• Published 21st Oct 2012
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A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - Dee Pad



Can a changeling truly renounce his identity and find happiness amongst those he was taught to hate?

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Bonus Chapter 2: Consumption

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
By Dee Pad
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Bonus Chapter 2: Consumption

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Shade wasn’t exactly in the most comfortable position right now.

Lying on his back, his thin wings immobile beneath him, Shade felt trapped. What was worse was that he could barely see what was happening; a glaring light hanging above him blinded his emerald eyes, forcing his narrow, vertical pupils to shrink as small as his body would allow without them vanishing completely.

He could clearly hear each and every breath he took as if his mouth were directly inhaling and exhaling just a few centimeters from his ears. His mouth was forced to remain open, a metal frame clasping his cheeks and widening his jaw. The thought of something falling into his gaping maw that was not meant to be consumed had him concerned.

Suddenly the overhanging light source was obstructed, a shadow appearing in front of it. It was shaped like a pony’s head, the horn atop it determining its specific race: a unicorn, though Shade’s eyes were still recovering from the onslaught of the now hidden light and could not identify any other features of the equine’s face except that it wore something over its muzzle.

Through the splash of light that outlined the hovering head, Shade could see the deep blue glow of the individual’s horn holding a long, thin object in the air nearby. He was at the mercy of the shadowy unicorn. He knew that if he tried to escape there would be consequences.

Shade felt something enter his mouth. It was cold and metallic. With its magic the unicorn maneuvered the object around within the changeling’s oral cavity, producing a clacking sound that echoed through his head as it made contact with his teeth every few seconds. It moved from one cheek to the other, the pony’s eyes following the movements of the instrument analytically.

The unicorn moved back, removing the metal object as they did so but also once again treating Shade to the light that shone like a miniature sun, preventing his eyes from regaining focus. He waited anxiously. What would come next? They could do all manner of horrific things to him. He remembered catching a glimpse of some rather sharp looking tools earlier. Were they planning to use them next?

Shade couldn’t look at the light anymore. It was unbearable. He squeezed his eyes shut, letting out a long breath as he savored the darkness, though his eyelids could only do so much to block the glare of the light. However, with this small taste of comfort came a drawback: he couldn’t see what was happening. He couldn’t prepare for whatever diabolical procedure this unicorn had planned next. All Shade could do was brace himself for what came.

“Well, I think that’ll do it.”

Shade heard the squeak of a slightly dirty, metal joint and the light that assaulted his eyelids had suddenly vanished. Drawing one eye open very carefully, he allowed himself to gradually become accustomed to the natural light that shone through the windows. When his eyes finally adjusted, he took a look around to ensure he was in the same place he remembered entering to begin with: an obscenely clean, white, tiled room.

“Thas eh?” Shade attempted to speak, forgetting that his mouth was being forcibly held open.

“Yup, that’s it,” confirmed the voice of the unicorn standing next to him.

Now that his vision had been restored, he could once again clearly identify the pony that he had met when he arrived: a unicorn mare with a blue coat and mane and tail consisting of two stripes, one of a slightly darker blue color and one white that both ran perpendicular along their length. Her name was Colgate; Doctor Colgate within the walls of this building, and she was Ponyville’s resident dentist. Nothing would have seemed irregular about this pony if it weren’t for her cutie mark which displayed an hourglass. As far as Shade could tell, it had nothing to do with dentistry, but then again it was he who said a pony shouldn’t have to be branded by their special talent and who’s to say one couldn’t be talented in more than one field?

Colgate removed her white medical mask, grinning in a wide and inexplicably sparkly smile. “I’m happy to report that your teeth are in perfect order, Shade,” she announced assuringly.

Shade breathed a sigh of relief. “Than’s,” he said, once again neglecting to notice his restraint.

The doctor giggled in amusement. “Here, lemme get that for you.”

With her deep blue aura, she unfastened the clasp forcing his mouth open. Shade rotated his jaw a few times to make sure he could still move it without any discomfort before allowing his lips to meet again. He rose to a sitting position in the dentist’s chair, letting his wings flitter mindlessly as he enjoyed the relief of being once more unconstrained.

But a question lingered in his mind.

Colgate had said his teeth were perfectly healthy, but that shouldn’t have been the case. If his teeth were in good condition, he wouldn’t be here right now. Shade rubbed his upper mandible with a hoof, a minute, irksome throbbing still nagging at him.

“There has to be something wrong,” Shade insisted. “My gums still hurt.”

Colgate closed her eyes and hummed to herself, contemplating her diagnosis. “Well, see, it’s not that there’s something wrong with your teeth per se...” she started. “The problem lies with these.” She gently tapped one of Shade’s long, protruding fangs.

The changeling lifted an eyebrow. “What about them?”

“Quite simply, they’re growing,” she stated matter-of-factly.

“‘Growing'?” Shade echoed.

“Yes, growing,” Colgate repeated herself. “And if they get too long, it could cause great discomfort, such as what you’re feeling right now, only it can get much worse.”

Shade rubbed his cheek again. “But why? I’ve never had this problem before now.”

Colgate looked up towards the ceiling, tapping her chin in thought. “Let’s see, how to explain this...Mm-hm, okay. Shade, changelings are carnivores, right?”

Shade nodded his head. “For the most part, yeah.”

“Okay, that means that you use your fangs when you eat. And herein lies the problem: you’re living a vegetarian lifestyle now,” she explained.

“And what does that have to do with anything?”

“Simply put, because all you’ve been eating lately has been vegetation, you aren’t using your fangs enough,” Colgate clarified. “Now, my expertise in orthodontics centers primarily around equines, so I don’t exactly have a lot of experience with carnivores outside of the occasional cat or dog, but I’m passionate about dentition dang it, and I’ll be darned if I don’t learn everything I can on the subject. So I feel confident saying that eating meat and whatnot was what kept your fangs’ length in check. They would naturally deteriorate when you used them to...tear up flesh and muscle.”

Shade noticed that she visibly shuddered as she said that.

Colgate continued. “If something isn’t done, your fangs may never stop growing and it’ll reach the point where it won’t just be painful, but dangerous as well. They could easily be snapped off if they got too long.”

Shade couldn’t help but imagine himself with absurdly long fangs reaching almost to the ground. It was an amusing image, but one he’d like to avoid if at all possible. “So what am I supposed to do?”

“The way I see it, you have three options.” Colgate began to pace back and forth in the small room, making Shade just a little nervous about what she might suggest. “First, you could attempt to use your fangs more when eating fruits or vegetables, maybe even have an occasional snack set aside specifically for that purpose. The problem with that is it’ll probably be awkward for you to eat like that, so it’s not exactly practical. The second option...” She paused and approached a nearby table pressed up against the far wall. She opened a drawer on the front and removed a metal file, showing it to Shade. “...is to use this.”

Shade gulped audibly. “And w-what would I need that for?” he asked cautiously, pretty sure that he already knew the answer.

“You would use it to file down your fangs regularly.” She could see Shade cringe at the mere mention of it. “Not the most preferable option, I take it.”

The changeling responded with a vigorous shake of his head. Just imagining the agony he would put himself through grinding that thing against his teeth was sending shivers down his spine.

Colgate replaced the file back in its place, closing the drawer. “There is a third option though.”

Shade sat patiently. “And that is...?”

Colgate looked like she was struggling to say it. “Well, I’m a little conflicted on this one. On the one hoof, it goes against my own lifestyle as a herbivore. But on the other hoof, I’m a dentist; I’ve dedicated myself to helping others maintain a healthy mouth and teeth. And it’s only because of that that I’m even going to suggest this: you could start eating meat again.”

Shade widened his eyes a little. It seemed strange for a pony to suggest that he resume a life of eating living creatures. But of his three options, this one seemed the most...natural.

The changeling sighed. “I’ll probably need to think this over.”

Colgate nodded. “Understandable. This is a pretty big change to make. You have to think about the other townsfolk too, right? I mean, yeah, they know what you are, but they’ll probably be off put to see you eating meat. But you have to take some sort of action soon. I estimate that, within a few weeks, the pain you’re experiencing may become pretty unbearable.”

Shade groaned at his predicament. “Right. Thanks, Doctor.”

“Happy to help,” she said with a glittering smile. “Make sure to come back in a few months for another checkup.”

Shade nodded absentmindedly and walked out the door in deep thought. He was going to have some thinking to do for a while.

***** ***** *****

It was a rather quiet morning. No one said much of anything since they woke up. They just sat there at the kitchen table, silent.

Winter watched curiously as the spoon, surrounded by Shade’s bright, neon green magic, swirled in his bowl of cereal slowly and mindlessly. The changeling himself looked out of sorts, his head resting on one of his hole-riddled hooves and his eyes staring listlessly at his breakfast.

Was something bugging him? She had never known him to be picky about food; when growing up and surviving on whatever you could find lying around in the dirt, one couldn’t afford to be choosey. But by now the flakes in his bowl had become soggy, and with all the absentminded stirring he was doing it had reached the point where it may as well be considered porridge.

Winter didn’t like not knowing what was going through Shade’s head, it left her vivid imagination to design all sorts of possible explanations for his distress. Was something about living here bothering him? Had he reached some sort of roadblock in his studies with Twilight?

Did the problem lie with herself?

It was then that she decided that she needed to get to the bottom of this. Shade hadn’t said much since the previous day and had been looking rather distraught ever since, like there was a riddle that he just couldn’t solve. She wanted to help in any way she could.

“Shade? Are you okay?”

The changeling’s spoon clinked against the edge of his bowl as it was abruptly released from his telekinetic hold. His eyes widened and looked up as if he had just had a sudden revelation.

“Huh? You say something, Winter?” he asked as he snapped back to reality.

Winter looked at him with concern. “I asked if you were alright, but I guess I have my answer now. Is there something on your mind? You seem kind of out of it.”

Shade glanced down at his breakfast. Seeing the state it was in, it was just as well to let it sit. He sighed deeply. “I’ve just been thinking about something.”

Winter sat patiently, tilting her head slightly as she waited for him to elaborate.

And waited.

“Are...you going to tell me what it is?” Winter asked, her patience running a little low.

Shade’s head jolted up again. “Hm? Oh, right. Sorry.”

The pegasus frowned. Whatever it was must be weighing heavily on his conscience.

“It’s just something that Doctor Colgate told me yesterday,” Shade clarified.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to ask you about that.”

Funny how she could forget something that she herself suggested he do. When he had been eating his dinner one day, he had complained that there was a minor, albeit sharp, pain in his jaw when he bit into his food. Considering he had never brushed or flossed his teeth at all before he moved to Ponyville, Winter figured it would be a good idea to make an appointment with the dentist, after explaining to Shade what a dentist was.

“So what did she say?” Winter asked, leaning forward just the tiniest amount.

Shade crossed his hole-filled fetlocks on the table and closed his eyes. “I’m...not sure if you’ll like it.”

Winter gulped worriedly. That didn’t sound good. Did he need to have a tooth pulled or something? She found it difficult to ask the next question. “W-what is it?”

Shade breathed deeply through his nose and exhaled the air again. “My fangs are getting too long.”

Winter’s worry transitioned to confusion. “That’s it? I was expecting something a little more...serious. That doesn’t sound too bad. At least it’s not a cavity or something.”

Shade looked up into Winter’s uncomprehending, amber eyes. It was clear that she wasn’t aware of the implications. “It’s not that that’s worrying me. It’s the solution she suggested.”

He wasn’t sure if he should even tell her. He hadn’t made up his mind about whether or not he was going to go through with it yet. What would she think of him if he decided to do it?

“She said I should start eating meat again.”

An odd silence fell over the kitchen. Shade couldn’t interpret the expression on Winter’s face. She looked perplexed and concerned at the same time, but what worried him most was that she also looked a little scared.

“A-Are you going to do it?” she asked shakily.

“I’m not sure yet. There are a couple of things stopping me.”

Winter leaned back in her chair and took in a deep breath. Knowing that he hadn’t decided yet somehow eased her. “So, what are these ‘things'?” she inquired.

Shade closed his eyes in thought. “Well, the biggest one is everypony here in Ponyville. I’m leaning more toward no because I don’t want to freak anypony out.”

“That’s...very considerate of you,” Winter commented. Her voice held very little sign of relief. “What else?”

Shade thought back, remembering a specific event that occurred when he returned to the Changeling Kingdom. “When you found out I was a changeling,” he started, “I went back to the Golden Glade. At the time, I thought I had lost everything and had resigned myself to my fate of just being another faceless drone in the colony.”

Winter shuddered as he regaled the story to her. She still deeply regretted her actions and apologized profusely for the way she reacted. Had she believed him from the beginning, they could have avoided a lot of trouble.

Shade continued. “I figured since I was just another monster like the rest of them, I might as well live like them. I was lucky enough to have a free meal walk right up to me: a little mouse.”

“You...killed it?”

The look in her eyes was heartbreaking. It was just a mouse. No one would miss one, tiny, insignificant mouse. Yet here was Winter, looking at him as if he had attacked one of her family members.

“Yeah...I did.” The words even tasted foul on his own tongue. “And what was worse, I liked it. The taste, not killing it,” he added hastily. “But here’s the weird part: even though it tasted good, I couldn’t keep it down.”

Winter’s fear dissipated and she raised an eyebrow. “You threw up?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t eat it. It was like my body wouldn’t let me.”

Winter blinked slowly as she fit the pieces together. “And that’s why you’re worried about Colgate’s suggestion? Because you think it’ll just make you sick?”

Shade nodded to confirm her hypothesis.

Winter felt just as conflicted as he did. His health was primary in her mind, but how could she encourage the consumption of something that used to be a living creature? The mere thought caused a lump to form in her throat. “Well, what do you want, Shade?” she asked him.

“What do I want?” he repeated more to himself than anypony. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Maybe he didn’t know what he wanted, but Winter was becoming more and more confident about what he thought. “If you have to think about it this hard, then you probably already know, don’t you?”

Shade passed her a perplexed look. “What do you mean?”

“I think you want to take her advice but you’re just taking everypony else’s feelings into consideration first.”

The changeling’s eyes widened. Had Winter been taking psychology courses and not telling him? How did she manage to peer into his mind so easily? “You think I want to eat meat again?”

The pegasus exhaled a long breath. “Shade, I love you, you know that. I told you a while ago that I wanted you to be yourself. You’re a changeling, but you don’t have to change. If you want to eat meat...” She paused. Did she really want to say this? “...then you should.”

“And you’d be okay with that?”

Winter hopped from her chair and sauntered over to Shade on the opposite side of the table. She nuzzled her head against his shoulder gently. “I just want you to be happy, Shade. Everypony here knows what a changeling is and what they do. And they know they’re carnivores. They let you live here, so they’re just going to have to accept that fact.”

Shade needed to smile. How many times had he told himself that he couldn’t love her anymore than he already did but was always pleasantly surprised to discover he was wrong? But a concern sprung to his mind. “But if it does bother them, then what if they decide they don’t want me here anymore?”

Winter crossed her forelegs over her chest. “Then tough tamales. They’re just going to have to get over it.” She flashed him a smile. It was evident that she had already gotten over it herself. But would she remain stoic when she actually saw him eat?

“Hmm,” Shade hummed as Winter returned to her seat. “Then maybe I will. It’s been a while, maybe I can stomach it now.”

Winter knit her brow in thought. “Do you...miss it? The taste of meat?”

Shade seemed caught off guard by the question. He tapped his chin lightly. “A little, I guess. I still remember enjoying it. To be honest, all this talk about it is kind of making me...crave it.”

The crimson-maned mare’s eyes shifted about the room, looking at nothing in particular. She had a question that she suddenly felt the desire to ask, one that she had never even considered before. Would Shade think she was weird for thinking this?

“W-What’s it like?”

Shade raised an eyebrow over one of his jade eyes. “What?”

“Meat,” she clarified. “What does it taste like?”

The changeling stared at his girlfriend incredulously. Had she really just asked him that? “You...want to know what meat tastes like?”

“I-Is that strange?”

Shade tilted his head and closed his eyes before looking back at her. “A little bit, yeah. You’re a pony, why would you want to know that?”

“What? A girl can’t be curious about something? I’ve never tasted it or anything like it,” she said in an overly defensive tone.

“Uh, well...” He struggled to devise a way to explain it. “Like you said, you’ve never tasted anything like it before, so it would be kind of hard to describe. Plus, different animals have different taste. Personally, I’ve always liked birds best, but even their taste differs between species.” Shade closed his eyes as he fought for an accurate way to generalize it. “I guess my personal favorite aspect is the texture though. Oh! Have you ever eaten a mushroom?”

Winter was surprised by the apparent change of topic. “Mushrooms? I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but yeah, I’ve eaten them before. Why?”

“I actually find that their texture, and even the taste to an extent, is pretty similar, though somewhat less...bloody.” He noticed Winter both visibly and audibly shudder, as if an especially cold breeze had just blown through the abode.

“Okay, I get it,” she insisted, eager to drop the subject. “Anyway, like I said, if you want to eat the stuff, that’s your decision. Whatever you choose, I’m not gonna stop you.”

“But here’s the issue,” he started, “even if I did choose to pick up my carnivorous diet again, how would I go about acquiring my food? There’s nowhere in Ponyville to get a hold of meat. Am I suppose to go out to the fields and hunt down wild animals?”

That thought instantly manifested itself in Winter’s mind. The image of her beloved pouncing on and tearing apart an innocent animal. She was starting to question what it was she really wanted him to do.

“Oh, shoot!” Shade leapt out of his chair after glancing at the clock on the wall. “I have to get to work! I’ll see you later, Winter!” The changeling continued to ignore his untouched bowl of mush, opting to head to work on an empty stomach rather than show up late.

“Sorry,” Winter apologized as he bolted for the door. “I didn’t mean to hold you up.”

She wasn’t even sure if he had heard her. The door had slammed shut by the time she finished.

Winter leaned back and let her gaze fall onto her own bowl. A grimace appeared on her face. She had been so caught up in the conversation that her own breakfast had been neglected and had reached a similar state to Shade’s. But she was more concerned about herself. What was going through her head right now? Why had she asked that question?

Her head lolled back over her chair, her eyes gazing straight up at the ceiling.

“Is something wrong with me?”

***** ***** *****

“Uhhh...”

Shade stood in the doorway to Horte Cuisine’s restaurant, sizing up the current gaggle of customers. Something was definitely different. Of course, given the popularity of the establishment, it wasn’t uncommon for the place to be completely booked up. But today it just seemed...overcrowded, which was strange since there seemed to be no more people than there were on an average day.

No more ponies anyway.

Shade had never seen anything like it before. Scattered throughout the restaurant, seated at tables and booths alike, were no less than a dozen griffons, chatting and laughing like they were regular visitors. He’d never seen a griffon before but with the head, forelegs, and wings of a bird of prey and the rest of their bodies resembling a mighty lion, they were pretty unmistakable.

They were sitting and fraternizing rather leisurely with the locals, however the smaller equines--especially those situated in the cramped booths--looked a tad uncomfortable. And judging by how the griffons didn’t seem to care, yammering obnoxiously and greedily helping themselves to the equines’ delivered orders, it was evident that they forced themselves into their groups. A particular duo of griffons seemed to have intruded on a young couple’s date and the two nervous ponies looked as if they wanted to leave but were afraid to say anything or even move. The other customers looked much the same.

Shade slowly made his way to the staff lounge to prepare for his shift, his eyes traveling back and forth, counting off ever griffon present, but for a reason that not even he knew. The griffons, in turn, also eyed him rather curiously. Admittedly, a changeling was probably a rarer sight than a griffon, even more so when said changeling was casually sauntering around in the open in a densely populated area. He was started to get worried that one of them would approach him; he didn’t want to wind up in the same position as the present ponies who appeared to be looking at him with an expression that said "run."

Shade hadn’t even noticed that his pace had picked up slightly and he was already in front of the employee lounge. He pushed open the door and released a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding. Opening his eyes, he looked to the one other waiter who was present in the room with him.

“Uh, Silver?” he addressed his co-worker. “What’s going on?”

The earth pony stallion--Silver Platter--turned his attention to Shade, his white mane swaying in front of his face as it hung over his left eye. He had already donned his uniform that he wore over his forest green coat that, corresponding with the café’s dress code, did not cover his cutie mark: a silver serving tray.

“I assume you mean the griffons,” he inferred from Shade question and received a nod in response. He chuckled lightly, but kind of nervously. “I was pretty confused at first too, but there’s a logical explanation.”

“And what would that be?” Shade inquired as he went to fetch his own uniform.

“Apparently an old friend of Horte’s is visiting from the griffon territories and brought along an entourage to experience our culture first hoof--er, claw.”

Shade, having buttoned up his black vest, peered out the door into the dining area. They were still there, as if Shade thought they would have left in the time he had been here or that he was imagining things.

“You wanna know the best part?” Silver Platter asked with a sarcastic chortle that seemed to be veiling irritation. “He’s going to be working with us.”

Shade pulled his head back inside, casting a surprised look to his co-worker. “What?!”

Silver Platter found his reaction amusing and not at all surprising. “Yup, which means we can expect this...” He pointed a hoof to the door to indicate the flock of griffons outside. “...everyday for at least the next week.”

The changeling hung his head. “You’ve got to be kidding. Horte’s not going to allow this, they’re harassing the customers!”

“Well, to be honest, it’s no more strange than having a changeling walking around,” Silver Platter reminded him.

“Point taken. So, who is this guy anyway?”

“Not entirely sure; I haven’t had the liberty of meeting him just yet and, trust me, I’m in no rush. All I know is he’s a pretty famous chef not only in the griffon’s homeland, but all over the world. Horte said we should all introduce ourselves when we get the chance.” He chuckled once more. “He‘s especially looking forward to introducing you, Shade.”

“Great,” Shade exclaimed with a sigh. “I can only imagine what this week’s going to be like.”

Silver Platter nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, especially with the menu changes.”

Shade’s ears stood at attention. “Menu changes?”

The earth pony once again nodded his head. “This guy’s apparently altering the menu to appease his brethren. For the next week, we’re going to have to serve these griffons meat. Can you believe that? Who’s ever heard of ponies serving meat at one of their restaurants?”

The changeling’s eyes widened. Meat? It must have been some cosmic coincidence. He was suddenly very interested in meeting this friend of Horte’s.

“I think I’m going to get my introduction out of the way,” Shade declared as he pushed open the door and re-entered the restaurant proper without waiting for Silver Platter’s response.

The earth pony merely shrugged. Any excuse he could get to put off his own introduction was fine by him.

Shade tentatively pushed open the door to the establishment’s kitchen. The regular cooks were busy as bees today and looked incredibly stressed. One stallion nearly tripped over himself, almost spilling a pot of boiling hot water while another was panicked and trying to extinguish a burning flame rising from his frying pan. Things weren’t usually this frantic around here, but Shade knew exactly why today was different.

And the reason stood in the middle of the room, talking casually to his boss, Horte Cuisine.

The only griffon in the room was even more identifiable than an ordinary griffon. The fur of his body was a light shade of black bordering on grey, while the feathers of his head and wings were a dull white in contrast. His most distinguishing features by far though were his tall, white chef’s hat, red neckerchief, and the long, thin, curly mustache that sprouted from his beak.

It didn’t take long for the stranger to glance in Shade’s direction.

“Sacré bleu!” the griffon exclaimed suddenly when his eyes beheld the changeling standing in the doorway. Shade jumped at the abrupt outburst and was almost tempted to exit immediately before the half-bird-half-lion decided to use his razor sharp talons to perform horrific and unspeakable harm.

The griffon placed a claw on his chest and let out a relieved breath. “Excusé moi, I deed not mean startle you. Eet iz just...” He looked Shade up and down analytically.

Horte Cuisine lifted a hoof to his muzzle and cleared his throat. “Ah, perfect timing. Gustave, zis is zee one I told you about. Zis is Shade.”

The griffon--apparently named Gustave--placed a single claw under his beak, moving in close to get a better look at the unfamiliar creature before him. “Hmm...Are you truly a changeling?” he asked skeptically.

Shade looked to his left, then his right, as if something about the situation seemed to suggest otherwise. “Uh, yeah, I am.”

Gustave clapped his claws together. “Ah, c’est magnifique. I zought so. Mon ami ‘Orte ‘as told me about you so zat I would not be as surprised when we met.” He puffed out his chest and smiled proudly, extending his claw to Shade. “Je m'appelle Gustave Le Grand, world famous pastry chef.” Shade lightly received his offer and shook with him.

Horte interjected into the introduction once more. “Gustave and I were close friends when we both attended culinary school in Prance, zough ‘ee and I were taking separate courses.”

Well, I guess that explains why their accents are so similar, Shade thought.

Gustave raised an eyebrow and stared at Shade as if the changeling had offended him. “Your expression iz quite...stagnant for one ‘oo is in zee presence of such a renowned figure in zee culinary world. ‘Ave you not ‘eard of zee great Gustave Le Grand?”

Shade was almost afraid to answer his question. “Well, no.” Gustave narrowed his eyes in offense. “But to be fair,” he added, “we don’t exactly get that kind of information out in the Changeling Kingdom.”

“Shade iz still adapting to life outzide of ‘is former territory,” Horte explained. “You will ‘ave to excuse ‘is ignorance, Gustave.”

The griffon scoffed. “Hmph, very well. I will forgive you zis one time, but ensure you do not forget zat name. You work in zee food service industry; eet iz criminal to not know of zee greatest contributors to zis profession.”

This guy was starting to grate on Shade’s nerves. He was so arrogant and self-absorbed, it was a wonder he even had one friend in the first place. Were all griffons this egotistical?

Horte spoke up once again. “Shade, ‘ave you been informed about zee changes zat are going to be made around ‘ere?”

“Yeah,” the changeling answered. “Silver said Gustave’s going to be working here for the next week. Is that right?”

“Oui,” the griffon exclaimed. “Mon bon ami could only benefit from my presence ‘ere, so I decided to lend ‘im zee claws of Gustave for zee time being. When word of zee wonderful dishes of zis restaurant reaches zee Griffon Empire, you will be flocked by zem ze year round.”

Shade had trouble believing that. Did he really have that much pull in the Griffon Empire or was he just blowing hot air? He would have put twenty bits on the latter.

“Wait,” Shade said as he made a sudden realization, “does that mean that we’ll be offering meat on the menu permanently?”

Horte sighed and rolled his eyes. “Oui, however zose particular items will be featured on separate menus. We wouldn’t want our typical customers to become, ‘ow you say...’grossed out.'” He passed a rather disapproving stare to Gustave who seemed completely oblivious to his friend’s silent objection to the change.

“Hold on a second,” Shade interrupted, “you said you were a pastry chef, right?”

Gustave nodded with a smug smile, twirling his thin mustache.

“Okay, so what does that have to do with meat?”

“You zeem to be under zee impression zat I will be doing all zee cooking,” the griffon inferred. “Non non non, zere is anozer group on zeir way ‘ere zat will be taking care of zat. Zey are still attempting to get through customs at ze moment. And we certainly cannot trust zese ponies to be able to properly cook zee meat.”

“Nor would zey want to,” Horte added and shot a glare towards his friend. Shade could safely infer that the topic had probably come up prior to his arrival.

Gustave once again ignored the head waiter’s complaints and turned his back to the two. “Now zen, if we are finished wis zee chit-chat, I ‘ave work to do.”

Shade held out a hoof to Gustave to stop him. “Wait, one more thing.” The griffon turned around, an eyebrow raised and an irritated look upon his avion face.

“What iz it now? I am very busy.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have any meat here now, would you?”

Gustave’s annoyance soon turned to curiosity. “Well, oui, we do. But, as I said before, zee cooks ‘ave not yet arrived.”

Horte passed a quizzical look to his employee. “Shade, why do you ask zis question?”

Shade winced, having forgotten that there were still ponies present in the room. A couple of the cooks had stopped what they were doing, glaring at him as they waited for him to answer. “Uh, you see, it’s kind of a...medical emergency. The dentist recommended that I continue eating meat so I can control the length of my fangs. I guess your arrival is as good a sign as any to tell me that I should do it.”

Horte's face appeared to pale slightly at the thought but raised no objection; if Gustave was right, then griffons would eventually become regular customers here and he’d have to grow accustomed to the sight of meat being consumed.

Gustave hummed quietly in thought. “Zat does sound urgent. ‘Owever, I do not specialize in zese matters. Zee cooks will be ‘ere tomorrow, come back zen.” He waved a dismissive claw before returning his attention to the kitchen.

“Do you not know how to cook meat?” Shade asked curiously.

Gustave immediately halted in his tracks, his furry tail stiffening as if surprised. Shade couldn’t help but notice through the corner of his eye that Horte was smirking. The griffon turned around once more and stated defensively, “Of course I do! But eet iz beneath moi! Zee pastries, zat iz where true culinary skill lies!”

Horte made a gesture to Shade that seemed to suggest that he continue to press Gustave. Shade grinned knowingly and silently agreed to play along. “You sure you’re not just saying that to cover up the fact that you can’t do it?”

Gustave’s eye twitched. He was starting to get to him. Shade almost wanted to burst into laughter at how easily manipulated the griffon was. Just a little more prodding would do it.

“Do not suggest zat zee great Gustave Le Grand can not do somezing as trivial as cook a piece of meat! You insult my intelligence and my skills!”

Shade’s smile persisted and he shrugged. “Look, if you can’t do it, that’s fine. I’m not trying to degrade you or anyth--”

I’ll show you what ze great Gustave Le Grand iz capable of!” he declared, the veins of his eyes showing his intense aggravation. “I will create ze most marvelous piece of meat mastery you ‘ave ever laid your uncultured little eyeballs on!”

The incensed griffon immediately ordered one of the cooks to fetch his equipment and his ingredients. The remaining cooks all kept their distance as Gustave commandeered the oven and pretty much the whole kitchen for that matter, leaving whatever dishes that were currently being prepared to burn or go cold, but nopony dared raise their concern. The only two who remained grinning were the changeling and the head waiter, both thoroughly amused and satisfied by their work.

***** ***** *****

It only took the sound of the doorknob turning and the minute noises of the door’s inner mechanisms to catch the white pegasus’s attention. Winter finally got a day off from work and she had to spend it bored out of her skull, counting the seconds as they ticked by until her sweetheart returned. Within the milliseconds that it took for the door to actually open, she had sprinted from one side of the house to the other, standing expectantly at the building’s entrance like an excited puppy.

Upon actually entering the structure, Shade was immediately greeted by pair of lips that delivered a swift yet tender kiss. He stood a mite befuddled as his brain quickly worked to piece together the sudden oral ambush. But seeing the bright, cheery smile of his alabaster mate brought any questions to a halt. He passed her grin right back.

“Hey,” he greeted with a light-hearted chuckle. “I take it you’ve been waiting for me.”

Winter nodded her head, gently and lovingly nuzzling his furless cheek. Her content smile faltered for a moment, her nose perking up as a strange and unfamiliar scent made it’s way into her nostrils.

“What’s that smell?” she asked, pulling away and studying Shade to determine if the source of the odor was detectable via sight.

And sure enough, it was. Dangling in the air behind the changeling, wrapped in his ethereal, green hold, was a simple, brown, paper bag. Winter tilted her head curiously as she analyzed it, sniffing the air once more. The scent was not entirely unfamiliar; something about it tugged at her memory, but for the most part it was unlike anything she had smelled before. The bottom of the bag had darkened and was damp to the point where were there anymore weight inside the bottom would certainly give way, spilling the contents all over the ground.

“What’s in the bag?” Winter inquired, not having realized that she had essentially already asked that question.

Shade held the bag aloft in front of her, giving it a light shake. A small drop of liquid dripped from the bottom and onto the floor. “This,” Shade started, his voice sounding excited but nervous, “is my supper.”

Winter had deduced that much by this point. The somewhat familiar portion that made up part of the collective odor was grease, a substance that many ponies, including herself, were quite familiar with, though perhaps a tad too much in some cases. But she had never known hay fries or any other deep fried sustenance to be so greasy as to nearly eat away the bottom of a paper bag.

Shade opened the bag, letting the aroma of the food inside waft up into his nostrils, steam from the still hot item rising along with it. He inhaled deeply through his nose. The blissful smile on his face was more than enough to inform Winter that whatever was in the bag had thoroughly whet Shade’s appetite.

But Winter’s morbid curiosity soon transitioned into fearful anxiety when Shade pulled out the contents.

A cooked chicken leg.

“W-Where did you get that?” she stammered, taking an instinctive step backward from the creature that she finally remembered was a predator.

“You’ll never believe this. Horte’s friend from the Griffon Empire is going to be working with us for the next week. And he was kind enough to prepare this for me.”

Shade stopped to admire Gustave’s work. He felt sort of guilty about the way he chided the chef. Despite what he had said to the griffon, he proved that he could step up to the challenge; though Shade had yet to actually sample the results. The excessive amount of grease wasn’t really necessary, Shade had thought, but Gustave had mentioned that it’s a preference of most griffons. That very well may have been an excuse to cover up a mistake on his part, but Shade didn’t want to anger the already livid griffon any further.

“Y-You’re really gonna eat that?” Winter stuttered, staring intensely at the steaming piece of poultry.

Shade was quick to take her reaction into account before he answered. “Not if you don’t want me to. That’s why I waited until I got home to try it; I needed to ask you if you were okay with this.”

Winter gulped pensively. She had shared comforting words with him that morning, words that relayed the impression that she was perfectly fine with it. She was started to regret those words. She didn’t expect him to actually get his hooves on the stuff so soon.

“Uh, well...I-I guess I did say that you should be yourself, and this is part of who you are. Just like everypony else...I’ll just have to get used to it, too.”

Her trembling voice didn’t exactly give off an air of confidence, but she was willing persist with her promise. Knowing how far she was willing to go for him to be happy brought a warm smile to Shade’s face.

“Alright then,” Shade said with a nod and a grin, “guess there’s no sense in putting it off any longer then.”

He lifted the drumstick to his mouth but stopped when he caught the sound of a whimper. His fangs were so close to the meat that he could almost taste it already, but clearly Winter was not entirely comfortable.

“You okay?” he asked sympathetically.

Winter shook her head. “No, sorry. It’s just...You were just going to dive right in?”

The changeling's eyes glanced back and forth. “Well, yeah. I figured we’d treat it like removing a bandage: one quick rip and it’s over.”

The pegasus was more concerned about how eager her boyfriend was to tear into the flesh and muscle of an innocent creature. However, she kept her thoughts to herself; she didn’t want to dissuade him, she wanted to encourage him.

“Just go ahead,” she urged.

Shade nodded in understanding. More slowly this time, he raised the leg to his mouth. Gradually, he let his fangs press into the tender flesh of the bird. Winter winced at the sight but found herself transfixed by the display; she couldn’t tear her eyes away. The changeling’s pointed teeth penetrated all the way through the meat, at which point he hungrily clamped down on it and tore a sizable chunk from the bone and began to chew.

There was no disgust, no urge to vomit. In fact...

“Whoa. This may very well be the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten in my life!” Shade exclaimed as he chewed, going for another bite before he even bothered to swallow. "Who would have thought a little heat would make such a big difference to flavor?"

Winter stood in awe at the blissful smile on Shade’s face. He was eating this creature and thoroughly enjoying it. He was like some sort of feral beast, a predator that killed to survive. By all rights the sight should have repulsed, even frightened her. But for some reason it didn’t. All semblance of anxiety she had had just moments ago had evaporated. She only continued to stare, not so much at Shade anymore but the fried animal he feasted on.

The changeling finally managed to break free from his reverie to notice the look of pure curiousness on his lover’s face as she eyed what remained of the chicken. His glance shot back to her, then back to the food. Back to her, back to the bird. Her eyes never removed themselves from the object of interest. His eyes widened incredulously.

No way...

“Winter,” Shade started slowly and quietly, “what are you doing?”

The pegasus snapped out of her trance, finally returning her gaze to the only other actually living creature in the room. “Huh? Uh, n-nothing. Just...watching...” Her voice trailed off as she lost herself in thought once more.

Shade had to be very careful about his next words. If his current hunch was wrong, he could easily offend her, even disgust her. “Please tell me you not actually thinking about...trying some, are you?”

Winter’s cheeks blushed furiously, more than enough sign to tell him that he hit the nail on the head. “W-What?! Of course not! That’s ridiculous!” she denied loudly, her eyes looking everywhere except at Shade. He simply raised a concerned eyebrow at her. Winter’s ears flattened back and her head hung in shame. “Alright, fine, I admit it,” she sighed. The pegasus pointed an accusatory, white hoof at the changeling. “But it’s your fault! You’re enjoying it too much, of course I’m going to be curious!”

The thought had never occurred to her before, so why now? Why did she suddenly find herself wondering what meat tastes like? Of course she knew why: she was dating a changeling. Part of the reason she enjoyed being in this relationship was because of how exotic it was. She was learning new things about the changelings, about him, everyday. Her mind was opening to everything she learned and it made her want to learn more. This must be how Twilight feels about her studies.

Lost in her shame, Winter hadn’t noticed that Shade held something before her in his magical grip. She almost jumped back when she realized what it was: A small sliver of meat, small enough to not be too intimidating but big enough that it would allow the consumer to fully experience its flavor.

“So why not?” he asked innocently. “What harm could a tiny piece do?”

Winter’s brain had to fight to understand what he was suggesting. Sure, she was curious, but could she actually do this?

“Worst case scenario you get a stomachache. And if you’re worried about what everypony else might think, we can just keep it between us.”

The smile on his face was almost devious, like a teenager trying to pressure a little foal into smoking a cigarette.

Winter swallowed nervously, the thin sliver of meat taunting her as it dangled in the air. She sniffed once more. At such close proximity, its aroma assaulted her olfactory senses. Now that she could truly analyze the scent, she found that it smelled quite...good.

“What harm could it do?” she whispered more to herself than anyone.

Winter slowly and pensively opened her mouth. Shade watched in amazement as the thought of her actually going through with it was more than a little nerve-wracking. He had to wonder if this was a mistake, but for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to stop her. He just stared exactly as she had just a minute earlier.

The pegasus moved her head forward centimeter by excruciating centimeter. She clamped her eyelids closed tightly, sweat beginning to form on her forehead and neck. She could feel the flesh graze her teeth lightly as it entered her mouth, the steam from the morsel coating the roof of her jaw with warm condensation. She was visually trembling, every fiber of her being telling her that this was wrong and she should stop before it’s too late. But her morbid curiosity continued to override her common sense and instincts. The muscles of her jaw clenched as she prepared to cross the point of no return until finally--

“I can’t!”

Winter jerked her head away from the meat, taking several steps backward to put some distance between her and the poultry. Shade felt like he had just warped in from another plain of existence, having had become completely unaware that he was even in the room with her.

“I just can’t!” Winter repeated shaking her head and looking like she was on the verge of tears. “This thing was once a living creature! A chicken, no different than the ones that Fluttershy takes care of or the ones at Sweet Apple Acres! I can’t eat it, it’s just so...so...disgusting!

Shade actually breathed a relieved sigh. He never truly expected her to go through with it, but for a minute there he actually thought she might. He could have sworn his heart had stopped momentarily.

Winter fell back onto her haunches, the shame showing on her face again, though for a different reason this time. She looked apologetically into Shade’s green eyes. “You must think I’m a coward, huh?”

The changeling chuckled, taking a seat next to his dejected girlfriend and wrapping a hoof over her shoulder. “Not at all. In fact, I’m surprised you got as far as you did. For a second I actually thought you were going to eat it.”

Winter shot him a glare of shock and anger. “What?! Then why did you make me do it?!”

He held up a hoof defensively. “Whoa, I didn’t make you do anything. You said you were curious. Plus, I’ll admit I was a little intrigued myself to find out what a pony would think of meat.” He pulled Winter closer to himself, resting her head against the crook of his neck. “Look, I’m not going to make you do something you don’t want to do. I want you to be yourself, too, you know?”

Winter dropped whatever resistance she had and nestled into his embrace. “Maybe I’ll gather up the courage to try it someday, but right now I don’t think I can handle it.”

“Fair enough.”

She looked up at him through timid eyes. “You don’t think I’m weird, do you?”

Shade took a second to think about it, which was much longer than Winter felt he should take. She delivered a light jab to his chest to relay her displeasure before silently standing and heading for the staircase to the second floor in a huff.

“Hey, come on, I was just teasing.”

She stopped at the bottom step and turned to him, a playful smile on her lips. “Why don’t you save it for your new best friend there,” she said, gesturing to the chicken leg that still hung in the air in Shade’s telekinetic grip.

“How about I just wrap a little lettuce around him and we can all be friends?” he joked back.

“Bite me~” Winter called back in a sing-song tone as she ascended the stairs.

Shade sat silently for a moment, glancing up at the ceiling in thought. He looked back at the half eaten drumstick.

“Nah, I think I’d prefer the chicken,” he decided to himself as he took another toothy bite before tossing the bare bone in the trash and chasing his lover up the stairs.

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