• Published 16th Jun 2020
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The Power of Two - Locomotion

A young changeling runs away from home, only to be attacked by timberwolves in the Everfree Forest. Fortunately, Locomotion is on hoof to save her - but little do they know that she has a spy on her tail...

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Chapter 20: Loco in Love

The soft clanging of buffers and the huffing and puffing of engines filled the air, but Locomotion barely noticed it. Leaning heavily against the cabside, he watched lethargically as Lignite, his firepony, filled up the tanks; they were only three hours into their shift, and already the red-furred unicorn was beginning to wish his engine would break down or derail as soon as they went back to work. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy his job any less – he just wanted to be with Hornette again.

“Right, we're all topped up, Loco. Wanna take her out again?”

Boy, do I ever, thought Locomotion sombrely – only to snap out of his daydream as he looked over his shoulder. “Eh?! Oh...yeah, I'll get right on it,” he stuttered, hastily releasing the brakes and opening the regulator. The engine responded with a will, lurching forward like a startled rat.

“Whoa! Take it easy, Loco!” exclaimed Lignite, grabbing hold of the handbrake to steady himself. “You don't wanna knock us outta the cab, do ya?”

Locomotion cringed and shut off steam. “Sorry, Lignite. Guess I just got distracted for a moment there.”

Lignite raised an eyebrow. “Not like you to get this distracted,” he remarked. “You had a rough night or something?”

“Nah, far from it,” answered Locomotion with a hint of indignation. “I was just up really late – it's probably just tiredness.”

Privately, Lignite wasn't convinced; but he thought better of arguing about it. “Well, if you're sure,” he said dubiously, and turned his attention back to the pressure gauges. “What's our next assignment?”

Locomotion quickly checked the clipboard in front of him, which contained their schedule for the day. “Uh...reefers to Track 6 for the No. 384 Express Freight.”

“Best get a move on then,” advised Lignite. “She'll be here in about five minutes.”

“What?! But I thought she was still...” Locomotion quickly stopped himself, but he wasn't nearly quick enough.

Lignite shot him a confused double-take. “What are you talking about?”

“N-nothing,” stammered Locomotion awkwardly as he gently braked the engine to a halt at the neck of the yard. “I just thought you meant someone else.” I just wish I could stop thinking about that someone and get on with my work, he thought unhappily.

The reefers were waiting for them on the far side of the yard. They had already been loaded with apples earlier that morning, and were now ready to be taken away on the express freight to Canterlot. Engine crews have to be extra careful when shunting them; but Locomotion was so preoccupied that he almost misjudged his stopping distance. It was only when Lignite shouted a sudden warning to him that he slammed the brakes hard on, stopping barely an inch away from the front van's buffers.

“Mind what you're doing!” he chided. “I know we're on a shunting turn, but not that kind!”

By now, Locomotion was growing increasingly irritated – not so much with Lignite or his engine, but with himself for his lapse in concentration. “Look, I don't need other ponies to tell me how to do my job!” he snapped crossly. “Now cut me some slack, will you?! I'm having a hard enough time as it is without being heckled!”

“I'm not trying to heckle you,” objected Lignite, “I'm just trying to help you along.” He paused for a few seconds before adding, “Are you sure you're okay? I don't think I've ever...”

Just drop it, will you?!” growled Locomotion through gritted teeth.

The older stallion frowned and rolled his eyes as he got out to couple up the vans. Locomotion sure was being edgy today, he thought unhappily; if this were to keep up, he would probably be hearing about it from Max Pressure.

For a while, though, it seemed that Lignite had no need to worry. Once the vans were coupled up, Locomotion eased them out of the siding so gently that one would never have believed he had been so distracted. Sadly, it couldn't last – in his effort to avoid jostling the vans, Locomotion forgot to watch his speed as he pushed them onto the other line.

“Loco! Slow down!” shouted Lignite above their engine's exhaust. “You're gonna hit those trucks up ahead!”


“The trucks – you're gonna hit 'em!!”

Locomotion looked ahead, and sure enough, he could see a line of flatbeds and open wagons in his path. But this time, he really did misjudge his stopping distance, and didn't apply the brakes hard enough – they had barely slowed down to walking pace when the reefers rammed into the parked trucks with an almighty thud, nearly knocking the two ponies off their hooves.

At last, Lignite lost patience. “Alright, Loco, what is wrong with you?!” he demanded. “Banging into trucks, handling our engine like a sack of conkers – this isn't like you at all!”

But Locomotion was too shaken and embarrassed to give a straight answer. “I...I'm really sorry, Lignite,” he faltered, taking a sudden interest in the trackbed.

“It's not me you should be apologising to,” said Lignite indignantly. “Max won't be pleased when he finds out about this, I'll tell you that for nothing. Now stay here and pull yourself together – I'm off to check for any damage.”

Locomotion grimaced with shame, not even daring to reply as Lignite climbed down and began examining the trucks. He wasn't looking forward to hearing what Max had to say...

Fortunately, Lignite and Locomotion hadn't been going fast enough to cause any real damage; no-one had been hurt, and all the trucks were still on the rails, so they could shunt the reefers straight onto the express freight as soon as it arrived. Nevertheless, the damage it dealt to Locomotion's pride was so severe that his handling of the shunting remained sluggish for the rest of the day, as he tried harder than ever to avoid another accident.

By the time the red unicorn came to the end of his shift, he was feeling stressed and exhausted. He brought his engine on shed, breathing a thankful sigh when he saw the relief crew waiting for him – but no sooner had he got down from the cab than the shed forestallion came over looking very serious. His message to Locomotion was short, but not sweet; “Max Pressure wants to see you in his office.”

Locomotion groaned wearily. This really wasn't his day, was it? “Alright,” he murmured resignedly, “just as soon as I've cleaned up.” He plodded away to the crew quarters, his head hanging and his tail between his legs as he brooded over the earful he thought he would receive.

Max was on the telephone when Locomotion entered a few minutes later. He had recently ordered some new engines from Hoofington, and was inquiring about their delivery. Looking up from his order form, he saw Locomotion peeking into the office and beckoned him inside. The young stallion obliged, but avoided looking at him. Eventually, Max finished his phone call and put down the receiver.

“You sent for me, sir?” asked Locomotion cautiously.

Max turned to face him. “Yes, Loco,” he said gravely. “I hear your shunting was kinda sloppy today; and on top of all that, I'm told you nearly wrecked a cut of reefers this morning.”

“I'm really sorry, Max,” began Locomotion without thinking. “I didn't mean to lose my concentration so easily – I dunno what came over me, honest I...”

“Hey, hey, hey...” interrupted Max, raising his right hoof. Locomotion ruefully subsided. “...I'm not angry with you, Loco,” he continued softly. “I'm just kinda worried about you. This must be the first time you've slipped up so badly on a shunting turn – you, my youngest and most dedicated employee – even as a passed firepony, you were never this bad.” He leaned forward, trying to meet Locomotion's downcast gaze. “You wanna tell me what's on your mind?”

Apart from a subdued sigh, Locomotion remained silent. He just wanted the floor to open up and let him drop out of sight.

“You got some trouble at home?”

At long last, Locomotion managed to speak up. “Well...not so much 'trouble' as...well, a sort of 'empty space',” he confessed. “It's been preying on my mind all day, and I don't know why.”

But Max seemed to know already. “Is it to do with the changeling?”

Locomotion looked a little put out. “I do wish you wouldn't call her that, Max,” he grunted indignantly. “Hornette has a name, you know; and before you ask, no – she hasn't been hypnotising or manipulating me in any way. In fact, I'm prepared to swear it to Princess Celestia herself!”

“Hey, take it easy, Loco,” soothed Max, “I'm not trying to get at you or anything.” He paused for a moment while he rethought what he was going to say. “Look, I can see I've touched a raw nerve, and I'm really sorry – but I don't actually have anything against Hornette. I will admit I was...a little uneasy about the whole thing, and I may have pleaded with Twilight to keep me in the loop regarding all those memory scans and such...” He smiled apologetically, sensing the injured resentment in Locomotion's expression at having his trust betrayed. “...but I've gradually come to realise just how...genuine she is, especially when she saved your life last week.”

Locomotion softened a little. “You know about that?” he asked, his memory failing him briefly as he forgot about Featherweight's newspaper story.

Max chuckled. “It was all over the papers, Loco – everypony knows about it.”

“Oh...yeah...” muttered Locomotion, frowning with embarrassment. “...but I still don't understand why you felt you had to be in on all this,” he added. “Even if Hornette was plotting against me, Celestia forbid, Twilight would have easily sorted it out on her own.”

“Well...you have to understand, Loco, I'm not getting any younger,” said Max wisely, “so I'm bound to be set in my ways in some respects. Besides...I don't normally like to play favourites with my employees, but you've always been something special to me – almost as much a nephew to me as to your Uncle Steamer.” He sighed mournfully, gazing at the faded photograph on his desk. It depicted a young couple in full wedding dress, standing in front of an unusually pristine goods engine which itself was decked with wreaths and garlands. “We never had a foal to call our own,” he lamented. “You and all the other juniors on my payroll...you kinda make me realise what I've been missing all these years.”

Locomotion frowned sympathetically. He had only been three years old and hadn't even met Max when he lost his wife to cancer, but he knew the pain of his superintendent's loss all too well. He also knew how much it had strengthened his relationship with his employees, especially the young and the inexperienced, the future drivers and fireponies he felt so duty-bound to look out for, to steer in the right direction; they were like a surrogate family to him, and Locomotion had always been his unspoken favourite. It was times like these that reminded the red-furred unicorn just how lucky he had been in life – any other superintendent would have turned a young foal away without a second thought, but not Max Pressure.

“Anyway, that's enough about me,” said Max after a while. “You obviously feel really strongly for her, don't you, Loco?”

“Well...yeah,” conceded Locomotion, his expression growing distant. “I dunno what it is about her – most ponies think of changelings as mere monsters,” sneering in disgust as he recalled some of the harsher comments with which the young insectoid had had to contend, “but all I can see in her is...well, someone really sensitive and...'vulnerable', so to speak. Kinda like a lamb stuck in a wolf's body. I just feel like I want to be the one to help the lamb to break free...to take care of that lamb...to help her forget she was ever a wolf to begin with.”

Max smiled warmly at Locomotion's heartfelt analogy. “Well, I can't say I'm an expert on this sort of thing,” he observed, “but if you do want my advice, I suggest you go straight home and tell her how you feel. The longer you bottle it up, the more it'll prey on your mind – and then you could end up causing a really serious accident.”

“Yeah...again, I'm sorry I was so clumsy...”

“Ah, never mind, Loco,” soothed Max. “At least you didn't hurt anypony. I'll put in a good word for you with Regional Control – but be sure and get it off your chest, or I might have to demote you to firepony while you sort yourself out. There's only so many times I can bail you out, I'm afraid.” He looked furtively around the room, as if he expected to find a spy lurking in the shadows. “And just between us,” he added quietly, “I hope it all goes well for you two.”

Locomotion furrowed his brow, perplexed. “Well...thanks...I guess?”

“That's alright, Loco,” smiled Max. “You run along now; I'll see you anon.”

With that, Locomotion bid him farewell and took his leave. Only when the door closed did Max allow himself an amused shake of the head. “Poor young fella,” he sympathised. “He really does have it bad, doesn't he?” He went back to his paperwork, still smiling thoughtfully...

While Max was busy filing receipts, writing out memoranda and reviewing maintenance reports, Locomotion handed in his time card and set off for home. But he was still puzzled as he passed through the main gate.

“What in the world does he mean?” he wondered. “'I hope it all goes well for you two,' he says – it's not like me and Hornette have fallen out or whatever. And that business about 'I can't say I'm an expert on that sort of thing'...that's all very well, Max, but what sort of thing?” He looked across the yard to where he had nearly derailed the reefers. “Still,” he went on thoughtfully, “at least he's been understanding about the whole thing and not given me the bullet.”

He continued to mutter under his breath as he often did when thinking up narratives and dialogue for his fanfictions, trying to take his mind off the issue. But it seemed his mind had other ideas; no matter what he said or how hard he tried, he couldn't shake what seemed like a thousand voices echoing inside his head...

This must be the first time you've slipped up so badly on a shunting turn...

Not like you to get this distracted...

Pinkie was right – you really are an angel.

...you've been a rock for me to cling onto, and I don't ever want to lose your friendship...

I've gradually come to realise just how...genuine she is...

I just feel like I want to be the one to help the lamb to break free...

It must be a bit strange, not having her around all the time...

Says the pony who saved her in the first place...

...to take care of that lamb...to help her forget she was ever a wolf to begin with...

That was the best night I've ever had in all my life. Just...thank you...

And then, almost out of the blue, came the one thought which put everything into perspective...the one that had crept into his mind while seeking comfort from Hornette – “Is this what it feels like to be in love?” Locomotion's eyes widened in dismay, his heart skipping a beat as he raised his left hoof to where she had kissed him the night before. Suddenly, it all made sense – the picnic date, her display of affection, his distracted state of mind...even that warm, fuzzy feeling he got whenever he saw her smiling – he was already at that stage, and he hadn't even realised it! How could he have been so blind?!

The red-furred teen's brow furrowed as his brain seemed to race out of control. He was by no means averse to the idea of courting a female of a different species (indeed, he often fantasised about it in his dreams), but what about Hornette? How would she feel if she knew that he, a pony, had fallen for a changeling such as herself?! If he had been afraid of rejection in the past, it was now terrifying the living daylights out of him. Even Max and Rarity's wise words only seemed to make matters worse;

You and Hornette have a really strong bond...and I just want to help you make the most of it.

...I suggest you go straight home and tell her how you feel. The longer you bottle it in, the more it'll prey on your mind...

Locomotion's place slackened as his entire frame seemed to stiffen, until eventually it seized up altogether and left him standing with his teeth clenched and his eyes shut tight. All these echoing voices in his head, this vast maelstrom of emotions...it was really starting to overwhelm him! Whether this was for real or he was just imagining it, he didn't know; but he almost thought he could hear Discord somewhere behind him, egging him on in a sly gangster voice;

Alright, Sparky, here's the deal – if you want the little lady, you gotta be a straight shooter, do ya got it?” And then, in his normal voice, the very words that finally pushed him over the edge; “Tell her – the TRU-U-UTH!!!!

STOP BOTHERING ME!!!!” Locomotion's frustrated yell seemed to echo all around Ponyville, startling several passers-by and making them stare in confusion. Feeling the thousand eyes gazing in his direction, the red-furred unicorn cautiously opened his own – and almost immediately, his anguish turned to profuse embarrassment as he realised what he had just done. “Oh, D-rat, I said that out loud, didn't I?” he muttered, already wishing he hadn't.

“Loco? Is everything alright?” Looking over his shoulder, Locomotion saw none other than his old friend Octavia sauntering towards him, a look of motherly concern in her eyes. In that very instant, all he wanted was to curl up and die of shame.

“Oh...hey, Octavia,” he mumbled awkwardly. “Sorry about the outburst – I was just going through possible fanfic dialogue.”

“By belting it out at the top of your lungs?” said Octavia, raising a dubious eyebrow. “Loco, I know you better than that – yes, you may talk to yourself at times, but never at full volume.” She rested a hoof on his shoulder, trying to look him in the eye. “Come now, darling,” she coaxed gently, “what's the matter?”

Locomotion sighed heavily. He wasn't too sure he wanted to talk about his issues a second time, especially out in public; but he couldn't possibly say no to a sympathetic ear from Octavia. “I just don't know what to do with myself,” he answered glumly. “I'm in a right muddle over my own feelings – almost got into a shunting accident because of it – and now I can't even seem to think straight.” Tentatively, he allowed his gaze to meet hers. “You'd probably understand how I feel...sort of...”

Octavia nodded patiently, “So how do you feel?”

“Well...I can't be absolutely certain as yet, so don't take my word for it, but...I...” The red-furred unicorn paused for what felt like an age. “...I think I'm in love,” he managed to say at last. His voice was low and meek as he forced out those crucial words, almost low enough to make Fluttershy's mice jealous; but it was just loud enough for Octavia to hear.

“Oh my word,” she gasped in awe, the hoof on his shoulder swiftly covering her mouth. “I was wondering how long it'd be before you found a potential suitor. So who's the lucky filly?”

“Well, it's...um...” Locomotion tensed up again. “...it's kinda complicated, really...”

“Oh? Why, does your shed door not swing that way after all?”

“Eh?! No, no, no, it does,” replied Locomotion, flustered. “It's just that...well, she's not exactly a...a pony, per se.”

Again, Octavia raised an eyebrow. “What's wrong with that?” she objected. “I thought you were an advocate for interspecies couples.”

Locomotion fell silent. His ears drooped, and his whole body locked up again as he felt the weight on his shoulders increase, threatening to crush him where he stood. So much for talking to Octavia about his problems, he lamented – family friend or not, there was no way she would understand, let alone be able to help. With a look of dismayed sorrow in her eyes, the grey Earth mare wrapped a comforting arm around his withers; but before she could say anything...

“Hey, Tavi, what's up?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Locomotion noticed Spike strolling casually towards them. He was carrying a giggling Jade on his shoulder, and a bag of groceries in one arm – by the looks of it, he must have been out shopping.

“Oh...good afternoon, Spike,” said Octavia absent-mindedly. “You'll have to excuse us; Loco's having a bit of a moment.”

Spike chuckled knowingly. “I can take a guess why.”

Locomotion looked up at him, eyes full of sudden realisation. “You knew,” he whispered. “You knew all along.”

“I'm surprised you didn't,” quipped Spike. “Me and Rarity, we could tell you two were attracted to each other right from the off.”

“And you never thought to tell me?”

“Well...you never asked us,” said Spike reasonably. “Besides, we didn't want to meddle too much in your relationship. Better that you found out for yourselves.”

“Um...pardon my ignorance, Spike,” interjected Octavia, perplexed, “but I'm rather failing to understand what you're implying.”

Spike stared incredulously for a moment before breaking out into hearty laughter. “Oh, Tavi,” he spluttered, trying to pull himself together before Jade lost her balance, “it's obvious what's going on – the Red Knight finds the Damsel in Black from faraway lands, saves her from the hungry timberwolves, and now...” He said no more, but winked broadly.

“So...Hornette?” Octavia looked at Locomotion, who only nodded stiffly in reply. “And you thought I might ostracise you just because you felt that way about a changeling?” she asked, her confusion giving way to mild amusement.

Locomotion sighed again and looked at his hooves. “It's not that simple, Octavia,” he murmured pathetically. “I mean, let's face facts – she's a changeling. I'm a pony. Even if we did manage to start a relationship, how long would it be before she receives fresh criticism for stealing my love? I couldn't possibly do that to her.”

“What, make her happy that she's got someone to love in the first place?” objected Spike. “What's the harm in that?”

“You don't understand...”

“Of course I understand,” interrupted Spike, softening his tone again in sympathy. He knelt down slightly, taking one of Locomotion's hooves in his free hand. “You're scared because you're new to the dating scene, and even more so because you've fallen for someone of a different species to your own – but you're not alone, you know. Rarity and I have been there ourselves a fair few times; but we still managed to work it all out, me and her. I'm sure you and Hornette can do the same.”

Octavia nodded in solemn agreement. “As far as I'm aware, Loco, you must be the first pony who's ever felt this way for a changeling; but I for one am willing to accept that, regardless of how others might feel. As a wise pony once said, there's a first time for everything. But if you don't act on those feelings, then goodness knows how it might affect you in the long run.”

“But supposing I do tell her how I feel?” protested Locomotion. “What if she loses trust in herself and keeps her distance from me?”

“Or what if she feels the same way? Take it from me, Locomotion,” said Octavia wisely, “it's far better for you to take the risk than not know at all. Don't follow the same path Vinyl and I nearly did.”

Locomotion frowned. He knew all too well what Octavia was implying, and the mere thought of it made him tense up with sympathy and dread. “Well...what should I say?” he murmured timidly.

“Just speak from your heart,” Octavia counselled. “You'll find the right words, I'm sure.”

“Well...I'll try,” sighed Locomotion doubtfully. Deep down, he still wasn't convinced, but said no more as he left Spike and Octavia to talk amongst themselves.

Mercifully, his thoughts had already calmed down a little, but they still prodded him incessantly as he wandered through the park. With what felt like his umpteenth weary sigh that day, the red-furred unicorn sat himself down on a nearby bench and stared unhappily down at his hooves. This just wasn't going to work, he lamented – even if Hornette did return his feelings and wish to start a relationship with him, the consequences of the press finding out would be unthinkable.

He gazed morosely across the green, mentally pleading for some sort of sign. Not that he needed to ask for one; for as he examined his surroundings, he couldn't help noticing a few couples out and about. Lyra and Bonbon were fondly cuddling on their favourite bench, Twist was dozing with Snails under a nearby tree, and Dinky was watching the fish in the stream with Pipsqueak snuggled up next to her. They all looked so contented and in love; just like Spike and Rarity...just like he and Hornette could be if only he tried...

Locomotion stood up, steeling his resolve as best as he could. Spike was right, he told himself sternly – if this was how he felt about Hornette, that was his decision and his alone, and no amount of libel from some nosy tabloid was going to change that. If anypony didn't like it, they'd just have to get used to it like they'd gotten used to other interspecies pairings over the course of time.

“I just hope you do feel the same way, Hornette,” he murmured.

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