The door to Cheerilee's home glows green, swinging open to allow Cheerilee and Big Mac entrance. Once inside the darkened house, Cheerilee's horn glows again from her place on Big Mac's back, first flicking the light switch next to the door to bring visibility to the room around them and then shutting the door behind them.
Big Mac stops in the middle of the room, smiling as he turns his head to look at the changeling still holding on to him, "So are you gonna get off, or were ya plannin' on ridin' me all the way to yer bed?"
Cheerilee blushes at his words and allows her grip to loosen, sliding down the left side of his barrel to land sprawled on the floor next to him. Big Mac watches her stretch and let loose an enormous yawn, though after a moment his amused smile fades into neutrality, the ends of his mouth sloping faintly downwards. Standing, Cheerilee attempts to meet his eyes, however, he glances away, instead looking at the photos adorning the wall to his right – many of which include the two of them.
"Mac?" Cheerilee asks, a cold pit forming in her stomach, "Is something wrong?"
Big Mac's gaze flicks to the floor then back to her, "Ah was just thinkin'. You know, with everything that's happened and how our relationship has been progressin', maybe… maybe it would be a good idea if we took a bit of a break."
Cheerilee's chest tightens, her ears drooping along with her mood, "I-I guess… if that's what you want… " She pokes at the floor, "Do you know how long you'll need before you decide if-"
"Wait, err, hold on," Big Mac interrupts embarrassedly, waving his hooves in front of his chest, "that uh… Ah may have chosen mah words poorly." He takes a deep breath, "What Ah mean is, we've been movin' forward with our relationship and Ah'm fine with that, but things are different now what with you turnin' out to be a bugpony and all. And Ah don't mean to say anythin' about that one way or another; what Ah mean to say is that there's a whole 'nother side to you that Ah didn't even know existed, and Ah want to learn about that part a' you before anythin' else happens."
Relieved, Cheerilee smiles and nods, "Alright, what do you want to know?"
Big Mac shrugs, a yawn of his own forcing its way out, "Ah'm not even sure yet, but what Ah do know is that Ah'm dead tired and we're gonna need as much rest as we can get before meetin' with the Princesses. Speakin' a' which," he gestures at the green loveseat along the wall behind Cheerilee, "d'ya mind if Ah take over yer couch for the night?"
"Err… why?" Cheerilee asks, her brow managing to knit ever so slightly despite the stiffness of her chitin. "I mean, it's not a problem, but wouldn't you rather sleep on your own bed at Sweet Apple Acres?"
Big Mac's eyes harden, "Because Ah saw how some ponies were lookin' at you when we were leavin', and it wasn't too friendly – kinda the opposite in fact."
"I didn't notice," Cheerilee says sadly, glancing out at the town through her front window. "You can use my bed instead of the couch if you want."
Big Mac shakes his head, "No, this is your house; you should sleep in yer own bed."
"I don't actually use it much anymore," Cheerilee replies. "Would-um… would you like to see where I really sleep?"
"Well… " Big Mac yawns again and rolls his shoulders, curiosity taking the opportunity to overrule his exhaustion. "Sure, why not? Ah figure Ah've got about half an hour before Ah keel over and start snorin' on yer floor, might as well use it."
Cheerilee giggles, "It won't take half an hour, I promise."
Trailing Cheerilee into her sparsely decorated bedroom, which otherwise contains little more than a neatly made bed, a nightstand, and a lamp, Big Mac stands with her in front of her closet. Cheerilee's horn glows green for a few seconds along with the closet door, the two sources of magical light vanishing after a heavy clunk signals the closet has been unlocked. With that, the door swings open and the pair walk inside, the unusually large closet housing a couple dresses, two sets of three horseshoes, a few pairs of earrings in an open jewelry box, a necklace hanging from a pants hanger, and a tunnel big enough to fit a pony in the center of it all.
Big Mac blinks, staring down the hole, "Huh."
Cheerilee laughs, "Yeah, not exactly what you were expecting, I'd imagine."
Big Mac chuckles, "Eenope."
"Well, come on," Cheerilee says, entering the tunnel with ease.
Following her, Big Mac lowers his head and bends his knees so he can fit, though his hooves provide him only minimal traction on the smooth black surface of the tunnel – his face sliding dangerously close to Cheerilee's hindquarters until he pushes himself against the ceiling. Almost immediately after he fully enters the tunnel it turns sharply to the left, sloping steeply down for a short distance before turning left again and opening up into a decent sized room made from the same dark material as the tunnel.
Big Mac carefully stands and decompresses himself, the tips of his ears bending against the ceiling as he looks around. A weak breeze moves across his body and pushes at his mane, the gently flowing air cool, but not unpleasantly so. Four glowing green globs of goo draw his immediate attention however, the luminescent material wedged into the seam between the wall and ceiling to provide the circular room with warmth and a dim light, each one placed at precisely 90-degree intervals. Against the wall to his right are two plain black jars seemingly made from the same material as the floor, walls, and ceiling, the elongated cubes a little wider than his hoof and as tall as Cheerilee's shoulders. A large, pod-like bump rises from the room's center, the protrusion covered in the same black material as the floor with the exception of a deep slice down its middle revealing a soft, green interior.
"Kinda dark," Big Mac comments, his wandering gaze finally coming to a halt on a small alcove built into the opposite wall – a table made seemingly as a flowing extension of the floor and a pair of shelves holding several books lit by two smaller green blobs. "And… green."
Cheerilee exhales sharply, "Yeah, we can see better in the dark than most non–bat-ponies, and I was the only one who was ever meant to be down here. Green is also almost every changeling's favorite color, for some reason."
"Interestin'." Big Mac taps the floor experimentally, "Did ya make this all yerself?"
Cheerilee shakes her head, "No, I got it as a reward for… uh… " she glances away, "for being a very successful gatherer. B-But I wasn't using you for the reward or anything, e-even in the beginning! We just started seeing each other, a-and that was wonderful, and then the builders just showed up one day and they were half done before I even got back from the schoolhouse and-"
Big Mac raises a hoof to her lips, "Ah understand. Well, kinda. Honestly though, if Ah was gonna be upset about the whole emotion eatin' thing Ah already woulda been." He chuckles, lowering his hoof, "Ah'm a bit flattered, actually. Ah really made so much of a difference that they sent some ponies to dig out this room for ya?"
"Oh, um, yeah," Cheerilee replies, restlessly twirling a lock of her mane. "We can feed on ambient emotions well enough, but emotions that are specifically directed at us, that are… for us, are much more potent."
Her mouth opens as if to say something else; however after a moment it closes instead and she frowns. Big Mac raises an eyebrow, waiting patiently.
"How are you so… okay… with this?" Cheerilee asks eventually, waving a hoof at the room, "All of this. I mean you've just found out your marefriend is secretly a changeling who's been feeding on your emotions to the point that she even got a whole room built for her as a reward, and you're just so… calm."
"Well," Big Mac says, sitting down, "the way Ah figure it, ever since you came into mah life Ah've felt a lot of things that Ah wouldn't a' felt otherwise, and Ah'm happier for it. Wouldn't trade it fer anythin'. So if you need to take a bit a' that back so you and yer family can survive, then Ah can't rightly think of a reason to object. Ah am-" a yawn breaks into his sentence, and he stretches before continuing, "Ah am a bit disappointed you didn't feel like you could tell me, but we can talk about that another time. Ah may have over-estimated myself when Ah said half an hour."
Cheerilee nods, "Right. Good night, McIntosh."
"Night, Cheerilee," Big Mac replies, stepping up to the tunnel only to pause. "…Ah might need some help gettin' back up."
Cheerilee looks to Big Mac, then to the tunnel as well, a faint blush tinting her cheeks, "Oh, sorry, I forgot about that. Um… give me a few seconds, I have an idea. It might, uh, feel a little weird though."
Big Mac bobs his head once, "Ah'm ready."
Cheerilee closes her eyes, her brow knitting as her horn first glows, then glows brighter, shining like a beacon as a ring of green fire surrounds Big Mac – his hooves sinking into the floor as if it were suddenly made of quicksand instead, the rest of his body rapidly following suit.
"Big… Mac?" Cheerilee calls up the tunnel between panting breaths as soon as the spell completes, her horn winking out.
"Eeyup," comes his reply a moment later. "Thanks!"
Stumbling over to her pod on shaky legs, Cheerilee's hooves sink into its soft insides, the surface glowing and warming slightly to the pressure. With a sigh she lowers herself into its gentle embrace, pushing her shell into one side while the other holds her hooves snug against her barrel, its soothing heat seeping through her chitin as she drifts off to sleep.
Consciousness returns to Cheerilee seemingly an instant later and she rolls in place onto her back, stretching towards the ceiling and letting out a contented chirp as cool air passes through the holes in her legs. After lying there for a few minutes more dozing on the edge of sleep, she rolls over again and stands, a shiver passing through her upon leaving the warmth of her pod behind. Making her way to her pony bedroom, she cocks her head at the sight of her empty bed then rolls her eyes, continuing on to the main room of her house. Emptiness is all she finds there as well, however. Big Mac is nowhere to be found and her couch is entirely unoccupied, its cushions lacking so much as an indentation to indicate he had ever lain there. She frowns, faint alarm bells going off in the back of her mind though her legs carry her onward anyway, a push all it takes to open her front door and leave her squinting in the bright light of the noonday sun.
Desertion greets her once her eyes adjust, not a soul in sight as she scans the small part of Ponyville in front of her – the road empty, houses dark, and the sky a single, unbroken, unmoving sea of blue. Tasting the ambient emotions of the town goes no better, an utter void greeting her instead of the usual pleasant background emanations. A chill tingles its way down her neck and across her shell, her eyes closing and horn glowing as she attempts to forcibly drain any residual emotions towards her. And yet, she finds nothing. Opening her eyes, she scans the town again, a sense of foreboding settling inside her. Ponyville is empty.
And silent. She stiffens and stands taller, fear coursing through her as she realizes the quiet of her own mind, the constant background hum of her distant brothers and sisters only now unmistakably missing.
The word forces itself unbidden into her mind, reverberating through her thoughts like a roll of thunder.
Suddenly, a cloyingly sweet voice calls out from her left, "Hey look, it's the bug!"
Her head jerks towards the source of the voice, Silver Spoon now standing not ten feet from her.
The door to her house slams shut behind her and she jumps nearly a foot into the air, whirling around just in time to hear its deadbolt slide into place with a heavy thunk. Trembling, Cheerilee turns back to Silver Spoon, only to instead find a large crowd forming a half circle in front of her. Screeching in surprise, she stumbles back, however instead of falling against her front door she passes through empty air. Looking up at where her house should be, she finds the rest of the circle, a wall of ponies now surrounding her entirely. She reaches out once more, attempting to taste their emotions, but again she finds nothing. Then, for the first time, she notices their faces.
In unison they step forward, shrinking the circle as they unblinkingly focus on one thing.
Cheerilee's breath hitches as she waits for them to advance further, however they simply stand there like statues, not a single hair of their manes or tails moving. A cinder of hatred appears behind her as if on cue, no more than a spark, yet blazing like a star within the pitch black of an empty universe. She gulps, the sensation of the poison burning at her mind disturbingly pleasant against the backdrop of the void surrounding her. Slowly, she turns around, her eyes resting on its source.
"Hi, Cheerilee!" Diamond Tiara greets her, grinning maliciously, "I just thought you'd like to know that the Cutie Mark Crusaders finally got their cutie marks."
Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Applebloom fade in from the crowd to flank Diamond Tiara, her grin becoming impossibly wide, "And would you look at that, they fit the situation perfectly."
Cheerilee's gaze slowly moves to Applebloom's flank, flicking next to Scootaloo's, then Sweetie Belle's, each one emblazoned with the cutie mark of a pest pony.
The three fillies walk towards her, as emotionless as the rest of the crowd as they pull out their gear – Applebloom a can of bug spray, Scootaloo a bug zapper light, and Sweetie Belle a finely woven net.
Diamond Tiara facehoofs, shaking her head, "No, no, no! That won't do at all!"
The Cutie Mark Crusaders' equipment fades and warps at her words, Applebloom's bug spray turning into a pressurized canister of acid, Scootaloo's bug zapper transforming into a branding iron, and rusted barbed wire snaking itself into Sweetie Belle's net.
"Much better!" Diamond Tiara says gleefully, clapping her hooves together. She points at Cheerilee, "Get her."
The crowd jerks into motion, closing in on her just behind the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
"Sorry, Miss Cheerilee," Sweetie Belle apologizes.
"Yeah," Applebloom continues, "but unfortunately we can't just let bugs like yerself infest our town."
"And this will hurt you a lot more than it will hurt us," Scootaloo finishes.
As soon as the words leave Scootaloo's mouth, the situation finally, truly, registers in Cheerilee's brain and she screams. Bending her knees she jumps into the air, however instead of feeling the wind rushing against her face she crashes to the ground, her wings missing. Switching gears, she attempts to transform, focusing with all her might on the form of Rainbow Dash, however the encircling green flames flicker and die rather than consuming her body to leave her crumpled and flightless on the ground. The Crusaders stand impossibly tall above her and raise their weapons, smiles flitting across their faces as they watch Cheerilee's mouth gape in silent terror.
Pure white light blazes across her nightmare, annihilating everything and everyone to leave her floating in a sea of ethereal calm. As her awareness fades, she vaguely feels another presence hovering next to her while something else looses a horrible, alien wail, the sound shoving her over the edge and into oblivion.
Cheerilee's eyes snap open and her coiled legs thrash about, popping her out of her pod and onto the floor. No longer trapped between her shell and the inside of the pod, her freed wings automatically buzz to life and she quickly rises into the air – only to smack into the low ceiling, the blow dazing her further and upsetting her already tenuous balance. Swerving to her right she careens straight into the wall, the impact stopping her wings cold and letting her crash back to the ground.
Lying panting on the floor, rationality finally manages to reassert itself and she takes stock of her surroundings, the utter calm of her room a welcome change from the nightmarish scene she had just escaped. Listening carefully, she can once more hear the hum of her family as well, their worry obvious. An electric tingle spreads through her body as she feels her queen also take notice.
I am fine, Cheerilee thinks to herself, doing her best to send calmness back across the link.
Her queen's attention lingers, clearly not convinced, but eventually Cheerilee feels her queen's focus shift elsewhere even though her confusion remains.
Raising herself into a sitting position, Cheerilee reaches out to sample the emotions in the air, a sigh of relief escaping her when the leftover feelings of the town's inhabitants flow across her senses. As she sits basking in the joy of normalcy, a stronger emotion rises to the top of the thin soup and she draws on it greedily, the familiar love a delightful counter to her fading memories of the nightmare.
Standing unsteadily, she follows the feeling up the tunnel, fear pulsing through her when she sees her bed is again empty. However as she continues into the main living area her fear subsides, her gaze resting on the couch bearing Big Mac's softly snoring form. Buzzing her wings, she rises into the air to hover over him, gently worming her right front and back hooves between him and the couch as she carefully lowers herself onto his barrel. Her cuddling maneuver successful, she rests her head on his neck just above his shoulder and closes her eyes.
One of Big Mac's eyes opens after a minute and he glances back to watch Cheerilee's breathing calm and deepen, a small smile dancing on his lips before his barrel expands in a deep sigh and he shifts slightly, his eye closing as sleep claims him once again.
Big Mac's ears twitch, the telltale slap of two thick liquids impacting each other drawing him from his dreamless slumber. His eyelids rise lethargically and he glances around the room, unable to even work up the motivation to raise his head to better survey his surroundings, the grey and washed out colors of the world around him matching his state of mind perfectly. The noise repeats itself, though the spark of curiosity it brings is quickly buried under vague concern as he notices the late morning sunlight cast across the rest of the room, dawn long since having come and gone. Force of habit alone gets him off the couch, and once standing he pauses before languidly making his way towards the only other place his clouded mind can think to go.
Following the source of the noise to the kitchen, Big Mac's eyes drift over to rest on Cheerilee, disinterestedly observing her head hanging over a black jar identical to the ones from her underground room. Cheerilee eventually looks up, attempting to speak, however her body interrupts her and she again clutches the jar tighter as more fluid is ejected from her mouth to join her previous upheavals.
Once she finishes with the latest round of vomiting, she rests her head on the rim of the jar, light glinting off fresh tears, "Mac… I'm s-so sorry."
Big Mac frowns, the colors of the room around him seeming to brighten ever so slightly as worry filters through his sluggish mind, "Do you… need anythin'… ?"
"Water," Cheerilee croaks, her throat parched despite liquid having recently passed through it.
Big Mac nods, trudging over to right a large cup lying toppled on the counter beside her from which water drips down the cabinets and onto the floor, refilling it to the brim before offering it to Cheerilee. Unable to maintain enough concentration to hold the cup in her magic, Cheerilee grabs it desperately with her hooves, water sloshing over the sides as it trembles in her grasp followed by even more overflowing from her mouth while she chugs the entire thing. Dropping the cup to the floor, she immediately begins puking again, more green slime leaving her to join the rest at the bottom of the jar while Big Mac refills her cup and holds her mane out of the way.
After nearly 20 minutes Cheerilee's symptoms ease and she leans back tiredly, panting and surrounded by puddles of splashed water as she rests against the cabinet, eyes closed. Big Mac, meanwhile, sits calmly next to her, exploring his newfound state of emotional numbness.
A few minutes later Cheerilee inhales deeply and opens her eyes, the resulting sigh interrupted by a wet cough as she stands and expels strands of green-tinged phlegm into the sink.
Sitting heavily, she turns to Big Mac, glancing at him then dropping her gaze to the floor, "H-How… how do you feel?"
Big Mac blinks slowly, his brow knitting, "Ah feel… less. Like a sponge that's been squeezed too many times."
"I-I'm sorry," Cheerilee apologizes, her ears splaying. "I-I didn't – I never m-meant to… "
Big Mac waits expectantly, voicing his unasked question when it remains unanswered, "What happened?"
"I had a nightmare. At least, I think I did; it matches what I've read about them but I've never had a dream before, I shouldn't be able to, but I don't know what else it could have been," Cheerilee replies, shivering as bits and pieces filter through her hazy memory.
Big Mac looks at her oddly, "You've never had a dream before? Ever?"
Cheerilee swallows, shaking her head, "I-I – we – that is, Changelings, have a link we share with each other. We can't send words or thoughts or anything like that, but we can always feel what the rest of the hive is feeling, we know that our Queen is watching over us, and when we sleep we kind of… it's like the hive is an ocean, and I'm submerged just below the surface. There's no light though, or sound, or anything, but there's still… something. Something really important. I'm not sure how else to describe it. This though, this was horrible. I thought I had woken up, but the house was empty and the town was empty, and then I realized I couldn't feel the hive anymore and I couldn't feel anypony's emotions either and I was so alone." Tremors wrack Cheerilee's body, tears streaming down her face, "And then ponies started showing up, but I still couldn't feel their emotions and you still weren't there, and then there was… something… hatred… but everything else I-I don't… I don't… "
Big Mac attempts to put a leg around her shoulders, but she shrugs him off. He persists however, embracing the smaller pony and pulling her up against his chest while she sobs, the colors of the room around him seeming to warm as he comforts her.
"And then… I woke up," Cheerilee eventually manages to continue. "Really woke up, and I could feel the hive again and I could sense your love and I just wanted to feel something else, anything else. A-And I didn't mean to, but I took more than I should have. More than either of us could handle. I'm sorry."
"So, the way Ah am now, is it permanent?" Big Mac asks after a moment.
"No," Cheerilee replies, sniffling. "It'll get better over time, and strong emotional triggers help. You should be fine after bucking apple trees for a few hours and some sleep."
Big Mac nods and sighs, relieved.
Gently extracting herself from Big Mac's forelegs, Cheerilee returns to the black jar, putting its lid on and shoving it into the cabinet under the sink with a grunt.
Big Mac watches her curiously, "So what're you plannin' on doing with all a' that anyway?"
"It'll be picked up and sent back to my hive at some point," Cheerilee replies, the cabinet door clicking shut. "In about a week, I think."
Big Mac gestures at the closed cabinet, "So the green stuff you were pukin' up, that was all the emotions you took while Ah was asleep?"
"Well, not all of them," Cheerilee answers, wincing but silently grateful for the lack of accusation in his voice. "It's kind of similar to bees, if that helps. I'm a gatherer, so I eat some of the emotions I collect, but everything extra gets digested and stored in my second stomach. Then every day or so I uh… regurgitate it into one of these jars, which is then picked up and sent back to the hive."
"Huh," Big Mac says simply, after a few seconds giving her a once over then exhaling sharply, smiling.
Cheerilee frowns, "I'm serious, that's what happens."
"Wasn't that," Big Mac replies, shaking his head. "Ah was just thinkin'. So goin' with yer bee analogy, you're the bee."
"Yes," Cheerilee confirms.
"And mah emotions are the nectar."
"Which would make me the flower."
"That's uh… not a word I would usually use to describe you, but I suppose."
A snicker worms its way from Big Mac's mouth, "So, Ah feel Ah have to ask; you aren't plannin' on coverin' yerself in mah 'pollen' and spreadin' it around to other 'flowers', are you?"
Cheerilee slowly blinks once, then again, her entire face lighting up a bright green by the third blink as the pieces of Big Mac's question fall into place. She shakes her head rapidly and crosses her forelegs to form an X in front of her chest, embarrassed chittering making its way out of her mouth instead of intelligible words. Big Mac's laughter meanwhile reverberates through the house, a grin remaining plastered across his face even after it fades to an occasional chuckle.
"The similarities don't go that far," Cheerilee eventually manages once she recovers enough to speak Equestrian. Delicately, she absorbs a small amount of his emotional outburst, "How are you feeling?"
"Better," Big Mac responds, wiping leftover tears from his eyes. "Tired, but better. Ah guess laughter sometimes really is the best medicine. Still," his smile fades somewhat, "this isn't somethin' that's gonna keep happening, right?"
Cheerilee straightens, "No! No. Never again. It should never have happened in the first place, for a couple of reasons, but it'll absolutely never happen again and I'm really sorry that it happened this time."
"Ah'm glad to hear it," Big Mac says with a nod, his smile growing again. "You can stop apologizing though. We both learned from it, it won't happen again, and honestly, it seems like you were worse off than Ah was – Ah just had ta laugh a bit ta get better."
Rather than argue with him, Cheerilee simply bobs her head in reply, one of her hooves restlessly tapping the floor, What did I ever do to deserve a stallion like you?
Standing resolutely, Cheerilee lights her horn, a couple cabinets, a drawer, and her refrigerator opening from which she pulls various ingredients and places them on the counter.
"Ah'm not sure what all that's for, but shouldn't we-" Big Mac yawns, "shouldn't we be headin' back to bed? Ah feel like Ah barely got any rest at all, and we both went to bed pretty late last night even without considerin' everything that's happened."
"You've done more for me in the last 12 hours than I ever expected anypony to do in my entire life," Cheerilee states, pausing to survey her retrieved supplies, "so I'm going to do something for you, even if I can't do a whole lot right now. Besides, I have so much energy at the moment that I don't think I could lie still long enough to fall asleep anyways."
Rather than press the issue, Big Mac leans back against the cabinets and watches her fill a mug with milk. Levitating the mug above her, Cheerilee warms it with a small green flame before stirring in a small amount of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and some sugar. Several squares of milk chocolate follow, each one held over the mug and melted into the spiced milk below, the thick concoction floating over to Big Mac once she stirs it all together.
"Fancy," Big Mac comments, another yawn escaping him as he holds the beverage in his hooves. "Smells nice though." He takes a sip, "Tastes good too."
"Thanks," Cheerilee replies, a fresh blush creeping across her cheeks. As Big Mac takes a second sip of his hot chocolate, Cheerilee looks out the kitchen doorway and through her front windows into the town beyond. A group of Royal Guards marches past while she watches, their presence reminding her of what difficulties the day ahead still holds. Thoughts of what questions the Princesses might ask or demands they might make and how she should answer them play out in her head, increasing in complexity to form the theoretical basis of entire imaginary conversations – all of which she eventually dismisses as either unrealistic or unhelpful.
She sighs, I don't… I just don't know. I don't want to get kicked out of Ponyville or put in a dungeon, but… I don't know. Whatever happens though, I know that together we'll be able to make it work. Somehow…
Waking from her internal deliberations, she glances at Big Mac, the slumbering stallion leaning lopsidedly to his left with the now empty cup of hot chocolate resting on the floor between his hooves. She opens her mouth to wake him; however, she catches herself, his name held on the very tip of her tongue. After several more seconds of consideration, she instead grits her teeth, drawing on her overflowing magical reserves to lift Big Mac a few inches into the air. Moving slowly, she carefully floats him through the kitchen doorway and over to the couch, her horn sparking as she raises him a few more inches then gently lowers him onto the green cushions. Turning, she heads to her bedroom, coming back with a blanket that she draws up over his shoulders and a pillow which she sneaks under his head.
Movement in her peripheral vision draws her attention and she looks up from her sleeping coltfriend to see another group of guards marching past. As she watches, one member of the group glances directly at her then does a double take, anger and disgust twisting his features. Breaking formation, he begins to walk towards her, but before the guard makes it two steps the rest of the unit stops and an older stallion shouts at him. The younger guard points at her and attempts to say something, only for the older one to talk over him. After a heated, though one-sided, exchange, the younger guard stiffly returns to his position and the rest of the guards continue towards their original destination. The leader of the unit pauses for a moment – just long enough to shoot Cheerilee a withering glare before turning on his heel as well.
Shakily taking a step away from her front window, Cheerilee releases a breath she hadn't realized she was holding and retreats to her kitchen, all of her earlier worries revived and then some.
The pounding on the door wakes Big Mac and he stretches, forgetting the fact that he's not in his own bed just long enough for the motion to push him off the couch and onto the floor.
Cheerilee exits the kitchen as Big Mac stands only to freeze halfway between the kitchen and the front door, her eyes flicking to the windows and then back to the door. She gulps and lights her horn, the door opening to reveal one Royal Guard standing in her doorway – and another ten flanking him. Big Mac is beside her immediately, all sleepiness banished as he watches the guards warily.
"Princesses Celestia and Twilight Sparkle have requested the presence of the Changeling Cheerilee and her… coltfriend… McIntosh Apple," The guard says disdainfully, standing aside. "We will escort you to them. This way."