by Zephyrus Scary

First published

The Bearers attempt to return to their lives after their first encounter with Alternate

Side story to Love Mine that occurs after the events in chapter five.

The Bearers attempt to return to their lives after their first encounter with Alternate, but just as Celestia feared, he's thrown a far larger wrench into the works than either the alicorn or the Changeling at first thought.

Part One of Two

Love Mine



(Part One of Two)

Zephyrus Scary


Contains spoilers for “Love Mine”! Do not read until at least after Chapter 5: “… You are not one of my children.”

When the Sun-bright flash of Celestia’s powerful magics sending the Changeling many miles away in the span of milliseconds subsides, the Bearers of the Elements stare at the spot where a declared enemy of Equestria had just placed its (or his) fate in the hooves of one of the land’s diarchs. All six are now contemplating some version of the same question: Had Princess Celestia held true to her promise? And if she hadn’t, would that be a good thing—would it be for a greater cause—or not? As sure-hooved as they may have sounded moments ago as they argued their points, now that a decision had been irreversibly made it has become all too easy to imagine that a different outcome—a better outcome (whatever that may mean for each pony)—could have been made if they had said more, explained themselves differently, or done anything else to further each of their cases.

Celestia looks down at each of her subjects in turn, and upon seeing the same questions on their faces, sighs, wishing she could explain herself, but she knows that she has neither the time nor the information necessary to convince the three (and almost four) who had defended the Changeling. No matter, she thinks, there will be plenty of both when Alternate returns. “I am sorry, my little ponies,” they jump at being addressed, jerked out of their mindscapes, “but I must return to attend to the court I had interrupted for this issue.” At this, Twilight looks suddenly like she wants to apologize—thinking she had done something wrong; that she should have been able to handle the Changeling herself, but Celestia, of course, notices and cuts her off before she can start. “Fret not, my faithful student, and recall that had I not been here to mediate, I believe some terrible mistake would have been made that you all would have come to regret. Now, for better or worse, the situation is out of even my hooves, so I ask you to try to not worry about what you can do nothing for, and simply return to your lives as I am.”

Naturally and not without reason, Celestia inwardly fears that such is simply not possible given how far too close to home the events just past have hit, yet she cannot do more than ask them this. Twilight Sparkle had already felt betrayal once by more than just her friends, but that had passed easily and quickly when the Changelings responsible had been revealed and expelled from Canterlot; now this… The betrayals here remain unresolved even after the removal of the Changeling, and will likely stick perhaps even past Alternate’s second reveal and final judgment. On the outside, however, Celestia has to remain calm and composed, even as she feels that the fate of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony teeter on a tightrope in the middle of a hurricane. Mother, smite those creatures! How can one mortal render me so helpless? -Without even beating me in horn-to-horn combat like his Queen?!

With no more that she can say just yet, but a list of things she wishes she could say longer than any list Twilight has ever composed, she teleports away. Just as they had done for the Changeling, the Bearers stare for a moment at where Celestia had just stood; this time, all wonder just how Celestia could possibly imagine them going back to their lives so simply as that after what had just happened—after what they had just done-… done to each other.

Unexpectedly, it is Fluttershy who finally breaks the silence. “Uhm… Rarity?” The unicorn looks up, first with surprise, then with a kind of eagerness that finally exposes to the physical world all the Bearers’ wish to move on from this topic, even as they know it won’t be so easy to escape their own thoughts. “If you… wouldn’t mind changing your schedule, I could, uhm… really use a relaxing trip to the spa right now. If you don’t mind.” This makes Rarity’s ears perk up even further.

“Ah! Yes, of course! What a wonderful idea, Fluttershy! Indeed, what better a way to forget one’s troubles, after all, than to work out the tension in one’s body?!” Rarity all but hops in place at the welcome distraction. “Girls? It’ll be my treat, if you want…?” She lets the question hang, hoping for some takers who, with a little gossip, would help work out the tension in her mind as well (she would never speak ill of Fluttershy, but her sense for the fun of rumor is worse than Pinkie Pie’s sense for subtlety).

Yet again to everypony’s surprise, Applejack takes up the offer. “On any other day I wouldn’t, but thinkin’ back at what I said to tha’ both a’ya, that sounds like an A1 idea ta me.” She looks around expectantly at the remaining three, hoping they’ll jump on this chance to forget their disagreements, even if only for a little while, but all three either look away to the side or down to the ground.

Rainbow Dash, jumping into the sky to hover above them with her forelegs crossed in animosity, mumbles out some half-hearted excuse. “I got’ta go. Busy. Lots to do, and… important stuff I can’t put off any more.” Before anypony can ask that she explain or drop her wet-paper façade, she zooms away and the remaining five quickly lose sight of her behind the trees of Applejack’s orchard, leaving its owner to sigh with not entirely unexpected disappointment.

Twilight remains facing towards Ponyville, away from the others, as she follows Dash’s example. “I… was busy when Fluttershy came by. I should really get back to my studies. This has already cut far too much into my schedule, and I don’t want to fall further behind than necessary.” What she really doesn’t want, however, is for her fellow Bearers to see the too-familiar look of feeling betrayed in her eyes. So, as is her wont, she teleports instead of risking a chance of another catching a glimpse of her expression.

Feeling the pressure of three pairs of eyes on her, Pinkie looks up with a guilty and sorry smile. “I really need to get back to Sugarcube Corner, since I kind’a-sort’a snuck away when I went looking for that new pony, but since it turned out to be a Changeling and is now banished back to where he came from, I really should sneak back in and get back to work before Mr. or Mrs. Cake notices I’m gone, if they haven’t noticed already, and I really don’t want to stress them out worrying about me, since there’s nothing to worry about, soI’mgoingtogonow.BYE!” So she, too, zooms away before any of the remaining three can respond.

Those left in orchard look between themselves, all of their faces more downcast than they had been in a long time, if not the most downcast they had ever been. “Hm. Well then, I suppose it will just be the three of us…” Rarity states, more to dispel the unsettling silence than anything, her tone filled with disappointment and something less distinct: not quite anger, but overlapping it—even if only by a tiny corner—all the same. Fluttershy and Applejack just nod without saying anything, and after a few more seconds, they all start making their way wordlessly out of the orchard.

Rainbow Dash, naturally, does not have anything to do that fits within any definition of “important,” at least not so important it could not be put off a little bit more. Instead, she curves around Ponyville before angling back around to her cloud home, whereupon she fetches a pair of binoculars (which she had neglected to return to Twilight after the Dragon Migration—it’s not like she’s missing them, anyway). With these, she watches her friends in the orchard, carefully concealed at the corner of her window, just in case…

If Rainbow hadn’t been the fasted pegasus alive, then she might have missed Twilight’s teleportation; as it is, she barely catches it and swivels just in time to see the light of Twilight’s magic briefly flare through her bedroom window of Books and Branches. Turning back to the orchard, Rainbow watches as Pinkie also flees Sweet Apple Acres with nearly as much speed as herself, but the pink blur she leaves is easy to trace to Sugarcube Corner. When Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy show no sign of abandoning their plan for the spa, Rainbow Dash turns angrily away from the window, slams her back against the wall, then slumps down. “Minotaur crap,” she mumbles to herself.

I really wanted to talk to Fluttershy first, but-. She turns back to the window, her eyes going from the library, to the bakery, then the library again and settling there. -But I’m the bucking Element of Loyalty! I should be able to trust them—any of them—no matter what! She climbs onto the sill and launches herself towards Twilight’s. I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this… but I have to!

When the teleportation spell releases Twilight from its stasis-inducing (however short) grip, she sighs with regret, closes her eyes, and shakes her head, mentally berating herself. When twin tears leak out from behind her eyelids, she huffs and stomps her hoof, suddenly more angry with herself. She considers, briefly, teleporting back and accepting the offer for the spa trip, but that would mean admitting she had lied about needing to get back to her nonexistent supposedly-already-behind-studies. I don’t think I’d be able to look Applejack in the eyes the whole time, and that’d just ruin everypony’s experience… She slumps in on herself then with that deduction, naturally unaware that her social naïveté and tendency to assume the worst is yet again holding her back.

Not a second after she jumps into her bed to bury herself in pseudosleep, a knock comes from the front door. A few seconds, then more knocking. “Spike!… Spike!” she calls twice before remembering she had let him leave for a break, and therefore she had locked up the library when Fluttershy came by… then Princess Celestia… and that thing, calling itself “Alternate” as if Changelings actually have names! As if they’re indiv-… Another series of knocks, more insistent. “URGH! Can nopony understand that I need to be alone to sort through what just happened!?” No. Of course not… because nopony knows what happened… She shimmies off her bed, grumbling and generally taking as long as she can, hoping whoever it is will give up and leave.

No such luck; as she finally steps upon the ground floor of the library, yet louder knocking accompanies Rainbow Dash’s cry of, “Twilight! I know you’re here! I saw the flash from your spell! I want-!” At the distinct sound of Rainbow’s voice, Twilight hurries forward to unlock and open the door in the middle of Rainbow’s sentence. “-… to talk to you,” the pegasus finishes a bit meekly.

Now, that’s not like her at all, is Twilight’s first thought—and her second, unsurprisingly given what had just happened, is of Changelings, making her narrow her eyes, crouch, and lift her lip to reveal her teeth in an instinctual show of warning and aggression. Rainbow Dash, no matter how air-headed and unobservant at times, could not fail to notice this, and steps back, wings shooting out and fluttering, ready to take off; she opens her mouth, wanting to say something, but Twilight’s savage stance seems to have frozen her tongue. Thankfully, an echo of her mentor’s words come back to Twilight, passing by her rage—words of reassurances and warnings about suspecting Changelings—and she quickly brings herself to stand up straight again, turning away with shame, apology in her eyes. I think we’re all going to be a bit thrown off our usual… ways, since that Changeling came here and tried to drive this wedge between us!

Twilight opens her mouth to start apologizing, but Rainbow Dash didn’t come here to listen to one of her friends beat herself up. “Forget it… Twilie,” she tries to inject some comedy into the situation as she waves a hoof dismissively, but neither of them let out even one chuckle, so she merely steps past Twilight into the relative darkness of the library—as evening is getting along, and no candles are yet lit. “I should have figured you’d be the most stressed out of any of us, but I had to talk to somepony, one-on-one, and since Pinkie was the only other one of us not to go to the spa… of course I had to be so bucking selfi-.”

“No,” Twilight cuts her off, herself neither in the mood for hearing another’s self-pitying. “This is a good thing! We should…-” Twilight tries to think of some apt, more specific word, but finishes lamely, “-talk… and work… stuff out.” Guh! “stuff?!” That doesn’t sound like me! No. Don’t worry about it, Twilight. Don’t. Worry. About. What. You. Can’t. Change. Remember, that’s what Princess Celestia just told you! What happened is going to need working through, though, if we’re going to go back to our old lives… Twilight calms herself down, most unaware of what Rainbow Dash has truly come here to talk about, though her misunderstanding, of course, is hardly without excuse.

Rainbow Dash turns her head to the side, and only occasionally glances at Twilight out of the corner of her eye as she asks, “Uhm… what would you think if I-… faief? I mea-. Urgh!” Rainbow pauses to take a few slow, deep breaths, and Twilight waits patiently. “If I- If I left?” She waits for a moment, but when she sees Twilight’s confusion and her mouth opening, no doubt to ask for clarification, Dash rushes to answer before the question is asked. “I mean-! I mean… if the Wonderbolts ever accepted me… I’d have a lot of training to go to—some military training, too—and-… and then I’d be away most of the time. I wouldn- We wouldn’t-.” She lets out a huff of irritation at being incapable of articulating herself clearly, but instantly returns to looking sorrowful. “D’you… get what I’m trying to say, Twi?”

Twilight is left stunned and blinking by this confession and all its implications, and for a moment is incapable of doing anything more than gapping silently—and she considers it quite lucky that Rainbow’s looking away from her leaves her unaware of what Twilight’s momentary silence means. Eventually, of course, she regains herself, “Oh… that’s what you’ve been worried about? I thought you wanted to talk about that Changeling…” she mumbles mostly to herself as she tries to get her mind to shift gears from “Changelings” to “personal lives and worries”. One of your friends needs you, Twilight—right now! Time to put that aside for the moment!

As Twilight struggles with herself, Rainbow Dash nods slowly, completely missing Twilight’s slight against Alternate (for which she would beat herself up about later as she thinks back on this conversation over and over). “Yeah… I guess it really hit me when you kept on going after Fluttershy and Rarity… What if Princess Celestia was right? What if she wasn’t there? What would we have done to each other?” Her voice steadily comes to sound more and more like begging—begging for reassurances.

Twilight, rendered at a loss for words—both incapable of explaining and not wanting to examine this hypothetic for herself—tries to convey a hint of an answer through her sorrowful expression, but as to its exact meaning, even she’s not sure. “I think…” she ventures to answer, a tiny, barely noticeable pause between each word, “that we wouldn’t have done anything we haven’t done before. We’ve hurt each other before, but we’ve always forgiven each other or found some way to make it up to whomever we hurt. Right?”

“Yeah, but-,” Rainbow Dash sees the flash of something less kind disappearing from Twilight’s eyes, and cuts off, but only momentarily. “-but that thing with Alternate was different. We wouldn’t have been hurting each other, not exactly. We wouldn’t mean to- I mean, of course we never meant to, but not because we weren’t-… uhm… jeeze, this is harder than I thought it would be…”

Tell me about it, is what Twilight wants to say, but she bites her tongue.

Looking suddenly struck by inspiration, Rainbow Dash rushes on before the words can leave her. “I mean, we’d know what we were doing to each other by protecting or wanting to… get rid of Alternate, wouldn’t we? If you hurt him, you’d know you’d be hurting Fluttershy, too; unlike all those other times we hurt each other by accident.” With her words now coming out as strong as her will can hope for, she looks at Twilight straight on.

The question and statement hit Twilight like falling anvils, one after the other, crushing her mind with uncomfortable thoughts and truths, and their unexpected source and out-of-the-blue delivery only worsen their blows. The only thing she’s sure of then is that she has to refute Rainbow Dash on one point: the implication that knowingly hurting somepony—even indirectly—damages their friendship irreparably. But how?! Isn’t that a basic part of the unwritten contract: That friends don’t hurt each other on purpose, no matter the situation?

…-On purpose! “Rainbow Dash, if that did happen, would you at least be willing to hear me out, if nothing else?” The hesitant nod she receives is—to be honest with herself—the best she could ask for, so she’s prompted to go on. “Then, what if I explained that what I did was for what I think is best? If I explained that I was trying to protect you? That I was hurting you and Fluttershy and Rarity to save you from being hurt worse by-…” she stops for a moment, unsure of how to phrase the next part to imply distrust without turning Rainbow Dash away from the idea; in the end, however, she simply can’t bring herself to say what she thinks she should. “-by that Changeling?”

She’s told instantly that she has said the wrong thing by the sudden hardening of Rainbow's eyes. After a moment of the angered pegasus staring down at the unicorn trying to say how sorry she is with her body language, the former finally speaks. “Well… I guess I got my answer, then.”

It takes Twilight a moment to retrace their conversation and get at what Rainbow means. “But I thought… you came here to ask me about what would happen if you left to join the Wonderbolts?”

Rainbow Dash stands, silently signaling she wants to leave. “I’m not dumb, Twilight-”

“I never s-!”

“-I know what ‘implication’ means.” Rainbow forges on, undeterred by Twilight’s exclamation. “I guess, since I know leaving… and joining the Wonderbolts… would hurt all of you, then I won’t.” Her voice almost breaks on the last word, but though she manages to keep her tone steady, she bites her lip all the same, revealing weaknesses in her so-called surety.

Twilight gapes for a moment at Rainbow Dash’s decision, unsure if she really wants to “go there” and battle with her Loyalty. “Rainbow Dash-… you-…” she says just to say something to dispel the horrible silence fertilizing the paradox of Dash’s Element, but she still has no real idea what to say; where to even begin. “I-… You’re spreading yourself too thin. We can deal with this. We can get through this; we just have to take it one problem at a time.”

Rainbow Dash doesn’t say anything to this, nor respond in any way; she merely looks to the side, suddenly wishing her pseudo-messy mane (it is done on purpose, after all) was long enough to hide her face as Fluttershy so often does. As it is, however, her annoyance—product of ugly pride—cannot be lained from Twilight, but she still tries to shove it away from herself. “Twilight, I… don’t blame you for thinking the way you do about Alternate. I mean, if I was you, and with what happened to Shining Armor and Cadance, I’d probably hate Changelings, too, but… how can you blame all of them for what some of them did!”

Not ignorant of the shift of topic, Twilight considers for a moment not answering and bringing the subject of Rainbow Dash’s insecurities back to fore, but easily dismisses the idea. She’s obviously not ready to talk about it, at least not any more. Later, then… It sounds like it’s too deep to deal with in one talk, anyway. A small shake of her head seems to help with shifting onto the new topic. “Rainbow, Changelings are…” she starts, but shakes her head again at her too-condescending tone. “All Changelings are part of a collective: there’s no ‘individuality’ for them. Everything they do is part of their queen’s will.” Rainbow Dash is now staring hard at her, looking more and more like she wants to interrupt, so Twilight rushes on, not wanting to give her a chance. “Any ‘personality’ they display is just another part of their trickery. It’s been observed in every Changeling captured and studied sinc-.”

“That’s a lie.” The pegasus finally decides she’s heard enough, but she doesn’t sound angry, or anything else: her voice is as flat as any living creature’s voice can be, and almost quiet. When Twilight regains control of her mouth and looks about to start up again, Rainbow only repeats herself more forcefully. “That’s. A. Lie.” Again, she doesn’t raise her voice so much a single decibel, nor display any more emotion than before; this time, though, the implied disappointment gets through to Twilight. “And you know it; you just don’t want to believe it.”

That last part finally gets to Twilight, and she huffs with impatience. “It has nothing to do with ‘belief,’ Rainbow Dash; it’s science. I’ve read papers on studies, and they all come to the same conclusion; every single one: Changelings share a hive mind. If there’s any ‘individual,’ it’s the hive itself.” Twilight finishes with an internal flinch; she hadn’t meant to say that last part—it’s only what she had imagined as a logical progression of what she had read on the subject. Still, even if the hive can be called an “individual,” it’s not like a pony-individual… Right?… Even if a pony’s mind is a “collective” of cells… she flinches, physically this time, at the unwelcome comparison and the alarming implications it brings, but she’s quick to console herself. No, it’s not the same. It can’t be. The ‘hive’ still doesn’t have emotions like a pony, first of all, so-.

“Papers? Studies?” Dash’s incredulous voice, suddenly displaying the emotions she had held back before, pulls Twilight away from the war with herself. “What ‘studies’?! It’s barely been three months since anypony even knew Changelings existed!” Rainbow Dash jumps into the air and throws her forehooves out in exasperation. “How could anypony do any thorough research that fast?! Even if they never slept, there hasn’t been enough time! Admit it, Twi: any so-called-…” She struggles for a moment to find the right words here. “-Any so-called ‘Changeling specialists’ are just seeing what they want to see—if they’ve actually studied living Changelings at all—and writing out their own prejudices! Jeeze, Twilight, I thought if anypony would be able to realize that, it would be you!”

Rainbow’s words, however, had the opposite effect she had intended—but that could hardly be unexpected considering her tone—getting Twilight to rise up herself instead of fall. “That hardly matters! It’s the truth! Whether it’s proven now or later makes no difference! It’s like Applejack said: They’re all liars! You can’t trust a single one of them!”

“So, just because he’s a Changeling, Alternate’s a liar, huh? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were a Changeling doing a pretty bad job of imitating my egghead friend! I never thought I’d see the day Twilight Sparkle, magical prodigy of Princess Celestia, says something without proof! How do you even study whether Changelings have-?!” Rainbow Dash would have gone on, but the suddenly defeated look in Twilight’s eyes and the way her body freezes—not even looking as if she’s breathing for a moment—makes the pegasus stop.

Rainbow Dash… Bearer of the Element of Loyalty… I thought-… “Rainbow Dash-… I-…” But those papers… how-…? Twilight puts a hoof to her horn; it feels as if her thoughts are coming to her through a strainer: slowly and coming out damaged and incomplete. “-But Changelings-… I didn’t- I don’t want anypony to get hurt, and Changelings, when they lie, replacing somepony, even temporarily-.”

Rainbow Dash, who had until then started to nurture a look of sympathy over her features, turns angry again, though not quite as severely as before. “Yeah, I got that first part, especially the ‘anypony’ part, but if a Changeling starves to death, who cares, right? As long as Changelings aren’t ponies, then their trying to get love in order to not die is evil. And replacing ponies? What else are they going to do since most ponies are like you and distrust them instantly?! When you don’t even give them one chance!?” She glares, but slowly softens as she sees Twilight lower herself to clutch her head between her forelegs.

“Rainbow… please…” She begs, trying to shut her eyes away from the door to a horrifying world that the pegasus had just blown open—away from what she can’t admit without blowing the rest of her carefully ordered world apart—but she can’t turn away from something in her own mind. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to hurt you. You- I’m horrible friend; I don’t deserve you. I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” She continues to whisper, slightly more quietly each time until she finally falls relatively silent.

The other stands still, looking down at her friend and silently watching her fall apart. In time, she eventually rolls her eyes before stepping forward and—a bit roughly—pulling Twilight up into a sitting position; though the unicorn instantly slumps into Rainbow’s forelegs, wishing only to fall back to the floor. “Stupid…” Rainbow says as she pulls Twilight into a hug, both the word and act making Twilight’s muscles turn to stone. “You can be so stupid, Twi. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here talking with you… and if you need a little more time to sort stuff out before talking again, I’ll give you as long as you want… as long as you promise to still be my friend.”

That elicits a wet, weak chuckle from Twilight, and when Rainbow Dash gives her an encouraging squeeze, she nods as if in answer (though Rainbow didn’t truly expect one), first slowly, then more vigorously as the tears start flowing. They stay like this for the best part of an hour, and even though Twilight Sparkle never brings herself to return the hug, Rainbow Dash doesn’t mind.

Part Two of Two

Love Mine



(Part Two of Two)

Zephyrus Scary

Pinkie Pie zooms through Sugarcube Corner so fast she doesn’t see the suddenly relieved, then startled looks of Mr. and Mrs. Cake from where they’re putting up the chairs on the tables, preparing to close for the evening. The two bewildered Earth ponies blink at the stairs for a moment, hoping that Pinkie has only forgotten—as the eccentric mare might—to help close up shop; when she doesn’t come back down after a few moments, the married couple turns to the last customer left, Spike, as if he may provide an answer. The three seem to speak without words as Spike scratches the top of his head before they come to some silent understanding when he shrugs his shoulders, tosses the last bite of a sapphire cupcake into his mouth, and heads upstairs.

As Pinkie rushes into Sugarcube Corner, up to her room, locks her door, then leans against it (as if the lock isn’t enough to keep unwanted ponies out), there is only one thing running through her head: This can’t be happening. It isn’t happening! It can’t be! Can’tbe.Isn’t.Can’t.Isn’t! My. Friends. Aren’t. Fighting. Over. A. Changeling! That’s just ridiculous! She tries to laugh, but it comes out sounding more like the strained cough of an old mare on her deathbed.

Trying to steady her breathing, she squeezes her eyes shut as she tries to settle her mind as well. That Changeling… he tried to help Fluttershy even though he was being sent away and wouldn’t be able to feed off her love any more, because he wouldn’t dare go near her again after what Princess Celestia said, right? He sounds too smart for that… and it sounds like he was telling the truth about being in Ponyville since Nightmare Moon came back, but… then why did my Pinkie Sense tell me a new pony arrived in town today, then stop when I saw him?

With that question, Pinkie stands straight and opens her eyes with surprise before narrowing them with suspicion. Why? She rubs her forehead with one forehoof as she asks herself this over and over, but the only thing she can say for sure is, Either I’m missing something, or Alternate… lied, and as much as the latter idea disappoints her, she finds the disappointment overridden by her surprise that such a thing would disappoint her at all.

In time, she hangs her head with a sigh before walking slowly up to the mirror next to her closet, and there in the silver reflection is part of the reason she had rushed up here: Her mane, once thought always poofy since the first Sonic Rainboom, is now, for the third time in her life, almost unnaturally straight. “Oh, Pinkamena Diane Responsibility Pie, what are you going to do now?” she asks herself as she lays before her tearful reflection.

Even during the problem with the buffalo in Apploosa, even after the buffalo had threatened to attack the settlement, even when they did attack, Pinkie hadn’t worried about the friendship between the Bearers; she had believed to the end that a peaceful resolution was possible, and in the end had been right, but now… Now, with Alternate, just one Changeling among the countless, without power and stuck between his aggressive Queen and (apparently) wanting to live in quiet peace with his food source, what kind of peace could there be? How could any be achieved?… What would Zecora do if the zebras decided to attack Equestria? Would ponies start to think she had been a spy all along?…

… Probably… Pinkie has to admit to herself with a sniffle, Even Twilight would start distrusting Zecora. With a heavy sigh, she stares at herself, mind curiously blank until the full power behind the revelation hits her: “Losing a friend’s trust is the fastest way to lose a friend… forever”… Trust really is everything to Equestria, isn’t it? It’s everything to everypony that wants to live in peace, really, and it’s the reason Alternate lied because he knew nopony would trust him if we knew what he is… Her frown deepens, too sad about Alternate’s position to be angry with this truth about herself and her (supposed to be) Harmonious friends.

…-But Fluttershy did! She realizes with an almost physical shock that all the same makes her sit up straight. -And if there’s one thing I know about Fluttershy, it’s that she isn’t a monster, and even though she’s really, really, REALLY, reallyreallyreallyreally super-duper nice, she wouldn’t be nice to anypony that wants to hurt her friends!… Even if Alternate lied, he wasn’t lying to hurt anypony (like my friends didn’t mean to hurt me that one time with the surprise party), but to protect himself! She finishes with a slight, empathetic shiver for any and every creature that has ever been put under The Stare.

She looks proud for her super nice friend then, but soon slumps in a bit. Right? He didn’t want to hurt anypony; Fluttershy believed that! -but Twilight says Changelings can’t be trusted… but Rarity trusted Fluttershy, even though Alternate took ‘Shy’s appearance and fed off Rarity herself, but Princess Celestia is more than a thousand years old and should know what she’s talking about! Celestia was wrong about Cadance, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong about Alternate… How am I-!… -supposed to decide… what’s… right? Looking down at the floorboards then, flipping back her curtain of a mane with an absentminded hoof, she still cannot ignore or argue away the danger posed against their friendship; she still cannot see any way that this issue Alternate has (inadvertently) created can be resolved without hurting somepony… or hurting Alternate himself.


“AAAAAAAH!” Pinkie screeches in alarm, jumping up and staying in the air for far longer than should be possible—until she hears, underneath her own screaming, another’s cry of surprise: young, but identifiably male. Wait. Spike is here? Since when?! I thought it was closing time… she asks herself as she falls back down, legs crumpling under her and mane, which had been (somehow) fanned out as if by strong wind as she yelled, now fell back into place.

Spike tried the door, but the handle only jiggled slightly against the lock. “Pinkie?!” his voice started agitated, but steadily grew worried as Pinkie didn’t answer his question. “Are you alright in there? Why’s your door locked? Why did you run up here? Mr. and Mrs. Cake said you’ve been away since early afternoon without telling them, and they were worried. Where were you? Did-…” he goes on, trying to get the other to say something

Pinkie’s first thought is that he sounds way more worried than the situation warrants, but one glance out of the corner of her eye to the mirror, and her straight mane—the way her mane was when she didn’t know joy, then again when she thought she had lost her friends—quickly has her reevaluating the situation. In time, she gets up and heads for the door, the sound of her hoofsteps finally getting Spike to stop asking questions and instead stand in anticipation of the door being unlocked.

“Hi, Spike,” she answers more dully than she had intended when she finally opens the door, and while she shrinks back inwardly, Spike steps back, unpleasantly surprised by both her tone and appearance. “Sorry, but I don’t think I can talk to the Cakes right now. I… have too much to think about right now.” She finishes with a long sigh that gives voice to her inner suffering that words would be hard put to describe, before turning away and hopping all the way from the door onto her bed in one jump.

Spike stays in the doorway for a moment, watching as Pinkie lays down, facing away from him, before rolling his eyes in a resigned-exasperated way and striding in. “Well then, maybe you could use some help to sort through whatever problems you’re having? Help from a friend?” He takes a few steps forward, a hint of something hopeful behind the worry in his voice; he stops somewhere about halfway between the door and the bed.

Pinkie Pie doesn’t answer right away, and if not for both of their breathing, it may have seemed the room is, for a moment, locked in time—still and silent. Throughout this time, Pinkie debates with herself over how much to tell Spike; it seems to her that Princess Celestia, if not Twilight, would at the very least not be comfortable with the idea of telling Spike about their “problem;” like herd mares arguing amongst themselves might hide their worries from their foals and even their stallion.

In time, however, she arrives at what she thinks is a compromise, after all, I wonder if Alternate ever took on Twilight’s appearance once or twice? Or even mine?! “Spike?”

Turning hopeful at this sign of recognition—and not pushing him away, literally or otherwise—Spike dares a small smile and walks quietly, almost reverently, but mostly respectfully, to the edge of the bed, but doesn’t climb onto it; not yet. Another long pause before, “Yeah?”

“What if-.” Pinkie has to stop to sniffle to get her voice to sound relatively normal, or at least not morose. “What if you found out I was a Changeling? Like, I’d been a Changeling my whole life, and there was no ‘Pinkie Pie, the pony’? Or Twilight? Or Princess Celestia? Or anypony you love and trust?… What would you do?”

“What if you were a Changeling?” Spike repeats, the tiny waver in his voice evident enough for Pinkie to not want to turn around, but she does, sitting up to look around, and there is Spike, stepping back wards slowly, but stopping upon Pinkie looking at him. He tries to laugh the idea away, “Eh-heh. Heh… You’re not really a Changeling, though, right?” and his grin is awkward; lop-sided and fake.

The mare lets out a long sigh before flopping back down on the bed, pushing her face into her pillow. “I mean, of course you’re not a Changeling! I don’t think they’d know about your… uhm… ‘depressed hair,’ first of all…” When he says this, Pinkie turns slightly to stare at him with one jaded eye, the other half of her face still smushed into the pillow, wet with tears she had until been holding back; Spike, looking up the ceiling with his tongue trying to think of an answer, doesn’t yet notice, but at least he’s not weary of her any more. “Hm… ‘If you were a Changeling’ Huh?… Wellllllll, first of all, I think it’d explain quite a bit! Like, what if you weren’t just one Changeling, but a whole bunch! That’d explain how you appear out of nowhere all the time. And your Pinkie Sense would be the hivemind telling you what other Changelings see happening around Ponyville, and you’re guessing what could happen from there… maybe?” He laughs at his own deductions, much more honestly this time, but stops instantly upon finally looking down at the half of Pinkie’s face he can see and the one eye glistening with tears.

Another sniffle from Pinkie seems to prod him back into speaking. “Well… ah… ‘What I would do’?” He reposes the question, biting his lip, hesitant, perhaps afraid of his own answer. “I’d-… I would be-… I guess I’d be…” He gulps, not wanting to go on.

“Scared,” Pinkie finishes for him.

Spike hangs his head and sighs, staring at his hands as he twiddles his claws. At length, he knows he has to admit it or lie, and he doesn’t want to lie—not to a Pinkie in such an obviously vulnerable state. “… Yeah… I’d probably run away and tell Twilight—or somepony else, if it was Twilight—and let them deal with it…” He balls up a fist and glares at it for a moment before suddenly bursting out, making Pinkie jump with a tiny, Fluttershy-like sound of surprise. “What’s with those Changelings, anyway!? They’re just so… weird! -Looking like ponies, but they’re not like them at all! -And-!” He stops just as suddenly with a sigh. “But… maybe it’s because I’m dragon, and not a pony, and because I saw what dragons are like last Migration, but… I kind of… don’t hate them?” He ends with a unsure tone. “I mean-! I hate what their Queen did, and what happened at Canterlot, but I don’t hate… Changelings, and I think I understand why they… did what they did… That doesn’t make me… evil, too, right?”

Yes, is Pinkie’s first thought, and she instantly hides her face in the pillow again. No! You silly filly, Fluttershy isn’t evil! -and her first instinct was pretty much the same as Spike’s: get Twilight. -but does she empathize with them? Would it matter? Yet again, her first thought is, Yes, but she quickly redacts herself. No! I can’t think like this! If even one of us doubts that we’ll be able to push through this and still be friends, then that’ll be a self-fulfilling prophesy! But what solution is there? What is the truth? How can it be uncovered when Changelings are so rightfully and understandably secretive? And how can that truth be presented in such a way to convince the ones who are wrong? Who’s wrong, though? What side should I be on?

At first, as all of these thoughts chase each other around Pinkie Pie’s head, leaving her unable to respond, Spike looks on with increasing worry for both himself and Pinkie. However, he comes to look down and shake his head in a way as if understanding the stupidity behind his questions. Then, he finally climbs into the bed and hugs Pinkie gently from behind; when she comes out of her thoughts enough to be aware of anything beyond, she shifts around to hug him back, finding him already asleep. As she begins to drift off herself, her mane regain a little bit of its poofiness, but right then, a little feels like a lot.

Three silent mares walk slowly—pensively—to the spa; after Rarity had assured the others she would be able to convince the twin co-owners to serve them despite the hour, they had fallen into their own thoughts again. As Rarity leads the trio, Fluttershy takes up the rear; knowing the path to the spa more-or-less by heart thanks to her weekly visits there with Rarity (which they had been having even before they became two of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony), the pegasus of the group merely looks down at the ground, her eyes never having dried since she started worrying for Alternate’s life. This whole confrontation is my fault. If I had just thought for a second instead of running off to Twilight, none of this would have happened. Nopony would be angry with anypony else. I would know Alternate is safe… -…but, what if… he was lying? I… don’t want to believe it, but what Princess Celestia said-

“… this Changeling took on the appearance of Fluttershy and tricked Rarity… … no matter how you may feel for a Changeling, it wants nothing but your love, and everything it does will be towards that goal. … Changelings are incapable of emotion, and any display they give is only designed to gather more love for themselves. … As something I’m sure you are familiar with, Fluttershy, the more hungry an animal is, the more dangerous it is. … It knew its only chance of survival and escape was to convince you that it is ‘good’…”

“I’ll be fine, I promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly/ Stick a cupcake in my eye.”

No! Fluttershy asserts to herself with a small, barely noticeable stomp as she continues trotting.

Princess Celestia is wrong! Another stomp.

Alternate- Changelings- Nothing is “just” evil! A third stomp.

Changelings are-!… -victims… What would have been a fourth stomp instead turns into pause with the hoof left hanging. Victims of nature. Everything has to eat somehow—usually by eating something else. Even ponies have to eat other living things; even though it’s mostly stuff like grass and berries and things, it’s still was alive once…

… And Changelings don’t “kill” love when they eat it; Rarity seems to care about me just as much as ever before, and even though I could feel Alternate feeding off my love for him without any disguise, I don’t care about him any less… When Fluttershy finally looks up, she sees that she had chosen an opportune moment to stop, as they are indeed right outside the spa now, and it seems she’s just managed to convince Aloe to allow them into the sauna while the rest of the place is being closed down.

I really should learn to think before acting… I should have realized what time it is before making the suggestion to come here…

Rarity lets a slow, aggrieved sigh out of her nose so it’s not too audible. Silly Rarity, there’s no reason to get upset. It is Aloe’s (and Lotus’s) business, and they can do whatever they want… but after that dreadful display, it would be more than a simple disappointment if they didn’t relent… Rarity turns to grin back at her friends and fellow Bearers in a way not entirely honest; Applejack returns with a small smile that all the same shows she knows what Rarity is thinking, but when Fluttershy passes by Rarity as the unicorn holds the door open, she’s surprised by the strangely, Determined? expression on the pegasus’s face.

Rarity’s first instinct is to ask what’s bothering her oldest friend, for surely Fluttershy’s thoughts have been disturbed beyond the normal range for the pegasus to make her display such an emotion, but in the next instant she manages to shake the impulse off. That is not the point of us being here. This is a time for relaxation and putting aside the past, not spreading new worries! And with that, she steps in after the other two, who are now waiting for her to show them to the sauna—Aloe has already disappeared, presumably to help with the daily maintenance (Rarity is her most loyal customer, and that comes with a certain degree of trust)—for Applejack doesn’t know the way, and Fluttershy is apparently too absorbed in her thoughts (and too much of a “not leader”) to show Applejack the way.

For the unicorn, each step to the sauna feels agonizingly slow; certainly, the drama and worry and everything else that came with whole situation concerning Alternate is starting to show. Rarity wants nothing more than to rush ahead, but at the same time, she feels as if she can barely manage to keep moving one hoof in front of the other: wanting something—her body itching for it—yet at the same time, incapable. Urge and impossibility competing; creating nothing but evergrowing discomfort and strife. Like poor Alternate, needing love, and wanting it honestly, but knowing nopony would love him if he didn’t disguise himself… he didn’t even seem to believe Fluttershy, of all ponies, would give him so much a chance!

“Honestly”? Rarity hums thoughtfully as the group (finally) files into the sauna. As she holds the door open with a hoof and levitates a bucket of water inside, she follows Applejack with her eyes as discretely as she can—not as hard as she thought it would be, given that Applejack doesn’t seem any more aware of things than Fluttershy as she slips onto one of the benches in a most robotic manner. I’m going to have to be discrete… Applejack wanted to come here to put our troubles away…

But Fluttershy seems to be on a role with taking charge of the conversation. “Applejack?” She asks as she steps next to the Earth pony, who raises her head up with a look in her eyes as if she’s recovering from a fever that had brought her terrible visions. When the other finally nods, Fluttershy smiles. “I just wanted to say: I don’t blame you. If I had just-…” She slows and shakes her head. “I mean… I couldn’t have expected you to react any other way, given how you were raised. -And your Element… and just everything else that makes you Applejack…” Fluttershy trails off, but she doesn’t look down or away.

At length, Applejack finally responds, though she stares at her forehooves. “Yeah… me neither… If I hadn’ been so worked up an’ worried, I would’a realized ya both were just doin’ what you though’ was righ’, too. -An’ all the reasons ya both gave that Changelin’ a chance is part of whai I…” She has to stop to wipe her eyes and sniffle, but the tears are instantly replaced and her voice is no less nasal when she continues. “-whai I love the two ‘a ya!” She cries out in a rush before burying her face.

“Oh!” Rarity, with her muscles now finally giving in to her commands as comforting steam begins to swirl about her legs, manages to kick herself into all but jumping to Applejack’s side. Poor dear… She just not used to admitting her weaknesses to anypony, even after that Applebucking Season fiasco… and the whole “cherry farm adventure.” As sad as the thought is, I can only guess it must come from needing to have grown up so young… Rarity quickly shakes such depressing thoughts off, though; right now, Applejack needs a boost! Not a reminder of her failings!

“Applejack.” No response.

Applejack…” Still nothing.

“Apple-! -jack!” Not so much as tiny change in the volume of her crying.

APPLEJACK!” Rarity all but roars and, deciding enough is enough, smacks the Earth pony across the back of her head with a hoof.

Instantly, as if by a switch, Applejack’s sobs disappear and her heaving is replaced with deep, quiet breaths. In time, she eventually looks up, revealing her eyes still shimmering as emeralds under the Sun may. With a small cough as if such can help her regain some composure, Rarity speaks again. “Yes, Applejack, of course we all still love each other, even after what just happened, and do you know why?”

Applejack swallows and takes a long moment (during which Rarity and Fluttershy take their own benches to lay on) before answering, “Because-… Because we… trust each… oth-…?” Applejack slows, stops, and cringes as Rarity starts to shake her head, but she smiles in a teacherly way, inviting Applejack to rethink her answer. “… Because… uhm… ah?… well…” Applejack bits her tongue and makes a series of other strange faces, staring at Rarity as if hoping to read her thoughts and snatch whatever idea Rarity is looking for out of her mind. “Durn it! I dun… know!” She eventually shouts half-heartedly, sounding on the verge of outright crying again.

Rarity is sure whatever expression is on her face now, it’s the most sympathetic thing she had ever worn in her life. “Applejack, it’s because, when you think about it, Changelings are… powerless. Truly. They can eat love all they may, but they can’t make me, or anypony—or anything—‘not love’.”

When Applejack turns as stiff as stone, so much so that even her eyes stop tearing up for a moment, Rarity is about to silently mentally pat herself on the back when Applejack’s somewhat deadened voice calls her back to the world. “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard, Rarity, and I’ve known you, and Pinkie, and R.D. for a while, now; enough, I thought, to’ve heard-.”

“Uhm… Applejack?” Fluttershy’s tiny voice, no matter how small, shall always be enough to quiet any beast’s roar—Applejack’s steadily rising voice didn’t stand a chance. “I think you’re missing… the point?” While Rarity nods, Applejack simply turns nonplussed, looking between the other two. “We love you because you’re you, so as long as you don’t change—good things, or bad—we’ll always love you. Though, maybe, you could stand… to not be… so-…” Fluttershy’s last statement quickly slides from mumbling into complete incoherence.

“Exactly!” Rarity heads off, for Applejack is not looking entirely convinced just yet. “We’ve all hurt each other in one way or another with the… unique brands of stupidity each brings to table, so to speak.” Rarity chuckles in a strained kind of way, but she doesn’t doubt her choice of words. “For example, you’re as sturdy as stone, in body and mind, making you, well, stubborn. -But-! -you wouldn’t be the mare we love if you abandoned that part of yourself! We still cared about you after you poisoned half of Ponyville with baked bads, after you helped almost start a war with the buffalo, after you ran away and broke a Pinkie Promise, a-”

The last one is too far for Applejack to handle, though, and she stops her there. “How many times do I have to explain: I di’n’t break no promise, or lie, or no thing like that!”

“Semantics, Applejack.” Rarity waves her hoof in a way she realizes too late is perhaps a bit too condescending. “If you want me to be more accurate, then you deceived us. When you promised to tell us what had happened at tomorrow’s breakfast, the implication was that you were going to actually be there to tell us, and you betrayed that trust.”

Applejack opens her mouth, but goes no further than that; Only when Rarity raises an eyebrow expectantly does Applejack get her vocal cords to unpetrify. “Well… dang. I reckon… ya got me on that one.”

“Yes…” Rarity looks on uncertainly, wondering if Applejack will want to drag the conversation further away from the original topic, and truth be told, I’d not only understand, I wouldn’t stop her, but the Earth pony does nothing of the sort. “Well, the real, core point here, Applejack, is that we’re friends because we know each other, good and bad, and still care, and everything that’s happened in the past, including Alternate, isn’t going to ch-.”

“Ya’ll are applyin’ that to that Changelin’, too, ain’t’chya?” Applejack suddenly interrupts, serious, but, as it takes Rarity a moment to notice, not angry. Not any more. “Ya’ll ‘care’ about it, even though it’s a lyin’ lil’ monster?”

Fluttershy sits up, but Rarity answers before she can, not even so much as raising her brow with incredulousness. “And how should I know you’re not lying, Applejack?”

Applejack takes upon her face a deadpanned expression before deciding that she better grace the stupid question with a stupid answer if she wants to get anywhere. “First bein’ because I’m the Element of Honesty, an’ second bein’ I couldn’ lie to save mai life…”

Rarity grins in the manner of a chessmaster making a gamechanging move, unsettling Applejack enough to stop in her reasons she’s no liar. “Are you so sure about that, Applejack? You couldn’t, say, deceive even a single pony? -And you couldn’t use that deception to get out of an uncomfortable situation?”

Even before the last word, Applejack starts to get a far off look in her eyes, apparently no longer listening and, at least as far as Rarity is concerned, no longer needing to. In time, Applejack comes back to herself, and gives Rarity a submissive “you’re right” kind of smile, and for the rest of their stay in the sauna and as they walk to Sweet Apple Acres together under Luna’s moon, they tell stories of things that had happened because, as Rarity so succinctly put it, their unique brands of stupidity, laughing at themselves and each other good naturedly. Upon seeing Applejack to her door, they hug their farewells before Fluttershy and Rarity head to their homes.

From one of the many balconies of Canterlot Castle, Princess Celestia opens her eyes as her horn, releasing a scrying spell, stops sparkling, and she looks down at the dark silhouette of Ponyville, barely distinguishable under the cover of night. She knows the days troubles are not forgotten—never forgotten—but the six have put such behind them, at least for now, for each knows, at least subconsciously, Celestia’s intention, but keeps it to themselves. Alternate… it would seem you failed to split the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony, and I doubt you are unaware of this. I wouldn’t count on me being naïve enough to think Queen Chrysalis would let such a tiny failure hold her back from trying again; in fact, I’d be surprised if all my preparations for your return are eventually revealed to be a waste of time.

Return to Story Description


Login with