Scootaloo smiled widely. “Er, what do you mean? My wings don’t look any different to me. Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
The two others looked at each other.
“Maybe you should go home and get some rest.” Scootaloo walked between the two so she could start guiding them back to the path. “I’ll bet in the morning everything’ll look exactly the same, and—“
Sweetie Belle poked her left wing.
“Hey, don’t do that!”
Sweetie Belle poked it several more times. “Nope,” she announced, with a scholarly look on her face. “It’s definitely different.”
Apple Bloom began poking her other wing, so Scootaloo quickly skipped away. “Stop poking me,” she complained.
“What happened to your wings?” asked Apple Bloom. “They look kind of like the ones those bug monsters had at the Wedding last month.”
Scootaloo blushed, backing away a few steps. “I don’t know what you mean! I, uh…”
Sweetie Belle paused. She looked kind of sad. “Scootaloo, are you hiding something from us?”
“Who, me?” Scootaloo felt herself beginning to sweat.
“Yeah, we’re friends. We shouldn’t keep secrets from one another,” added Apple Bloom. They both looked really concerned – like they thought Scootaloo had some disease she was hiding, or something.
Scootaloo looked away. She’d wanted to tell them, of course, she’d considered telling them for over a year now, but she… well, she was scared. What if they left her behind? What if they didn’t want to be friends with a monster?
“Are ya okay?” asked Apple Bloom.
They're really worried for me… but what if they don’t like me anymore? Or what if they tell their sisters and Twilight uses some anti-changeling spell on me? Scootaloo had backed up a few more steps, like she was trying to push her way into the tree she was now pressing against.
Sweetie Belle seemed to notice Scootaloo’s discomfort first. “If you don’t want to tell us, that’s okay.” She paused. “I guess we’ll go back to town.”
Scootaloo hesitated, unsure of what to do. They trusted her with a lot of their secrets; she felt that she should trust them with this one. They were good ponies; they wouldn't want to hurt her. But the changeling army had attacked them in Canterlot just over a month ago; there had been rumors for weeks about evil changelings infiltrating everywhere to spread chaos. What if—
No. Zecora’s right, I need to tell them at some point. They won’t hurt me. We’re friends, and… her thoughts trailed off. She took a breath. “Wait.”
Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom paused.
“I have something to tell you.” She looked away, and dug her hoof against the ground – a habit she’d picked up from Zecora. “But, um. Promise you won’t scream?”
“Scream?” Sweetie Belle blinked. “Of course we won’t.”
“Just… please don’t be mad.”
She took a breath, and shifted back to her birth form.
For a few seconds, there was total silence. And then Scootaloo forced herself to open her eyes.
Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom were staring at her in total confusion. Sweetie Belle’s mouth had dropped, Apple Bloom moved her hoof to help her close it. “Uh… Scootaloo? Is that really you?” the earth pony asked.
“That’s not Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle managed to cry out. “That’s a changeling! We should tell Twilight!”
“Wait!” said Scootaloo, and something in her voice made them stop. “I'm Scootaloo! I am a changeling.” Scootaloo looked away. “I wasn’t sure how to tell you. I mean, I really like being friends with you, but nopony even knew changelings existed until a month ago, and then a bunch of us tried to take over the country and I didn’t, I didn’t want you to be afraid of me and I’m really sorry I kept it from you but…” she trailed off, unsure of what to say.
There were a few seconds of silence, and then Apple Bloom spoke. “Well, uh, how do we know you’ve really been Scootaloo all along? Maybe ya swapped places with her at the wedding.”
Scootaloo paused. “Uh… well, think about it. You only knew Scootaloo for about two years, right? That’s when I showed up. There wasn’t a Scootaloo before.”
“But maybe a real pony Scootaloo showed up two years ago, an’ then ya showed up a month ago,” said Apple Bloom.
“No I didn’t!” Apple Bloom sounded worried, which Scootaloo couldn't deny made a fair amount of sense. She hadn't really proven that she wasn't a replacement for the real Scootaloo, after all.
“Prove it!” said Apple Bloom. “Tell us something only the real Scootaloo would know.”
Sweetie Belle frowned. “Wait. If only the real Scootaloo knew it, how could we make sure it was true?”
“Oh. Right.” The three fell silent as they attempted to solve the puzzle. After a few moments, Apple Bloom brightened. “Okay, tell us something only Sweetie an’ ah would know! Then we’ll know it an’ can check it!”
“But I don’t know anything that only you two know,” said Scootaloo, confused.
There was a brief pause, and then the three of them laughed
“What about something all three of us, but nopony else, would know?” Sweetie Belle asked.
Scootaloo thought back. “I dunno… I mean, when Nightmare Moon showed up at the Summer Sun Celebration I was really scared, cause I’d only been in town a few days and I didn’t know anypony, but then we all huddled together and I wasn’t as scared. I mean, changelings aren’t really, uh, touchy-feely, but it was kind of nice. I felt like we could do something awesome to help beat back Nightmare Moon or something… at least a little.” She blushed, her black exoskeleton taking on a faint reddish tinge. “And then we became the Crusaders after Diamond Tiara’s cutecenara, and we had really awesome adventures and we went bowling and scuba diving and we did the talent show and Fluttershy fought off a cockatrice for us and it was really fun and really cool and I had friends for the first time ever and—“
Sweetie Belle nodded. “Well, she sounds just like Scootaloo to me!”
Scootaloo paused. “I do?”
“Yep!” Sweetie Belle approached Scootaloo. “But you kept a secret from us. That was mean.”
"Wait. You're not scared?"
"Nope. You're my friend. I couldn't be scared of you!" Sweetie Belle frowned. “But you shouldn’t keep secrets from your friends.” She poked Scootaloo in her nose.
“I know… I was just really afraid you wouldn’t want to be my friends anymore if you found out.” Scootaloo looked away again. “And I really like being friends with you and I didn’t want to—“
She stiffened as she felt something embracing her, but it was just Sweetie Belle giving her a big hug. “We’ll always be friends with you!” A moment later, Apple Bloom hugged her from her other side.
“Not touchy-feely! Not touchy-feely!” Scootaloo managed. But she smiled brightly nonetheless.
“So, is it hard to turn into ponies?” asked Apple Bloom.
The three of them were heading down the path, chatting. Scootaloo had offered to answer whatever questions they had about her.
They know who I am, and they still want to be my friends. This is awesome!
“It depends,” she said. “I mean, if it’s something four-legged that weighs about what I do, it’s not too hard. It gets harder to be something like a bear, or a really big pony.”
“Can ya copy special talents?”
“No.” Scootaloo chuckled. “That was the first thing I tried after I met Rainbow Dash. But I guess I’m not strong enough to do that yet.”
“Do you really drink blood?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“What? No! Who told you that!” Scootaloo looked as indignant as a bug-creature could be.
“Diamond Tiara said that changelings drink blood,” said Apple Bloom. “And Silver Spoon said that they eat meat.”
“Yuck!” Scootaloo stuck her tongue out. “Next you’ll say we eat hoof clippings.”
“Actually, Snails did say that.”
Apple Bloom giggled at Scootaloo’s look of annoyance. “So how’d ya come ta Ponyville anyway?”
Scootaloo shrugged. “I had to leave the Hive. The head of the part of the Hive where I lived got in a fight with another of the heads, and mine lost, so she had to send away a bunch of 'her minions' as a punishment. I was one of them. I was supposed to find some pony community and, uh, replace one of the foals, and live there until my head regained her power.”
“Replace?” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom asked.
“Yeah, but when I got here, I didn’t want to replace anypony. I mean, it would have been… you know. Mean.” Scootaloo blushed again.
“What about Diamond Tiara?” offered Sweetie Belle. “Nopony would mind if she got replaced.”
Scootaloo giggled. “Filthy Rich might mind.”
Apple Bloom thought carefully. “Ah doubt it.” And the three laughed.
“Thanks again,” said Scootaloo, as they continued to head deeper into the forest. “I’m glad you girls still want to be my friends.”
“You’re still the Scootaloo we know and love!” said Apple Bloom, grinning. “But… if you’re a changeling, why do ya want to earn a cutie mark so bad? Is that even possible?”
“I don’t know.” Scootaloo paused. “But I want to try. I want to have a special pony talent. I mean, I’m almost always a pony anyway…”
"Well, if it's possible, we'll help however we can!" said Sweetie Belle.
“Where d’ya live?” asked Apple Bloom. “Only one ah know who lives out here is Zecora.”
“I live with her. She found me when I was trying to figure out what to do in Ponyville; I didn’t want to replace a foal but I didn’t know what else to do. I talked to her, and she said I could stay with her.” Scootaloo smiled a little. “She’s really nice.”
"Ah've never seen ya there, though."
"You only go to her hut during the day, probably. I'm usually Crusading in town then."
“Are you going to tell all the other foals?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“No!” said Scootaloo, quickly. “I mean, uh, not yet. I don’t want anypony else to know yet.”
Apple Bloom looked disappointed, but she nodded.
Zecora’s hut was coming into view. Scootaloo said, “I should get inside and start helping with evening chores. See you girls tomorrow in school? And then Crusading afterwards?” She chuckled. “I wanna try catapulting again. Maybe we can go as fast as Rainbow Dash!”
The two nodded, but Sweetie Belle tapped Scootaloo as she turned to leave. “Uh…”
Sweetie Belle giggled. “I wanna see you turn into me.”
Apple Bloom’s eyes widened. “Ooh, me too! That’ll be so cool!”
Scootaloo blushed, but then she nodded and smiled. “Alright. Real quick.” She focused, and shifted, and…
“What?” Scootaloo checked her reflection in a nearby puddle; white coat, purple mane, little horn… everything seemed right. “What’s wrong?”
Sweetie frowned. “My horn’s not that small!”
Apple Bloom laughed. “Yes it is!”
To make her happier, Scootaloo lengthened the horn a little bit. “Happy?”
Sweetie examined her doppleganger as if analyzing a famous sculpture. “Not bad, but still, nothing like the real thing!”
“Yeah, Scootaloo, you’re a way prettier Sweetie than the real one,” joked Apple Bloom.
“Hey!” said Sweetie Belle.
"Yuck!" said Scootaloo.
The three laughed again.
Before leaving, Scootaloo had shifted back into her usual, orange-and-purple pony form (explaining that she felt more comfortable that way when she was still close to Ponvyille). She also asked the other two to promise not to tell any of the other foals or the town adults about her. “I’ll tell them, I promise, but not yet.”
“Rainbow Dash will still think you’re awesome,” said Apple Bloom.
“I know, but I’m just not ready. Just give me a few days, alright?”
The two had nodded and departed.
Zecora had been very pleased when Scootaloo told her that she’d confided her secret with her friends. “Of course they did not abandon you. Your friends are loyal, pure, and true.”
“I know.” Scootaloo helped Zecora lift her cauldron onto a tall table. “I guess it was silly for me to be scared.”
Zecora had smiled and shaken her head. “It takes a brave one to admit, that in a group they don’t quite fit.” She grinned. “It is good that you demonstrated bravery… and I am certain that Rainbow Dash would agree.”
“Yeah!” Scootaloo hadn’t thought of it like that before. “Yeah, I bet if Rainbow Dash was a changeling, she’d tell everypony right away!” She shifted to her native form, then back into Rainbow Dash. “She’d be all, ‘I’m a changeling, and if you don’t like it, you can go bite a cloud!’” Scootaloo raised a hoof, as if pointing at imaginary naysayers, and almost knocked a large bowl off the table. “Oops!”
Zecora caught it, chuckling. “I see Miss Dash is a clumsy guest… but I’m sure she’ll help clean up any mess.”
Scootaloo blushed and shifted back into her usual form. “Yeah… Dash would tell everypony right away. But… I just don’t feel ready yet. That’s okay, isn’t it, Zecora?”
Zecora nodded and embraced Scootaloo, who smiled. “You will know when the time is right. I will support you then, day or night.”
“I know you will. And the other Crusaders will too.” Scootaloo began to go to the upstairs area where she stayed at night. “You’re all really good friends.”
Zecora didn’t say anything – no response was needed.
“… so, I think I learned a new scooter trick? Wanna see it later?”
Zecora raised an eyebrow.
“It’s perfectly safe! Pleeease?” Scootaloo widened her eyes – and then, grinning, shifted into an adorable little puppy, which could somehow widen her eyes even more.
Zecora laughed warmly. “How can I resist such a gaze? I’ll have to learn, one of these days.”
Scootaloo shifted back. “Awesome!” She grabbed her scooter. “This one’s really cool! I do a wheelie, and then…”
The next morning, Scootaloo woke bright and early. Her knee only hurt a little bit. Maybe that wheelie at the end was a bit too much.
Scootaloo didn’t need to eat, but she was capable of it (that was fortunate for her, as lunch at school would be kind of awkward otherwise). She helped Zecora with the dishes after the zebra’s breakfast, and Zecora gave her a packed lunch for the day. Scootaloo smiled as she raced out the door. “I’ll be back later!”
She grinned as she scooted towards Ponvyille. Her friends knew her secret now, and they were still her friends – no, they were closer friends than ever! They’d go Crusading, and maybe – Scootaloo giggled – maybe she’d pull the sort of prank that Rainbow Dash would like. She could pretend to be one of them and trick the other into doing something silly, and –
When she came out of the woods, she almost plowed into Snips and Snails. “Uh. Hi?”
“Hi Scootaloo!” they yelled in unison.
Scootaloo blinked, realizing that there were about twenty foals sitting at the edge of the woods, apparently waiting for her.
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were there too. Apple Bloom was looking confused, but Sweetie was blushing.
Scootaloo realized what had happened.