Pinkie Pie's hooves were wrapped tightly around me. Her lips were pressed to mine. Her love was bright and sweet and strong, making me feel like I could do anything. This was one of the best moments of my entire life, even though it came after losing my Queen and my hive. I had a Princess now, and I had Pinkie Pie.
No moment can last forever, however, so eventually Pinkie Pie broke off the kiss. "I think that was the bestest kiss I've ever had! You taste good all over. Or maybe it's me that tastes good because I could taste you tasting how I feel and it was weird but really nice!"
I smiled and nodded. I didn't have words to describe how nice it had been.
"It was also kind of hard and pokey though." Pinkie tapped a hoof against my chitinous chest. "And if you're going to come with me to Ponyville you should maybe not look so scary."
She was right. I had enough energy now to shift shapes easily, so I immediately shaped the first thing I could think of, which was her.
"Ooo! Another Pinkie! Yay!" She suddenly frowned. "Except maybe not yay. The last time there was more than one Pinkie it didn't turn out so good."
I had no idea what that meant. It was true, however, that if I was going to live among ponies long term I needed to be a pony that didn't already exist. I went to change again, deciding to try a colt version of Pinkie, but had to halt before I could actually shift shape. The splint on my leg wouldn't let me. My natural form and Pinkie Pie were close enough to the same size that it hadn't been a problem, but colts were bigger.
"Are you thinking up a new pony to be, Mister Changeling? Oh! I can't really call you that either, can I, if I'm not telling ponies that you're a changeling. Only you said you didn't want to have a name and I don't know what else to do if I can't give you a name and I can't call you Mister Changeling and..."
"You can give me a name." I hadn't wanted a name because changelings in the hive didn't have names, save for the Queen. Pinkie was the only hive I had now, though, and I was going to be a pony with her. Ponies had names.
"Awesome possum! I don't know what to call you though."
"I'm sure you'll think of something." Meanwhile I'd figured out the solution to the splint problem. Not all colts were built the same way. I pictured a tall, slender sort of colt, whose leg would fit within the space available. A moment later the duplicate Pinkie was gone and a new pony stood there.
I'll admit I wasn't very creative. Especially not without the resources of a thousand other minds to draw on. My new form was still pink, like Pinkie. I'd made my mane and tail short and straight though, and I shaped a horn. Magic was useful. I would have liked to have kept my wings as well, but of course in a pony that would draw far too much attention. Also in the interests of avoiding attention I'd made my eyes green. That way their color would match my magic, which was something I'd learned about ponies while infiltrating them. Their magic very often matched their eye color. Finally, I used the image of that first cupcake Pinkie Pie had shared with me as the cutie mark.
"Oh! I'll call you Cupcake! No, wait, I can't call you Cupcake, Cup is Mrs. Cake's name and that would be very confusing. Let's see, how about Little Cupcake! Cupcake Junior! No, that means everypony will think you're Mrs. Cake's son or something. Let's see, Carrot Cupcake? Black Forest Cupcake? Oh, I know, Angelfood Cupcake! Except that's still putting 'cupcake' in it. How about saying it in fancy, Petit Four maybe? Although those aren't technically cupcakes. Hmm. I can't think of any other ways to say cupcake, can you?"
"Uh... Sugary Topped Miniature Snack Cake?" I was feeling suddenly overwhelmed with pastry related names.
"And I could call you Snack! He he he! I dunno though, that's kind of long. Plus you're the one who snacks on me, you aren't a snack!"
"I could just change my cutie mark to something else."
"I like cupcakes though. They are sweet and delicious and taste like love. Which I know is literally true now." Pinkie frowned, thinking hard. She peered at my cutie mark. Suddenly she bounced upright, grinning. "Oh, I know! Sweetcake! Is that okay? Can I call you that?"
"That's just fine," I said.
She pounced on me and kissed me again. I kissed back. I was getting used to kissing; it was very nice. Not just because of the taste of love from Pinkie either. The sensation of her lips against mine was good, as was the feel of her body pressed close to my now soft pony hide. As we kissed, I tasted something else mixed with her love. It was something spicy-sweet and new. I'd never tasted it before.
Somehow, it was faintly familiar. A spicy taste. What did that mean? I had a sudden flash of memory, of the under-queens and the males of the hive, and the heat of egg making. I'd never done so; I was just a drone. Still, when I'd been part of the hive I'd been peripherally aware of what they did.
Spicy was the taste of lust. Oh no, no, no. I was a drone! I didn't know how to mate as a changeling, and I certainly didn't know what to do as a pony!
Pinkie immediately broke off the kiss. "What's wrong, Sweetcake?"
"I... you... uh... I don't..." I floundered, having no idea what to say to her.
It's okay. She spoke directly within my mind, through the hive bond we shared. I get it now. Kissing is okay, but thinking about more than kissing is too much.
I don't mind! You've only been my special somepony since this morning when Twilight walked in on us so there's lots of time for you to learn about how to buck, and gosh it was pretty embarrassing when she did that, and I bet if we had bucked now then the doctors would have walked right in on us, and that would be even more embarrassing, and I don't want to hear another round of "You did what with a changeling?" because honestly that's not very nice of ponies, I did it with you, Mister Changeling Sweetcake, and I wish more ponies understood that but it's okay because you understand and...
I kissed her again just to keep her rambling train of thought from eating my mind. The words dissolved away, leaving just her and her sweet love, flavored ever so faintly with spice.
The train station was crowded with ponies. None of them looked twice at Pinkie and I as we picked our way across the platform towards her friends. We'd no sooner reached them than a conductor shouted "Last call for Ponyville!" and we all piled aboard the train. Thankfully the doctors had replaced my awkward splint with a smaller brace. They said I needed to wear it for another two weeks and then it could be removed.
We found our seats as the train began to move. I sat beside Pinkie, between her and Twilight. Her other friends were sitting across from us.
"This is Sweetcake," said Pinkie. "He used to be Mister," she added in an exaggerated stage whisper. I waved a hoof to the others, amid a chorus of vague greetings, and tasted their reactions to my identity.
From Twilight there was nothing but curiosity. It tasted pleasantly tart, rather like lemonade. From the other four, though, I still sensed revulsion. In fact from two of them—Applejack and Rarity—it was even stronger than it had been previously. I wondered what exactly had changed.
Sweetcake? Something tastes really icky. What is it?
Perhaps ironically, revulsion tastes revolting, I replied.
You mean my friends are still grossed out by you?
Some of them.
Argh! Why are they being so mean? Pinkie folded her arms and shot the other ponies a glare.
"Uhm. Pinkie? Is something wrong?" asked Twilight.
"You all taste terrible!" snapped Pinkie. Suddenly she got up and stomped to the other end of the car. She flopped down in an empty seat there. I followed her. After a moment, so did Twilight.
"Pinkie... are you okay?"
Pinkie looked up at Twilight and sighed. "Well, at least you don't taste terrible. But why is everypony else being so mean to Mister Sweetcake?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"They all think he's gross. They think he's extra gross now, even."
"Oh. Uh. I might have mentioned that you kissed him." Twilight rubbed the back of her neck, looking embarrassed.
"So even with Princess Celestia saying we can trust him, it's still going to be hard for most ponies to accept that your special somepony is a changeling, Pinkie."
"It doesn't seem to be hard for you."
Twilight shrugged. "Princess Celestia said she thought it was okay. That's enough for me."
I found myself admiring Twilight's trust in her Princess. She couldn't even feel her in her mind, yet she trusted Celestia's word just as much as I'd ever trusted my Queen. I thought about that for a minute. I'd trusted my Queen completely when I'd joined the invasion of Canterlot. Yet she had proved untrustworthy, for her promises of sure success had been false. She had failed. Was Celestia then more worthy of my trust?
"Come back and join us, Pinkie. I know you don't like that the others don't trust Mister, uh, Sweetcake, but they'll come around eventually."
Pinkie shook her head. "They'll still be sitting there, tasting revolting."
"Pinkie... remember the parasprites, and how we could have fixed everything if you'd just explained what you meant? You're doing it again. I have no idea what you mean. You haven't been licking them, why are you talking about how they taste?"
"Oh. Right. Sweetcake tastes feelings." Pinkie leaned over and whispered in Twilight's ear, even though no other ponies were anywhere near us. "Because he's a changeling." She continued in a more normal voice. "And the way they're feeling all grossed out tastes gross too."
"But you keep talking like you can taste things, Pinkie."
"I sorta can. Not on my own, but Sweetcake tastes them, and then I taste what he's tasting, because I'm his hive now."
"What?!" The other four ponies all turned to look at us as Twilight shouted that.
"Celestia didn't tell you?"
"No." Twilight was staring at us both, looking shocked. Tasting shocked too, which was as tart as curiosity, but stronger and with more bitter notes, like a slightly unripe grapefruit. Something one could perhaps acquire a taste for, but not something I really enjoyed. It didn't last all that long though, curiosity came back to replace it almost immediately. "How does that even work?" She looked at me. "I thought you didn't have a hive bond any more?"
"I don't. Not with my old hive. Just with Pinkie now," I said.
"Well... I guess that explains why the Princess says you can be trusted."
"Yep! I'm keeping an eye on the inside of his head now!" said Pinkie.
"And you can really taste emotions, Pinkie? What do I taste like? I guess I'm feeling, uh, curiosity? Is that an emotion?"
"It is! It tastes like lemons! Or maybe like lemon drops, or lemonade, it's a little bit sweet."
"Wow. That's fascinating! Can you tell me what other things taste like?"
"Love kind of tastes like cupcakes, only more sort of solid and satisfying. Like if cupcakes were actually good for dinner and not just dessert."
"What about... no, wait. I need paper and a quill, I should be taking notes." Twilight took a step back to where her bags were sitting, then stopped. She put her hoof to her face. "Right, priorities. Pinkie... please come back and sit with us? And you too, Sweetcake. They'll stop tasting so terrible once they get used to you, I'm sure. If you avoid them, that won't happen."
"Well... okay," said Pinkie.
I nodded my agreement, and followed her and Twilight back to where the others sat.
"What was that all about?" asked Applejack, looking at Twilight.
"Uh..." Twilight looked at me, and then at Pinkie. Her face set in an expression of determination. "I just learned another reason why we can trust Sweetcake. There's no reason for you all to keep thinking he's some kind of spy. He isn't, I promise."
"Well... if you say so, Twilight." Applejack sounded dubious, and was still faintly radiating disgust.
"It's not his spying that bothers me," said Rarity. She shuddered. Her disgust was certainly the strongest I could taste. Rainbow Dash tasted of suspicion as much as of disgust, and Fluttershy's was tinted with fear. Rarity's though was pure, pungent distaste.
Pinkie scowled. "If you're going to say stuff about kissing changelings, don't! Sweetcake is my friend and my special somepony, and as far as I'm concerned he's as much a pony as any other pony here."
Rarity shuddered. "I cannot imagine having that as one's special somepony."
"Now, girls," said Twilight, "don't fight. Maybe we should talk about something else?"
"I know what we should talk about!" There was a flicker of sudden excitement in Pinkie Pie's mind. "A party! Sweetcake needs a 'Welcome to Ponyville' party!"
"Yer going to throw..." Applejack hesitated, then said, "...him a party?"
"I throw a party for every new pony in Ponyville. He's going to be a new pony in Ponyville, so he needs a party!"
"I hate to break this to you, Pinks," said Rainbow Dash, "but changelings are not ponies."
Pinkie glared at Rainbow Dash. I was a little shocked how suddenly angry she was. It tasted hot, less like a spice and more like a temperature on the tongue, like eating soup without letting it cool. It wasn't particularly pleasant.
"Girls, please. Change of topic!" said Twilight.
"Sorry," muttered Rainbow Dash.
Pinkie sighed. "Sorry." She started drooping a little. I felt the sadness well up in her. That deep, despairing sadness that I knew so well filled her. I felt too as she reached for a false smile and a fake shell of happiness to cover it.
Your Princess said you shouldn't pretend to be happy when you're not, I gently reminded her.
She looked up at me. Then she looked around at her friends. She heaved a sigh and her hair flattened itself, falling down to partially cover her face. I put my arm around her shoulders, offering her what comfort I could, physically and mentally.
"Pinkie..." That was Rainbow Dash. "You okay?"
Pinkie looked up. "Princess Celestia said I should stop trying to pretend I'm always happy. Sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I get sad. But it's okay. I'll feel better soon, I'm sure. I'm just feeling sad, because I want my best friends to like my special somepony, and you don't."
Dash looked at me for just an instant, still sitting by Pinkie with my arm around her, then shrugged, got off her seat, and came over and gave Pinkie a hug. "I'm sorry, Pinkie."
After only a moment's hesitation the other ponies were all there too, crowding around Pinkie Pie, hugging her, reassuring her that they were still her friends. I pulled away for a moment to let them. I could tell that she was touched that they'd overcome their distaste for me and hugged her even though I was there. Indeed, there was no more flavor of revulsion in the air. I didn't think they'd been magically cured of it, but right in this moment their friend obviously mattered more to them than their feelings about me.
That was startling. Changelings could put such differences aside at the orders of the Queen, or for the good of the hive, but for the sake of another changeling of no particular rank?
You see why they're my friends, Sweetcake? Pinkie felt a little happier now. I really hope they get over not liking you soon. I want them to be your friends too.
"I'm hoooooome!" Pinkie Pie bounced into Sugarcube Corner. I followed her a little more sedately. I felt nervous. She had told me about the Cakes, her landlords and employers. They were also her friends, and I wanted them to like me too.
"Hello, dear." That was a plump blue mare, who radiated a pleasantly flavored affection that reminded me a bit of how the Princess had felt. It didn't seem to be directed at me so much as at the world in general.
"Mrs. Cake, you will never guess what happened while I was in Canterlot!"
"It was in the papers, dear."
"What? Really? I wouldn't think they'd have written any articles about that!"
"Oh dear. We're having two different conversations again, Pinkie. What are you talking about?"
"I found my special somepony! This is Sweetcake!"
I waved a hoof hesitantly at her.
"Oh! Why that's wonderful, Pinkie. And he's a Cake!"
"Did I hear somepony say cake?" A tall, skinny yellow stallion emerged from the back of the store.
"Yes, dear. Pinkie says she's met her special somepony, and he's a Cake!"
"How nice. Are you one of the Fillydelphia Cakes? Or the Black Forest Cakes?"
"Uhm..." What do I say?
Say your parents were Neighponese!
Okay. "Well, my parents were Neighponese."
"Oh! So you're one of the Snack Cakes then! They're not really related to us, but I've met a few of them and they were all very nice." Mrs Cake beamed at me. I smiled back.
"He's going to be staying here with me."
Mr. And Mrs. Cake exchanged glances. "You know, Pinkie, since we converted the spare room to a nursery for the twins there isn't anywhere else to put a guest."
"I know. He can stay in my room."
They exchanged glances again, this time amused. "Ah. That's all right then, dear," said Mrs. Cake. "Just be sure to be safe. You're a little young to be having foals of your own."
Pinkie giggled. "No need to worry about that, Mr. And Mrs. Cake! We're probably not going to buck for a long time anyway." Can changelings and ponies even have foals together? If they did would they be called ponylings?
"Uhm. If you say so Pinkie," said Mrs. Cake, while Pinkie babbled on in my mind. She was clearly embarrassed, which tasted faintly of cinnamon. "Uh. I think I should go check on that batch of cookies. Excuse me."
Do changelings come from eggs? Would I lay eggs then? That would be weird! I pretended to lay an egg once as a joke, it was really funny. I was being a chicken! But I'm not sure if I'd like actually laying eggs or not and if I did lay eggs would that mean I'd have a whole ton of babies? Tending just two at a time is a lot of work, and I sometimes need help with it, so I don't know if I could be a mom to a whole litter of ponylings, or would you call them a clutch like with chickens, since they come from eggs?
"Oh yes, and I have plenty to do as well," said Mr. Cake.
"So do I!" said Pinkie, cutting off the mental torrent. "I need to throw party tomorrow night for Sweetcake! Can I have it here?"
"Of course, dear," said Mrs. Cake.
"Yay! Come on, Sweetcake, you can help me get ready for it!"
"Okay." I followed after her, curious what this party might entail. I'd never been to one. As we walked, though, my mind slid back to her babbling torrent about eggs and foals. We can't have foals, you know. Even if ponies and changelings were compatible, I'm a drone, drones don't lay or fertilize the eggs. Only Queens or under-queens lay eggs, and only breeding males fertilize them.
Well, that's probably good then. I'm not ready to have babies yet, that's for sure. Someday maybe, though I guess if you can never have foals at all, then we'll have to adopt.
I stopped walking for a moment. Pinkie Pie was thinking about having a pony-style family? With me?
You're my special somepony. And I'm your hive, right? I don't think either of those will ever stop being true. That makes us family. Hives are just big families, aren't they?
Then we're a family now, just a really little one. When we're ready we can be a bigger one. Pinkie had stopped walking too. She smiled at me warmly. I felt love, sweet and rich, flowing from her again. At the moment it was also sprinkled with effervescent anticipation. "But right now it's time to plan a party. Come on!"
Planning a party turned out to mostly involve deciding what food to make for it and creating decorations. Pinkie painted a huge banner that read "Welcome to Ponyville Mister Sweetcake." She seemed to be highly amused by putting part of my old "name" up on it. "It's a joke that almost nopony will get, but my friends will, and so will you!" Her excitement faded a little bit then. "I hope they can start liking you soon..."
I hugged her, wanting to help her feel happier. "Twilight is okay with me already."
"Yeah, that's true. And I'm sure the others will come around."
The party was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. The food was, of course, delicious. I'd helped to make much of it earlier that day, which had been an experience in and of itself. But that was just the beginning. There was the music too, supplied by a gramophone and a collection of records. I'd heard music before, when passing among ponies as an infiltrator. I'd quite liked it, but had never actually seen a gramophone in action.
There were also games. Games were another thing that I knew of but had never actually done. Changelings did not play games. All activity was for a purpose. Engaging in frivolous tasks just for amusement seemed very strange. I only participated in one round of Pin the Tail on the Pony. I didn't dislike it, but I couldn't quite see the point.
Then there were the ponies. There were so many of them, feeling so many different things. The overall taste was light and sweet, the taste of happy ponies having fun. Yet a thousand other flavors, from a thousand other emotions, were mixed in with it.
Pinkie was very excited by the realization that she could, through me, taste how successful her parties were. She confused Mrs. Cake once again with a long ramble about how wonderful it was that happiness was like frosting, and now she knew if everypony at the party was frosting-flavored or not.
She seemed very pleased with this party, at least at first. I will admit I enjoyed it as well. Yet her happiness, and thus mine too, became somewhat tainted as the evening wore on by the fact that four of her friends were not speaking to me. Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy avoided me entirely, I hardly caught sight of them at all. Rainbow Dash refused to speak to me either, but she followed me around constantly. Her earlier disgust had become less pungent, but now she tasted of suspicion, a chalky bitterness that made me very nervous. Suspicion was usually the taste of a failed infiltration, so I didn't like it at all.
Twilight Sparkle, on the other hoof, practically cornered me and made me promise to help her catalog the flavor analogs of emotions. She tasted of curiosity again. I was beginning to suspect that she tasted of curiosity nearly all the time.
Towards the end of the evening I noticed the other four in a little huddle in one corner. Mrs. Cake seemed to notice them as well, for she marched over to them and began to lecture them. I was too far away to taste their reactions, but nopony in the room was too far away to hear at least part of what she said.
"Not a one of you has spoken to Sweetcake all night. At his very own party! I can't believe you would be so rude to Pinkie's special somepony!" When Applejack started to protest, she didn't pause, she just kept lecturing. "I don't care what reason you have to disapprove of him, there is no excuse for such behavior. I want you all to go over and apologize right now, do you hear me?"
"Yes ma'am," said Applejack, sounding chastened.
Rarity sputtered. "He... I... Well, I never!"
Fluttershy just squeaked, but when Applejack started heading in my direction, she trailed along. Rarity wilted a little under Mrs. Cake's continuing glare and followed suit.
Rainbow Dash though took to the air. "No way. Nuh uh. I'm not going to let him be all wile-working on me. I'm jetting." A moment later she was gone, leaving a fading streak of rainbow color behind.
Applejack came up to me. "Sweetcake, Mrs. Cake is right. There's no excuse fer how rude I've been. I'm not sayin' I trust you none, cause I don't. You're livin' a lie and I can't approve. But that's no reason for me to be hurtin' Pinkie by refusin' to talk to you at your own party. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too," squeaked out Fluttershy, from behind a curtain of hair. She tasted strongly, acridly, of fear.
"I suppose it was rather crass of me to snub you like that," said Rarity. "I'm sorry."
"I, uh..." What do I say, Pinkie?
She was on the far side of the room, and I didn't know how much attention she'd been paying to me, but apparently she'd been paying enough. Just say that it's okay, and you're not mad at them. I know you're not.
No, just sad that they're hurting you.
I'm okay too, Sweetcake. They'll come around eventually. I could tell that she wasn't entirely okay, she was still hurt by their rejection of me. But there was nothing else I could do about it right now but follow her advice.
"It's okay. I'm not angry at you."
"Well, that's good then." Applejack still tasted a bit of revulsion, with hints of resentment, which tasted a bit like overcooked broccoli. I felt like the resentment wasn't directed at me personally so much as at the world in general, though. She apparently didn't like being stuck between her friendship and her principles. I couldn't exactly blame her.
"I think it's time I retired." Rarity gave me a nod, her nose a bit higher in the air than usual. She still tasted very strongly of revulsion. Despite her polite words, nothing had changed there.
She and Applejack walked off, and when I looked around I realized that Fluttershy had scurried away at some point. I caught sight of her just as she slipped out the door, with Rarity and Applejack not far behind.
The party was already winding down, so quite a few other ponies were going out the doors with Pinkie's friends. Eventually it was just us and the Cakes. I helped them clean up, even though they all said I didn't have to. I wanted to help.
I was carrying a bag full of garbage to the bin behind Sugarcube Corner when something swooped down out the dark and slammed into me. I went sprawling, ending up pinned on my back with the thing sitting on me. My horn lit in preparation for an instinctively summoned combat spell, when by that faint, green light I saw that it was Rainbow Dash. I managed to cut off the potentially deadly spell I'd been about to unleash just in time.
"I'm on to you, buster. I don't know exactly what your plan is, but I know you're up to no good. You've weaseled Pinkie into liking you, but..."
She was cut off by the second spell I cast, this one a simple force application that pushed her off of me.
"Hey! I'm not finished! Listen, punk, I'm trying to tell you that if you do anything to hurt Pinkie, I'll beat you to a pulp! And I'm going to show you that I mean business!" She jumped on me again, but this time I rolled aside. She rolled too, coming up smoothly from her missed dive, and immediately took to the air.
I watched her, tensed and waiting. I had a flashback to my days training for infiltration. There were many things we didn't need to be taught, because whatever the hive knew, we knew. There were some things, however, that required not only mind, but body. When in combat, it's not enough to be aware of the moves—your body has to know them. So we practiced them. I had not been the best fighter in my class, but I'd done better than most. We had practiced hoof to hoof, magical combat, and combat on the wing. We took forms of differing shapes and sizes, becoming accustomed to any pony that we might possibly become.
We also learned to cut our direct tie to the opponent we faced, so that the hive bond wouldn't tell us their next move. So I was used to reacting to an enemy whose thoughts I didn't know, even though before the invasion I'd never actually fought a pony. Most of the time infiltration was more subtle, and combat meant that you'd failed.
So now I watched Rainbow Dash, judging her angle and momentum, trying to time things just right. She dove down at me. I waited until the last second, then dove forward, ducking too low for her to get, but moving in the same direction as she was. I reached out one hoof, tapping hard at one of hers as she went over my head. That turned her dive into a tumble and she crashed and rolled. I was already moving in that direction so it was easy to leap on top of her. She was strong, and for a moment we rolled around, each of us trying to get on top. She didn't know the moves I knew though, and eventually I managed to get just the right leverage to roll her over and pin her beneath me. Instinctively my hoof drew back in the first half of what would be a crippling or possibly even killing strike to her throat. Then I stopped, panting.
She looked up at me, her eyes wide. "You... you..."
I got up off of her immediately, feeling a little shaken. I'd come far too close to harming one of Pinkie's friends.
Rainbow lay there, still wide-eyed, and looked up at me. "You could have killed me," she whispered. Obviously she'd recognized the strike I'd nearly used. "Why didn't you?"
I shook my head, appalled at the idea. "You're Pinkie's friend. I would never hurt you! It would make her sad if I hurt you."
I tasted a flicker of something new from her, a rotten-garlic hint of guilt that warred with the bitter-chalk taste of suspicion. I held out a hoof to her, to pull her up. She hesitated a long moment, then took it and let me pull her to her feet.
We stood and looked at each other. She shuffled her feet. I went to pick up the garbage bag I'd dropped. When I finished tossing it in the trash, I found Rainbow Dash was still standing there, looking at me. The flavor of guilt had grown stronger. Finally she spoke. "Hey, Sweetcake. Look, you've been being a better friend to Pinkie than I have. You didn't hurt me, even when I attacked you, because that would make her sad. But I knew hurting you would make her sad and I was gonna do it anyway. I've been a lousy friend."
"Aww, no you haven't, Dashie!" Rainbow Dash squeaked and jumped. I didn't, I'd known that Pinkie Pie was approaching. Though I couldn't quite figure out how she'd gotten right next to Rainbow Dash that quickly at the last second. "I understand that it's hard to trust ponies who were attacking you just a little bit ago, the way the changelings were."
"Yeah, but this time it was me doing the attacking. I'm really sorry, Pinks. And I'm sorry to you too, Sweetcake."
I nodded an acceptance, not knowing what to say in response.
"Are you done being all suspicious and bad-tasting about Sweetcake now?"
"He's still a changeling, Pinkie. Are you sure you can trust him? Really, truly, absolutely sure?"
"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye," said Pinkie. Despite the apparently nonsensical nature of the words I could tell she was deadly serious about whatever she'd just said. Apparently Rainbow Dash understood it, for all at once her guilt evaporated, replaced by something else entirely. It took most of the chalky suspicion with it too, leaving only a faint hint of it behind.
"Then he's okay by me," said Rainbow Dash. She suddenly grinned over at me. "And changeling or not, those moves of yours! That was amazing! How come you're so much better than the changelings we fought in Canterlot?"
I shrugged. "Probably because the queen brought nearly the entire hive to Canterlot, including regular workers. So most of the changelings there weren't trained fighters at all. I was an infiltrator though, so I was taught how to fight."
"Well you are pretty awesome at it! It's too bad you can't fly!"
I decided now would be a bad time to remind her that actually I could, if I wanted to revert to my natural form. "Uhm. Thanks."
"Can you teach me to fight like that?"
"Well... I've never taught before. But I can try."
"Woo!" She pumped a hoof in the air and grinned. "Changeling kung-fu! I bet nopony else has ever learned it! This is going to be sweet. Hoofbump!" She held up one hoof.
I looked at it in puzzlement.
"Don't leave me hanging now."
You're supposed to bump it with your hoof, said Pinkie, and the mental words came with an image. I lifted my hoof and bumped it to Rainbow Dash's. She grinned at me and I couldn't help but grin back. I had won over two of Pinkie's friends now. Surely the rest would come around soon.
Rainbow Dash stuck around and helped us with the last of the party cleanup, then left to go sleep. I was feeling tired myself. It was quite late and it had been an eventful day, though not as eventful as yesterday.
I followed Pinkie up to her room. I'd slept there with her last night, but I'd been so exhausted after the day's tumultuous events that I'd fallen asleep the instant my head touched the pillow. Now as I climbed into the large bed I was very aware of Pinkie settling in beside me. I thought for a moment about beds, and the "bucking" that ponies did in them, which I knew nothing about. But the nervousness couldn't last in the face of what Pinkie was feeling. Her hair had gone limp again as sadness welled up in her heart. I turned to her and hugged her. She pressed into my embrace, clinging to me. I really hope my friends do all come around, Sweetcake. But what if some of them don't? What if they just hate you forever? What if they stop being my friends?
I had no answer to that. I wanted to promise her that her friends would learn to like me, but I didn't know if it was true. Everything I knew told me that ponies and changelings weren't really meant to get along. All I could do was say, Whatever else happens I'll always be here for you.
I know. I'm glad. Pinkie tucked her head against my chest and sighed. I stroked her mane softly, caressing the fine, straight strands of it. After a long time she lifted her head and kissed me. Even in her sadness there was a hint of spice in it, but she made no move to do anything else. So I gently kissed her back and continued to hold her close.
A yawn from Pinkie interrupted our kiss. I guess we should sleep.
We probably should. I kissed the tip of her muzzle softly. She smiled at me, then turned around and snuggled back into my embrace. I felt her soft sigh more than heard it. She was still sad, but it had gentled a little, from bitter despair to bitter-sweet melancholy. There was love tangled up in it too, and gratitude, warm and almost chocolaty, directed at me for being there to hold her. It felt just as good as it tasted.
I wondered at how one pony could feel so many things. But then I was feeling conflicting emotions as well. I did still miss my hive. There was an emptiness in me that could never be filled. Yet being here with Pinkie and tasting her love—real love for me as I was and not won by deception—was better than anything else I'd ever tasted before.
I wondered too, just as sleep started to claim me, what I would do if I were offered a chance to return to the hive. Would I rather this dichotomy of sadness and sweetness, or the safe, fulfilled life I'd had once known?