to webbed ear and closed her eyes as she savored it. Her eyes eventually opened when she only then truly realized something was quite off with her parent. "Dad, why do you look so... sparkly?"

He smirked, holding her back a little bit so he could take a long look at her beaming face and the mismatched-colored eyes that adorned it like a pair of pretty, precious gemstones. "It's a long story, dear. It would take me a whole evening to explain."

"Promise to tell me before I go to bed tonight?" she inquired, poking his shoulder playfully.

"I promise," he agreed with a kiss to her forehead, before lifting his own to the rest of the empty room when another thought came to him. "Say... where's your brother?" he himself asked. "For that matter, where's your mother at? Neither would leave you alone here, would they?"

"Oh, uh, Bumble's out shopping for Mom," Honey said, still keeping the happy look. "Mom's in the living room. I wonder if she saw you coming, since you're, ya'know..."

She put a hoof to her mouth and let it drift to his left ear in a secretive manner. "Undisguised."

"With what's happened, I don't think we'll need to hide for much longer..." he spoke back with a mischievous hint in his tone, earning another tilted head from Honey.

"Pff. What's that s'posed to mean?" she puffed humorously.

"Like I told you before, I'll explain everything later," Bombini replied. "For now, I think it is best if I speak to your mother. May you bring me to her?"

"Of course," Honey said, taking his smoother and larger hoof in hers and leading him across the corner to the living room, where both could see Apini was sitting in front of the window a few feet away. Standing where she was and motioning a her leg forward, Honey let her father go ahead. Though she had sensed his presence, Apini didn't even so much as turn her head to meet Bombini's when he approached. She only did when he got to her side, and though at first taken slightly aback by his utterly alien form, she quickly refocused her view to the panel of transparent glass.

"Hello, Apini. It's been a while..." he softly spoke to her. She didn't reply, but Bombini continued on. "It's me, heh. I, um... have some good news for you. For us."

Apini didn't look to be in the mood for receiving any news whatsoever, but still Bombini relayed it to her. "How do I put this in an easy-to-understand way... we're both free from the hive for however long as we wish. That's a pretty swell thing to hear, right?"

Slowly turning her head back to her husband, Apini had her jaw open slightly ajar. An eyebrow was also skeptically curled, as though not understanding him. Bombini's own expression was full of mirth, as were his words.

"With the revelation of how we can acquire as much love as we'll ever need without stealing it, all with the help of some ponies, the tyranny of Queen Chrysalis is no more. I talked with our new king, King Thorax, and he said I have full permission to come here. He said that I'm allowed to stay as long with you and our children as I want, and that we're free from any duty that had forcefully bound us to the hive. We're... we can be together, Apini! All of us! We can all be a family the way a family's supposed to be! No more me only visiting for a day or less every year-or-two, no more being apart from you. Just us. Isn't this great?"

As she heard his words, Apini's face slowly curled into more expressions that conveyed equal amounts of disbelief. The emotions she showed off were clearly a mixture of confusion and shock. At first keeping the slacked jaw and blank look of surprise for a few seconds longer, Apini's brow furrowed, her mouth closed, and she snapped her face away from her husband altogether, focusing it back on the window with a soured visage. The overjoyed look on Bombini's face also slowly vanished, not understanding why she was acting as she was now.

"Apini... what's wrong?" he asked. He tried to place a comforting hoof onto her shoulder, but she shrugged it off.

"Mom's been acting like this for a long time," the light voice of Honey spoke up from behind them both, making Bombini turn to her. "She's been like it since the accident."

"You've sent me letters letters describing it. I... I heard about how it happened," Bombini sighed, thinking back to the exact wording that talked about how a large cart had dropped on Apini from the supposedly careless hooves of workers who were lifting it; nothing more than a lie Apini had told them herself, so they wouldn't find out about her unsavory side profession. Apparently, her husband believed it now, too.

Bombini slowly left Apini's side when it became apparent that she wasn't going to say anything. Going back up to Honey, he looked down at his dear daughter with a more positive face.

"What do you want to do, Honey? I've got all the time in the world in my hooves now," he inquired, very much excited that he was going to spend time with the daughter he was once never able to do so with. "Want to play a game in the yard outside? Want me to read you a book? Oh! How about we open up some of the presents I brought!"

"Well, I was thinking that we wait for Bumble to get back home before doing something like that. We could... do one really cool thing, though..." the little nymph suggested, rubbing her hooves together in anticipation. "I've been putting together a one-thousand-piece puzzle of what's supposed to be an autumn tree over the last few days, but I've only got about eight-hundred-and-twelve pieces in it so far. A lot of pieces, I know, but it's... not enough yet."

"That sounds good to me, dear," he said, taking her hole-filled hoof and allowing her to lead him away, as Apini simply continued to passively watch the goings-on outside the window.

Bumble was currently in his typical pony form of a yellow-furred colt with a raven-black mane trailing down the back of his neck, his tail matching the color. Like his mother and sister, one of his eyes was red; but in his case it was the right one that had the color.

Right now he was pushing a cart full of items ahead of himself in a local supermarket near Canterlot Square. He had done many of his mother's chores and duties ever since she fell into her current state of misery. It was a challenge at first, but now that he was a young adult - almost full grown - he could do these tasks with greater efficiency.

Changelings like him didn't need food unless it had love in it. Since his family was in service to the Royal Sisters who ruled the lands of the ponies, who had plenty of chefs who made their food with just such an ingredient (along with what they got for the honey they sold), they had that part covered. What they didn't have covered were other needs, examples being paper towels, cleaning supplies, items for maintaining hygiene and all that. That was why he was here now, and that was what his shopping cart was filled with.

As he finished making his usual rounds with a final check-off on his shopping list and passed through the produce area with the cart, he couldn't help but hope he encountered a close friend of his who started working here less than a month ago; specifically in this section. She was an earth pony, and a smart, kindly one at that. She was someone who Bumble knew since he first started attending the local school in Canterlot on his mother's wishes years before.

Lo and behold, after a few minutes of trotting through the tight isles, he found her. A gray-and-red cap on her dirty blonde-maned head, and a work apron of a similar color over her waist, both displaying the store's symbol, Bumble Bee found Peach Blossom stacking some vegetables on a nearby shelf. She was a young pony of a light brown color with a more noticeable feature being her white-tinted muzzle. She was no longer a filly for sure, but definitely not yet an adult, just like him. Having been great friends for as long as a healthy friendship could keep, there was never a sense of hostility between the two. If something competitive was involved, there was certain to be a small form of rivalry between them in it, but it was always, always amiable.

Bumble snuck up on her without trying, getting less than three feet from her. Pretending to inspect a nearby tomato on the neighboring shelf she was working on, he chirped in without a moment to lose. "Oh! Hello, Peach Blossom," he said happily. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Bumble? Hey!" she welcomed back after instantly realizing who carried the voice, staring his way with a toothy smile on her face. "What're you doing here?"

"Ah, I'm just shopping," he said easily, looking back at and then placing the tomato back where he found it. "Ya'know... for my mom and sister."

"I see. How's she doing?" Blossom questioned. "Your mom, that is."

Bumble took a moment to think of the right words. "She's doing okay, I guess."

There was a small silence next, and the two youngsters spent it looking at one another with a sense of awkwardness in the atmosphere of their meeting. It only ended when Peach Blossom spoke again. "Hey, um... Bumble?" she inquired, moving another bundle of celery from the work basket to the shelf. "You know that movie that just came out that you told me you might want to see a week ago?"

"The Dragon and the Rose?" he asked. "The movie based off of both of our most favorite book we both ever read of all time?"

"Yeah, that one. Are you going to go see it?"

With this single question, and the next one that it was inevitably leading up to, the disguised changeling turned all of his attention onto Peach Blossom; the cart he was pushing temporarily forgotten at this point. "Why do you ask?"

"Um... just because I... kinda maybe sorta was planning on seeing it too. Just before our last year of school starts up," was Peach Blossom's answer. She continued as she tapped what appeared to be a nervous hoof against the smooth floor of the establishment. "I was... hoping that you would... maybe..."

"...Want to see it with you?" he finished for her, just before detecting a small hint of redness developing on her cheeks.

"Yeah, that," she said, smiling sheepishly. "Think we could? As friends, of course."

Bumble let out a hum as he pondered on it. "What time would you... be available to see it with me?"

"Unless my mom needs me to help around the house, which I doubt she will, I'm pretty sure I'll be free on Friday night at six o'clock," Peach Blossom was quick to say, the red leaving her face and returning to its plain, albeit cheerful shade. She hurriedly placed the last of the vegetables in the basket on the shelf before her manager had the chance to pass by and see her chatting it up with somepony and not performing her job.

"Six o'clock?" Bumble grinned excitedly with a raised eyebrow.

"Six o'clock," she confirmed with an equally delighted visage shining from her.

"Alright then. See you then, unless we see each other sooner," he chuckled.

"See you, Bumble!" Blossom waved goodbye to her friend as she watched him turn and start to walk away to check his items out.

He did just that. After purchasing them, Bumble returned home with the groceries, carrying them all with him in a halo of green magic. He trotted to his house a few blocks away and entered it, but when he saw the shape of his father in the living room playing with his sister, he had no words to describe how to react.

Of course he was surprised to see him, considering he was only a little older than Honey was now when he last laid eyes on him. They talked for a little bit, hugged, and shared brief stories of just a few of the events that happened between then and now. When a few minutes had passed by and he felt content enough to resume his duties, Bumble bid his father a temporary farewell and went to tend to his other parent.

He took out Apini's bed sheets that he had put into the house's dryer before he left to get groceries and carried them into her spacious room in a wicker basket. There he saw her, sitting at a dust-coated desk that she once normally used to write various things on, reading a book the older nymph quickly realized was one she had read at least a hundred times.

"Hi, Mom," Bumble greeted in a soft way, getting her attention. Apini turned his way and smiled weakly to her child before returning her view to her book. Bumble approached her at the pace of a snail with the basket of sheets in hoof. "You saw Dad when he got here, right?"

She slowly nodded, almost as if half-paying attention. "Mm-hmm."

"He looks pretty... different from what a changeling's supposed to look like, eh?"

She muttered something back with an amused smirk, her voice a tad throaty from the low, unintelligible tone she used. Bumble walked past her and to her big, wide, sheet-less bed laying in the center of the room, and started putting the covers over the white mattress it had. As he did this, he thought long and hard to himself.

Seeing his mother in this pitiful state, as he could no longer deny it was, was not a sight he took lightly. He despised seeing her in this way, and it made him feel absolutely rotten. She hadn't properly spoken in what felt like ages. Bumble wanted more than anything for his mother to tell him what he could do to remedy the situation she was going through, but she wouldn't respond to any of his queries directly. It frustratingly drove him to the point that he was willing to do anything. Anything to get his mother back to the way he remembered her being.

But, alas, he didn't know how to do it.

It wasn't more than five minutes before he was done making the bed for Apini. "Mom, I'm going to spend some time with Dad now, okay?" he spoke to her next, placing a hoof on her shoulder and looking at her always-weary face.

With small, dark bags under her eyes, Apini closed them, puckered her lips and shrugged, as though saying "Eh, knock yourself out, kiddo," and put a more positive expression onto her face to reaffirm the action. Smiling back, Bumble knew she wanted to have some more time to herself. Grabbing the now-empty basket, he walked over to the door and opened it. The instant he started to trot out, he stopped himself and looked her way again.

"Oh, and before I forget to ask, I'm going to see a movie with a friend on Friday night," he mentioned. "Is that okay with you?"

There was a good fifteen seconds of silence that came between Bumble and his mother before a proper response came. Apini let out a small titter through her closed mouth. "Mm-hmm."

Bumble closed his eyes with relief. "Thank you," he said quietly, before leaving the room in a similar manner. Apini watched him as he left her, then went to her thoughts.

Apini knew right off who this friend was. The only friend who her son ever seemed to collaborate anything with was that polite young pony, Peach Blossom. The daughter of Persica. The daughter of the mare whose husband she devoured all the love out of and left as a wretched husk all those years before. The mare who she almost left to the same fate and killed, a little over a year ago. Just thinking about her made the changeling's very soul fill with negative emotions, some aimed towards her, some aimed towards herself.

Deciding not to brood over these feelings, and instead wishing to make sense of all that was going on in the present, Apini let the emotions go with another deep, shaky exhalation of the dry air of her room. The first new image to come into her head then was her husband, Bombini Bee. Apini loved her husband as much as the day she first confessed her true feelings to him, and she knew deep down that he did too. He would exercise to the absolute best of his ability to earn the opportunity to see his family, even if the majority of these scarce visits were nothing more than the simple errand of conveying a message for Apini's next assignment, or checking up on her. Even with his shortcomings, even with his lack of appearance to guide their children as she did, even with the irritation she showed from all this, Apini felt in her aching heart that she didn't deserve him.

That's not to say she didn't feel some joy and pleasure in seeing him here now. And if what he said was indeed true about Queen Chrysalis no longer being the one in command of the changeling hive, however impossible it sounded, then he wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. She cracked a snicker of amusement to herself when she remembered what he looked like now, still not fully knowing how he, and supposedly the entire hive, achieved these new forms. Apini got up from the chair, hooked herself to her wheel harness and started to move toward the door as the freshened idea of not seeing his colorful face again became too much to bear, but that other intriguing thought of no longer having a queen to follow was indeed a ripened bit of news to dwell over. As was the rancid shortcomings of it she saw but chose to ignore for now. The future was beginning to show some promise, however little there was. Opening the door and leaving her room for the living room where her family had no doubt gathered, the wheel harness-bound changeling could only hope so much, after all.

But then again, hope was what got her into this sorry state of mind and body to begin with.

Next Chapter: An Unwanted House Guest Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 57 Minutes
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