• Published 18th Jun 2020
  • 5,831 Views, 746 Comments

Unending Love - Azure Notion



After trials and heartache, Firefly, undercover changeling love collector and wife, received a wonderful and joyous gift. But what will happen when the inevitable fallout of the failed Canterlot invasion reaches her home?

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Act I ~ Chapter 4

“Come on, honey! Last one home does cleaning for a week!”

Fine Roast panted down the dark street, trying with all his might to keep up with Sweet Leaf. Had he the breath to spare, he would have huffed in frustration. No matter how hard he tried, he could not close the gap between them. He grimaced as not only was she keeping ahead of him, she showed no signs of strain at all.

“Sweet,” he managed between breaths, “come… on. This isn’t… fair.”

“Fair?” Sweet Leaf threw her head back and laughed. “It’s a race!”

“Yes, but—” he grit his teeth and glared as she ignored him and ran faster.

Roast chased after her as she turned a wide corner. Around the bend, he was relieved to see their lone cafe straight ahead. He might not be able to get out of a week of cleaning, but at least the race would be over.

Even in the long stretch to the cafe’s front door, Roast didn’t gain a single step on her. Finally, several paces ahead of him, she passed the little decorative fencing around their outdoor seating. He pushed himself harder for the last few strides and passed onto their property, coming to a dead stop a few steps beyond the fence. He hung his head low, gasping and panting as he tried to catch his breath.

“Hey, Roast!” a familiar deep voice greeted to his left.

“Hi, Angle.” Roast looked up and waved at his friend sitting at a parasol table.

“You and Sweet Leaf havin’ a good time?”

Roast huffed. He didn’t want to make Sweet’s actions seem strange and he certainly didn’t want to run the risk of the burly stallion making good on his threat of throttling changelings. “Yeah, I guess. I gotta get inside, though.”

“Yeah, sure. You two should come by sometime. Maybe we could figure out what’s goin’ on with the both o’ you.”

“Maybe.”

Roast walked ahead and raised an eyebrow at his wife, the door propped open by her hoof.

“After you, mister Clean.” She smirked at him, bowing and gesturing exaggeratedly into the cafe.
He almost said something, but didn’t want Angle to overhear. Instead, he bit his tongue and walked into the unlit room. Sweet Leaf quickly followed and he felt her brush his tail against him as she passed.

“So, wanna go have some fun?” Her voice dripped with allure as she brushed her tail across his face.

“Sweet, I thought we were going to talk?”

“Sure, but later. I’m hungry now, so let’s go upstairs.” Tail swaying back and forth, she disappeared into the kitchen.

Roast followed, but didn’t understand. They needed to work this out and he had to fix whatever it was he screwed up.

“Honey, please!” Roast started up the stairs.

“Come on, sweet cheeks. I’m waiting,” she called in that same irritating, sultry voice.

He walked into the bedroom and locked up. In the middle of the floor, on top of a dark green cocoon, Firefly laid, undisguised.

“H-honey?” Roast stammered. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, sweetie. It’s just time.” Firefly gave him a pitiful gaze.

“W-what about working through our problems? We-we were gonna talk and figure things out and… and…”

“The hive said you need to go, so you need to go.” She shrugged and smiled sympathetically. “But don’t worry, my little Roast, I’ve got some nice changelings from the hive to help me keep our cafe running.”

“She sure does!”

Roast turned and gaped at another Fine Roast coming in through the bedroom door.

“So, come on, my love,” Firefly said, “get in.”

He turned back to her and watched in horror as she tore open the side, a sea of translucent green goo pouring out.

“But, Firefly, I… I don’t want to,” Roast pleaded into her eyes.

“Sweetheart,” Firefly hopped off the squishy mass, “this is what’s best for you.”

His double’s hoof came resting on Roast’s back. “She’s right. You’ll like it back at the hive. There’s lots of other ponies to keep you company.”

Tears filled Roast’s eyes as he gazed back and forth between Firefly and his doppelganger. He focused back on his wife’s solid, blue eyes. “B-but I want to stay here, with you! We can still work through this! It can, we can…”

“I’m sorry, Roast.” Firefly came to his side and put her arm around his neck, gently nudging him forward. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

They stepped up to the cocoon and Roast gazed down into the thick goo. The hoof on his neck urged him forward and he stepped one hoof, then another into the warm ooze. A tap at his hind legs had him set both into the small chamber. Pressure on his back and he laid down, wetting his shoulders.

He looked back at his wife, tears still clouding his eyes.

“Will—will I ever see you again?”

She simply smiled at him one last time and closed the membranous cocoon. Immediately, more fluid filled the space and he began to panic.

“Firefly, please!” He pressed his hooves against the immovable green wall, looking at her in shock as she deeply kissed the other Roast. “Firefly! Fi—lhbblb!”

The last of the air cut off and his lungs began to burn. He could only watch through tinted vision as Firefly and the new Roast walked out of the room, not once looking back.


Roast’s eyes snapped open, gasping as he lifted his head, eyes shifting around frantically. He saw the back of Sweet Leaf’s head and felt her warmth. Realizing he was in bed, he laid back on the pillow, slowly and shakily exhaling. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on breathing, willing away the nightmare. There was no cocoon, nor a replacement or sea of changeling sludge.

Trying to focus on nothing, he gently wrapped his foreleg around his wife and shifted in closer, taking in the scent that belonged only to his love.

That wasn’t Firefly. She loves you. She is trying to work things out and wouldn’t put you into a cocoon.

He was certain that was the truth, but…

What if the hive did tell her he had to go? Would she give in? What—what else could she do? We can’t run away or hide. We have nowhere to go. Roast squeezed his eyes tight, but quickly relaxed as he realized the same panic beginning to engulf him. No. Calm. Shhh. Calm down, Roast. It’s okay.

He kept his breathing even, cutting it off before it could escalate out of control. There simply was no other option than trusting in his wife. He had to believe she would have a plan. After all, she nearly ran away before he convinced her to stay. She had to have had an idea of where to go, right? But, would she even run?

Cutting himself off again before his thoughts circled, he leaned up and looked over at the clock on Sweet Leaf’s nightstand.

Four twenty-six. He sighed, closing his heavy eyes and lying back down. No point trying to get back to sleep for less than half an hour.

Even so, Roast doubted he’d be able to get back to sleep. Not after that… dream. No matter how much his eyelids told him to stay in bed, trying to nab a few extra minutes would be a waste of time and energy.

Sighing tiredly again, he turned over and sat up, slipping his hind legs off the bed. Might as well start the day if staying in bed would be counterproductive. Switching his four-fifty alarm off, he softly stepped out on all fours and quietly walked around the bed to Sweet Leaf’s clock. Squinting and fumbling in the dark for a moment, he finally found and hit the switch to turn on her five o’ clock alarm. He looked at her barely-illuminated sleeping face and gave an uncertain, half smile.

Continuing on, he tiphoofed out of the bedroom and turned around. Slowly closing the door, he took one last look at the form of his wife before the door silently tapped shut. Turning and walking through the hall to the kitchen, he hoped she was having a more restful slumber than he had.

Roast flicked on the kitchen light and headed for the espresso machine. Rarely did he drink coffee in the morning, but he knew today would need it. Pulling out and prepping the machine’s portafilter, he popped open a jar of premium Jamarecan coffee he’d ground a couple days ago. As he scooped and tamped it into the basket, he lamented as espresso should be made with fresh grounds, but shrugged as he pushed the portafilter back into place. Grinding would be too loud and he wanted to let Sweet Leaf sleep for as long as she could.

He filled the machine with enough water for two drinks and placed an espresso cup under the spout. Turning on the machine, he stared with half lidded eyes as it began its low hiss, heating up water. As it began pumping espresso into the cup, he began counting, keeping track of the brew’s darkness.

...Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, and done.

Shutting the valve off, he let the excess water drip out of the drain and grabbed his double espresso, savoring the smell directly from the small cup. He blew on the hot liquid for a short moment, then downed the entire shot, humming at the deep flavor of the shot.

Grabbing the portafilter again, he cleaned it and the cup out. Tamping more grounds into the portafilter, he reassembled and prepped the espresso machine. As he was setting a larger cup under the spout for Sweet Leaf’s morning Equestriano, he paused for a moment, furrowing his brow.

I wonder… Did Firefly get addicted to coffee before or after she met me? he chuckled at the sudden thought, imagining hyped up changelings bouncing off walls back in her hive.

Puffing in amusement, his smile slowly faded as the dream invaded his imagination. Shaking his head of the thought before his imagination could add him in a cocoon, he looked around the kitchen for something to do. Spotting the fridge, he considered grilling up an egg, but he wasn’t quite hungry yet. The paper wouldn’t be arriving for probably another thirty minutes, so that was out too.

Pursing his lips, he let out a long grunt. Still with over fifteen minutes to go before he normally got up and with nothing else to do, he figured he might as well get an early start on the day. Plus, it meant he could focus on something other than his dream and lack of sleep.

He walked back through the hallway and down the stairwell into the cafe’s kitchen. He turned on the lights and washed then dried his hooves. Pulling out the bagel former, he began gathering all the different doughs he’d pre-made a couple nights ago while Sweet was away.


“Honey? How long have you been up?”

The familiar, groggy voice of his wife broke his focus on the bagel machine. He looked behind him and saw the bed-headed form of his wife.

“Good morning,” he said, his own voice far more awake than hers. “I woke up a little before my alarm and decided to get started on baking.”

“Roast,” she took a deep, tired breath. “It’s five thirty. Why’d you turn off my alarm?”

“I didn’t turn it off, I turned it… oh.” Normally she let his alarm wake her up. He gave her a sheepish smile. “Sorry, did you set your alarm?”

“Yes. I wanted to make sure I had enough alarms in case I, well, didn’t sleep well.” She slowly blinked her tired eyes and huffed. “Sorry. Guess I should have told you.”

“No, it’s fine. I should have made sure I was switching it on, not off.”

“Communication’s hard, huh?” She chuckled sleepily. “I’m gonna go get some coffee and make breakfast. Why don’t you go take a shower?”

“Yeah, okay.” He faced back towards the bagel machine, turned it off, then set the remaining unformed dough on the counter. By the time he turned back around, Sweet Leaf was already near the top of the stairs. He started to follow, but something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, near the kitchen entrance. Turning his head, he saw the lost and found tray had a new member.

Walking over to examine it, he raised an eyebrow at the thing. The Equestrian Enquirer. He almost rolled his eyes at the notorious gossip magazine, but halfway down the cover caught his gaze.

Changelings: What Princess Celestia DOESN’T Want You to Know! (pg. 7)

“Really?” he murmured. He knew he shouldn’t, but it would be helpful to know what inane stories his customers would be talking about.

Flimsy justification in hoof, he sighed with resignation and pulled it out of the tray, flipping to page seven.

Half of the first page was a drawing of a normal house’s kitchen with an anything-but-normal changeling facing the viewer. It had shining red eyes, wide open mouth, snake-like tongue, and green venom dripping from its fangs. He pursed his lips at the drawing. No doubt such a start to the article boded well for Roast’s sanity. Deciding he’d mentally criticized it enough, he began reading.

“What ponies here at EE have dubbed The Invasion of Year 1002, came as a shock to us all. The idea that Princess Celestia would let such a disastrous event fall upon her ponies, our beloved citizens, is nothing short of a national tragedy. We wanted to find out the truth behind this and what we discovered shocked us to our cores.”

Roast squinted at the article. Accusing Princess Celestia was a bold move, and did they leave Princess Luna out on purpose?

Regardless of the integrity of the writers, he continued.

“We were able to land us an interview with political-and-interspecies relations expert, Critical Ideology. When we contacted him, he was more than willing to give us the real details of what happened only a few days ago.

“Equestrian Enquirer: Critical, thank you for taking time to meet with us.

“Critical Ideology: Glad to be here.

“EE: The Equestrian citizens and likely the entire world are wondering what happened. You were there the day of The Invasion, would you be able to shine some light upon what led to such a catastrophe?

“CI: Absolutely. You see, immediately after the creatures were flung from Canterlot and once I’d taken a day to recover, I began digging. Though I only study social and political relations between species, thanks to my specialties, the crown has granted me privileges similar to that of an ambassador. During my research at the Canterlot Castle library, I uncovered a startling fact. The librarian informed me that at least one of the princesses not only had prior knowledge of these changelings, but have been working with them for the last several decades.

“EE: Oh my. That is quite the revelation. So you’re saying the princesses have been in cahoots with these beasts?

“CI: Not only in cahoots with, but in direct control of. You see, these changelings are quite aptly named. They can change into anything and everything. That stray cat you see on the street? Could be a changeling. A bird looking over your picnic? More like a changeling.

“CI: What this revealed to me was that this wedding was planned. You see, it’s my theory that the princess has been using changelings to covertly spy on the Equestrian population. But unrest formed amongst the creatures. Princess Celestia knew about this and staged a faux invasion. Now that they’ve been made our public enemies, the enslaved changelings will have no choice but to heed the fickle whims of the Equestrian crown.

“EE: That is some absolutely stunning—”

Roast slammed the magazine shut, glaring at the offending excuse for journalism. The fact that they could even think about accusing one of Equestria’s diarchy of planning the Canterlot Invasion was… unthinkable! On top of that, this “Critical Ideology,” had the gall to theorize that all changelings, which included Firefly, were nothing more than slaves.

Unless… Roast considered for a moment, but quickly realized how idiotic that was. No. Sweet—Firefly wouldn’t lie to me about that. It didn’t even make any sense. Firefly, Bobby Pin, er, Spindle, and all the other changelings in Hoofington being spies for the princess? That’s ridiculous. Not possible.

To prove his point, he grabbed the magazine and stepped away from the counter. Normally, such things would sit in wait for their owners to retrieve them, but what if someone happened to “accidentally reappropriate” it? As one of the two employees and owners of a coffee shop, it wasn’t reasonable to expect he could keep track of every valuable a customer may have left behind. Besides, who came looking for a lost magazine anyway?

Discretely peering left then right even though there was nopony else around, he casually and innocently walked over to the trash and dropped the magazine inside.

“Sorry about that bud.” Roast patted the edge of the can. “Must’ve tasted terrible.”

He snorted, hoping to never see that article again.

Realizing he still had a shower to take, he turned and headed up the stairs. At the top, he turned left into their bedroom and spotted the ruffled bedding. He paused for just a moment, wondering if Sweet Leaf’s side of the bed was still warm. Tearing his eyes from the sheets, he continued right past the bed and into the bathroom and turning on the shower’s water. As he tested the water, the desire flashed through him to go burrow into the bed, seeking the last bit of his wife’s lingering scent.

But, of course, Roast thought and grunted, if I did that, I probably wouldn’t come back out. Probably.

Stepping into the water, he relaxed under the warm spray and began using his shower time as he normally did. That is for thinking while he cleaned. And relaxing while soaking in the warmth, of course. He squirted a dollop of shampoo into his hoof and began massaging it into his mane and tail.

He sighed as he was not looking forward to the day. Not only were he and Firefly supposed to have their talk tonight, the customers were probably going to be going on and on about changelings, changelings, changelings, just like the previous four days. Roast guessed an averted national takeover sparked quite the interest as the papers were still featuring changeling stories.

Another sigh escaped his nostrils. He rinsed his mane and wished the day would be over already so he could get some real sleep. He paused for a second as he was reminded of what Sweet Leaf said. He thought back to her words.

In case she didn’t sleep well? Why wouldn’t she sleep well? She said she figured things out which means she knows what the problem was. Or is? Which if she knows what it is and she’s still worried, then it’s got to be something big enough for her to worry about.

This all started right around the time Wavy came and accused her of being a changeling. Sweet seemed to have placated him pretty well, so that couldn’t be...

Roast’s eyes widened. What if that’s what her meeting was about? Was there a contingency that if they were ever accused, they’d have to leave? What if the other changelings called a… a cleanup crew instead and she can’t do anything about it?

He shook his head clear of those thoughts. No, stop. You’re working yourself up again. You don’t know what’s going on and Silver Trinket didn’t know what she was talking about. Trust. Trust your wife. Trust that she is being honest and wouldn’t go against what she said.

It felt like inner conflict was engulfing him. He did trust her, or so he forced himself to believe. Roast wished they could have their talk right now, but at the same time he dreaded it. He didn’t know what to think or do and it made him so… anxious! What was she going to do if—

STOP! Stop coming up with what ifs! He huffed angrily at himself. If all you’re going to do is mentally chase your tail, then no long shower for you today.

He quickly shampooed and rinsed his tail and coat, refusing to think about his wife or their situation or anything.

As he was about to turn off the water, he hesitated for a moment and glared up at the showerhead. Maybe he should turn the water cold. Maybe that would shock those stupid thoughts out of him.

He snorted. No, that’s silly, Roast. Just… go dry off. Also, stop talking to yourself.

Doing as he’d told himself, he turned off the shower. Grabbing a towel, he began soaking up most of the wetness. After he was merely damp, he opened the curtain and stepped out, walking to the sink. Grabbing his and Sweet Leaf’s hair drier, he turned it on and began running the hot air over himself.

Satisfied that he was almost completely dry, he opened the bathroom door. Immediately, the smell of haybacon and coffee hit him. Walking to the kitchen, he saw Sweet Leaf setting out plates and utensils on the table.

“Sweet, you didn’t have to do this.”

His wife turned around and smiled at him. “I know, but it’s been a while since I made breakfast and since you did it last week, I figured we could use a better breakfast than a slice of toast and some oatmeal.”

“Well, thank you, hun.” Roast returned her smile.

“Take a seat, the eggs are almost done,” she said, returning to the stove.

Roast tried to keep up his smile and positive feelings, but he couldn’t help the low boiling anxiety. Only five days ago his life seemed so normal. The most he had to deal with before was bad coffee salesponies and the occasional creep making a pass at his wife. Now, well, he didn’t even know what it was he had to deal with.

He merely hoped everything would turn out okay in the end.


“That’ll be nine bits, please.”

The mare fished the requested amount from her saddlebag, placing it on the counter.

Roast gathered the bits and dropped them into the register. “Thank you, ma’am. When your order is ready, we’ll call your name at the serving counter to your right.”

She nodded and left to find somewhere to sit. A mare and her colt stepped up to take her place.

“We’ll be right with you to take your order.” Picking up the two empty latte cups, he turned around and walked to the other counter, placing the cups on the left side.

“Another two for you, Sweet.”

“Okay, thank you. And Roast?”

Roast had almost turned back to the register. “Yes?”

“I love you.”

He tried to return her warm smile the best he could, but it felt hardly good enough. “I love you too, Sweet.”

As he walked back the few steps to the register, Roast wished he could have a few moments break. Already he felt exhausted and the cafe had only been open an hour and a half. He was starting to regret offering to swap positions with Sweet for the day. He was thinking taking over caring for customers would let her sort out anything she might have needed to before their talk that night.

But regardless of his own feelings or doubts or insecurities, she was still his wife and his love. She deserved the best he could give.

“Good morning, ma’am. What can I get for you?”

“Hi. My son would like an iced…”

The cafe door’s bells jingled and Roast’s eyes flicked over. In stepped three white furred guardsponies in full, brown city armor and immediately the earth pony in front locked eyes with Roast.

His heart nearly froze as they walked not to the line, but to the end of the counter.

“…take a caramel latte with—”

“I apologize, ma’am,” Roast interrupted, eyes flicking back to the guards waiting off to the side. “It looks like the city guard needs something.”

The mother looked over and gasped. “Oh, my. Of course.”

Roast turned and walked towards the armor ponies. He felt his mouth dry as he saw the sheathed swords at their sides.

“Good morning, sirs, ma’am,” Roast greeted, nodding to the two stallions and mare. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Are you Fine Roast?” The lead guard said gruffly.

Roast’s eye flicked to the other unicorn guards at his side and his breath nearly caught in his throat as he saw the hoofcuffs, and wing cages on their utility belts.

“Y-yes,” he silently cursed his stutter, “that’s me.”

“My name is Lieutenant Steel. We’re going to need to speak with you and your wife.” He peered behind Roast.

“Sure, just a moment, let me get—”

“Honey?” Sweet Leaf calmly stepped up to his side. “Is there something wrong?”

Roast could only thank the stars that she was collected, unlike him. “The, um, they—”

“We need to speak with you and your husband, ma’am.”

“Certainly,” she said with a smile while Roast felt like the world was collapsing around him. “Would you mind if we took this into the back?”

“That’s fine. Lead the way.”

Sweet Leaf stepped off, and Roast felt her tail against his side. Roast dumbly followed her through the archway to the kitchen. Okay. Okay. Calm. Stay calm. Or get calm. Let her handle this for right now, at least until you can talk without fumbling all over.

Once they’d all entered, Sweet turned around and Roast took after her example.

“Now, what can we help you with?” Sweet Leaf asked, still as infuriatingly composed as ever.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask the two of you to come with us to the guard station,” Lieutenant Steel explained, reaching back into a pouch, retrieving a folded sheet of paper, unfolding and presenting it to Sweet Leaf. “Here is a warrant signed by the Captain of the Hoofington Guard and the mayor.”

She reached with a wing and took it, reading it over.

“A source we’ve legitimized,” Lieutenant Steel continued, “made claims against you for the changeling impersonation of Sweet Leaf. We would like to inform you that we have guards at all exits and we would appreciate your cooperation.”

“I… see.” Sweet Leaf exhaled, giving the warrant back to him. “I really wish he’d left it alone. This is going to end up being a lot of needless trouble for all of us.”

“Will you come with us or—”

“Yes,” Sweet Leaf cut him off. “I have no problem coming with you, but I would like to make a couple requests first.”

Steel narrowed his eyes at her. “What are they?"

“I’m assuming you have a carriage you’ll be taking me in.”

“That’s correct.”

Sweet Leaf nodded. “Then I’d like to ask that you bring it around to the rear door.” She nodded her head behind her, at the alleyway door. “I would prefer not to be paraded around in hoofcuffs in front of my customers.”

“I see no reason why we can’t do that.” He turned to the stallion at his side. “Go tell the sergeant to bring one of the carriages around back.”

“Yes, sir.” The stallion nodded and left.

Steel turned back to Sweet Leaf. “What was the other request?”

“We’re the only two employees of this cafe. Would you let us close up before we go with you?”

His gaze remained narrowed at her for a long moment. “I’m afraid not. My orders are to bring you to the guard station with as little delay as possible.”

“Well, how about Fine Roast staying behind then?” Sweet Leaf raised a questioning hoof.

What?! No! Roast frantically thought. I want to go with you! Don’t make me—

“You need to bring me in as soon as possible,” she continued. “You could leave some guards behind and bring him along once he’s done. Only long enough to make sure the customers know what’s going on and so we can ensure the building doesn’t burn down.” Her eyes pointedly flicked over to the hot ovens.

Steel followed her gaze, then looked back at her and Roast. “Very well. I will allow him to close the shop and follow afterwards.”

“Then I have no problem leaving with you now.”

“H-hon, I want to come with you,” Roast said, finally finding his voice.

Sweet Leaf turned to him. “It’s fine, sweetie. This is just a big misunderstanding.”

She winked the eye opposite of the guards and he immediately realized his folly.

“I know you’re not, though! You’re Sweet Leaf, my wife! You can’t be…” he trailed off.

Sweet Leaf looked Roast directly in the eyes. “Honey, It’ll be okay. Let me handle this,” she emphasized softly. “After I leave, you help the guards with whatever they need.”

He looked back at her for a short moment before he understood. Let her handle it. She said that same thing with Wavy. I think it means… it means shut up.

“Okay,” he said quietly.

“Ma’am, we’re going to need to place these on you.” He unclipped a pair of hoofcuffs and his fellow unicorn guardspony reached back, unhooking wing cages from her belt.

“Of course. Go ahead.”

Roast could only stare blankly as she sat back and held out her forehooves, the stallion clamping cuffs around them. Then she stood straight and the unicorn mare hoof placed the cages around Sweet Leaf’s wings. She snapped them shut with a flick of her hoof, locking his love’s flight away. He was terrified this would be the last sight he’d have of her. Hooves bound, feathers bunched up in those damned cages. He couldn’t imagine a life without…

He watched through teary eyes as she turned back to him.

Sweet Leaf smiled, one of the most loving smiles he’d ever seen from her. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

That one sentence almost broke him as a tear slid down his cheek.

“I… okay. I’ll see you—” He choked on the last word and trembled.

They were taking her. He wanted to rush them, punch them, protect his wife, run away with her! But he knew. The only one that would suffer would be the love of his life.

He was completely and utterly helpless.

“Please come with us, ma’am.”

Roast felt another tear drip down his face as he watched the two guards lead her out the back door, a white painted, enclosed wood carriage already waiting outside. After speaking with another guard for a moment, the lieutenant came back in and shut the door, cutting off Roast’s final view of his wife climbing into the carriage.

Lieutenant Steel walked up to Roast and placed a hoof on his shoulder. “I’m very sorry you have to deal with this, sir. I promise you, we will do everything we can to find the truth and, if it comes to it, your wife.”

Roast could only stare at the stallion and nod. Be strong. Be strong for her. They might not find out. And… and right now she needs you to fight for her.

“Right.” Roast nodded again and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Right. I gotta close up shop.”

“Yes sir. Please do so.”

“Okay.” He took a deep breath, and held. Trust her. It’ll be okay.

He released the air and determinedly walked back out into the guest area, stopping at the edge of the counter.

“Excuse me everypony,” he loudly called out. Looking around the room, he watched as the conversations died down and all eyes turned towards him. “I apologize for the interruption to your morning. The guard has informed me and my wife that they need our help with an urgent matter and we will need to close the cafe. For those of you who have already paid, but not received your orders, please come up so I may refund you.”

He looked out at them for another second before turning and taking his post at the counter. Ponies began to file in and he no longer regretted swapping with Sweet Leaf. He would have gladly taken over her position until the end of time if only he could know that she’d be okay.


“That’s everything, sir,” Roast said once he’d turned off the ovens.

“Thank you, Mister Roast.” One of Lieutenant Steel’s guards nodded. “I’m really sorry this happened to your wife. Now, if you’d please come with me, the L.T. has a carriage ready to take you to the station.”

“Um, out of curiosity,” Roast began, “what is it I’m needed there for?”

“We need to question you,” Lieutenant Steel said, coming around the guest area into the kitchen. “So we can compare your answers to her knowledge of your and Sweet Leaf’s past.”

Roast’s eyes widened in surprise. “There isn’t a… a spell to tell if she’s a changeling?”

Lieutenant Steel chuckled mirthlessly and shook his head. “If there were such a thing, my job would be a hundred times easier.”

Roast fought to keep the relief and surprise out of his eyes. That changed everything. She might actually have a chance! If I could just do my part right, she could come home!

“Now, if you don’t mind,” Steel continued, “I’d like to get going so we can let my fellow guardsponies get on with their investigation.”

“Wait a second,” Roast stayed right where he was and glared at the guard. “You never said anything about investigating my cafe.”

“I… apologize,” Steel said hesitantly. “This is the first potential changeling arrest we’ve made. I honestly didn’t expect it to go so smoothly and I forgot to mention it to you or your, erm, Sweet Leaf. It’s in the warrant if you’d like to see it.”

“Yes, please.”

Lieutenant Steel retrieved the warrant again and gave it to him.

As Roast read it, he saw it did indeed state they were authorized to perform the arrest of Sweet Leaf and sweep the cafe for potential evidence. Reading further, it also said they were authorized to perform a medical examination of both him and Sweet Leaf. It still didn’t answer why they wanted to search the cafe, though.

“Alright,” Roast said, hoofing the warrant back. “What are you looking for?”

“We found—”

“Private!” the lieutenant quickly cut off the other guard, “I’m sorry, we can’t disclose that to you. Now, I would appreciate it if you’d follow me. My guards will lock the doors once they’ve finished with the investigation.”

With nothing else left he could think to say, Roast nodded and silently followed Steel out the back door. Waiting outside was a carriage that looked exactly the same as the one that took Sweet Leaf. Roast quickly squashed his hope that she’d be inside.

Steel came up to the side and opened the door, stepping aside and gesturing for Roast to climb in.

Roast entered and sat down, looking back as Steel began to close the door.

“Wait!” Roast exclaimed and the closing door paused followed by Steel peering inside.

“Yes?”

“Are you not coming?”

Steel shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I have to help lead the investigation. Your escorts will see you into the station.”

“I… Okay.”

The door closed fully this time and a moment later, Roast felt the carriage jerk forward and start moving.

His mind began racing. Okay. Answer questions. That's what they need from me.

Desperately, he tried to remember every detail about his and Sweet Leaf’s past. Would they ask her and then request he regurgitate the same event? Or maybe the other way around? What if he remembered something wrong? What if she didn’t recall the event at all? What if the times he chose weren’t important enough for her to remember?

Roast put his head in his hooves and groaned. This feels like a test. I hate tests. I can’t even look up the answers beforehoof.

Wait. He jerked his head up out of his hooves. This isn’t only about comparing memories. The other guard had mistakenly said they found something. What was it they found and where would they have found it?

Thinking back, Sweet Leaf had also said she wished “he” had left it alone. Who is this “he” pony? Or changeling?

A chill ran down his body and he froze. He had no idea if the city guards really were guards. His eyes snapped to the frosted windows on either side of the door.

I can’t even tell where they’re taking me! Sweet Leaf from his dream flashed into his mind. What if the dream was trying to tell me something?! I can leave still, Lieutenant Steel never locked the door. I could… but if I did…

I’ll be waiting for you.

Roast’s panic deflated as that wonderful, damned, love-filled smile entered his mind’s eye. He refused to believe the last thing she said to him was a lie. Even if these were changelings taking him away, he’d trust her.

She said she would be waiting and he would go to the ends of Equestria for her. She knew something he didn’t and, somehow, she knew it would end up okay. If it had to do with changelings, then she’d know what to do when they met again. But if it wasn’t…

Then he needed to be ready.

Now think. What do you know about Firefly? What could she have that they would be looking for? A cocoon, maybe? There’s not a lot of room for one of those in the building. Is there something smaller they could be looking for?

His eyebrows shot up. Crystals. They could be looking for crystals. At least they’re safe under—

Roast’s mouth dropped as surprise was replaced by dread. Oh no. Oh please, Celestia no. I never took Sweet’s crystals out of my desk. They don’t need a spell to tell she’s a changeling if they… if they have proof.

His eyes squeezed tight as bile crept into his throat. He tried to focus on anything but the day’s seemingly inevitable conclusion.

After a few moments, his nausea began to wane. Soon he was left staring at the floor, swaying with the carriage’s bumps and turns.

Maybe I’m wrong. They might not find them or maybe they’re not even looking for love crystals. There could be things other changelings left behind that Firefly didn’t. Even so, she had to have a plan for this.

If she didn’t… Roast didn’t want to even entertain the idea.

Roast was jerked out of his thoughts as the carriage quickly pulled to a stop. After a long moment of silence, the sound of muffled voices outside caught his attention as they grew louder near the door. A shadow passed by one of the right windows and the door clicked open, revealing a white guard in city armor.

“Mister Roast?” The unicorn asked, peering in at him.

“Yes?”

“Thank you for coming with us. If you could step out and follow me, I’ll show you inside.”

Roast nodded and climbed down the two steps, standing on the cobblestone road. He turned and watched as the guard closed the door behind him and loudly tapped the carriage twice.

“You all are good to go!” the guard called out and the ponies at the front drew the carriage away.

As the carriage moved out of the way, Roast saw the front of the large brick guard station. He remembered the place from the only time he had to report vandalism at the cafe a couple years ago.

Today was going to be a lot different from then.

“Please follow me, sir.”

Roast merely nodded again and walked behind the guard through the station’s wooden double doors. Inside was a reception window straight ahead and a couple rows of seating on either side of the room. Only a few ponies were waiting, one with a magazine in her hoof, another magicking a coffee cup to his mouth, but all seemed listless.

The guard led Roast to the door right of the window and levitated keys out of a pouch on his belt. Unlocking the door, he opened it and gestured for Roast to enter.

Passing in behind Roast, he locked the door and continued. As they passed through, the hallway littered with offices and a couple meeting rooms. At the far end of the building they reached a perpendicular hallway. A sign on the ceiling showed the barracks, armory, and carriage depot to the right and showed medical, investigations, and holding cells to the left. Turning towards the holding cells, they passed by more offices. Roast saw straight ahead was another waiting area, this one being an open alcove at the corner of the hallway with all the chairs facing him. As they entered the open space, he noticed the hall continued left, leading to even more offices.

He wondered, not so idly, how far down the holding cells were.

“Here you are, sir. Please feel free to have some coffee, tea, or water while you wait. Somepony will be out to see you shortly.”

“Thank you.” He watched the guard leave back the way he came then turned and stepped into the waiting room. Roast peering suspiciously at the refreshments table on which was a three-quarter filled carafe in the coffee maker. He rolled his eyes at the thing’s pitch black liquid. No doubt it had been over-brewed, sitting on the hotplate for who knew how long.

Passing by the unappealing table, he took a seat at the back wall, facing the way he came and immediately grunted uncomfortably. Shifting in place, he hoped he wouldn’t have to sit on the hard wooden chairs for long. Looking about, he saw he was the only pony sitting in the dozen-and-a-half-seat room.

A guard caught his attention as she stepped out of the hallway straight ahead and looked directly at him. “Fine Roast?”

That was quick. “Yes. That’s me.”

“If you could come with me for a moment, we’d like to ask you a few quick questions.”

Roast complied, getting out of his seat and walking over to the mare. She turned and he followed her down the hall that led back to the entrance. A few offices down, they entered a small, sparse room with a simple desk on the far side and a couple of chairs on the left wall.

Sitting at the desk was another guard, a unicorn this time.

“Hello, Mister Roast,” he said, getting up from his chair and offering a hoof bump. “I’m Lieutenant Haze, one of the resident medics here.”

“Hello.” Roast bumped his hoof.

“Please, take a seat.” Lieutenant Haze gestured to the chairs on the left.

He walked over to the chairs and turned to take a seat. As he sat down, the guard that brought him backed out into the hallway and closed the door. Roast looked expectantly at the Lieutenant.

Lieutenant Haze sat down as well. “I’d like to ask a couple questions about how you’ve been feeling the past short while, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, go ahead.” Roast nodded and thought back to the warrant. He knew it didn’t really matter if he minded or not.

“Thanks.” Haze grabbed a clipboard and pen off his desk. “So, over the last couple months, have you been experiencing any odd mental stress or strain?”

Roast hummed as he thought for a moment. He was certain this had to do with their expectation of him living with a changeling. Regardless, he was thankful he didn’t have to lie about this one. “Other than the normal stress of running a cafe, no.”

The lieutenant wrote on the clipboard then looked back up at Roast. “How about any unexpected headaches, nausea, dizziness, or lightheadedness?”

He shook his head. “No, nothing like that.”

“Perfect.” He wrote more down, then set the clipboard and pen down. He grabbed some latex hoof coverings out of a box on his desk and put them on his forehooves before scooting his chair closer to Roast. “Now, according to the warrant, we’ll need to perform a quick physical examination.”

“Alright,” Roast conceded and let the medic do his work. It ended up being very similar to an annual physical he got at his doctor.

After a few moments, Lieutenant Haze scooted back and pulled the coverings off his hooves, grabbing the clipboard and pen and writing down notes once more. “Okay, everything looks fine to me! And that’s it for my part. I’ll need to call in somepony else for the next bit. If you’ll give me one moment.” He got up and opened the door, stepping out into the hallway. Not but a few seconds later, he reentered with a female guard, closed the door, and sat back down.

“Hi, Mister Roast,” the new guard greeted. “My name’s Dawn Fire. I’m going to be doing an examination of any magical artefacts, enchantments, or spells you have on your body. Do you have anything on you that would be sensitive to a magical probing?”

“No,” Roast shook his head, now thoroughly confused with the direction of the examination. “I don’t have anything like that on me.”

“Excellent. You may feel a slight tingling sensation.”

Her horn lit and Roast's breath caught in his chest. As she said, the tingling covered his entire body and his vision became tinted orange, matching the hue of aura surrounding her horn. After a long moment, the tingling stopped, then began again, this time focused on his head. Finally, the sensation stopped and Dawn Fire regarded the medic.

“Okay, everything looks good. I sensed no odd magicks in or on his body.”

“Can I ask what you were looking for?” Roast tentatively spoke up.

Dawn turned back to him. “Of course. We received a report this morning from the Canterlot Guard. In it was a magical after-analysis of the mind control spell used on the newly wed prince. I’m happy to tell you I detected no such magic within you.”

“Huh, okay,” Roast managed. It was good to know his mind was of his own accord, though he was glad his momentary doubt of Firefly was thoroughly misplaced, at least in that aspect.

“And that’s all we needed you for.” Lieutenant Haze said, standing up. “Please come with me back to the waiting room.”

Roast got up as Dawn Fire opened the door and left the room. He followed as the lieutenant walked out, turning the opposite direction as his fellow guard. Ahead was the little waiting alcove with the unscrupulously brewed coffee.

“Thank you for your cooperation, once again, Mister Roast.” Haze pointed a hoof into the waiting room. “Please take a seat. It may be awhile before the investigator is ready to take you back.”

“Alright.” Roast turned into the waiting room and took the same hard, uncomfortable, wooden seat as before. He let out a long sigh, leaning his head back against the wall. He wished this would be over with already. All he wanted to do was go home and curl up in bed with his wife. With luck, maybe I’ll be able to tonight.

Looking around once again he saw there was now a single mare silently sitting on the opposite side of the room, two rows ahead of him. Other than her no other ponies present except the occasional guard walking by.

He supposed it was a good thing there was nopony else besides him there. It meant he could focus on trying to remember every significant event he could since he and Firefly met.

So, for our third date, I got Sweet spa vouchers. Next date she got me some— A yawn interrupted him and he repeatedly blinked his suddenly very heavy eyes.

Oh, wow. What happened? He was doing fine in the carriage and the medic’s office, but now the fatigue from that morning hit him and he fought to keep his eyes open. Roast shook his head. Come on, Sweet needs you. You’ve had far more sleepless nights and gotten through an entire day alone at the cafe. You can tough it out. Now come on, think.

He closed his eyes tight and focused. Okay. Right. For our third date I got her vouchers and for the fourth she got me, she got…


“...oast. Mister Roast?”

Fine Roast snorted and jerked upright as he felt something touch his foreleg. He blearily blinked and looked to his right at the stallion guard who woke him.

“Uh, hi,” Roast enunciated as clearly as his sleep-addled mind would let him.

“I apologize for the long wait. We’re ready to talk with you.”

“Oh, a-alright.” Roast shook his head, trying to remember what he was even here for. “How long have I... been here?”

“I sent you off from the cafe, oh,” the guard looked up at the clock on the waiting room’s back wall, “right about two and a half hours ago.”

Sent me off. But Lieutenant Steel sent meRoast’s eyes snapped open fully. Sweet Leaf!

Roast jumped out of his chair. “Lieutenant Steel?”

The guard nodded. “That’s me.”

“Right. Did she, uh, did I miss anything important?” he asked, still getting his mental faculties back up and running.

Steel held up his hoof. “Woah, settle down, Mister Roast. Nothing has happened other than the investigation at your cafe. We’re still holding Sweet Leaf in a cell, awaiting interrogation. Do you need a few minutes before we head back?”

“No.” Roast shook his head. “I’m ready. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

“Very well, then. Please come with me.” Steel walked back out to the hallway leading to the holding cells and Roast followed.

Full awareness swiftly came back to Roast as he followed the lieutenant, passing by a few doors before they stopped at a closed office door. Roast peered at the nameplate at the wall next to the door, reading “Lieutenant Sylvan Shade.”

Steel rapped on the door two times and opened it. Stepping into the room, he held the door open and gestured for Roast to enter.

As he walked inside, he was surprised to see not a guard in armor facing him behind the small office’s L-shaped desk, but a light brown pegasus mare in a dark grey suit and tie, her muted blue mane put up into a neat bun.

“Roast,” Steel began, “I’d like you to meet Refined Aura. She’s one of our Hoofington Guard detectives and will be performing the interrogation.”

Refined Aura stood from her chair, extending her wing across the desk and giving Roast a friendly smile. “It’s wonderful to meet you, Mister Roast.”

Roast hesitated for a moment and kept his eyebrow in check and unraised. The entire situation was throwing him off. Maintaining politeness, he stepped forward and reached out a hoof, touching the inside of her wing. She wrapped her feathers around his hoof and he was silently relieved that he’d read the situation right. It was an interesting feeling as her soft primaries took a surprisingly strong grip and shook his hoof. Roast wasn’t sure what to think as it was quite an unusual gesture for a pegasus to give a non-pegasus.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Miss Aura.”

She drew her wing back to her side. “Please, call me Aura.”

“You can rest easy, Mister Roast,” Steel reassured. “Aura here is one of the best detectives Hoofington has. As we’re dealing with potentially the first changeling investigations, we pulled in the best we have.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Aura said, then pointed a wing at the two seats across from her desk. “Though, please, do take a seat.”

Roast walked over and sat down on the far seat as Steel closed the office door. As he settled in, anxiety began filling him. Things seemed to be stacking against them if the guard brought in “the best.” But… something was off about this mare.

“So, uh,” Roast began, “I saw that this office belonged to a Lieutenant Shade. I’m assuming that’s not you, Aura?”

“Oh, not at all,” she said, using her wings to shuffle papers in front of her. “I couldn’t be a guard. I’m merely borrowing this desk because Shade is off today and they wouldn’t let me conduct this on the couches in the breakroom.” She began using her wings to rearrange papers into neat piles along the right side of the desk.

Steel sighed. “Miss Aura, please don’t—”

“In fact, I don’t even have an office.” She paused all motions and looked off to her left, away from Roast. “Well, not an office to myself, that is. I share it with two guards and one other detective.”

“I… see,” Roast managed.

“Anyway!” She spun around, facing Roast and Steel. “We’re here to do an interview with you, not talk about my work situation.”

“That’s right,” Steel said. “We’re going to be asking you some questions about your background with Sweet Leaf, like I said back in the cafe. Afterwards, Miss Aura will use that information during her interrogation of Sweet Leaf. If the Sweet Leaf currently sitting in our holding cell really is a changeling, there should be some glaring gaps between your and its memories. Aura will be asking most of the questions here, whereas I’m here as an arbitrator and the investigation’s oversight officer. Though, before we get started, do you have any questions?”

“Uhh, yeah, a couple actually.” Roast shifted in his seat, which happened to be padded and much more comfortable than the wooden waiting room chairs. “Did your team find anything in the cafe?”

“I’m—” Steel started, glancing at Aura who grabbed a trophy off the shelf in her wings and was turning it all around. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to say at this time.”

“Alright.” He figured that would be the case, but it didn’t hurt to ask. “My other question is, what if I misremember something, but Sweet Leaf, assuming she is Sweet Leaf, remembers it accurately? I mean, will that affect how you handle her?”

“Memories are a funny thing, Mister Roast,” Aura piped in, setting the trophy back on the shelf, aligning it with the edge. She faced him, but didn’t quite look him in the eyes.

Aura picked up a pen and began twirling and flipping it between her primaries. “They can be all sorts of weird. Sometimes, the color or feel of something gets stored in our minds wrong. Ponies even have different variations on how they store memories.”

Do I… have something on my nose? He self-consciously glanced at Steel, but the lieutenant was paying attention to Aura. Roast purposefully sniffled and wiped his muzzle, but she still stared.

“So assuming that changeling memory works similar to ours, it’s expected that granular details won’t maintain their truthy integrity in our or their brains. The things we care about are slightly bigger in scale. That and emotion,” she emphasized, flaring her wings, but still holding the pen. “The more impactful the event, the more likely the thing will be stored with greater detail in long term memory. Or at least the details pertinent to the impact.”

Her unoccupied wing folded back at her side while her other continued playing with the pen. “Though, that shouldn’t matter much here. As far as we know, though we admittedly know very little, changelings don’t possess the ability to extract memories from their targets. There are no known spells for that, either. We do know of one instance of mind control thanks to the recently wedded royal couple, but that’s inflicting influence on the target’s mental state, not retrieving information. So, while they might be able to get a verbal account of some of the target’s memories, it’s impossible to expect that changelings could force them to convey years worth of detailed memories.”

Roast simply stared at her, not quite sure what to say. The infodump was rather… informative? Even more, he was rather put off by her lack of eye contact.

“Thank you, Aura. To circle back to your question,” Lieutenant Steel said, breaking the short moment of silence. “Unless it’s something important to the event, we’re more looking for the when, where, and how, rather than the what. We’re not interested in, say, the specific color of the walls at your favorite restaurant. And, of course, they should generally be things that only the two of you are likely to know in detail.”

“Okay, that makes sense.” Some of the tension Roast had been carrying left him. Knowing that missing the exact specifics wouldn’t doom Sweet Leaf was quite relieving. “I think that’s all the questions I had, then.”

“Perfect!” Refined Aura tossed the pen into the air, catching it with her other wing, and grabbed a clipboard laying on the desk. Pen in one wing and clipboard in the other, she looked directly into Roast’s eyes. “Let’s start easy. Tell me about something simple, something recent that she’d be sure to remember, no matter who she really is.”

“Hmm.” Roast looked off to the side as he thought. Gotta stay away from obvious stuff, like our last dinner night. But maybe… The gang did tell me I should go to the guard, and enough ponies know Bobby Pin stopped by the night before she left. “Would a few nights ago work?”

“Sure,” Aura said, eyes still locked onto his.

“Okay, so, on Monday night, one of our friends named Wavy Palette stops by…”


“...but she told me that alone wasn’t enough. Sweet Leaf also wanted a heart carved around both of them. It was late in the evening, so the next day we went to a nearby jeweler and brought them the amethyst. She was beyond herself when we got it back a couple days later. She cried and hugged me saying it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever gotten.

“For me, it was an utterly harrowing day,” Roast continued, even as Aura’s eyes remained on him for uncomfortable lengths of time, occasionally flitting back to the clipboard she was writing on. “I’d gone to pick it up, but apparently as the carver was finishing one of the letters, they slipped and cracked the amethyst in half. They were able to seal it back together, but a tiny line is visible if you hold the stone just right. The carving fee was waived and they offered me a discount on my next purchase.

“I was pretty livid, but I’d managed to calm down enough by the time I arrived home. I was so relieved when she accepted it, but I was worried she’d notice it later. She never did, or at least never brought it up.”

“Excellent,” Aura said once Roast had finished, finally taking her eyes off him and finishing her notes.

It was predictable, at this point. She’d stare at him nearly the entire time he was answering her question, then after he finished recalling one of his and Sweet Leaf’s times together, she’d focus entirely on the clipboard for a few moments. Not until he began answering another question would her eyes lock back onto his.

Roast let out a sigh and swallowed with what little he had in his dry mouth. Glancing up at the clock on the left wall, he realized they’d been at this for over forty-five minutes now. It was hard, drudging up all these memories, knowing they might be the last recollection of Sweet Leaf before they take her away.

If they take her away. Roast reminded himself.

The fatigue from earlier reared its head with the lull in questioning and his eyes still had a little weight to them, but his desire to curl up in bed with his wife was more about his wife than his bed at this point. As he waited for Aura to finish writing, he thought, once more, that he’d do anything to make sure Sweet Leaf came home. But, again, you are doing everything you can to help her.

“Alright,” Aura looked back up from her notes, “that’s your third anniversary, then your first. How about your second? Did anything noteworthy happen then?”

Looking off to the side, he thought again. It was getting harder to think as his brain began to feel a bit mushy. Second anniversary, second anniversary, that was when… he closed his eyes, trying to focus, what did I give her then? I don’t remember giving her any other gifts. Come on, think!

“Mister Roast?” Lieutenant Steel asked, touching Roast’s shoulder.

Roast opened his tightly clenched eyes, looking over at the lieutenant. He hadn’t even realized he’d squeezed them so tight. “Yes?”

“Would you like to take a break?”

Take a break. He didn’t know if he’d be able to finish this up if he took a break. He was sure he could, or so he told himself, but the what if hung there like a nasty stench.

“How much more do we have to go?” he asked, looking back and forth between Steel and Aura.

“I think,” Aura said, once again not quite looking at Roast, “all I’ll need is this one and maybe one more.”

Roast tried to swallow from his dry mouth again. “Maybe a glass of water, then? I think I’m okay to continue otherwise.”

“Sure, give me just a moment.” Steel got up and opened the door, heading out into the hallway.

It was him and Aura, then, and the mare continued to read over her notes as he sat there.

“Miss Aura? Could I ask you a question?”

“Hm?” She looked up at not quite his eyes. “Yes, of course.”

“Sorry if it’s a little too personal, but why do you, well, do everything with your wings?”

“No, that’s a perfectly fine question.” She set down her clipboard and began playing with the pen between her feathers again, looking down at the desk in front of Roast. “I’m a little, mmm, odd, I guess you could say and I’m aware of it. It’s a habit I’ve had since I was a filly. Having something grasped in my feathers has always calmed me and helped me concentrate better. It’s not that I can’t use my hooves,” she brought up her forehooves and clapped them together a couple times, “more that I like the feeling I get when my vanes brush over an object, sending that feeling back to the nerves in my rachis. Normal birds don’t have nerves where we do or wings like we do, so they can’t feel or do what we can. It’s so uniquely us.”

“I see,” Roast said, watching as she flipped the pen between feathers. Odd would be right. I wonder if something happened to her when she was young. Or maybe that’s me being insensitive.

“Here you are, Mister Roast,” Steel said as he entered the room, holding out a paper coffee cup filled with water in his hoof.

“Thank you.” Roast took it and began drinking as Steel closed the door behind himself. He tipped the cup vertically, getting the last couple drops out, then set the empty cup on the desk in front of him.

“Are you okay to continue, now?” Lieutenant Steel asked.

Roast nodded. “Yes, I think I’m good.” He turned back to Aura, looking at her expectantly.

“Perfect,” Aura said, picking up the clipboard again and looked him in his eyes. “So, tell me about your second anniversary.”

Right. I still don’t remember what I got her that year. “Give me a minute. I’m trying to remember what we did then.” It didn’t help that Aura still didn’t take her eyes off him.

I remember the amethyst of our first anniversary and the trip I planned to Las Pegasus for our third, but what did I get—

If it weren’t for Aura’s critical eye, Roast would have facehooved. He was utterly disappointed in himself. You didn’t get her anything, you idiot. How could you forget something so special? You are such a terrible…

Roast snorted and looked back up at Aura. “Ah, right. I remember now. I was so focused on trying to recall all the gifts I’d gotten her, that it didn’t cross my mind that she flipped it that year. Sweet Leaf said she didn’t want me to get her anything that year and instead wanted to get me something.

“So that year, she…” His words caught as that day ran through his mind. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “Sorry. That year, she was so tight lipped about it. I had no idea what to expect. I’d honestly never had a mare get me a gift like that, not Sweet Leaf, not any mare I dated before her. My mom never did it for my dad either. It was always him getting her something on their anniversary.

“On the day of our anniversary, she, uh,” he licked his dry lips. Come on, keep it together, “she uh, got me a really special gift. I knew she was saving away bits from her portion of the cafe’s revenue, but I had no idea she’d saved up that much. We went out for a wonderful dinner at our favorite restaurant at the time, Sakana Koya. We were regulars there, so they’d let her reserve a private area, just for us. She’d even paid extra to have our own personal server that night. Afterwards, we went home and I’d thought that was it.

“She told me to wait downstairs for a moment while she went to get my other gift ready. I thought that was her way of saying she was going to put on some, uh, nice music or something. When she called me up, she was sitting on the bed with a small gift basket in her lap. She gave it to me and I was dumbfounded when I opened it. Inside was three quarter kilograms of authentic kopi luwak coffee beans. A ‘normal’ sized bag of those beans costs over a thousand bits and there in the bag was twice that amount.

“When I looked back at her, she told me to open the coffee bag.” His voice began to waiver as tears began pooling in his eyes. “I opened it and inside were three of the most beautifully cut brown topaz I’d ever seen. She’d gotten them cut to match the three beans on my cutie mark. Then…” he took a deep, shaky breath, “then she pulls a box out from behind her back. She opens it and inside is a custom made coffee cup and saucer, an exact match to my cutie mark.

“But then, she… she,” A tear broke free, trailing wetly down to his chin, “she told me that everything she got me that night, the value of all the gifts was nothing, compared to her love for me. And I didn’t… I don’t… I…”

Roast gasped as he squeezed his eyes tight, jaw trembling, tears breaking from both eyes. He shook his head and couldn’t… he couldn’t imagine it.

Her. He needed her. He didn’t know where he’d be without her. Had no idea what to do without her, his rock, his shelter, his love. A sob tore from his throat. He tried to hold it back and be strong for her.

He couldn’t.

Cold metal grasped his shoulder. He turned and saw Steel looking at him with sad eyes and open arms. Roast nearly jerked back as Steel leaned forward and wrapped his hooves around him. He tried to convince himself he didn’t need it, that he was a tough stallion and could push through.

“You will get your wife back. I promise you.”

He couldn’t. The dam broke and a deep wail escaped him. He grasped the hard metal armor tightly and cried. It was too much. He’d almost lost her not even a week ago and now she was at the chopping block once again.

Long moments of sobs continued before Roast finally felt his tears begin to abate. His weeping turned into deep, shaky breaths and he released the lieutenant.

“I’m sorry.” Roast sat back in his seat and snorted, wiping a fetlock across his cheek.

“Don’t apologize,” Steel reproved, getting out of his chair and looking across the desk. “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through right now. And…” he let out an annoyed sigh, “of course Sylvan wouldn’t keep tissues on his desk. I’ll be right back.” He opened the door and left.

“She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

“What?” Roast looked up at Aura. Through the haze of his teary eyes, he was surprised to see a single line of wetness down the side of her face.

“Your wife means the world to you,” she repeated, huffing out her nose and wiping her cheek. “I’m one of the best this guard has and I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve seen dozens of ponies break down. Some fake, many real. I’m quirky, and I have weird ticks that others find distasteful. Just because I can’t meet your eyes if I’m not analyzing you doesn’t mean the sorrow I have to witness doesn’t bite me. If I had a pony that would cry over me like that… Like Little Steel said, I’ll do everything I can to find Sweet Leaf, even if she’s in a cell, not fifteen meters from here.”

“Thank you,” Roast whispered, sniffling as he looked back at the floor. He heard Aura pick up her pen and clipboard and silence filled the room. So desperately he hoped Sweet Leaf could fool her. If she really was the best…

“I’m so sorry.” Steel rushed into the room with a box of tissues and closed the door. “Apparently ponies in this station have an allergy to tissues. Here.”

“Thank you,” Roast said again, grabbing a few tissues from the box, wiping his face down and blowing his nose. Pile of soiled tissues in hoof, he looked around for a trash can. Not finding one, he looked forward again and noticed Aura holding up a small can with her wing. He gave her a thankful smile and nod. Standing up, he reached over the desk and dropped the tissues inside, then sat back down.

“If you’re okay with it,” Aura began, meeting Roast’s eyes for only a split second before darting away to some other part of his face, “I have only one more question.”

Roast breathed in deep. Quickly releasing it he nodded. “Okay, I’m good. Go ahead.”

“Alright.” Her eyes locked onto his for what he hoped was the last time. “There’s no nice way to put this, so I won’t beat around the bush. Can you think back on anything odd or unusual that would now make you suspect Sweet Leaf could be a changeling?”

He almost shifted in his seat. That was not the last question of the interview he’d expected. He shook his head. “No, I can’t think of anything.”

“Roast,” Aura said sternly, narrowing her eyes, “you’re lying.”

“What?” He tried to react as little as possible, desperately trying to think how to act normal, as if he’d been called out for something that was objectively false.

“You twitched in your seat, your jaw clenched, and you went still for a short moment. On top of that, right before you answered, your eyes shifted away from mine.” She sat back, eyes still on his. “You lied a few times throughout the interview. Each time you’d do a couple of those four things, especially looking away. Once was during your honeymoon, when you almost talked about your nightly activities. Another time was when you talked about your second anniversary and putting on music. Probably sex related. Those were understandable.”

She sighed and her eyes darted away to not quite his eyes again. “Roast,” she said softly, “I can’t help you find your wife if you’re not honest with me.”

“That’s not… that’s not it.” Inside, he was panicking. He got through all the questions, the breaking down, only to fail at this! “It’s not that I think she’s a changeling. It’s, she...“

“Roast,” Aura said calmly, “I’m on your side. I’m here to help you. So’s Little Steel and everyone else working on this investigation. Please, tell me what you know.”

Roast swallowed. Think of something! There has to be something you can say, something that you don’t have to lie about.

“Okay. But… it’s not that I think she’s a changeling,” because I know she’s one, “it’s that… I’m scared. I’m scared of the what if. What if she’s really my wife in there? I’m afraid to cast doubt on her, because… because I can’t lose her.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about.” Aura gave him a reassuring smile. “If we suspect she is, we will dig and dig and dig until we reach an absolutely concrete conclusion.”

He looked down for a moment. That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.

“Alright.” He met her eyes again as they locked onto his. “When Wavy Palette stormed into our cafe the other day and accused her of being a changeling, I began to doubt her. What if she wasn’t who she said she was?”

“But what was it she did that made you doubt her?” Aura pressed.

Say something ambiguous. But don’t lie! “It was… with Bobby Pin.”

“What about her?”

“Earlier in the day when Wavy Palette came by to tell us his marefriend was a changeling, Bobby Pin came by the cafe. Sweet Leaf was cleaning outside at the time and... and, um,” He paused for a moment, realizing what he’d started and his stomach sank. This is the wrong story. This is proof, not ambiguity! Roast, you absolute idiot. But... I can’t not tell the rest. “She, uh, gave Sweet Leaf the midday paper.”

“The midday paper on Monday?” Aura asked. “The paper containing the fresh news story about the changeling attack at Canterlot? That paper?”

“Yes.”

“And you saw this.”

“Yes.”

She simply looked at him for a moment. It unnerved him and his mind screamed at him to look away, but he held strong with the last thread he had.

Aura broke the silence first. “What happened next?”

“She brought the paper back in and asked me if we could talk,” he continued, feeling like every word was one step closer to Firefly’s death. “In the kitchen she showed it to me, but it was the middle of the lunch rush. We were too busy to stop and talk, so I told her we’d talk about it later that night.” He closed his eyes for a brief moment. But we never did. We never talked about the attack that night. Not that night.

“Did you talk about it later?” Aura prodded again.

Roast opened his eyes and shook his head. “No, we didn’t. Wavy Palette came that night, then Bobby Pin. The rest of the night was us recovering from the ordeal and the following days we were far busier than normal. We normally work almost eighty hour weeks from prep to clean up. There wasn’t a lot of time for talking.”

He finally closed his mouth and stared back at her, tired and beaten. Come on, there were no lies there. Come on. Please. He tried to keep it from showing on his face, but was sure more than enough came through for Aura’s critical gaze.

“Interesting,” Aura said after a long moment. “There were no other times where she acted odd or out of place? Recently or further in the past?”

“No.” Roast slowly shook his head. “There’s no other time that I can think of. She’s always been the same Sweet Leaf.”

She sat back and looked back at her clipboard, writing down more notes. Another long, nerve-wracking moment later, she gazed up at him with a smile, not quite meeting his eyes once again. “Thank you for being honest with me.”

Relief flooded Roast and a tiny bit of hope remained, flickering like a flame on the last bit of candle wick. Maybe, if Sweet Leaf could handle the rest and convince her… maybe he hadn’t doomed his wife.

“Alright,” she spoke up again, “I’ll need a little bit of time before I’m ready to begin the interrogation. Lieutenant Steel, if you could, please escort Mister Roast back to the waiting room. I’m sure there’s no chance of him wanting to go home right now.” She turned to Roast. “Am I assuming right?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“Good. We’ll keep you updated.”

Steel got up and opened the door. “Mister Roast, if you’d please follow me.”

Roast got up and exited into the hallway, walking behind the lieutenant even though the waiting room was right ahead. Reaching the empty alcove, he took the same back corner chair as the last two times.

“Thank you for all the information,” Steel said once Roast had seated himself. “It really helps a lot.”

“Lieutenant Steel?” Roast called before he could turn away.

“Yes?”

“Is there… any way I could watch the interrogation?”

“Usually we don’t allow civilians into the observation room without due cause. However, I’ll speak with Miss Aura about it.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Roast gave him a half smile.

Lieutenant Steel smiled and nodded back before turning and walking back down the hallway, leaving Roast to ruminate on his thoughts.


The wait was the worst part.

Roast looked up at the clock on the hallway wall again for the thousandth time. Almost an hour had passed since Steel had left him in the waiting room. He looked over two rows ahead at his current waiting companion. The other stallion had come in half an hour ago and hadn’t been seen to yet.

Though, the silent pony facing away from him did little to keep his mind from playing through scenario after scenario of what he could have done better. No matter what he thought of, there wasn’t a single thing Roast could think of that would have ended any different.

Lying was too risky and any “suspicious” actions Sweet Leaf had done recently would have been seen as exactly that. Bobby Pin giving her the newspaper? Suspicious. Sweet Leaf worried about the threat in Canterlot? Suspicious. Her interrupting him when Wavy accused her? Suspicious. There wasn’t a single thing he could think of that wouldn’t have given her away.

It made him realize how underprepared he was. He’d thought so much about what to say and what happened in their past that he barely even considered what not to say. He’d even forgotten for a moment that they weren’t friends. They were the enemy.

And that, undeniably, showed just how big of a liability Roast was. It was a danger to her, even, for him to keep being her husband. If Firefly was found out and she managed to escape, maybe… maybe it would be a good thing. Maybe ponies and changelings never were meant to fall in love. Maybe.

Roast sighed and sat back in the still uncomfortable chair. He wanted to take his mind off of all this and stop it from running in circles. Looking around the room for a distraction, his eyes trailed over the magazines not for the first time that hour. Quietly grunting, he disregarded them again. Reading was wholly unappealing at the moment and he’d already counted the twenty square ceiling tiles at least a dozen times.

The refreshments table caught his gaze next. The coffee in the carafe had gone down by only a single cup since he’d been there. Perhaps the horrendous taste of the military-grade caffeinated beverage would keep his mind off the interrogation for the moment.

He began to slide out of his seat when he spotted Lieutenant Steel enter from the right hallway and look in Roast’s direction.

“Mister Roast? If you could please come with me.”

“S-sure,” Roast shakily replied and got out of his seat, following him back down the hall.

Roast’s heart pounded in his chest. Was this it? Were they going to inform him of their findings? Did they know?

They arrived back at the open door of Aura’s impromptu office, though Roast noted that she was not present. Entering the room after Steel, he took a seat at the lieutenant’s suggestion and waited as Steel closed the door and sat behind the desk.

“Alright, Roast. I had talked it over with Miss Aura and we’d like your help in the observation room.”

“Okay.” Roast raised an eyebrow at the guard. “What is it you think I can do?”

“We’re honestly not even sure if it’ll work. Because of our limited knowledge of changeling physiology, we’re pretty much throwing things at the wall and seeing if anything sticks. We want you to come into the observation room at a critical moment and as soon as you see her, try to project your love onto her.”

He didn’t like where this was going. “Project my love? What do you mean?”

“Changelings feed off love, but we have no idea how, at what distance, or even if they can sense or feed off it through walls. When we bring you in, try to focus on how much you love Sweet Leaf. We’re hoping your efforts combined with the objects we’ll be revealing will get a reaction. If she’s a changeling that is.”

“Objects?” Roast definitely didn’t like this. “What things are you going to show her?”

“These are what we were looking for in your cafe.”

Roast watched as Steel reached down into a drawer and his heart froze as Lieutenant Steel placed an evidence bag containing a single love crystal on the desk.

“What… is that?” Roast asked, hoping he could successfully feign ignorance in front of him.

“We’re not sure.” Steel flipped the bag over. “These were found at Wavy Palette’s house as well as at your cafe. We checked with both geologists and mages in town and none of them had seen anything like them. They give off a distinct magical aura, which suggests they could be similar to a mana crystal.”

“I see.” He supposed it was only a matter of time before they found out what they really were, though he certainly wasn’t going to help them along.

“So,” Steel put his elbows on the table, his hooves together, and leaned forward, “would you be willing to help in the observation room?”

“I suppose so.” Roast figured there was no harm in it, especially if they couldn’t verify he actually was doing as they asked. He merely had to make sure to keep all his emotions as low as possible.

“Excellent. Any questions before we head over to the interrogation rooms?” Steel asked as he picked up the evidence bag, stowing the crystal in a pouch.

“Uhm…” he paused, trying to think of anything he hadn’t already asked. They already said tiny details wouldn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t “pass” the interrogation because—wait, this is an interrogation. Did Sweet ever ask for an attorney?

“Yes, I—” Roast hesitated. Would that be such a good thing to ask? No, there’s no reason to ask that. If she got one, then she did. If she didn’t, then she must have a plan. “Er, nevermind. I asked that already,” he lied.

“Very well then. Please follow me.”

As Roast stood and walked out after Steel, his heart clenched as he wondered if he screwed up, yet again.

Should I have had an attorney? he thought on that for a short moment as Steel began locking the office. I… don’t think so. There’s no bail to negotiate, no sentence to lessen. And what would they have guided me on? Which evidence of Firefly being a changeling I should or shouldn’t say? No, it would have only looked like I had something to hide.

Steel finished locking the door and turned to Roast. “This way and please keep your voice low when we enter the cell hall.” He led him further down the hallway and near the end of the hall on the right was a barred steel door. The lieutenant pulled keys from a belt pouch and unlocked the door, ushering Roast in, then entering and locking the door behind him. A short walk straight down and there on the right wall were four heavy-looking steel doors. Lieutenant Steel walked up to the second door labeled Observation Room 1.

“Okay,” Steel said quietly, “it should only be a few minutes. I’ll let them know we’re here.” Steel unlocked and opened the door, stepped inside.

Briefly glancing inside the dark room, Roast saw one guard sitting in front of the window while another sat at a table, writing on a large notepad, with a graphing printer next to her. His heart leaped as he heard the faint, distant voice of his wife for a short moment before the door closed, cutting him off. Instantly bile crept up his throat and he knew this was a mistake. If things didn’t go well, this would be the very last time he saw his wife as Sweet Leaf.

He looked up and down the hall, but there was no restroom to throw up in. Breathing deep, he swallowed thickly, trying to prepare himself for the worst.

A short moment later, the door opened and Steel stepped back out, quietly closing the door. “Almost there. They’ll let us know when Aura’s about to present the items.”

Nodding, Roast sat himself against the opposite wall, his heart thumping away in his chest. Neither he nor the lieutenant said anything. Finally, after a few more minutes, the door opened again, the guard inside nodding at Steel. Roast looked over as Steel stood and nodded his head at the room. He breathed deep and got up, the room’s darkness swallowing him.

As Roast looked through the one-way mirror, he tried to think of nothing, tried to feel nothing, tried so desperately to not screw up once again.

He failed.

Anger filled him as his wife sat there, wings bound and hooves chained to the steel table. A band ran around her chest with a wire leading to the observation room wall. She didn’t deserve this. She deserved nothing less than the world and here they were, trying to take everything from her.

In that moment, hate filled his heart and it refused to be tempered.

“Did you feel that?” he heard Aura say as she glanced and nodded at the glass between them. “They just brought Fine Roast in. I want him to see this, to see what’s hiding behind that face.”

He watched as she reached her wings into her case and pulled out a small, familiar-looking box, similar to one they kept… Roast’s eyes widened. That is one of our present boxes! What are they doing with it here?

Aura set it in her lap, out of Sweet Leaf’s view and pulled off the lid, putting it on the floor. From the box, she pulled out a large evidence bag and tossed it onto the table, a dulled clatter resounding in the room. She set the present box aside and spoke, “You know what these are, don’t you?”

“No. I’m afraid I don’t.”

Roast looked over as the pony scribing leaned into a microphone. “Her heart rate spiked right when you set it down.”

Looking back, he saw an earpiece in Aura’s ear, then flicked over to the band on Sweet Leaf’s chest. It’s a heart rate monitor!

“Are you sure, changeling? Because your acting has been superb, but your heart betrays you.”

Roast stared blankly at Sweet Leaf, his anger fizzling out alongside his last flickering flame of hope. Her lips moved, but he heard no words.

They’re taking her. They’re taking her. She’s gone, they’re taking—

His eyes grew wide. He frantically looked along the floor and locked onto a trash can.

He dashed forward and threw up.

Author's Note:

“I’m so sorry.” Steel rushed into the room with a box of tissues and closed the door. “Apparently ponies in this station have an allergy to tissues. Here.”

>Azure: Also, I'll never actually know, but if I never cut tension with a quick chuckle here, I'll be very disappointed.

>Cursori: it's v good, and I appreciated the lighter note

>Azure: Right before I throw you into the fire...


Also, head on over to my blog post for an update to the ongoing status of the story.

https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/911530/update-on-the-update