I should have died.
When the wave of magic swept my fellows from Canterlot, and the wall of the warehouse prevented me from going with them, I should have died.
Certainly the pain was great. I hit the wall with enough force to crack my carapace. But that pain was immediately followed by something worse. The shielding magic cut my connection to the hive, to my Queen. I was alone inside my head for the first time in my life.
I screamed and sobbed for a long time, begging for them to return.
There was no one to hear the sounds I made. I was in an empty warehouse. Just moments before I'd entered the warehouse, thinking that the pony I'd been chasing had ducked into the doorway, but I found no sign of her. Then the magic flung me across the whole of the building, into the far wall. And then my mind shattered.
When I finally was able to stop wailing, I dragged myself to my feet. I'd felt enough before my connection was cut to know we had lost. I needed get out of here, out from under the shield that kept me cut off, but the city was in pony hooves now. I couldn't go as I was. I concentrated, trying to change form. At first I couldn't do it at all. I'd known how because the hive knew. I'd never had to learn how to change for myself. I'd done it so often, though, that eventually I dragged a half-conscious memory of my past changes into light and managed a successful shift.
I was too weak for it to be ideal. The pony I shaped was still dark gray, his mane sparse, his wings tinted oddly green at the tips. For a moment he had a horn too, but with a vast effort of will I managed to make that go away. I tried to fix the wing color, but couldn't manage it. Finally I gave up. It would have to be good enough.
I staggered from the warehouse. Around me the streets were still chaotic. Ponies were picking themselves up, talking, sharing horror stories about what had just happened to them. Their voices were full of relief. They all knew that it was over. Their Princess must have saved them.
The first time I heard one of them say that I nearly went to my knees with grief. They had their Princess, but my Queen was gone.
They had begun celebrating by the time I finally reached the edge of the city. I could hear their laughter and music floating on the evening breeze.
I had expected to find the barrier shield at the city's edge, but there was nothing. I looked up. The bubble of magic was gone. A part of me started gibbering in horror. The shield that had cut my connection was gone. But the connection hadn't returned! I tried to reach out. I hunted frantically within my mind for some sense of the others, but found nothing. No trace of my hive-mates, and no trace of my Queen.
I screamed again then, a raw, ragged sound of pure loss. I was alone. I would be alone forever.
They had done this to me, the ponies. They and their Princess had broken me. Rage flashed through me, hot and bright, at that thought. I looked up. The mountain loomed over me, with the palace perched on its side. There I would find Princess Celestia, and no doubt any other ponies who had helped her do this to me would be at her side.
As twilight deepened into true night I took wing, soaring over the celebrating city, towards the palace.
Rage burned hot in me as I flew. But it began to falter. I was so tired. My side ached where my carapace had cracked. In pony form it seemed to have translated to cracked ribs. My mind was fuzzy. It was hard to think when no one else was there to help me do it. And I felt so tired. I hadn't fed in some time. There was supposed to be a grand feast after the invasion. Now there was nothing.
My wings beat more slowly. I began to sink lower in the sky.
No! I would not fail. I would go and spend my life attempting to avenge my Queen! Then I would be dead and I wouldn't feel this horrible emptiness anymore. I gritted my teeth. They were sharp again. My shape-shifting was slipping further.
I didn't care. I flew on. I was so close.
My eyes flickered shut and for a moment I tumbled. I recovered, pulling up in mid air. What was I doing? I couldn't remember. All I knew was the sense of despair that filled me. I was alone. My Queen. I had to avenge my Queen. I had to...
My wingbeats slowed again, and this time I did not recover in time. I crashed.
For a time the world was blissfully black and empty. When I woke and was forced to think again I found myself lying in a clump of bushes. Broken branches were all around me. I was broken too. In body as well as mind, for when I tried to rise I found a broken hind leg had been added to my cracked carapace. My pony form had vanished. I lacked the energy to summon it again.
For a time I struggled to get to my feet, then gave up. It was over. I had failed. My body had failed, and my mind had failed as well.
I sobbed. There were no tears, changelings cannot shed them. But I could cry and wail, letting out the helpless, hopeless despair I felt.
Eventually I ceased wailing once more. My throat was raw, making the crying painful, adding to the many other pains I felt. I lay still, waiting to die, as the moon slowly rose in the sky. I could still hear music and celebration, not all that distant, from the palace that I would never reach.
I wondered if those distant ponies could ever feel how I felt. They were so full of laughter and joy. I could taste the faintest possible hint of it, too far away to nourish me, but there all the same. Could any of them ever feel broken? Could a pony be shattered as I had been shattered?
I wanted to hate them again, but I didn't have enough energy to hate them anymore. I closed my eyes. I hoped I could die soon. No doubt when morning came the ponies would find me and kill me. Then I wouldn't be broken any more.
Hooves sounded not far away, drawing closer. No doubt it was a pony out walking in the garden into which I had fallen. Perhaps my blessed release from pain would come sooner than I had thought.
I opened my eyes again as the creature approached. In the moonlight the pony's color was hard to tell. Purple perhaps, or pink. She was a mare, young, of fairly average build. Her hair was a little darker than her coat, hanging long and straight around her face. She was walking along very slowly, her eyes down. Her ears were down as well. She looked sad.
I must have moved. I don't remember trying to move, but she must have heard some rustle of the bushes I lay in, for her head snapped up and her eyes were suddenly fixed on me. For an instant her expression was full of fear. I could taste it too, hanging on the air, bitter and unpalatable. Then it was gone, leaving nothing behind.
"A changeling. Well, I guess I don't have to look happy for you, mister changeling. I don't think I could cheer you up even if I wanted to. You look pretty bad." Her voice was curiously flat and toneless.
I blinked at her. "Aren't you going to kill me?" My voice sounded dreadful, raspy and half-dead. But I was half-dead, wasn't I? More than half dead, if you counted my mind as well as my body.
She cocked her head to the side, though her expression was dull, lifeless. "No, probably not. I've never killed anypony."
"I'm not a pony."
"I know. But I still don't want to kill you."
"You should. Somebody should."
"Why?" The question was still flat and toneless.
"I want to die," I whispered. "I am alone in my head. My Queen is gone. My hive is gone. I am broken. Please, pony. I want to die."
She stared at me. I tasted an upwelling of something on the air. Something sweet and nourishing, and startling. She felt sympathy. Sympathy for me. And more than sympathy, empathy, true shared feeling.
Then the realization hit me. I had tasted nothing from her before. I had not noticed the flavor of dark despair coming from her, because it was exactly what I myself had been feeling.
She was broken too.
We looked at each other in silence for a time. I felt a flicker of strength returning to me, from her empathy. It was not love, but it was something I could feed on all the same. "Do you want to die too, pony?" I finally said.
She looked away from me. "Not most days."
"But some days."
We were silent again. At last she said, "I know I shouldn't die. I know it would be wrong. I guess that means you shouldn't die either. I don't know if anypony can fix you. Nopony can fix me. But at least they can heal you. I'll go get help for you."
She trotted away. I lifted my head to watch her go until she was out of my sight. I let my head fall and my eyes slide shut again. Whatever she had said about getting help, I was certain that any ponies she fetched would kill me. I was the enemy. Defeated enemies weren't shown mercy.
I heard hoofsteps and opened my eyes again. A group of ponies was approaching. The one in the lead was like and yet unlike the pony I'd met before. She was still that probably-pink color, and her hair was still a little darker than her coat, but it was curly now, puffed up around her face. She walked with energy, a smile on her face. As she drew near I could taste a hint of happiness from her. It was only a hint though, and it tasted thin, brittle, as though it might snap and vanish in an instant. Beneath it was the bleak despair I knew all too well.
She was pretending to be happy, but she was still broken.
"There, see? I told you there was a poor little squished-bug changeling out here!"
"So you did, Pinkie." The unicorn next to her had a glowing light at the tip of her horn. She looked at me with narrowed eyes. I could taste the mix of chalky suspicion and tart curiosity radiating off of her easily. "And you're right, it does look in pretty bad shape. I guess we'd better get it to a doctor. Although I'm not sure what a pony doctor could do for a changeling."
"I'm sure they could do something for him. We can't just let him lie here and die."
The unicorn sighed. "You're right. All right then. Somepony get a stretcher. It doesn't look like it can walk. And guards? Let's get a magic-lock on it, so it can't cast any spells. I don't know much about changeling magic, but a magic-lock should still work."
A very large, white pony wearing armor stepped forward and slid something over my horn. The world immediately went a little bit flatter as my magic was cut out. That didn't matter to me, I had too little energy left to cast any sort of spell with anyway. Though I once again felt a little trickle of life flow into me from the pink pony's empathy as she stood by and watched.
The stretcher soon arrived. The purple unicorn lifted me up onto it with her magic. After that came a barrage of new events. Bright lights. Ponies examining me. Questions about what hurt and what didn't. Questions about who I was, about the hive, about the invasion. Questions about my Queen. There was also a terrifying interview with their Princess. Much of that night was an incoherent blur of pain, but I remember the Princess.
She was as large as the Queen, but white, and her flowing mane and tail made her seem even larger. She too asked me about the hive, and about my Queen. I gave few answers. In part because I did not wish to be a traitor, but mostly because I could not remember. The memories had been in the hive's mind; they were not in mine any more.
I sobbed again, towards the end, wishing I did know, wishing I could answer If I could, it would be because I was part of the hive again. The Princess left after that. I thought, as she went, that I tasted a hint of sympathy from her too.
There were more ponies asking about what hurt, and finally something that eased the pain in my body, if not in my mind. I was put in a bed, strange and soft, and slipped at last into wonderful, dreamless slumber.
I woke. The first thing I was aware of was the gaping emptiness in my mind. No hive. No Queen. I was still alone. I gave one soft, shuddering sob, before opening my eyes to face another day of being broken.
"Hey there, mister changeling." The broken pony was sitting next to my bed. In the morning sunlight I could see that she was indeed pink. A slightly dusty pink, with a darker, faded rose mane. She looked so strange. Like a changeling, yet not. Her legs were smooth. Her hide was covered in sleek fur. Her mane and tail were silky strands of hair. So very different, and yet she was shaped like a changeling, and her face was much like a changeling's face.
"I'm Pinkie Pie. Or maybe I'm Pinkamena. Some days I'm not sure. But either way I guess it's good to meet you. What's your name?" She didn't sound quite as flat this time, but she didn't sound bouncy and happy either.
"Changelings don't have names." My own voice sounded a little bit less raw. I still felt raw. Would I always?
"Maybe I should give you a name then. I can't keep calling you 'mister changeling'."
"No! Changelings don't have names! I don't want a name! The hive knows who I am. The hive knows who I am. We don't need names. I don't want a name!"
"Oh gosh. I'm sorry, mister changeling. I'll just keep calling you 'mister changeling'. You're the only changeling prisoner there is, so I won't get confused or anything."
I tried to calm myself, knowing that my outburst had been irrational. It didn't matter if the pony named me. I was already cut off from the hive no matter what happened. Just then the door swung open. In an instant the pony's mane puffed up again, her color brightened, and a smile leaped to her lips. "Hi, Twilight!"
"Hi, Pinkie. Thanks for keeping an eye on the changeling. How is it doing?"
The pink pony frowned. "He is doing better, the doctors said. He won't be up and around for a few more weeks though. I guess chitin takes time to mend, even with magic helping."
"Pinkie... this is a changeling we're talking about here. It said itself that it's just part of a hive, not really an individual."
"He said he didn't like being an individual, that doesn't mean he's not one. Come on Twi, you're the one who's doing all these friendship studies. Is it really right to call somepony 'it' even when they're not a pony? You wouldn't call Spike 'it' would you?"
The unicorn heaved a sigh. She looked over at me. I held very still, not sure what I should do. "All right. He. Uh, wait. How do you know that? Maybe it's a she?"
"Ooo, good question! Are you a mister changeling, or a missus changeling?"
I heaved a sigh of my own. "Mister will do." I was not capable of breeding, so the question was really rather absurd, but I'd taken mostly male forms while among ponies.
"Are you still alone in your head, Mister?"
I rolled away from her and didn't answer. I hated her for a moment for asking.
Then I felt her hoof touch my shoulder. A flood of empathy washed over me. It tasted so sweet. The reason for it was so very bitter. "I'm sorry, Mister Changeling. I know you don't want to think about it. It's easier to not. I know. But maybe it can be fixed."
"It can't," I said flatly.
"Twilight? Can't you just... I don't know, magic up something?"
"You're seriously asking me if I can restore a changeling drone's telepathic connection to his hive, while he's here in the palace itself? Pinkie, that's a little crazy even for you."
I could taste the bitter sorrow that hung around her growing stronger. Her brittle shell of happiness was on the verge of cracking. "I'm sorry Twi. I just don't like seeing him so sad."
"Oh, Pinkie. Trust you to want to cheer up even a changeling. I'm not sure this can be fixed, though. Maybe if he were physically reunited with the hive... But I'm not sure we can just let him go."
"I'm afraid we can't." That new voice was the Princess. I peeked at her. She was still huge and terrifying. And she was still sending out a thread of sweet sympathy. "He is our only chance to learn more about the changelings. Yet by the time we have learned what we can from him, I suspect he will know far too much about us."
"They would probably kill me," I said. "I wouldn't be one of them. They would think I was from an enemy hive. I can't go back." Unless I went back to die. I could escape the pain that way. But the pain of seeing my hive again when I couldn't be part of it was something I didn't want to face. I hadn't been able to face the idea of giving up by accepting a name only moments ago. Seeing my utter isolation like that would be too much, even if I wouldn't have to live with it for long. There were easier deaths than that, if I still wanted to die.
"There are other hives then?" asked the Princess.
Questions again. But I might as well answer them. "Yes. We are the biggest, the best, and the only one to dare act so boldly, but there are others."
"Can you tell me about them?"
"No. I was a pony infiltrator. I learned about you ponies. I never dealt with other hives."
"Do you know if they are near any other pony cities?"
"I think they have to be. We have to be able to feed."
"Ah yes. You feed on love."
"And on other positive emotions."
"Oh? Does that mean that you are gaining nourishment of some kind here?"
I glanced between her and Pinkie. "Yes."
"Do you require solid food as well?"
"Very well. I'll see to it that you're fed. Although if your diet is carnivorous there may be some difficulty."
"We are omnivores. Nearly any food will do." A vegetarian pony diet was bland, but the emotions had always made up for it, when I'd spied among them before.
"Good. Well, I must go. There is a great deal of work that needs doing in the wake of the attack. Pinkie?"
"Yes, Princess Celestia?"
"Do you mind staying with the changeling and keeping an eye on him? I'd like to have Twilight's help organizing the necessary disaster relief efforts."
"Thank you. Twilight? Come, there is much to do."
The Princess and the unicorn left. Pinkie sat down next to the bed again. Her hair was still poofy, though maybe a little less so than it had been.
"So if you eat feelings, you can taste what ponies feel, right?"
She sighed, and her hair went limp all at once, like a popped balloon. "Then there's no point in pretending I feel something I don't around you, is there?"
I didn't answer that. I wasn't sure it needed an answer. We sat in silence for a long time. There was something almost pleasant about that. We understood each other. There was nothing we needed to say.
After a very long time, Pinkie said, "What do feelings taste like?"
"They're all different."
"Does sadness taste bad?"
"It's bitter. I can't feed on it."
"I'm sorry then."
"You have sympathy for me. That is sweet. It is enough to sustain me."
She gave me a pale smile. "I'm glad then. Is it... I dunno, is it sweet like cupcakes, or is it different?"
"I've never had a cupcake."
She blinked. "What, never?"
"There aren't any in the hive."
"But you've been here, pretending to be a pony before, haven't you?"
"Yes. But I was busy, and I didn't have any bits even if I'd had the time to try a cupcake."
"That's just not right!" She straightened, her face determined. The taste of her emotions had changed. The new feeling was subtle. I didn't quite have a word for it, but it was sweeter than her despair had been. I noticed that a few strands of her hair had begun curling. "You stay here, Mister Changeling. I mean, not that you can go, your leg is broken and there's a couple of guards outside the door anyway, but don't get out of bed or anything, I'll be right back!" She took a deep breath and her hair fluffed up again. Then she bounced out the door and was gone.
I stared after her. She was gone for perhaps fifteen minutes. When she came back she was carrying a cupcake. It was vivid pink, like she was now--a bright, candy color. "Here, Mister Changeling! You have to try this! Cupcakes are soooooo good!"
She held it out to me. I took it and peered at it curiously. I recognized it, I'd spent the last several years frequently among ponies, scouting and acquiring food for the hive. Those memories, at least, seemed to be with me still. But much of my knowledge was purely academic. I'd certainly never tasted a cupcake before. I took a cautious lick of the frosting that topped it.
It was amazing. Nearly as sweet as pure love.
"Is it good? Is it, is it, is it?" Pinkie was still fluffed up and bouncing eagerly. I tasted something from her too, a growing flow of sugary happiness. It was small still, but it wasn't brittle the way her pretense had been.
"It is good," I said. I took an actual bite of the pastry itself. That was even better than the frosting alone. "It's really good! It tastes almost like love does."
"Yay!" Pinkie bounced.
I smiled, and eagerly ate the entire cupcake. I also eagerly pulled in the happiness now radiating off of Pinkie. It tasted better than sympathy had. Though it was fluffy, insubstantial, a bit like frosting. Very sweet, but not as nourishing. It was a positive emotion, but it wasn't directed at me in quite the way sympathy, or friendship, or love would have been. Still, it was good.
"You liked the cupcake?"
"I did, yes." I gave her a smile. "I also like how your happiness tastes."
She blinked at me. "Oh. I am happy, aren't I?"
"Yes, you are."
"I like to make ponies happy. It's my special talent. I guess it includes changelings too. It's the only time I'm ever really happy, when I'm making somepony... somebody else happy. It's just so hard to be happy all the time." The bitter despair seeped back, and she sighed, fading a little bit. "It used to be easy, I didn't even have to try. But now it seems like it gets harder and harder every day. Every tiny little thing makes me sad. Things that used to never bother me at all hurt me so much now. I'm sad so much of the time. But I can't let ponies know. Then they'd be sad too, and I'd be failing at my special talent, which would be the saddest thing ever."
I nodded. I knew about cutie marks and special talents. As I understood it, the compulsion to perform one's special talent was very much like the compulsion to obey the Queen. I sighed. That was something I would never feel again.
"Aww, and now you look all sad again, Mister Changeling."
"I have no Queen now, and no hive. A changeling without a hive is like a pony who has lost their cutie mark. I will always be sad. Even with cupcakes."
She sat down next to the bed and reached out to put a hoof over mine, where it lay atop the blankets. "I wish I could fix it for you and make you happy."
"Some things can't be fixed."
Pinkie was by my side almost constantly as the days went by. I was glad of it. Especially since nearly all the other ponies I met regarded me with revulsion. Even the doctors who tended me were obviously doing so because their Princess commanded it, not because they wished to.
Pinkie Pie's friends felt a little less revulsion than most ponies. Apparently the fact that their friend accepted me was enough to temper their feelings for me. Still, when they'd been visiting us I always felt a little sick from the pressure of five ponies' worth of rotten-sour unease and distaste directed towards me. I didn't pull it in and feed on it--trying would have left me violently ill--but I couldn't keep from tasting it. It made me queasy in such quantities.
I told Pinkie about it. We had nothing to do but talk for most of the day. We soon knew everything about each other's lives. Though she had more stories to tell than I; life in the hive was often repetitive.
"Maybe you should turn into a pony? You do look really weird with the holes in you and the sharp fangs and all. Some ponies get weirded out by that kind of thing."
I considered this. "I could try. But they would have to take off the magic-lock from my horn first."
"Oh yeah. I forgot about that. I'll ask the Princess."
But the Princess, when asked, said no. "I'm sorry, Pinkie. I know you like him. But it's just too much of a risk."
Days passed and my chitin continued to mend. Eventually I was allowed out of bed on short, careful walks. My leg was in a splint, making it awkward, but I could soon walk across the room without help. There was a rising sense of tension from the ponies other than Pinkie as time passed. They didn't seem to know what to do with me.
One morning I woke to the sound of an argument. It was faint, the speakers were not inside the room with me, but I could hear everything all the same. I lay in bed, my eyes still shut, and listened.
"Pinkie, I know you think of him as a friend, but he is a changeling. Not a pony. A shape-shifting monster that feeds on ponies. We are their prey, Pinkie. Changelings can't be trusted!"
"It's not like that! Eating feelings isn't like eating food. He eats my feelings all the time and it doesn't hurt."
"How can you even say that, darling? It makes my skin crawl thinking about that... creature feeding on me."
"Mister is not a creature, he's a person! He's practically a pony."
"Pinks, he's not a pony. He's never going to be a pony. He's a changeling."
"If Princess Celestia would let him he could turn into a pony. You wouldn't even be able to tell."
"Ugh. That just gives me the willies. Thinkin' that anypony you meet could be some kind of bug in disguise, just waitin' around to have you for dinner."
"You don't understand. None of you understand! Mister isn't like that!" Pinkie slammed a door and ran out of the room. I frowned and opened my eyes, looking over at the door to my room. It was closed. Outside there was just a hallway. I couldn't hear Pinkie at all. And yet I could. I could hear her hooves on the floor as she ran away from her friends. Even though the hall outside was silent.
I was hearing her with something other than my ears.
I was hearing her with her ears.
A few minutes later I heard her with my own ears as well. Her hooves sounded in the hall and after a pause while the guards outside my door checked her, the door swung open and she came into the room.
"Hi, Mister Changeling."
Hello, Pinkie. I didn't say it out loud. I wasn't sure that this could be real. I wanted to test it.
"My friends are being meanies today. I wish they could understand how nice you are."
To be fair to them, if I still had my hive bond, and my Queen ordered me to attack them, I would.
"But you don't anymore."
Not with my Queen, no.
Pinkie suddenly looked at me. I could feel her startled surprise. "Wait. I didn't hear your voice. You aren't talking."
No, I'm not.
"Wow. But I can hear you. What's happening?"
We're forming a hive bond.
"We... we are? But that's wonderful! You can have a hive again!"
I looked away from her as a sudden stab of pain went through me.
"Oh. I felt that. I said something wrong, didn't I? I'm sorry, Mister."
I spoke out loud this time. "A hive is thousands and thousands of changelings, a hum of being that's like nothing else, all ruled over by the Queen, the heart of us all. A hive bond with one pony can never replace that." Despair welled out from that single, stabbing thought and filled me. "I'm still broken. I can't be fixed."
Suddenly she had climbed into the bed with me and wrapped her hooves around me. I felt her warmth, her soft fur against my carapace. She was crying as she held me, shedding the tears that I couldn't. "I'm so sorry, Mister. I really am. I made you sad and I'm supposed to make ponies happy. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry."
I could feel her sadness. I wasn't just tasting it anymore, I felt it, like it was my own. I felt too her overwhelming need to fix it somehow, to make me happy, to make it all right. I wanted to make her happy suddenly. I wrapped my own hooves around her and hugged her back. "It's okay, Pinkie. It's okay. You don't have to fix me. You're here, with me, so I'm not so alone. That's enough. I'm here too. I know you're broken, like I am. We can be broken together."
She sobbed harder, clinging tightly to me. "I am broken. I pretended I wasn't and everything was okay, but it's not. It never will be."
"I know. I understand."
"You do. Nopony else does. But you do."
I stroked her hair, feeling the soft, limp strands of it, so unlike my own chitinous, filmy crest. I spoke silently to her. We will be broken together. Neither of us will be alone in our sorrow again.
I felt something different welling up in her as she clung to me. It was strong, and bright, and very sweet. I had tasted it before, gathered and fed on it through deception, but I had never before felt it directed at me by a pony who knew what I was. Thank you, I heard her say in the depths of my mind.
Then she kissed me.
I won't say that changelings do not kiss. I never paid any attention to the details of what the underqueens and the males did when they prepared to lay more eggs for the hive, but I think kissing might perhaps come into it. I had never been kissed, however. And I had never felt or tasted such love as Pinkie was suddenly pouring into me. I felt like I could fly without my wings. I felt like I could shatter the magic-lock and do anything. I felt wonderful.
"Pinkie Pie! What are you doing?!"
"Eep!" Pinkie broke off the kiss and nearly tumbled out of the bed, away from me. I could feel the mixture of surprise, embarrassment and sudden fear that flashed through her. "N-nothing, Twilight."
"Nothing?! You were kissing a changeling!" She rounded on me suddenly. Her horn was glowing and I felt myself picked up in her magic. "What have you been doing to her? You've been feeding on her, haven't you? Deceiving her? You've been using her, trying to make her love you, haven't you?"
I shook my head frantically. "No! I would never do that to her."
"Twilight, don't hurt him. Please. He was just trying to make me happy."
"Well it didn't work, did it! Just look at you! You look just horrible! Like you did before your surprise party last year, when you thought you'd lost all your friends. He isn't making you happy, he's draining all the happy out of you!"
Pinkie started to cry suddenly. "No he isn't. The happy was already gone. It's been gone for a long time. I can't pretend anymore."
"Pinkie..." I reached out to her without thinking, struggling in Twilight's magic. She felt so sad. I needed to make her happy somehow.
"What are you talking about?" Twilight's magic still held me up, but she wasn't looking at me anymore; she was looking at Pinkie Pie.
"I try so hard to be happy all the time, but I can't! I just can't. I want to make everypony smile. I want to always be happy and cheerful and cheer everypony up, but it gets harder and harder! I've been pretending, acting like I was cheery when I was really crying inside for a long time now. I guess I can't pretend anymore."
Twilight slowly set me back down on the bed. "Pinkie... you don't have to be happy all the time. Nopony is happy all the time."
Pinkie sniffled a little. "I'm the Element of Laughter though. Aren't I supposed to always be laughing?"
"If that's how it worked, I would never be able to stop casting spells. You don't have to be always laughing, Pinkie." Twilight hugged her. I stayed on the bed. I didn't know what to do. I could feel that Pinkie was feeling a little better. Hugs apparently helped. I still wanted to do more for her, somehow. But then Twilight let go of her and looked at me again. "That doesn't explain why you were kissing a changeling though!"
"Mister understands. I couldn't have pretended to be happy to him even if I wanted to, so I didn't have to. He's sad too, the way I'm sad. I'm supposed to be happy. He's supposed to be with his hive. We're both all messed up. So he understands."
"I... I'm not sure I understand. I'm not sure I can ever trust him, Pinkie. Changelings deceive ponies. That's what they do. How can you trust someone like that?"
Pinkie looked away from Twilight, her mane falling around her, hiding her face. "I deceived ponies. I lied to you all about being happy."
"Yes it is! You're not trying to suck all the love out of us!"
"Oh, Twilight. It's not like that. You know Mister has been feeding from me all this time, and it's never hurt me. He doesn't suck anything out of me, he just... soaks up extra feelings, I guess. It doesn't hurt me."
"How can you know that, Pinkie? How can you be sure it isn't hurting you?"
Pinkie looked at me. She furrowed her brow thoughtfully. Should I tell her about you being in my head now, Mister?
I don't know.
Maybe not. It would explain how I can know, but it might scare her.
Pinkie looked back at Twilight. "I just know. How do you know that somepony is your friend? How do you know if somepony is your special somepony? I just know."
Twilight sighed. "A changeling. Is your special somepony."
"Maybe. I know Mister is my friend, at least."
"Augh." Twilight rubbed her forehead. "This is making my head hurt. I'm going to go get Princess Celestia. You stay here. Please don't let us find you two kissing again when I get back." I could taste her disgust. It tasted foul and slimy and I wished she would stop feeling it so strongly at me.
"I won't," said Pinkie in a small, sad voice.
As soon as Twilight had gone I was at Pinkie's side. My leg was still splinted but I could walk and I didn't care that it was awkward. All I wanted was to make her feel better somehow. I hugged her tightly. She hugged me back, but didn't kiss me again.
I held her as we waited for her Princess. Maybe she was my Princess now too. Pinkie was my hive, after all. I wasn't sure of anything anymore. I felt afraid, lost and confused. Pinkie felt hurt and lost as well, I knew. But she was there. She was something to cling to. So we clung together and waited.
Eventually the door opened and the Princess came into the room. I felt for some connection to her in my mind, but there was nothing. Pinkie was my hive, but she wasn't connected to these other ponies at all.
How could they stand it, always being alone in their minds?
"Pinkie," said the Princess. I expected her to ask about the kissing, but instead she said, "Twilight tells me that you've been pretending to be happy."
Pinkie looked up from under her curtain of hair. "Yes."
The Princess sat down on Pinkie's other side, the one where I wasn't sitting, and folded a wing around her. The wing, of necessity, cupped around me as well. It was surprisingly pleasant. I could taste the edges of a gentle wave of love from the Princess. Not for me, but for Pinkie.
"Even the Element of Laughter is allowed to be sad some of the time, Pinkie."
"Really. I wielded laughter myself, once. But I am sometimes sad."
"But you're always so... so..."
"Serene? Composed? Perfect? Ponies say that of me, but I am not perfect, Pinkie. It is true that sometimes ponies don't need to see exactly how you feel. Screaming and wailing whenever you feel bad would be rather unproductive. But that doesn't mean you have to pretend to feel happy when you don't."
Pinkie started crying again, but it felt different this time. They were cleansing tears. Celestia held her, and so did I, until she stopped. The Princess rose and looked down at us again. I still wasn't going to let go of Pinkie. Pinkie sniffled a little bit and looked up. A few strands of her hair started to curl. I could feel that she was feeling better.
"Thank you, Princess Celestia."
Celestia smiled. "You are more than welcome, Pinkie Pie. I want my little ponies to be happy too, you know."
Then she looked at me. "Even if sometimes the things that make them happy might be strange. And difficult." She smiled a little wryly. "I am not sure I can ever trust you, Mister Changeling. But I'm also not sure it's right for me to keep you here, with your magic restrained, forever. I certainly can't ask Pinkie to stay here keeping an eye on you for me forever. All of her friends are returning home today. She should go with them."
I clung to Pinkie tighter, suddenly not merely wanting to comfort her, but wanting to somehow latch myself to her so I could never be removed. She was my hive now, all I had, and the Princess was going to send her away.
"It's okay, Mister," said Pinkie, hugging me back. I knew she could feel my sudden fear. "You can trust Celestia."
"You can, little changeling. The problem is, how can we trust you?"
Pinkie's brow furrowed in concentration again. I think we should tell her.
I hesitated. She was still huge and alien and terrifying. She was not my Queen. But she was Pinkie's Princess, and Pinkie was my hive. All right.
"You can trust him because he's in my head now, Princess."
Celestia's eyes narrowed, locked on mine. "Explain."
"She is my hive," I said. "The hive bond has formed between us. I cannot hurt her. I would never hurt her. And..." I swallowed. "You are her Princess. She is my hive. You... you are my Princess too now. Even if I can't feel you, like I could my Queen. I will obey your will."
She looked at me in silence for a long moment. Then her horn lit up. Magic flowed around me, and around Pinkie too. It tingled gently, but didn't seem to do anything. When it vanished the Princess nodded. "You do indeed have a bond between you. A bond I have never seen before. Fascinating."
"Does that mean you believe me that Mister Changeling doesn't want to hurt anypony?"
Celestia nodded regally. "I do, yes."
Pinkie's hair poofed up suddenly and I could feel the welling joy in her. "Yay! That means that I can go back to Ponyville and you can come with me, Mister Changeling!"
I knew I should have been afraid. I was about to be dragged out into a sudden, strange world. But she was so very happy. It felt wonderful to have made her so happy.
The Princess bent over me. Her horn touched the base of mine. An extra layer of life flooded back into the world as the magic-lock fell from my horn.
I bowed before her. She was my Princess now. "Thank you, Princess."
"You are welcome, my little changeling." She smiled wryly at me. What I tasted from her then was not quite like the love Pinkie had shared with me. But it was a warm, deep sort of affection that bordered on it. She meant it when she said I was hers.
It tasted delicious.
"Oh wow! You're right, love does taste sweet like cupcakes. Maybe even a little better than cupcakes," said Pinkie. She giggled. I couldn't help it, I giggled too.
"I'll go tell Twilight and the others that you will be accompanying them," said Celestia. "I think perhaps they'll take the news a little better coming from me. The train to Ponyville leaves at three this afternoon. I'm sure the doctors will want to take a look at your leg and make sure you're ready to travel, but none of them will be here until one. So you two will have a little time alone together." Celestia winked, then turned and walked out the door.
I was still staring in confusion at the shut door when Pinkie pounced on me and hugged me again. It didn't exactly surprise me, it is difficult for one hive-mate to surprise another, but it did snap me out of my confusion at what Celestia had done.
When she kissed me again, though, that did surprise me.
I felt her love once more, wrapped up in a bouncing brilliant joy, pouring into me. I didn't even have to try to pull it to me. I could feel it as she felt it, through our bond. I could taste it too, sweet and warm and strong. With it I felt something I'd never felt before. An echo of that same sweet, wonderful feeling, from my own mind, returning to her.
I loved her too.
I knew that her pain was still there, somewhere beneath the love and joy. So was mine. We had not stopped being broken. But neither of us was alone in our pain anymore, and for now that was enough.