• Published 22nd Jan 2017
  • 3,498 Views, 216 Comments

Heart and Soul - Orkus



Much time has passed for the changeling Habeas Brittle since he settled down on the peach farm with the pony love of his life. However, not all is too well, as an uneasy question plagues his mind. And he's not the only one going through a crisis.

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Steps

Persica was ready to scream.

A month of fruitless attempts to restore proper order to the household had passed by, and still there was no success in the effort to capture the meddlesome pest that was the boggart. More traps of high degrees of creativeness and cunning were set in positions and spots few creatures could hope to discern as something not what they appeared to be, and yet, all were set off and evaded by the creature. With every trap defeated, more things in the house went missing. More things broke. More food withered, spoiled and vanished without so much as a crumb to herald their passing.

As another sun rose to bring about another morning, Habeas awoke feeling as refreshed as he could be. Jumping out of bed with his usual spring in his step, he got himself ready for the day. When he was done preparing for the trials that it would no doubt entail, he then performed his regular morning duties around the house.

After finishing a good old rousing round of mowing the lawn outside (the grass lining the orchard and around the property had grown long enough, Habeas had determined), he decided that he needed a small break. Walking into the house and wiping the nonexistent sweat from his chitinous brow, he trotted into the kitchen, pulled a glass from the cupboard and filled it with cold water in the sink. As he finished downing the cool substance down his parched throat and licked his lips of the last droplets to stain them, he heard a sound of trotting hooves coming from behind himself. As Peach Blossom was away learning at school, the only fathomable culprit it could be was clear...

Indeed, who Habeas saw was Persica entering the kitchen from behind him. From what he observed as he conducted his morning business, she had been monitoring the many traps she had laid down during the week, seeing which had been sprung, which hadn't, and which ones needed replacing.

"How goes it?" he asked her, gaining her attention.

Keeping her view on what she was currently doing and pulling what appeared to be a jar out of the fridge, she sighed. "The same..."

Placing what she had gotten onto the nearby counter and shutting the fridge door, she gave him a brief glance and smiled to him, which he returned. This planted a question in the changeling's head, but he was a little slow to voice it. "What're you doing?"

"Just getting a late morning snack," she responded, unscrewing the lid to the jar and pulling out a fork from a nearby drawer. She placed its silver, three-pronged tip in the thing and plucked out a green vegetable. "A little snack, that's all."

As she stated this and then took her first bite from its tip, Habeas was nearly ready to go off and continue his work. He was about to do just that, when he took notice of something quite off in what she was doing. "What... are those things you're eating?"

"Pickles," she casually replied, lifting the same one back up to her mouth with her hoof and taking another crunching bite from it. Savoring its tangy taste with a small purr, she chewed and swallowed before speaking again. "I know they're yours and Blossom's, but I didn't think it'd hurt anyone if I took one or two for myself, for once."

"I thought you didn't like pickles," Habeas was quick to comment while she took yet another unperturbed bite, this reason being why the situation seemed so odd to him.

Persica's eyes blinked once as her chewing slowed. "I... did?" she asked, swallowing after. She looked at the pickle she was currently eating with a glaring expression. Silent, she placed it to the side of the counter. "Guh," she then mumbled with disgust, sticking her tongue out from her closed lips a small way. Screwing the lid back over the jar and putting it away in the fridge, the mare moved away from the half-eaten vegetable she was once happily munching on and walked toward the back of the kitchen, near where Habeas currently stood. "The craving must have... just come over me."

Biting her lip, she looked his way as he spoke again. "There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone gets cravings from time to time." Closing his eyes, Habeas gave a great grin that ran from ear to ear in his effort to keep his marefriend from feeling tense at yet another blighted thing. "I just thought it seemed a little funny, that's all."

"Maybe it's the stress that's got me into doing it," Persica uneasily responded, knowing for a fact that wasn't the case. With a flick of her brown tail, she pushed the half-eaten pickle further back on the counter it rested upon and turned to the window hanging over the nearby sink Habeas had previously gotten his water from. "Of... of this whole thing, clearly. I've rid many houses of boggarts in my time. But I've never faced one this utterly crafty before. It knows its way around whatever I lay down. And with all the traps I've set, all I've done to it so far was tick it off. I might as well have been spraying water at a hornets' nest this whole time..."

"Oh, don't get so hard on yourself." Habeas put his drinking glass away and began to walk up to her. "Give it time, and I know we'll catch the thing. Maybe this one's just naturally smarter than any other boggart you ever encountered. An 'evil genius' among them, if you will."

"After reading that crude note it left us? Yeah, right..." Persica turned the nozzle on the sink, washing some of the pickle's juices off of her hooves. "I think I'm all stirred up because I feel so insulted by how such a small thing has been able to outwit me. You wouldn't understand just how that feels, given all the other manner of creatures I've met and fought against." To this, the changeling's brow lowered, as though he heard a challenge he was more than happy to accept.

"Oh yeah? Try me."

Persica took in a deep breath and brushed a small strand of her mane's hair from her good eye as she thought back to her glory days. "Well, I've fought brutish rock trolls with nothing more than my bare hooves. I've delved into poisonous jungles and fought against the great feathered serpents living there. I've claimed victory over entire hordes of bloodthirsty bog wights, took down chimeras larger than our house, and beheaded the most fearsome and horrid of remorhaz to ever crawl upon the merciless, frozen wastes of the north. I once even wrestled with a cantankerous, full-grown dragon and came out of it mostly unscathed."

"Mostly unscathed?"

"After several hours of continuous punches, kicks and bites, with both of us exhausted, beaten and bruised beyond measure, we mutually agreed to call a truce," she shrugged to Habeas' query. "He stopped pestering the town that paid Chantilly and I to take care of him. But that's another story for another time. Right now, we need to focus on the present."

As she loudly exhaled, Habeas sighed alongside her in agreement. He went silent for a second, trying to think of a way he might be able to raise her clearly lowered spirits. "You know, seeing you acting so fidgety right now with the boggart in the house reminds me of you from... another time."

Thinking she just heard a terrible joke, a single, dry 'hah-hah' escaped Persica. "How so?"

"Well... I have one image." Habeas fixed the handkerchief around his neck. "The last time I saw you act even remotely like this was during the times shortly after we first met. Ya'know... the times preceding when we first kissed. Before we became... us."

"Really?" Persica raised a brow, truly surprised by this juicy little morsel of information. "You think I'm acting like that?"

"Somewhat." Habeas said this in a most unwilling tone, as even so minor a thing as that was a something he disliked to say to his true love. "From what I remember, you were a bit quick to the trigger at first. I... I just don't want you to do anything drastic."

Persica pursed her lips. As she stared out the window, Habeas walked to her and leaned his head beside the mare's own, imparting a small kiss upon her cheek. "I just want you to know that whatever the issue is, boggart or otherwise, I'm here for you, Persica," he next spoke into her ear. "I'll always be. And I know we'll solve this dilemma together, somehow. Just give it a little more time."

Retracting his head upon seeing the beginnings of a small smile form on her otherwise-still face, Habeas next placed a comforting hoof upon her shoulder. Feeling slightly better, though not by much, Persica placed one of her own upon his. She held it there until she felt comfortable enough to take it off and look at him. "Thank you, Habeas," she quietly spoke, though with more worry clouting her mind than clarity.

His expression gleeful, Habeas seemed content with what he had stated. He would have given her another kiss and left the room to tend to other important matters, but then remembered something he wished to tell her. "And Persica, while it's on my mind, I'd like to tell you that I have a little plan going on." After saying this, he emitted a small, faux-devious cackle. "I was going to keep this a secret until a little later on, but to let you in on it before it gets too late, I got us booked for a spot at another good restaurant in Canterlot next weekend. The Tasty Treat, to be specific."

"What? Dinner for next weekend?" Persica questioned. "On what reasoning did you decide to make a decision like this?"

"On the reasoning I was just talking with you about. I saw that you needed a night out," was his reply. "The creature living in our house has been driving everyone batty. Especially you." He smirked. "Seeing you take a short while to relax and have a nice, delicious meal is just the thing this scenario calls for. And maybe, just maybe, there'll be some sense of ease when the week gets over."

"You're sure about this, dear?" Persica's expression had fully changed into one of pure befuddlement. "I mean, I'm okay with it. But are you? You seem to be scheduling an awful lot of these dates as of late..."

"Yes, yes! I'm perfectly, one-hundred percent okay," he confirmed, flashing another large grin that only triggered more suspicions in the mare's mind. With a sense of twitchy eagerness in his movements, Habeas began to turn himself around in the direction leading from the kitchen. "Now, if you'll pardon me for a minute, I've got to go check something real quick."

Keeping his mirthful visage, Habeas trotted in a leisurely fashion in the direction of the stairwell, walking up them after. He was soon gone, leaving Persica alone for the time being. Humming as she thought over what her lover was indubitably planning, the mare began slowly walk up to the counter where the pickle she was once eating rested. Sighing to herself again, she picked the vegetable up, brought it back to her lips and continued to eat it where she left it off, once more savoring that tangy taste only a scrumptious, crunchy pickle could provide.

Habeas finished moving up the stairs in a scant few seconds and then made his way toward his and Persica's bedroom. Why he was heading that way was to, what else, check over his betrothal gift. Just to make sure it was all good and safe, as he constantly did in days like these. He took time to set the dinner coming up this weekend, Saturday to be specific, and that was going to be the fateful day when he would find out if Persica wished him to truly be hers.

Saturday. It would happen Saturday. Yes, Saturday night, that night, when he took her out and served her the best dinner in her life, he was going to propose to her. This time for sure. He was going to tie that delicate ribbon that had evaded him for so long. He was going to do it at last, as he should have done a long time ago.

Eventually getting into the room, Habeas trotted over to the lamp hiding the key and lifted it. Relief swept through Habeas as he found the little thing, safe and sound, within the spot he had so carefully hidden it. That wretched little pest hadn't discovered it. Even if it had found it, Habeas felt content with the knowledge Persica bestowed upon him about how boggarts seemed to have an aversion to iron. Picking it up, the exuberant changeling placed it in the lock and twisted it.

"Thank goodness... that little creep-thing still hasn't gotten to it," he breathed to himself reassuringly as he pulled the key out and tugged open the drawer. Now free to gaze upon that which laid within, he peered into the dark depths of the opened compartment, expecting to see the precious article of engagement. He expected with the utmost certainty that he would see it.

Too soon he had spoken, for that wasn't what he saw. The first thing his eyes came upon instead was a hole in the drawer's center that had been apparently gnawed in the wood where the trinket once rested. A large hole. And the necklace, including the box it laid inside of, was gone; gone from the spot where he had set it last. His eyes steadily growing to the size of dinnerplates, Habeas could only stare at the area blankly as reality took its sweet, cruel time returning to him.

No... Stricken by terror most extreme, a voiceless scream burst forth from the changeling's mouth before he could so much as halt himself in the ungodly mixture of horror and surprise that coursed through his brain in that one second. All that came out was a small, squeaking whisper. He felt faint. He felt sick.

Attempting to move back from the spot and turning about, Habeas tripped over his own feet. He stumbled to his knees before he could get more than a meter away. Catching himself, if only just, he could feel his breathing becoming strained and erratic.

And from somewhere within the walls surrounding him, a partially muffled and truly horrid, chittering laugh seemed to echo, as though observing the unfolding torment of the changeling's discovery. As though mocking him mercilessly for his lament and spilling burning salt upon the wound that had been freshly gashed into his mind.


"Now, Apini, don't give me that look."

As her husband said this, Apini kept the same look - a cold and bitter glare - glued onto him. It was for what he dragged her out of her room to do. A little while ago Bombini stated that, starting today, he was going to get her onto a little 'physical exercise' routine, or some other nonsensical activity of that degree. Such a thing was only a waste of time, and she knew that well.

Tired of giving him her unblinking leer, Apini shifted her view to the living room floor her wheelchair stood upon. From several feet away stood Honey, watching the whole thing with a mien conveying much excitement. Though school for the day for both herself and Bumble had only just ended, with her elder sibling currently off working for the remainder of it at that store he had recently been hired by, she was the only child home. That didn't mean she was going to use her time up doing things by herself when she had parents to play with, or at least help out. One whiff of her father's plan later and she was positively ecstatic to lend him what she could give.

"Mom, why are you acting so grumpy about this?" She asked her mother this with much curiosity as to why she didn't seem to want any part of what was going on. "This is going to be fun! Don't you wanna have fun?"

"I believe she does," concurred Bombini with great enthusiasm, nodding her way. "Apini, don't you agree with your daughter? C'mon, cut us some slack," he then said, patting one of her forelegs. Apini rotated her head up to his smiling face once more, giving him a dry look of her own.

Bombini saw her dull reaction and consequently pursed his lips. "You should put that little grimace away and put on a grin instead," he said. "Because, starting today, you're going to learn to walk again. Isn't that great?"

While Honey let out a cheer of encouragement, Apini, too, put on a smile. A sarcastic, biting smile aimed at the changeling that was her husband. He wanted to get a cripple like her to walk again. What an idea indeed!

From even the slightest of glances, anyone could see that Apini's front legs were in decent health. Her hind legs, though - the legs she hadn't used since the accident - looked quite thin and a little bit atrophied from their lack of real activity. They still appeared to perhaps be in good enough of a condition to walk on, though. And that was just what Bombini had in mind when he put together this plan of his.

And though he saw that smile now adorning her face, he could see past it laid the same uninterested, and very much annoyed look she had been wearing for the past several minutes. "Apini, listen," he began. "We both know how changelings like ourselves are like when it comes to sustaining injuries. We break a bone, it heals. We lose a leg or a wing, it grows back, so long as it isn't seared off with something hot and fiery. It might take a while to recover at times, a long while that may be, our bodies always find a way to renew itself. Your accident might have left you unable to move properly, but I think you could very well be healthy enough to start doing so again, right now."

A disbelieving huff left Apini. She shook her head and looked away, turning her attention to the small particles of dust floating in the afternoon sunbeams shining through the window at the other end of the room. To this, Bombini placed his hoof upon her shoulder again, patting it softly. "You may never have been there to see them yourself, but I've seen plenty of other changelings in the hive recover from injuries just like yours. Scars we may bear, but we changelings are a hardy folk. You're not as weak as you think you are. It's all dependable on how you see it, Apini."

"Yeah, Mom!" Honey agreed, flittering into the air on her wings with a buzzing noise and using them to fly over to her mother and father. "You've just gotta try!"

Grumbling, Apini turned her head back to Bombini and gave him an uncertain look.

"Dear, just try it. Try it this once, at the very least," Bombini implored to her, staring into her teal and red eyes with the same level of affection he gave to her on the day he married her; a time that now felt so long ago. "Apini, do you want to walk again? Or would you prefer to continue acting like a... how the ponies say, a 'sack of potatoes'?"

She failed to even register his comment. "Tell you what," he started again. He pointed a hoof to the chair sitting at the other end of the room, the same one Apini would sometimes sit in on some days to look out of the window. "If you make it from your current seat to that one, we can be done for the day. Does that sound like a good deal to you?"

Still nothing. Honey drifted back to the ground at her mother's continuous blatant reluctance. "Dad, are you sure about this?" she asked him, moving up to and poking a hoof into his side. Apini seemed to ask the same question with the glare she turned and fixed on him then.

"Yes, I am," he responded, keeping his focus trained on Apini in all her inflexibility. Feeling it was time to try out a new tactic, he turned next to his daughter. "Honey, can you leave the room for just a few minutes? I want to see how good your mother does by herself with just me to coach her on."

"Umm... okay." Honey's head sunk a few inches dejectedly. Raising it again and putting back on a smile, if only for what she thought would be more encouragement for her mother, she decided that such a move would probably be for the best. "I'll go play with my toys in my room. Call me back if you need anything!"

"Will do," agreed Bombini. Skipping out of the room, humming a happy little song to herself, Honey left the two to do as they would. Wasting no time after hearing his daughter move out of earshot and sight, Bombini stepped in front of Apini and gave her a frank look.

"Apini," he said to her in a slightly firmer voice than before, "please, at least make an attempt. I swear, if you move from your wheelchair to that chair, we can be done. We can be done forever - if you make it to the chair right now." To this, Apini raised one of her brows in a somewhat intrigued gesture, as though to say 'oh, really?'

She kept that same look, raising her head higher as she did so. She sat up a little straighter in her chair, taking in a deep breath as she stretched some of her upper body out. When she began sliding herself forward in her seat, it seemed obvious that she was preparing to leave it, much to Bombini's delight. For a good long second, he thought for sure she was about to make an honest attempt to use her legs to reach the piece of furniture. He was quickly proven wrong when Apini arched her back enough to let transparent wings have enough space to begin buzzing rapidly, and soon after that she sluggishly moved from her chair to the air on them.

As Bombini watched, Apini slowly flew across the room, nearing her chair in the span of seconds. Hovering up to it and turning herself about, she sat herself down nice and easily. Her wings slowly stopped buzzing and she folded them behind her shelled back, then shifted her body into a more comfortable position.

"Hmm?" she grunted, shifting the smuggest and widest grin in the world at him. "Hmm-hmm-hmm?"

Bombini turned away for a brief second, his head low and emitting a half-suppressed laugh at her attempt to worm herself around his prior vow. "Using wings is cheating," he stated, looking back to her. Apini's smile transformed back into a frown as her husband went on, walking over to her as he did so. "It's your legs we're trying to put to work. Not wings. Care to try again, in the correct fashion?"

Apini huffed and folded her forelimbs together, expressing her displeasure in the way she moved more than her voice ever could. Once again, Bombini placed his hoof onto one of her chitinous shoulders, all for the sole reason of attempting to goad her into action with kindness. "At least try, dear," he sighed into her ear. "I'm not asking you to do this for me. I want you to do this for yourself. And not just for your own sake, but for our children, too."

Hearing him, Apini's stubborn visage began to shift. She let her eyes once again drift to the floor below as he went on. "They might like having me around now, but I know for a fact that they both want you to be more involved in their lives. Can't you see it?" he asked her, his tone rigid as stone. "Bumble's made a few passing comments my way over the last few weeks about how immensely caring toward himself and Honey you 'once' were, before the accident."

Apini's head fully spun his way as he spoke to her what their son had said. An expression of plain sorrow came into her eyes at first, and it slowly began curling into one of lament. A silent minute passed by before Apini could bear the image. The entire, clear image, no longer. Summing up all the will that was hers, she pushed Bombini back a small ways, as though asking for him to make some room for her to do something.

Now more confident that his wife was going to take this task with a little more seriousness, Bombini walked to the other end of the room, stood beside the vacant wheelchair Apini had left, and faced her.

"Just walk to me." His words were soft, but also assuring. "Just walk to me as well as you can manage, make it to the wheelchair, and everything will be fine. I promise you."

Uncertainty was the only emotion Apini experienced in the seconds that followed. Her mind raced, thinking of everything this exercise would entail. Even if she were to try and do this, however unlikely such a thing as regaining her ability to walk seemed, she felt like a young child being cajoled into taking its first steps. It was a sensation that felt as embarrassing as it was... necessary.

She inhaled, held her breath for a moment, and exhaled. Opening her eyes, she bent over and placed her front hooves onto the wooden floor. Getting a firm stance on the floor, she allowed the rest of herself to slide out of her chair like a slug moving over a leaf in a garden. As soon as she did, her body sank low with zero resistance from her numb hindquarters, though she was still held up only by her aforementioned front limbs.

Apini gave a quick side glance to her sagging back legs. The aged and stiffened joints had a small, small feeling to them, however dull it was. It was easy to mistake for nothing, yet Apini tried as hard as she could to make out anything but that nothing. But even in spite of her effort, as she could see well, they moved with all the liveliness of an unused marionette.

With no short amount of forcefulness and strain in her movement, Apini practically dragged her hindquarters across a portion of the wooden floor, struggling with all her might to get them into stride. Her fanged teeth gritted together as she went, hoping and attempting to lift her accursed, limp limbs. Then, almost like her hopes had been answered in one second, her back hooves, both of them, touched the floor with a hollow clop. A sensation she hadn't experienced in well over a year filled her entire being then, its feeling as alien as it was familiar.

Her hind hooves finally getting in the motions that mimicked her front ones, she took one light, frail step, then two, then three in greatly less than perfect, but partially stable harmony. Slowly, minutes apart from each tread in fact, Apini gained ground over the floor of the living room. She took another weak step, and then another, putting all her physical might behind each bout of movement. The changeling, more than once, thought of using her wings to aid her in the effort, but she ignored the idea. As the stress from this action took its toll, Apini felt like her legs, the back ones shaking awfully and her front ones trembling as well from supporting them, would actually take her to that stupid wheelchair.

But alas, as several grand feet laid between her, her husband and the wheelchair, Apini relied on them for support for too long. Their quivering reaching an apex, both of her back legs gave out in unison and her frontal pair followed suit. Unprepared for the fall and having nothing to catch herself with, she collapsed with a small yelp and a flinch. Before the cold floor could meet Apini's face, the feeling of her husband's hooves caught her by her waist in their safe grasp. Panting in relief and reeling in realization at what she had just accomplished, she took in a few deep, shaken breaths, before finally letting her eyes stare up at the beaming visage of her husband.

"That's a good job," Bombini tenderly whispered to her, giving her a warm, proud smile, bringing her close in a joyous embrace. "That's a good job."