by Zephyrus Scary

Chapter 2: Part Two of Two

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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.

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