A Town and a Memory

by Pone-Dancer

First published

In which a changeling hybrid pours his heart out about his abusive past.

Flater is a hybrid. Part changeling, part pony, all orphan. He doesn't know who his father is, and his mother died birthing him. The town of Hoofendale is a small one, quite set in their old ways. Racist ponies and a disabled alien do not mix. But that was in the past and Flater has now moved to Ponyville to study different species. It's all water under the bridge now, right? Well it was until Pinkie Pie decided to uncover his rough history.

Credit to Saria Song for the coverart coloring and retouching


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Amidst Twilight's library, Pinkamena Diane Pie stared intently at the thick leather-bound book. She watched it so intensely that the pink mare failed to notice the sun's light was fading as Celestia aided its decent.

"Pinkie?" Twilight Sparkle yawned, completely exhausted from a full day of working at the palace. Her glassy eyes blinked in confusion. "Why are you here so late?" This wasn't unusual in itself. Pinkie Pie often dropped by unexpectedly on her friends. But this time, she seemed to have a purpose.

Pinkie snapped back into reality. "Oh my gosh! I found something super-duper exciting I gotta show Flater bye!" The loofa-maned earth pony slammed the book closed and zipped past a startled Twilight.

"Flater? What does my study subject have to do with anything?" Twilight thought aloud. The alicorn stepped over to a row of bookshelves. She scanned the various spines lovingly, running a hoof over the dictionaries with particular fondness. Twilight prided herself in owning a dictionary for every language that ever existed. Her brows furrowed as she neared the 'F' section.
"Huh? My Western Friesian version is gone. Now why would Pinkie be interested in the Friesian dialect?" Twilight tapped her chin before succumbing to another yawn. "That answer can wait for tomorrow." The purple mare trudged up the staircase leading to her room shaking her head all the while.

"Flater! Flater! You won't believe what I just found out! Well, I didn't JUST find it; I looked at it for a long time to make sure it was true first, but I found this!" Pinkie Pie burst into Flater's flat waving the 'borrowed' dictionary triumphantly.

In the dim glow of the setting sun Pinkie could make out Flater's skinny form stretched out on a couch.
"Oh, hello Pinkie. You may turn the lights on if you want. I keep forgetting that they're off."

The party pony happily obliged. "Here we go! I don't want to trip on a table of something." She flicked a switch. A slight hum reverberated as the lights surged to life. Pinkie returned her attention to Flater, then froze in shock.

It wasn't often that Pinkie Pie lost her words due to a surprise. There, in front of her very eyes, lay a malformed creature. She failed every attempt to regain her bubbly mood. "F...Flater?" She eventually choked out.

Flater sensed her disgust. He was a hybrid, the result of an unholy union between a Changeling and a pony. From his fanged jaws all the way down to his swiss-holed legs he knew what a freak he was. "It's okay Pinkie, it's me. Honest." Flater gently consoled the pink mare.

"But you're so weird! Your eyes look like a fly with all those funky squares. How can you see straight?" She chattered, her own blue eyes open wide.

Flater sighed. "I...can't see at all, remember? The whole legally blind thing."

Pinkie Pie ignored her him and her original fear. She bounced up to him, tapping the beetle-like shells that protected his wings. "Oh, that's cool! What's under these? I didn't know you could fly."

"I can't do that either." Flater sighed again. "Look, I can put my disguise back up if you're not comfortable with my real form." He was a little tired of being poked and prodded, ogled at like a sideshow.

"It's no problemo." Pinkie stroked the nasty red scar that ran where a cutie mark should've been.

Flater hissed at the sudden shoot of pain, flattening his ears. He almost snapped at her, but caught himself just in time.

"Pinkie Pie giggled nervously. "Sorry, wanted to see if it was real!"

"It's fine." Flater snorted. He resettled himself onto the couch, his long legs tucked neatly beneath him. "Now that's over with, what did you come bustling in here for?"

"Oh yea, this!" She tossed the book in front of him. "Passage 164."

"Mm, and how can I know what it says?" Flater patiently for Pinkie to correct her error.

"Silly me, I totally forgot! It pretty much says that Flater means mistake in Eastern Friesian!"

"Western Friesian actually." Flater deflated slightly at the reminder.

Pinkie Pie, though forgetful of others' impairments at times, never failed to perceive a mood change. "Hey, what's wrong? It's just a word that is stuck with you for the rest of your life. But what's in a name anyway!"

"Absolutely everything." Flater whispered, shivering. The floodgates he tried so hard to hold back swung open and he was quickly swamped with the memories, scents, smells that he tried so hard to forget.

"Ooh storytime!" Pinkie Pie squealed. She hurriedly squeezed onto the couch beside him.
Flater made room for her. His expression read sorrowful.

"What makes you think that I have a story to tell?" He nudged her with a shoulder.

"Everypony has a story silly. Most just choose not to share and let them fester into a mental breakdown! I feel like you should open up a bit."

"Oh yea? What feeling is that?"

"My Pinkie-sense, that's what!"

"Well it's never been wrong before." He chuckled wryly.

"Yay yay! I just love a good backstory." She tapped her hooves together.

"Right now?" Flater hesitated.

"Why not? The best time is the present time." Pinkie wiggled in anticipation.

"I can't. It's too long, and I'm sure that you have work to do tomorrow. So invite your friends and come back around noon. Sound good?" He knew that nopony in town would appreciate him keeping Pinkie up past her bedtime. Chaos worthy of Discord would surely ensue if she was tired.

"Do you Pinkie-Pie-Promise?" Pinkie demanded hopefully.

"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye." Flater easily breezed through the motions.

"Then you got yourself a deal mister!" She grabbed a hoof and shook it enthusiastically. "See ya tomorrow!"

Flater blinked. She was gone it seemed. "Ah, she forgot her dictionary." He patted the page longingly with a pang of regret. It must be nice to be normal.
By now, the sun had long set on the horizon. I better rest up, long day tomorrow... Flater got up to turn the lights off. He returned to his couch to drift into a dreamless sleep.

"This is absolutely fascinating! I'll get my weekly report done in no time." Twilight Sparkle gushed, using her grape colored magic to sort pages into a manila folder. "I keep forgetting that you're Equestria's number one cryptozoologist. Your insight on griffons alone would make even Gilda question herself." The purple mare trotted over to where Flater was lazily writing on some loose leaf papers.

Twilight, while still happy to have morning study sessions with him, was a little disappointed that he had his disguise up. To the average eye, Flater seemed to be an off-white unicorn with large pupiless blank eyes and saw-blade shaped locks for a mane. How a pony could have so many shades of white on their body Twilight couldn't fathom. At least he left his scars visible.

Flater seemed to sense her staring at him; He turned nonchalantly and tilted his head. "What? Does my flesh wound offend you?"

Twilight shook her head quickly, coloring slightly. "Ha, no no! Not at all! I was...uh...trying to figure out what you were writing!" She put on a bad poker face.

"Kay. It's just a few things about kelpies." Flater shifted so Twilight could easily read over his shoulder.
Twilight Sparkle leaned over him, breath hitching slightly. She hadn't ever been this close to him before. He smelled glorious, like old paper and binding glue. The words on the page blurred as she blushed harder.

Flater's nostrils quivered as if he was breathing in a foalhood scent. It was the raw tangy aroma of infatuation. A little like love, but more prickly as it traveled through the nose. That was not good.

"Um...Flater, what word is this? Your hoofwriting is too sloppy." Twilight's eyelids lowered slightly, voice dropping an octave. She subconsciously started to close the gap between them. A fuzzy cloud of delirium had dropped hard onto her brain and was in control. Is this what being head-over-hooves felt like?

Flater pulled the blindness card, pretending to not notice her moving in on him. "Well, I have to check." He ducked his head closer to the page. Never mind that she didn't tell him what sentence she had left off on.

Twilight failed to perceive that his head had relocated. So she full-on collided with the wall nearby. The impact cleared her head enough to snap her out of it. "Oh my Celestia I'm so sorry." Her dark purple eyes widened in horror at what almost occurred. "It was like I wasn't in charge of my actions!"

Flater straightened up, a mental lightbulb lighting up his mind. "Stop me if this doesn't make sense; I emit pheromones that attract nearby females into giving me love. But only really at close range?"

"That's a decent theory that I don't want to test again." Twilight's cheeks burned as she scrabbled away from him. Holy hay, did normal Changelings possess this ability as well? Or was it just an accidental mutation thing? Either way, it would be yet another to study about Flater. He probably knew by now that these 'sessions' were really intel-gathering reports concerning him and his possible powers.

She parted her muzzle to speak. At the same time, Pinkie Pie galloped in toting a massive saddlebag stocked with snacks. Behind her trotted Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash.

"Story time!" Pinkie hollered claiming the leather loveseat for herself.

"Flater dear, what is the meaning of this?" Rarity objected, completely confused.

"Yea. Pinkie just came through hollerin' about somethin' we had to hear." Applejack frowned at the amount of snacks.

"Will this take long?" Rainbow Dash was already up in the air, hovering like a bored vulture.

Fluttershy just fluffed pillows silently.

"Oh yes, the story. I did promise that didn't I?" Flater smiled slightly, walking over to the group.

"A story?" Twilight echoed trailing him.

"Yuppers! Sit by me Twily so he doesn't have to." Pinkie made room for the alicorn.

"Everypony, thank you for assembling in such a short notice." Flater carefully picked his way into the center near a glass coffee table. "I must admit that I've only been completely honest with some of you."

The mares gave each other perplexed glances.

"Uh, pardon sugercube?" Applejack raised an eyebrow.

"Just try not to scream too loudly." Flater took a deep breath, eyes clenching closed. With a few wispy grey swirls, his disguise went completely down.

Pinkie Pie clapped. "Impressive. I should throw an Unveiling Party!"
The remaining guests gaped in shocked awe. Flater still had the same mane style and coat color but otherwise he was completely transformed. He now stood a few heads taller than them on sturdy swiss-holed legs. His eyes appeared to be very much like a fly's, with each little square glittering a new variation of white. Fangs poked down from his upper jaws. A hard dusky white wing-case concealed his insect wings. The thorax section of his body was well defined by two matching bands that wrapped around his ribcage. For the most part he looked gangly, slightly scrawny. Especially with those still visible cutie scars, angry and glistening.

"Oh...oh my." Fluttershy gasped covering her head with a pillow. "Mr. Changeling thing please don't suck out my love, I need it for my animals. If you don't mind."

Twilight and Pinkie observed their other friends' reactions.

Rarity was forcing a smile, Applejack still gawked, and Rainbow Dash seemed on edge.
"Woah Twilight. You're telling me that this...thing...has taken up all of your time lately?" Applejack refused to break her one-sided eye contact with him in case he attacked.

"He's not a 'thing', that's Flater silly!" Pinkie Pie scoffed at the orange mare's remark.

"Of course Applejack. After my brother's wedding, I had to let go of my anger towards the Changelings. How can we learn from each other if we're fighting?" Twilight Sparkle carefully explained.

"Discrimination tears a nation ah guess..." Applejack relaxed some. That and Flater hadn't harmed any of them for as long as they were acquainted so far.

Flater jumped slightly as Rainbow Dash swooped in for a closer inspection. "Dang Flater! You got a top-notch flank."

"Rainbow! Not lady-like!" Rarity shrieked in embarrassment.

"What? I'm just trying to make the poor guy feel better about himself." Rainbow grumbled, alighting next to Twilight.
In the end the whole group (minus Pinkie and Fluttershy) stole a look to confirm if Rainbow Dash's claim was true.
It was.

"Erm, you aren't the first pony to point that out to me." Flater shifted his weight, unsure what to do in this situation. There was nowhere to turn to escape their curious eyes. He awkwardly waited for them to settle down and get over their initial reactions. "You guys good now?"

"Yes!" Chorused five mares.

"No." Whispered Fluttershy.

The hybrid selected a cushion and sat on the table. "I will warn you, my story isn't for the squeamish or lighthearted, nor the busy one. It's quite lengthy."

"That's fine bye." Fluttershy attempted to sneak away.

"Oh no you don't Flutters! I want to hear the part when he gets those cool scars." Rainbow Dash grabbed the yellow Pegasus by the tail and dragged her back.

"Okay, I guess I'll stay." Fluttershy sighed, ears drooping.

Flater smiled supportingly at the shy pony then began.
"It all started on a dreary day in May..."

The Birthing

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It was truly bucketing out there. Hoofendale, unable to afford their own pegasi weather crew, was often at the mercy of the elements. The quiet town remained uncharacteristically hushed, as if it awaited an event of major magnitude.
But that is ridiculous. mused Slate as he turned from the window. The slate-grey stallion paced in front of a reception desk. The doctor's office was slow today.

Brooke smiled at him sympathetically. "At least you can't mess up with nopony here."

Slate flicked his tail impatiently. "That's the problem! How can I ever get out of here without experience? I'm fully credited for everything except foal birth." He placed his fore-hooves on the wooden tabletop.

Brooke shrugged at the assistant surgeon. "Can't help you there Slate. Nopony has checked in for an ultrasound or test in months."

Slate sighed, resigning back to his lonely window. Brooke resumed her typing.
A door creaked. Slate jumped to attention as a formidable navy-blue stallion stalked through the threshold. He had flinty cold eyes and a moustache that reminded Slate of Hitler.

Dr. Butcher surveyed the empty waiting room with obvious disinterest. "Nothing? Nothing at all?"

"Correct sir!" Brooke chirped from behind her screen. Slate nodded quickly in correlation. Dr. Butcher wasn't a pony he wanted to make peeved. He made grown stallions cry on a day-to-day basis for even the simplest of checkups.

"Humph. I suppose we can leave early then." Dr. Butcher removed the stethoscope from around his neck and handed it to Slate. "Polish this for me."

"Y...yes sir." Slate conceded, trembling hooves cradling the equipment like an egg. He scooted off to his window to complete the transaction peacefully.
Running a damp cloth over the stethoscope, Slate absentmindedly gazed out at the pounding rain. He had to get out of this place! Move to a big city maybe...too bad he was stuck. It wasn't his fault that he graduated last in his class! He sighed again, bumping his forehead against the cool thin glass.

A slight movement caught Slate's attention. He squinted slightly. It could've been a stray animal seeking shelter or some brave soul off to buy food. But it appeared again, closer this time.

Slate wiped the grimy window just to be sure. "Hey. Hey!"

Dr. Butcher and Brooke turned towards him, heads slightly tilted.

"There's somepony out there. Headed this way!" Slate excitedly tossed Dr. Butcher his stethoscope and galloped headlong to the door. "I'll let them know we're open."

"Oh no Slate, that's my job to greet them. Why don't you head in the back with Dr. so you can get set up?" Brooke came next to him and placed a hoof on his shoulder, pushing Slate away from his target.

"Come along squirt. We have stuff to do." Dr. Butcher called from his office.

Slate sulked slightly, then straightened up. "You're right. If I wanted to play hostess I would've applied for a secretary position."

A few minutes later Brooke smashed into the office, obviously very troubled.

Dr. Butcher frowned. "Whatever is the trouble?"

"The patient! She's bleeding all over the carpet and is not responding! Go quick." Brooke bit her lip.

Dr. Butcher cursed slightly. "I had those rugs imported from Saddle Arabia! Be a dear and check if their warranty is still valid?"

Slate hurried alongside the larger earth pony, mind spinning. What kind of grave injury was it this time? A cut? Teeth wounds? This job sure did stay fresh.

As they entered the hospital room Slate noticed a pungent odor that hung there. It was if...something rotted in a bucket of week old fish. Dr. Butcher moved to a counter giving Slate a full view of their new patient. The sight made him retch in his mouth. "Sweet mercy of Celestia.." He gasped.

A filthy bedraggled mare lay slack on the bed. White-rimmed bloodshot eyes grew more glazed by the second as sweat ran in rivulets down her already matted pelt. Somehow even the rain didn't cleanse her.

"What is her original color even?" Slate inquired, mind still blanking out in disgust.

Dr. Butcher dismissed his question stepping over to the suffering creature.

She moved her head slightly, frothing lips flecked with blood. The sudden action released a fresh spurt of blood from her hindquarters. Thankfully her bloated middle blocked most of that action from eyesight.

Slate realized that he had totally zoned out over the fact that the mare was currently bleeding out, and from a very odd spot. "Wait, is she giving birth?"

"Appears so. For a very long time too, I might add." Dr. Butcher rubbed a fore-hoof over her large abdomen.
Her swollen belly heaved pathetically, adding to the crimson stream before returning to its regular shudder for breath.

"She's in no shape to do so! The poor thing can barely breathe, let along push." Slate stared in mild panic.
Dr. Butcher shrugged, removing his latex horseshoes. "This here is a first class UAR. The worst form of dystocia."

UAR? Ugh, what was that again? Dystocia meant a difficult birth, but UAR? Stupid medical terms... "It's probably nothing to remove your gloves about. I'm sure she can be helped." Slate regained his dignity, marching up to the older surgeon.

Dr. Butcher snorted. "Boy, you really were last in your class. You can fix a Uterine Artery Rupture? The internal bleeding must've gone on for days by now. She's already on her way out Slate." His eyes lost their steel for a second.

This much was true. The mare's eyes had closed, her breathing slowing.

"B...but the foal?" Slate felt the strong need to save at least one of them.

Dr. Butcher pondered this. "Chances are it aborted itself or is already dead. But perhaps it is still alive. Does your birthing credit include C-sections?"

"Probably, why?" Slate responded. "I wasn't trained in it at all."

"Doesn't matter in this case. In fact, you'll only need this." The blue stallion passed Slate a scalpel.

"This? Wouldn't this hurt her even more?" Slate yelped at the thought of it.

"Not at all. She's in her death throes as we speak." Dr. Butcher coolly replied, as if cutting open dying ponies wasn't new to him.

Slate cautiously inched over tot he mare, who now shuddered nonstop. Blood still oozed forth in a steady amount. Abruptly, her eyes snapped open, her filthy jaws parting to release a single pitiful moan. The blood stopped flowing as her body went completely stiff, then slowly released.

Slate attempted not to puke again, trembling hooves still clenched around the scalpel.

"Go on, have at it." Dr. Butcher encouraged. "This is perfect for you. Its impossible to mess up. Hurry before the foal decides to pass on as well."

The assistant nodded, gulping in uncertainty. Here goes nothing...

A half hour lapsed, but to Slate it felt like an eternity of pulling back layers of skin and flesh to finally pull out an infant. He stared at the messy little creature in confusion. "The hay happened to its legs?"

Dr. Butcher peered over his shoulder, then had a double take. He blinked in disbelief. The surgeon grabbed the foal and studied it closer.

It had remained silent until the movements caused it to open its insect eyes, tiny fanged jaws parting not to cry but to chirp. Repeatedly.

"It appears to be a very mouthy male Changeling hybrid."

"What are the chances!" Slate felt a slight rush of pride at delivering such a unique oddity.

Brooke poked her head in. "How'd it go?"

"Mother's dead, child is most likely impaired in some way. Thanks to Slate here, he's still kicking." Dr. Butcher reported, uninterested once more as he passed the foal off to her.

"Oh...oh my. It sure is a...noisy little lad." Brooke grimaced at its appearance. She looked to Slate with a light of admiration in her eyes. "You saved a life today, no matter how freaky. Feel good about that." Brooke turned to leave, then paused. "He needs a name."

"Flater." Dr. Butcher spat in the sink.

"Hmm, I like it. Let's go get you cleaned up Flater." Brooke smiled uneasily at the squeaking foal.

"Where'd you get the idea of that?" Slate wondered aloud after she'd left.

"Means 'Mistake' in my native tongue." Dr. Butcher refused to meet his eyes, focusing on folding the mare's body in the crimson-stained sheet. "Friggin' King Thorax and his Open Border Policy..."

"Where's the foal going to stay? I'll be outta here too soon to make arrangements for him to come along." Slate also didn't want to be burdened with the responsibility. He wanted to be fully free from this crap town. And the necessary credit was his now.

"We'll worry about that tomorrow." Dr. Butcher sighed. He seemed very old and tired much to Slate's shock. He wasn't even three years his senior. The surgeon in question finally met his gaze. "Erm, you might want to clean up as well."

Slate glanced down at his hooves, now turned brown from their dealings with stale blood. "Sure thing. See you tomorrow sir."

"Doc. Just call me Doc." Dr. Butcher mattered as Slate exited.

For Fluttershy's credit, she did manage to reach the trashcan in time.
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes as her friend projectile vomited in the background. "Pete's sake Flutters! He left out the good details for crying out loud." The rainbow-maned Pegasus threw up her hooves.

"Will she be okay?" Flater didn't mean to sicken anypony. He was genuinely concerned.

Pinkie Pie waved a forearm. "Hey quick question! How do you remember all those events?"

"Oh, I don't. Slate and Brooke live in Canterlot, and Dr. Butcher has retired. He resides in Manehatten. I visited them all a few weeks ago actually."

Pinkie, pleased with this, stuffed her 15th cupcake into her mouth.

Rarity seemed even paler, if possible. "Please tell me he got new rugs."

Applejack shot Flater a look of pity. "That's a rough start to life sugercube."

Twilight Sparkle scribbled some notes. "Please do continue Flater."

So he did.

"He hasn't stopped chirping all night!" Brooke wailed, facedown on her keyboard. The wicker basket next to her desk replied accordingly.

"The poor sap's probably starving by now." Dr. Butcher announced, hanging up his trenchcoat and retrieving his stethoscope.

"What would he even eat?" Brooke lifted her ears as somepony entered.

"Hey there guys! Sorry I'm so late; I had to pick up some paperwork. Aren't y'all that the rain stopped?" Slate babbled, waving a folder. He trotted to Flater in his basket. "You, little dude, are my ticket outta here. Thanks!"

Dr. Butcher spoke over his arrival. "Some Changelings feed on love. He seems to be more pony than Changeling though. Which means that he'll require formula or another supplication."

Slate deadpanned at Brooke. "Does that mean she'll take care of him? 'Cuz of...the other supplication thing?"

Dr. Butcher face-palmed. "Good heavens. No wonder you're bottom in your class..."

Brooke colored slightly. "No you idiot! It doesn't work that way!"

"Oh, my bad." Slate grinned sheepishly.

Flater squawked.

"How would we feed a Changeling love anyway?" Brooke switched the subject. "I bet they just suck it from the air."

"In that case, he needs formula. He probably absorbed all of his mother's emotions before she died." Dr. Butcher headed off to find the necessary items.

"That makes sense. She was so listless and blank when we saw her." Slate agreed. Curiously he opened the basket. "Speaking of blank...this 'lil guy was born without enough color!" He watched as Flater wracked his pale tiny body with furious chirps.

Brooke grumbled slightly. "Then his father isn't Thorax at least."

"Yeah." Slater breathed, still mesmerized by the fact that he was alive because of him.

"He needs a place to stay." Dr. Butcher returned with a bottle.

"Can't. I'm being deported to Canterlot in a few months and won't have the time." Slate coughed in regret.

"I have no interest in foal-raising." Dr. Butcher sniffed in distain.

They turned to look at Brooke. Her face crumpled slightly.

"Me? But I-" She hung her head in defeat. "Yea yea, fine. Only until he's liable for adoption though." Thoughtfully, the mare watched Flater suck greedily on his bottle. "Yes, I'll foster him for now. If you look at him right, he is kinda cute I guess."

"...And so began the best three years of my life." Flater concluded.

"Wow! I totally ship Dr. Butcher and Brooke." Pinkie Pie giggled.

"Um, good luck breaking that to her husband Slate." Flater smiled at the suggestion.

"Is that horrid little story over yet? I have dresses to attend to darling, you must understand." Rarity was already headed
for the door. Fluttershy had long ago disappeared.

"Sadly, that was just the beginning. It goes downhill from there. But that's a tale for another time. How about in three days?" Flater arched his back in a full stretch. Personally, he was glad that part was over.

"I'll be there!" Rainbow Dash thumped him heartily on the shoulder before departing.

"If ah ain't occupied, ah should be there. Ah'll convince Rarity to come back. " Applejack left as well.

Pinkie Pie gave Flater a very firm hug. "After the Unveiling Party, I'll throw you an I-Accidently-Killed-My-Mother fiesta
as well!"

"Ah, I'd appreciate it if you didn't..." Flater frowned, but she was already gone.

Twilight Sparkle slowly gathered her things hoping he'd ask about earlier. When he didn't (He made himself tea instead) she felt a rush of relief and possibly a tiny pang of disappointment. "I found your discourse riveting." Twilight eventually spoke up. She gathered much information from it.

"Glad somepony enjoyed it." Flater tapped a hoof across his counter, reaching for a teabag that was a few inches away. Locating it, the blind hybrid plopped it into his steaming mug. Taking a sip he swallowed quickly, having scalded his tongue. "Ouch!" He flinched.

"Will you be alright?"

Flater laughed at her concern. "It's just a minor burn. I'll be fine."

"No, I mean will you be okay later tonight as you lay there all alone and left to the whims of your memories. If you want company, I'd be happy to come over and...help a friend out." Twilight blushed hoping he didn't take it in an implied manner. That came out all wrong. "I mean if you need anypony to watch over you in some way! Just let me or the others know. We're here for you." She chewed her lip in embarrassment.

Flater didn't miss a beat. "Why thank you for the offer. I shall do so if it comes down to that." He gave the purple alicorn a closed-eyes smile.

"Uh-huh, no problem. See you tomorrow!"

"Farewell Twilight. Have a pleasant day."

Enter the Lab

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Flater stretched luxuriously under the steady noonday sun. The heat beat pleasantly down on his shell filling his whole body with fuzzy warmth. Since his yard was adjacent to the road he could also exchange friendly greetings with Ponytown's residents. All in all, a perfect way to kill time until his guests arrived.

Hoofbeats drummed the dusty path. As the pony neared Flater's abode, they slid to a screeching halt kicking up dirt and debris as they did so. Flater sneezed slightly.

"There you are man! Hiding in plain sight."

"How's it going Rainbow Dash. Is it time already?" Flater lifted his head in her general direction.

"Nah, I came over early." The Pegasus puffed up a little, then deflated some. "See I have a little tiny problem on my hooves..."

"Well for every problem there is a solution." Flater scrambled to a sitting position.

"Uh, I'm over here now." Rainbow Dash waited for the blind Changeling hybrid to semi-face her before divulging. "This morning I woke up, did some wing stretches, did some laps around my house, being totally awesome and such. By the way, I pulled off this really top-notch flip-"

"Ahem. Just a bit off topic." Flater coughed softly to hide his amusement.

"Oh right. Anyways, I went out to get my newspaper and there was this box. I figured it was a confetti bomb laid by Pinkie. But the return address wasn't familiar. So I opened it, and inside was this apple pie. With a heart cut in the crust. Ugh, it's creepy man I'll tell ya! The deliverer left behind a feather. It isn't Derpy's." Rainbow Dash held up the offending object.

"What color is it?" Flater inquired.

"Kinda off-white with, like, I dunno! Just tell me whose it is!" She shoved it under his nose.

Flater sniffed at it thoughtfully as he sorted the scent's possible owners through his brain. Finally, one met the feather's criteria. "That's Soarin's feather I believe."

"S...Soarin? As in, Wonderbolts Soarin?" Rainbow Dash dropped it quickly, paling.

Flater wiggled, excited for her. "Congratulations Rainbow, you've entered the first stage of Pegasi courtship! Oh, that was my favorite topic of study in college...now I get to finally hear about it in life."

Rainbow Dash blanked out. This was too much to process all at once.

"Hiya! Is Dashie playing statues? I wanna play too!" Pinkie Pie bounded over to her paralyzed friend, copying her frozen facial expression.

Close behind came the remaining four. Flater's legs had long ago fallen asleep so he remained sitting.

"Is she okay?" Twilight Sparkle glanced at Rainbow Dash in concern.

"Ah'll check." Applejack sighed, tapping the blue Pegasus on the shoulder.

Rainbow Dash snapped to life, eyes wide and wings flaring open. "Pegasi courtship!"

"Say what now?" Applejack lifted an eyebrow.

"Rainbow has a-" Flater was cut off by a hoof slapped across his mouth.

"What do you have Rainbow darling?" Rarity chimed in, genuinely curious.

"I have...a...neat trick I'm working on! For sure. It'll get me into the Academy for sure." Rainbow Dash replied fervently. Her words were laced with Say-one-word-about-it-and-I'll-beat-you-senseless. Flater puffed out his cheeks in a silent secrecy swear.

"Haha I win!" Pinkie Pie squealed bouncing around the group.

Fluttershy just cowered. Oh why couldn't he put his disguise back up?

"Whatever trick it is, I'm sure it'll be a hit Rainbow." Twilight smiled at her friend.

"Of course it will be," Rainbow Dash huffed, "It's me we're talking about here."

"Ah came over here to talk about him." Applejack plopped onto the ground.

"It's such a nice day, why don't we stay outside this time?" Twilight suggested.

"Excellent idea! I'll get some lemonade." Flater hobbled back into the depths of his flat. Twilight Sparkle beamed from the positive attention.

Applejack and Rarity rolled their eyes. Pinkie remained oblivious and Fluttershy successfully crept away. Rarity giggled, casting meaningful glances at the now blushing alicorn.

Flater returned with a pitcher and several glasses at that moment. "What? Did I miss a joke?" He asked, perplexed, as they suddenly went quiet.

"It was nothin' of major importance." Applejack broke the awkward static air.

Flater decided that it must've been an inside joke as he set the beverage in the center of the group so they could help themselves. "Now where did I leave off?"

"Are we there yet?" A 3-year-old Flater complained as he followed a mare down Mane Street.

Brooke glanced warily around, breathing in relief when she discovered that no other ponies were about. For once she was grateful for Hoofendale's smallness. "Yes Flater, almost there."

"You said that last time." Flater pouted, trotting ahead to sit on some concrete steps. "I wanna be there now!"

"Wish granted." Brooke came to a stop as she neared the massive red bricked building. It was a little weathered, but not too shabby.

Flater glanced up at the sign above him. "Happy Hooves...what's an 'Or-Fan-Age?"

"Um...It's like a vacation house! Yea, you're going to take a vacation here." Brooke gave him a closed-lip smile.

"Is that why I had to bring all my stuff?" Flater shifted under his pair of packed saddlebags.

"Yes. I can't take care for you right now because I'm going on a little vacation on my own." Brooke flinched at her half truth. She couldn't care for him, that much was certain. The vacation bit was a load of hooey. She had been invited to move to Canterlot with Slate. After all, he needed a secretary for his new office. So here Flater had to stay, at Hoofendale's very own Happy Hooves Orphanage. It was all last-resort. Nopony had any interest in adopting a half Changeling, no matter how hard she searched. "Stay here while I get everything set up."

The hybrid thankfully flopped onto the bottom step. This whole trip had been taxing for his tiny frame.

"Flater, aren't you blind?" Rarity skeptically asked. His story now seemed very doubtful of accuracy.

"I wasn't born blind much to contrary belief." He took a sip of lemonade. "That didn't happen until much later."

Brooke returned wielding papers. "Okay Flater, I guess this is goodbye for now." Her heart sank at leaving such a high-spirited foal here. But the staff were kind (to her at least) and the inside seemed pretty clean.

"How long 'til you come back?" Flater whimpered, heaving himself back onto his legs.

"I don't know." Forever, I'm sorry. Brooke pushed her clashing emotions aside, stepping forward and placing her muzzle between his ears. "Just follow their directions and, above all, remember what I've taught you." She breathed, eyes closed. Too soon she lifted her head, descending the stairs to begin her journey home.

Flater waved, straining to watch her receding form disappear down a hill. She didn't look back.
At that moment Flater realized that he was on his own. It was a lonely feeling for someone so young. He slumped a little.

A middle aged mare stuck her head out into the open air. "Flater? Are you here?" She looked down and her jaw dropped.

"Hi. What are we doing over vacation?" Flater sat in front of her unaware of what was to come.

"W...What...I wasn't aware...of what...you..." The mare slowly backed away, ears pinned. She had no clue how to handle this shelled-fanged-holey-well spoken foal.

"Can I go in?" Flater tilted his head hopefully. His fly-like eyes reflected the sun.

"Absolutely not whatever you are!" The mare slammed the door closed. "Changelings! They're back! Call the squad!" Her shrill voice rang audible even through the thick oak.

Flater, more confused than shocked, sank to his belly. Brooke had said that he was different, so what did she say about handling it? Oh yea, use your best manners. A little late for that...

"Hey there little one." A gentle voice lilted up to him.

Flater turned to see a professionally dressed stallion in a crisp white coat smiling cordially at him. "I won't hurt you, come over here please."

Flater supposed that this pony was affiliated with the rude mare, so he took a tentative step.

The stallion nodded, eyes still bearing into his. "You can leave your saddlebags there. We can send for them later."

Flater needed no further coaxing; He was tired and hungry. So the bags were tossed to the ground in less than a minute before the hybrid took the steps two at a time.

As he neared the stallion on the street, a flash of silver swiped out from his peripheral vision. Flater attempted to leap away from its path, sadly a few seconds too slow.

Another larger stallion stepped from around a parked carriage with a long pole. At the end of it there was a loop of steel wire, much like a dog-catcher's tool. Flater found this loop wrapped around his throat. It was tight but not constricting. Yet.

"Got him boss. What do we do now?" The large one inquired to his white-coat partner.

"We take him to the institution of course." The other replied. "Or lab as you cretins call it."

"Come on." The large one demanded, yanking on the pole. Flater almost fell over from the force of it. His captor seemed surprised that he didn't fight back as he willingly plodded forward. Flater had nowhere to run to anyway. Soon enough the loop was undone and he was, quite literally, thrown into the rear of a barred-window carriage. The merciless cold steel froze his hooves and was reflected in the white-coat stallion's expression as he came over to close the heavy doors.

"Disgusting things Changelings are." He sneered. "Better off without them."

As the deadbolt latched into place, Flater collapsed onto the hard chilly floor. He rolled on his side as the carriage lurched to life, creaking its way down Mane Street. The hybrid curled into a ball eyes filling with hurt, confused tears. What was going on? One minute he was about to go on vacation and the next he was thrown into a cart for bad guys. What did he do? Was he a bad guy? Flater wanted to curl up in his fuzzy blue blanket. He wished to splash about in a warm bubble bath. But above all, he yearned for his caregiver's gentle touch. Her words of comfort. Her donkey brayish laugh. Flater's emptiness, fueled by hunger, reached its capacity. He couldn't help it; He began to chirp. Flater chirped away his loneliness, chirped away his childhood as he knew it, chirped away his young innocence.

The driver rapped on the wall in front of him. "Hey you little scum cut that out!"

This caused Flater to cry out even louder.

"Oh Celestia, this'll be a long ride..." The driver grumbled.

Flater paused his story weaving. "Sorry that I cannot describe who they were. I honestly just don't remember."

"Please tell me that this crap town doesn't exist anymore! Doing that to a kid..." Rainbow Dash growled, eyes narrowed. She'd love to give that place a good trashing.

"Probably, though I'm sure they're less volatile than they used to be." Flater shrugged. He had sworn himself to never go back.

"I'll go make more lemonade. It didn't needed way more sugar!" Pinkie Pie grabbed the pitcher.

"Ugh great. Just what ah need. A sugar-induced coma." Applejack shook her head.

Rarity gagged at the prospect. "I agree. We'll run to the market to buy you more later. Your house will surely be lacking it."

"I can go myself, it's no problem really." Flater lifted his back shell to fan out his useless, transparent, wasp-like wings in the sun. He hummed contentedly, glad to be in the light and worrying over something as petty as sugar.

Twilight Sparkle stared at them in awe. He had never shown his wings before. Flater must be really comfortable here in the midst of them all. She made a goal to keep him feeling that way. Not afraid to be himself in the world he lived in.

Upon Pinkie's return Flater carried on.

Empty. That was the only way to describe his new accommodation at the lab. It appeared to be much like a prison cell, but pure neon white with a massive spotless window for others to look in. This was where Flater got shoved to be monitored for his entire stay.

The discombobulated hybrid sat in the middle of the space, trembling, eyes wide. Harsh chemical scents seared his nostrils. He had a headache from the white glare. There were no sounds at all, not even of life. These white-coat ponies made no noise while passing him by. This freaked him out even more. He needed a safe place. Flater immediately crossed off all corners. They were too visible. He turned to a little cot propped against the nearby wall. Sobbing in relief, Flater rushed over to it. He squeezed his slender frame underneath into the sweet, soothing darkness.

He must've fallen asleep, because before he knew it a shrieking alarm pierced his ears. Flater surged to life banging his head off the bottom of the cot. Grimacing, he pulled himself out from under his shelter right into reality. A plate of food sat nearby. It seemed to a inconspicuous combo of eggs and bacon. Taking a curious sniff, he quickly tucked them away with greedy mouthfuls.

In the window, white-coated ponies scribbled notes. "The specimen has taken the bait." One reported into a walkie-talkie.

"Wonderful. Wait five minutes before proceeding." Crackled a reply.


Flater, of course, could not hear the scientists through the thick glass. Settling back he felt content for the moment with a full stomach. Warm food made everything better. In fact, his whole body was pleasantly warm. The warmth spread steadily as he grew drowsy. "Gosh that was good. A small nap now can't hurt..." He dopily murmured to himself before flopping onto his back in an induced coma.

"Target acquired and sedated."

Flater stopped there, jaws clenched. "I can't bear to carry on with it being such a lovely day. Maybe tomorrow."

"There's rain scheduled then." Rainbow Dash pondered.

"Ugh! I refuse to travel through such unfavorable conditions!" Rarity huffed. "You'll have to continue without me."

Applejack shot the white unicorn an annoyed glance. "Ah'll be here for ya Flater."

"The rain is the perfect time to sit together and storytell." Twilight stated. She wouldn't miss it for the world.

"Pinkie Pie clapped her hooves. "Goodie! Let's all make s'mores and have a day out of it."

Flater grinned. "I'd like that. Just let me make the refreshment this time, okay? I think I'm going to feel this buzz for hours on end."

Why so Blind?

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Twilight Sparkle pulled aside her window blinds to reveal an elephant grey sky. The clouds hung low over the horizon heavy with rain. The air grew thicker and more humid as the minutes passed. She was about to turn away when a flash of white caught her attention. Twilight found, through closer inspection, that nopony other than Flater trotted down the street. "Huh. He rarely heads into town..." Twilight mused to herself, stepping away from her window. "Whatever is he doing?" Twilight Sparkle headed for the door scientific mind roused. "Spike! Watch the library for me! Pinkie might return a book."

"Mm, whatevs." The purple dragon muttered from the kitchen. Dark dreary days put him to sleep. In fact, with her gone, he could nap to his heart's content.

Twilight paused, hoof on the doorknob. Was this wrong, stalking-no, following, him so? It technically was a study. Besides, what if he got lost. She pushed her way into the electric morning air. Something bumped her hoof. Twilight quickly discovered that it was her dictionary, still in mint condition. She tucked the book under her wing; There was no time to put it back in fear of losing the fresh trail. The alicorn cantered in the general direction that Flater went.

Several streets flew by before she caught him exiting Sugarcube Corner. He had his unicorn disguise on and toted a large sack of sugar. Twilight Sparkle slid to a stop behind a nearby building pressing hard against the warm brick. It would be very awkward if he caught her following him. Much to her surprise, the blind Changeling hybrid turned down a different route instead of the main road. Of course. His mind is hive-oriented. These twisty streets must be like home to him. She waited a moment or two, then slowly meandered after him.

Sometimes, he would go through an alley. Other times it was a tight squeeze through a building gap. After cutting across several lawns, Twilight began to wonder if this was even legal. But nopony came out to yell about it so it was fine in the end. Every so often he'd take a nibble of grass. Twilight guessed that the action helped him orient himself. Did the grasses actually taste different? She made a mental note to test that one of these days.

Twilight was so caught up in this new hypothesis that she just barely saw Flater's tail vanish inside a particularly tight building gap. She wedged herself through, sides rubbing the walls that enclosed her. It was very much dark, the sky threatening to combust any minute.

Hoofbeats clicked from somewhere behind her. The owner of the hooves were humming to themself, and it went a lot like, "Hmm hmm hmm, why are you hunting me? Hmm hmm hmm, Twilight you need a hobby...hmm hmm hmm, you might be stuck."

"Flater?" Twilight Sparkle yelped in alarm cover totally blown. How did he figure it out? She wiggled realizing that he was also correct. She was solidly stuck.

"I'm not deaf you goof." Flater snorted, going around the building to face her. "I could hear your bumbling hoofsteps from a mile away."

"Wait can you actually do that?" Twilight replied, curious. That'd be a cool ability to have.

"If I could I wouldn't tell anyway." He held out a hoof. "Pass me whatever you're carrying so you can get out."

Twilight Sparkle handed over her dictionary, folding her wings even closer to her body. Now she just barely scraped through.

"Oh hey! I returned this earlier." Flater patted the cover.

"I wanted to...ask what your favorite word in it is! Yea, that's why I was trying to find you." Twilight Sparkle stamped a hind leg uneasily. He probably hated her guts for this.

"I can't read it by myself, remember?" Flater crinkled his nose quizzically at her. His ears suddenly pricked and his head snapped skyward. He hurriedly passed the book back to her.

Twilight returned it to her wing, glancing upward to see what he was listening for.

As to answer her question, a fat raindrop plopped squarely into her right eye. Twilight Sparkle whinnied at the sudden agitation, more shocked than hurt. The sky split open bleeding out in a violent downpour. "I can't let the sugar get too wet. Plastic bags only defend so much....Follow me for home isn't too far."
Twilight stumbled toward his voice, water streaming down her eyelashes, down her mane, down her entire being blinding her temporarily. Puddles formed instantaneously from the relentless drops. She splashed through several, almost tripped over a curb, and eventually reached Flater's side. He blocked some of the rain, yet she still couldn't see through the slanting force of nature.

"Put your wing around me so I can guide you the rest of the way!" Flater shouted over the wind.

Twilight needed no further coaxing. Her feathered appendage grabbed on to him like a drowning swimmer would a floatie. She smiled apologetically at him by reflex. "Sorry, wet feathers aren't the best thing to have wrapped around anypony."

"It's fine, we're almost there." Flater grimaced, suppressing a shudder. She could say that again.

The alicorn guiltily enjoyed being pressed against him. He was incredibly warm and didn't smell of wet fur. Disguises had developed many useful attributes throughout the years. She scooted even closer.

Her bliss shattered as a door materialized through the hazy rain. Flater nosed it open and dragged her inside. "There we go, finally safe. May I breathe now?" Flater wheezed through her tight grip.

"Oh! Sorry." Twilight forced herself to push away from him, shaking the water droplets from her coat and wings. Thank goodness only a few pages got wet. She thought to herself as she put the dictionary on a nearby table.

The flat's scent was different today. More...woodsy and almost smoky. "Don't forget to bring your book with you this time!" Flater called from across the room as he navigated a log onto a little fire. It crackled merrily, the oranges reflecting across his eyes. "Is my sugar ruined?"

Twilight Sparkle pushed aside the thin plastic to check. "It seems to be alright."

"Thank goodness all that work wasn't for nothing." Flater sighed, sinking into a chair by the brick fireplace.

Twilight sat on the floor across from him, not wanting her wet body to ruin his furniture. She flared her wings slightly allowing the heat to dry her off. The peaceful atmosphere, combined with the steady warmth and cheery crackling of the fire, shut the alicorn's senses down and she began to doze despite herself.

A spritz of mist to her face jolted Twilight back into reality. "What the-"

"Hiya sleeping beauty!" Pinkie Pie giggled, shaking out her loofah mane. "Sorry about that, my hair is like a sponge."

"Oh hello Pinkie." Twilight blearily nodded, scanning the room for other arrivals. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and, unexpectedly, Rarity. They were also ridding themselves of excess water.

Flater bustled about passing out towels and mopping up any puddles left behind.

"I brought the marshmallows Flater! I would've brought sticks as well, but they're all wet." Pinkie piped up, motioning to another bag by the sugar.

"Many thanks Pinkie. We can use the sticks I was going to put in the fire as kindling." Flater tossed a towel in the party pony's direction.

Applejack rounded up the sticks while Rarity fussed over her ruined mane. Eventually they settled down after Twilight dragged over a massive fuzzy blanket. Four mares and a hybrid snuggled together in a happy warm pony burrito, contentedly roasting plus-sized marshmallows. Flater wasn't sure how big they would actually puff, but after hearing Pinkie squeal that hers was larger than her head, he didn't really want to know.

"Rarity, pass the powdered sugar please." Pinkie Pie already had hers roasted and stacked on a graham cracker.

"Pardon, sugar?" Rarity deadpanned.

"Uh huh! Granulated sugar goes on second." Pinkie beamed. Rarity passed over the shaker without further questioning. Applejack gagged putting her s'more down.

"What? It's not sweet enough without it!" The pink mare blinked innocently at them, mouth full.

"Pinks, that's disgusting." Rainbow Dash stuck her tongue out. "And Flater, yours is on fire."

"Good," Flater took an appreciative sniff at the charred gooey remains, "I like crunchy foods."

"Double yuck!" Rainbow shook her head.

"I'll only have this one. A lady must watch her figure." Rarity huffed.

Twilight Sparkle munched on her s'more, enjoying the delightful combos of milk chocolate, marshmallow, and slightly stale graham crackers. That and she pretended not to notice her pelt brushing Flater's.

Applejack bumped Twilight's wing with a shoulder. "Ya okay sugarcube? The amount of drool you're losin' can't be healthy. Stop starin' at him or ya will be dehydrated soon." She hissed into the alicorn's ear. Twilight blushed slightly, embarrassed that Applejack noticed, choosing to gaze intently at her food.

Flater, ignoring or not noticing them, licked off his forehooves. He had felt too lazy to remove his disguise so far, so he decided to leave it up for the day. "That hit the spot. S'mores are the perfect solution for trashy weather."

"The only thing missing is a good story." Rainbow Dash yawned, growing dopey from the heat emitting off of the fire.

"Very well," Flater took the discarded half of Rarity's unwanted s'more, "Where did I leave off?"

"You went into a coma!" Rainbow perked up.

"Right, right."

Cold metal pressed against every orifice of his left side as he came to. A harsh light stabbed through his pupils as Flater attempted to blink fully conscience. The Changeling hybrid found himself strapped to a steel hospital cart underneath a strong strobe light. He swallowed, throat chalky. Was there any water around? He couldn't tell. All around was just light light light. His head swam.

"Study subject number 18629 is now on display. Which experiment do you wish to test first?" A whiny lab-coated stallion groveled as his boss strode through the silver swinging doors into his lab.

Flater could only recognize them by voice and hoof-stride. He shifted slightly under their invisible scrutinizing glances.

"What sort of testing shall he be subject to?" Whiny Voice inquired beseechingly.

"The Corporation has unanimously voted to use the filthy creature in 'Dumb Question Testing'. Although I'd prefer to test cosmetics." The boss with the big coat responded in a deep rumble.

"Oh me too me too. All of the rashes!" Whiny Voice trilled in high-pitched laughter.

"Shut up you imbecile and give me a hoof with this cart."

Flater flinched as the table swung wide, wheels shrieking in complaint. He felt a wash of relief that makeup wasn't for him at least. But dumb questions?

As if sensing the hybrid's curiosity, and having a love for killing it, Whiny Voice leaned his sunken skinny face over. "The first will be an age old query: Does a dark room change eye color after an elongated time?" He cackled in glee. "Now we can finally know!"

"Silence!" Bellowed Big Coat. "Quit yapping with 18629, you'll grow attached to it."

"I'm not yapping," Whiny grumbled, "It's muzzled too tightly to respond."

Flater just closed his eyes. Hopefully this would be over soon and he'd go back to Happy Hooves. Or even better Brooke.

"Here we go." Rough hooves undid his bindings. The strap around Flater's muzzle loosened then slipped off. He flexed his jaws thankfully. The stark light was gone; Flater turned to locate his captors. Before he could catch a glimpse of Big Coat, he was firmly grabbed from behind by the shoulders and shoved forward.

An open void yawned open in front of Flater, hungry for another pathetic soul to feed it. There was nothing he could do. He allowed the two scientists toss him down, down, down into the thirsty darkness.

In reality, it was just a really dark room. Flater scrambled to his hooves, knee deep in water, as they sealed his fate with a slam that rattled his bones. He tested the liquid with a half-hearted splash. It didn't smell... His dehydration won out over caution. He desperately plunged his head under, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the lukewarm stuff. Sides comfortably bloated and thirst quenched, Flater lifted his dripping muzzle. This place was suffocatingly black. A shred of fear broke off and clawed at his heart. He took off, careening madly off every wall until he forgot which way was up or down. Panting slightly, the hybrid began to tremble. He really was stuck here, an ugly toy for twisted puppeteers to play with. To melt and reshape as desired.

Flater sank to his haunches, water lapping at his sides. To add to his dismay it was too deep for laying down in. He rose, plodded to the nearest wall, and leaned against it. A small reminder that darkness couldn't go on forever. It was trapped just like him.

Some time passed. Flater grew drowsy, head lolling slowly earthward. The water's surface pricked his lips and up his head shot, only to sink once more. He shivered wishing for a dry spot to nap.

Nearby, a dry rasping sound caught his attention. It was very much like scales sliding across a concrete wall. His breath hitched as the sound emitted again, closer this time. Little waves lapped at Flater's shins. Something else was in the water. He found himself paralyzed with fear, eyes wide to locate the thing in the impenetrable darkness, muscles locked stiff.
It brushed against his hindlegs, textured like an old shoe. A scream shattered the silence; It took Flater a second to process that it came from him as he skipped into the air. He landed a few feet away, legs still churning.

Flater did not stop galloping until he was sure The Thing was gone. As his muscles spazzed from adrenaline aftershock, his young mind raced. Was it really gone? Did it just swim around until next time? Flater did not feel tired for a long time after The Thing came into play.

"The Thing? Sounds spooky." Pinkie Pie stuffed several marshmallows into her face.

"Was it actually a giant snake or something? That'd be epic." Rainbow Dash gushed.

Flater pursed his lips. "Not exactly." He adjusted a distracted Twilight's marshmallow stick before continuing.

Several days, weeks, or months could've gone by. There was no time in the pit. Flater came to learn the patterns of the place. Every so often the pit would drain out and food would be shot through a vent. It wasn't as often as he would like, but it was enough. He had also mastered the art of sleeping while standing. Flater came to notice that The Thing only came around when he was sleepy, sometimes failing to come at all. It still spooked him horribly. He was always on guard, always ready to run. Flater often wondered what condition his hooves were in.

After what felt like an eternity later, a wire noose snatched Flater's snoozing neck and hauled him back to the real world. Fully awakened, he attempted to help whomever was saving him by trotting slightly. His holey knees bumped against a step. He climbed up and out, so relieved to be on dry ground that he could've cried. Too soon multiple hooves lifted him, placing the hybrid on the familiar chill of a cart. The familiar bindings restricted his every move. Yet, he loved it. Relished it mostly because he longed to be touched, to be wanted even slightly. It made his heart sing. Flater hardly noticed the conversation going on around him until something whiny voice said stopped his lungs.

"Hey, how come his eyes aren't reacting to the strobe light?"

"Shut. I'm taking very detailed notes," Big Coat rumbled. "Three months...no perceivable iris discoloration...does it even have an iris? Too insect-like...no perceivable eye discoloration then. There. Now what are you screeching about?"

"There's something wrong with it!" Whiny Voice repeated.

"No there's not you fool." Big Coat growled.

Flater felt a rush of air then a sharp sting on his side. He gave a strangled yelp.

"Huh. He should've seen that blow coming and flinched. There is something amiss here..."

"Told you."

Flater tuned out their bickering, gut tightening as the truth dawned over him. He should be bombarded with relentless light, but it was still as dark as the pit for him. His eyes were open he was sure of it. His spirit crumpled up on itself and Flater acknowledged his powerlessness through a low sigh of defeat. There was no chance of escape now; He must now rely on the scientists who hated him so. I hope your funding is worth it.

"Anyways, that was the second worst experiment they've ever tried on me." Flater shrugged. He found himself being squished by sympathetic bodies. "It's fine, just some Retinopathy caused by stress. My fault for not dealing with it better."

"Bull hooey! Ya were a 'lil youngin' an' shouldn't have had that happen in the first place." Applejack hollered.

"Did you ever find out what The Thing was?" Rainbow Dash demanded, insanely curious.

"Yup. It actually was an old shoe attached to a robotic arm used to stir up the water." Flater chuckled bitterly. "I figured it out after Big Coat hit me over the nose with it to test my vision."

Pinkie Pie leaned over to wave a s'more in front of his nose. "At least your other senses are still top-notch!" She giggled as he precisely snapped up the treat from her hoof.

Rarity rearranged her end of the blanket to better cover her shoulders. "I wonder what brand of shoe it was..."

Twilight Sparkle laughed at her friend's pettiness. "I doubt that the shoe brand was on the top of his list to find out about."

Flater crunched in pure bliss. Being surrounded by friendly chatter and actual friends filled up his aching heart and left it glowing. This was one thing that the scientists universally didn't understand: Companionship.

Scar of the Past

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"Thanks for helping me out today!" Pinkie Pie bustled about Sugarcube Corner's spacious kitchen stirring in a bit of this, some of that, and everything in between. The large magenta bowl she cradled sloshed over the sides at every step. Flour hung in the air like artificial fog.

Flater sneezed slightly, hauling several bags of sprinkles. "No problem at all. What other way could I thank you for bringing the marshmallows?" He wasn't exactly sure what the party mare was brewing up, but he was certain that it contained a suspicious amount of butter. And an unhealthy dose of sugar. "Uh...is the pony receiving these going to survive?"

"Of course silly! This is Cheese Sandwich we're talking about. They must be perfect for his 'Welcome Back to Ponyville' party. Only the best!" Pinkie giggled.

Flater could practically hear the excitement radiate from her body. Either that or the oven timer went off. "I think Cheese is pretty cool. Sadly we only met once." He had a theory but wanted to poke around before ascertaining its truth.

"Of course he's cool, he's the 'Party Planner of the World'!" Pinkie Pie shrilled stirring faster. A glop of cheddar-scented batter landed on Flater's nose. He licked at it curiously with a forked tongue. There sure was a massive proportion of love in it.

"Huh, cheese flavored cupcakes." The hybrid tapped a hoof to his chin. "I thought you were the Party Planner?"

Pinkie Pie ceased her churning. "Well yea. Except he's Planner of the World and I'm only Planner of Ponyville. Which I am NOT complaining about! All of the awesome ponies are here, and soon another will join us. Why, are the cupcakes too overboard?"

"They're not bad at all." Flater grinned, fangs glinting slightly. He enjoyed spending time with Pinkie because she frankly didn't care about his actual appearance. After all, she had partied with mules, griffons, hippogriffs, Discord, and probably giraffes. He decided to press on with his theory. "In fact, with all of this hubbub, I'd say you like him."

"Oh I totally like him!" Pinkie Pie flicked her loofah tail nonchalantly. "Is it that obvious? I hope so!"

Flater coughed awkwardly, choking on a laugh. He was impressed by her bluntness. Usually you had to coax a mare to make them divulge their love interest. "It definitely is."

"Yay! We had such a grand time working together on Rainbow Dash's party that I knew we could work!" She tossed him a package of cupcake wrappers completely forgetting his handicap. They bounced off of one of his white wing shells.

"Hey, what was that for?" Flater stepped aside.

"Sorry! You're not a good catcher. I'll give you a heads up next time!" Pinkie bounced over and retrieved what she lost.

"That'd be much appreciated." He bumped into a cupboard and sat down.

Twilight Sparkle then decided to walk in. "Hello Pinkie Pie!" She turned to Flater feigning surprise. "Oh hi Flater!"

"Come on Twily! You owe me a milkshake." Rainbow Dash whined from outside. "You failed that bet fair and square."

The purple alicorn ignored the cyan pegasus' complaints. Instead, she turned to her other friends. "Are you ready for Cheese Sandwich's big return? I made a list of everything that needs to be done." She levitated a thick scroll of parchment over to Pinkie Pie.

"I'm so hyped!" The pink earth pony squealed before snatching the object. "This is so perfect thank you! Now let's see..." Pinkie scanned the list studiously. "Yellow and orange balloons...check! Cupcakes...almost check. Karaoke machine with super-amp speakers...check! Inflatable pool full of lemonade...is a go! It's all in order so far."

Twilight's smile diminished. "A pool...of lemonade?" That sounded horrible. "Won't our fur get all sticky and gross?"

"Yup! That's why we can lick each other clean. Doesn't that sound fun?!" Pinkie Pie beamed.

Flater almost dropped a tray of cupcakes. "Isn't that a health violation?"

Twilight's face colored. "Pinkie! We can't let that happen! Let's add 'hose station' to the list."

"I dunno...that sounds like a rockin' party to me." Rainbow Dash waggled her eyebrows.

Flater failed to keep the tray off the floor this time. "Oh my gosh." He whispered in disgust. Fur tasted nasty to begin with. "Somepony give her a milkshake before she gets any ideas!"

Rainbow Dash made a face. "No thank you man! I wouldn't ever do that let alone in public. Gross." Rainbow Dash shook her multi-colored mane out. "I'll have a 'Rock Candy Blitz' while you're on the subject though."

"Coming right up!" Pinkie Pie broke away from Twilight's anti-tongue rant to fulfil the pegasus' request.

"Can you imagine it? As a public humiliation thing Ponyville should have the prisoner lick every citizen's hooves." Rainbow Dash shouted over the industrial blender.

"Talk about a cruel and unusual punishment." Twilight Sparkle nodded.

"I know a thing or two about that topic." Flater muttered. He meant to say that to himself, but Pinkie finished using the blender at the exact same time he started to speak.

Three pairs of eyes locked onto him.

Flater squirmed sensing their curious stares. "What? Did I say that out loud?"

"You sure did bud." Rainbow Dash took a long sip of shake.

"Story time!" Pinkie Pie chirped. She shot off and returned with a beanbag chair. Flater slowly eased himself down with a sigh into the plush material.

"Is now really the best time? There are cupcakes in the oven." He didn't wish for the 'gourmet' food items to char because he went into overtime. Already their pungent odor hung in the air as an invisible reminder.

Twilight selected a stool, scooting as close as possible to him. "No better time than the present." She fabricated a notepad and pen ready to take notes.

Rainbow Dash followed suit. "Is it about the scar?" The pegasus motioned to Flater's raw injury. It sat on his flank glistening; An angry salmon flare to remind him always.

"Alas, it is so." He hung his head slightly.

"Applejack will be sooo mad to have missed this..." Rainbow cackled rubbing her hooves in glee.

Pinkie Pie raised a hoof. "Ooh! Ooh! I can tell her all about it when she comes over to drop off some fritters."

Flater paused. "You're right. It's not fine to continue without her."

"Yea, it'll be fine. Just tell." Rainbow Dash urged. Her wings twitched in suspense.

"Well okay. Just give me a second..." Flater took a deep breath to collect his thoughts. These memories were the ones he tried to smother and shove to the bottom of his troubled mind. They hurt more than the actual wound did at times. Now he had to poke (no, rile) the venomous mental images, allow them to flow back into his heart and mind, hopefully to extinguish them completely. He smiled wanly then began in low tones.

Months flew by in a blur of activity. Some days he got bloodwork, other days he was shipped down to the gym to run some tests of his physical abilities. Or, as Whiny Voice put it, 'Can he run faster than us?' It wasn't all bad. He had one square meal a day after all. It was just cripplingly lonely. Flater's heart hung empty and aching with want of socialization. Something to ease his young mind of the day's pains and tribulations, somepony to laugh with and joke with as needed. Someone...who actually cared if he lived or died.

Then, one day after a boring IQ test, he got it.

"Hallo. Ya look funny." A high voice roused Flater from his drowse. His ears pricked. Were they talking to him? He took another listen as the voice prattled on. "Mah daddy always said that ya were bizarre but ah just had ta see fo' myself." Hoofsteps rang out on the marble floors as the pony approached. Using the voice's decibels as a cue, he deciphered that it belonged to a filly not much younger than him. She sure was loud. And brash.

"Oh yea? Where'd you hear about me from?" Flater's voice cracked from underuse as he poked his head out from below his cot.

"Ah already told ya. Mah dad says stuff. He's tha most important scientist here." He could hear her voice puff up in pride.

"Big Coat. Your dad is Big Coat." Flater concluded. He wasn't sure how this Southern filly could be in anyway related to that wicked tyrant.

The filly laughed at this. "Big Coat is such ah funny name fo' him! Ah like ya." A hoof tapped him on the nose. Flater unfolded a sieve-like, gangly leg to shake it. "Mah name's Suga Cane."

"I'm Flater. Nice to meet you."

"Who's yer dad?" Suga Cane inquired plopping down on her belly.

"Oh! I don't...have one." Flater's ears folded back in embarrassment. She noticed he was upset.

"If it makes ya feel betta my ma is ah test tube. Pa says I'm 'genetically engineered' an' tha 'perfect specimen of pony'. Not shore what that means yet." Suga Cane whispered loudly.

Flater flinched. He wished that he was the same as her. Genetically superior and treated way better than the average pony. How else could she have gotten into his cell?

"Yer blind, right?" Suga Cane cut in.

"Kinda. It might be temporary they said."

"Well not in here it ain't. Ah hope ya last longer than tha last pony in this cell. He just fell ova' an' died randomly one day. Wanna touch mah face?"

Flater blinked in disbelief. She jumped the morbid topic so easily it was scary. Seeing his unease, she continued thinking that he was afraid to touch her. "It's okay. Ah thought blind ponies liked ta touch faces. Ya know, tah get ah mental image." He opened his jaws to protest but she swiftly grabbed a hoof and pressed it against her cheek. "Ah don't bite silly."

Flater cautiously ran his hooves over her face while she described her appearance. It was all confusing (since she often backtracked and corrected herself); He could conclude that Suga Cane's face had a pleasant shape. Not too angular, but not too round. Well defined nostrils, large rounded eyes, soft mane, puffy afro of a mane. "Are you pretty?"

"Gash ah like ta think so." Suga Cane giggled, pleased enough to halt her coloration ramble. Flater's heart swelled at this knowledge. His first attempt and he guessed right! The warm glow soared through his bloodstream, focusing on his flank, comfortable as the spring sun's rays. "Oh mah lawd Flater, ya-"

The cell door slammed open. "Subject 44! What do you think you're doing in here?!" Big Coat's voluminous voice thundered. "18629 remove your revolting hooves off my daughter!"

Flater dropped his hold, scooting under his cot with a small sigh.

"Aw dad, ya ruined it. He just got his Cutie Mark!" Suga Cane whined. "Ah wanna see what it is. Ya shoulda seen it glow! It was all gold an' everythin'."

"I fail to care past my immense disappointment in you 44. You are the apex race of pony. Immune to all disease, free of any genetic disorder-"

"An' not allowed ta defile mah perfect bloodline with normal ponies. Yea ah got it. Ah have no thought on marryin' 18629. Sheesh. We're like, three. Ah have another year before maturity yet." Suga Cane grumbled reluctantly stepping away from Flater.

Flater gently brushed the top of his rear leg. A Cutie Mark? It was doubtful that he could even receive one being a hybrid and all. He had a physical identity now all for him! It was there, pulsing, still warm. He regretted his blindness now, overwhelmed with the desire to lay his eyes on it. As Flater laid in a frustrated heap, Big Coat finished berating his daughter. "Be gone. No dessert tonight either."

Suga Cane, needing to get the last word in, poked her head under the cot. "Sadly fo' him saying ah can't hang out with ya makes me want ta do it more. Ah like livin' on tha edge!" She whispered hoarsely to him. Eventually Suga Cane departed. Flater had an itchy feeling that she would return.

Big Coat, dissatisfied with his discipline's results, yanked Flater into the air by the mane. Flater gritted his teeth silently hoping his fangs didn't look too threatening. Big Coat often came in to beat him up if he had a bad day. Or if Flater performed poorly on his near-impossible tests. Flater sported a bruise on his side from just the other night for refusing to eat a live mouse. As his helpless body was pulled closer, he realized that Big Coat had no current intention on abuse; He was inspecting Flater's new marks. "Interesting..." The head scientist mused turning Flater this way and that. "Absolutely just in time for another 'Stupid Question' experiment." Flater whimpered at the prospect. "Aw be quiet. It won't hurt...me." Big Coat chuckled tossing the hybrid into a corner before exiting.

Flater remained where he landed, panting in terror. What other nightmare did he have to survive this time?

"I have a well-educated guess on what happened to you man." Rainbow Dash motioned to his nasty scar. "They cut it out?"

"Close but not exactly." Flater replied while fetching more cupcakes from the oven. He took a tiny lick off an icing-coated spatula. "Ugh, is this wine flavored?"

"Yup! Cheese and wine are staples you know!" Pinkie Pie poured batter into cups. "It's fine though. The alcohol should bake out."

"Pinkie...you don't cook icing." Twilight Sparkle face hoofed.

"Oopsie! Can you change the age limitation on the party invitations please?"

"With pleasure." The purple alicorn added it to her list of 'Important Things To Do'. She also jotted down 'Do not eat cupcakes at party' as a personal footnote.

Rainbow Dash rubbed her hooves. "Ooh yea...this is going to be a rockin' party."

"Ew, Rainbow!" Twilight refrained from prolonging her thoughts. "Never mind. Please proceed Flater."

"Yes that will probably be for the best." He nodded seriously.

A rough rope sadistically dug into Flater's sensitive facial tissue. The makeshift bridle also doubled as a muzzle he found out while attempting to yawn. Whiny Voice led him down several labyrinthine corridors in complete silence. This was new in itself. Whiny usually gibbered on about what would soon happen to him, or what tests he enjoyed overseeing. More often than not Whiny Voice would scorn Big Coat claiming that he could be so much better. 'That saucy rump-fed flax wench' seemed to be Whiny's insult of choice. Big Coat was the antithesis of saucy in Flater's opinion. More like 'pompous maleficent nag.'

The hybrid's mind returned from insult mashing back to earth. He hadn't noticed that Whiny Voice stopped and was trying to tug Flater to his side. Flater obediently retrogressed, flinching slightly as Whiny placed a hoof on his wing shell. "Kid, this will be the first time I've ever actually felt bad for you. Heck, you might not even come out alive. So...uh...yea." The scientist coughed awkwardly jerking the rope to move forward. Flater's heart filled with dread. The omniscient warning unnerved him completely. He shivered long before they reached the chilly lab room.

"Here you are." Whiny Voice announced quietly. Their hoofsteps pealed persistently off of the walls. Flater flattened his ears to the incessant noise as he plodded onward. "Stop right there." Whiny commanded. Flater felt the rope jiggle as he presumably tied it to something. The hybrid tugged slightly. Whiny Voice swatted his nose. "Cut that out 18629. Just walk forward a few paces now."

Flater nodded taking a tentative step. Then another. A few more in. He then perceived that he was walking into a metal shaft much like one used on wild horses who needed branding or hoof trims. It was very tight. It smelled evil. Flater grunted, ears pinning closer to his head, and refused to budge another inch into that steel trap. Whiny Voice trotted over in irritation. "If you go in, things will be so much easier." Flater shook his head.

A sharp slap resonated through the air as Flater took a whipping. Through the blows, the hybrid mentally knew that this mild abrasion was a hundred times better than whatever awaited in the box. Eventually Whiny tired himself out. "You really leave me no other choice." He sighed, clattering off. Momentarily a metallic whirr hummed to life.

Flater's head pulled forward as the winch ate up the rope's slack. The hybrid clenched his tail in trepidation. He could not go in there! Flater set his legs apart focusing all of his weight into the ground. His head lowered until his neck stuck straight out. It seemed to work at first. But soon his hooves slid across the smooth floor. No! No! Please no... His front hooves caught against the entrance and he stopped sliding. Unfortunately the machine continued to pull his head with the mercy of a sledgehammer. Flater felt his head threaten to dislocate from his body, taught leg muscles also faring poorly. He had to do something. So he did what he'd learned to do best: give up. His shoulders, head, and spirit dropped as he moved into the metal contraption. The door clanged victoriously as it swung closed, just brushing his tucked tail. Flater started slightly at the abrupt noise.

"We're going to be here for a little while. Boss got caught up in a different thing." Whiny Voice sneered as he finished fastening Flater's lead rope. The hybrid's forehead pressed against a head-bar and his legs met the same fate but with vertical metal poles that made up the box's barred walls. The cold was actually semi-decent to have for smarting lash marks. Flater relaxed as Whiny Voice trundled about in boredom. "Ugh. Might as well tell you what this is about." The scientist's impatient steps drew closer. "As you already know, it's under the subject of 'Stupid Questions'. Pretty recently requested actually...but anyway. Our choice subject hasn't recovered well enough from their last endeavor to be the subject. Stupid reasoning, I'm well aware. All it asked was if removing a pony's Cutie Mark would kill them. So here we are!" Whiny Voice prodded Flater's mark. "Would you like to know what yours is? Before it's removed and all."

Flater nodded so hard he rattled the shaft. "Alright then. It's very nice compared to some of them I suppose. Your Cutie Mark is-"
"Let's get started!" The loudspeakers boomed to life. Whiny Voice yelped and ran off to his station. The sound was nearly deafening, so Flater squelched his disappointment and rising fear by tuning it out. He wasn't too worried about the whole procedure itself. Technology had come so far it should be nearly painless.

"Today we have test subject 18629 with a freshly earned Cutie Mark. Our study today should show, if any, side affects of having it removed. Due to the lack of funds and to add to your viewing pleasure the procedure shall be carried out with discarded printer acid. Please bear with this and take detailed notes for future filing."

Flater's blood turned to ice. This really couldn't be happening. He shook himself desperate to wake up from this nightmare. It was all in vain; Hoof steps approached him from both sides. He broke into a cold sweat as a defeated sob caught in his throat. This was it. All of his silent suffering led to his downfall. I regret it all. I regret being born.

Awaiting further instruction, the hoofsteps paused. Flater's nose picked up faint wisps of toxic-scented liquid. Even the smell burned his nasal passages. It was worse than Clorox! And it soon would be poured over his body. He trembled slightly as adrenaline slowly turned his brains to incomprehensible mush. Murmured words went right over his head or became garbled as Flater zoned out of the situation. The now fuzzy announcements went on for a few more minutes then went silent. A dazed and confused hybrid blinked groggily. Did they decide to postpone the whole thing? Why all the quiet?

A slight stinging sensation emitted from his flank area. He wiggled a tied leg to remove the supposed insect. It persisted, growing in volume. The acid carved easily through his thin pelt to reach the tender flesh underneath. Fire suddenly exploded from his sides; Little sparks of color spotting behind his eyes at the abrupt flame of pain. His head shot skyward as the scientists continued their torturous work, teeth clacking as the rope did not allow him to do so. Fire soon gave away to raw agony as they stopped pouring, letting the acid finish its course. His skin and tissue didn't have time to bleed before being burnt beyond repair. Still straining against his restraints, Flater's nostrils expanded to catch the scent of his own ruined flesh. He let out a primal hiss louder than the active chemicals. The crescendo rose into a full blown keen of mortal suffering, spiraling back to the plaintive howl of a dying animal. Adrenaline pulsed through his veins as he cried out every time fresh hurt washed over him. It was unbearable.

The scientists found his vocal complaints unbearable as well. As soon as the acid stopped bubbling on his injury, they unhitched the writhing creature. His vocalizations could demoralize already broken subjects more than necessary. They also discovered that a provoked, frightened, injured Changeling hybrid could not be easily reobtained. He reared and bucked, blindly striking out at his captors who caused him so much trauma. Flater succeeded in clocking a few in various locations. This angered the scientists even more. So they just waited for him to tire himself out. His shrieks were truly unearthly.

Flater backed into a corner, breathing hard. Sweat dripped from his hide, mingling with his open wounds. The acid had ceased pouring awhile ago but it still stung when he did anything. Even breathing hurt. For now, he focused on his clouded mind. He was so tired...all of his violent outbursts drained most of his energy reserves. Flater's head swam as the adrenaline wore off. He lowered it until his muzzle brushed the untied lead rope that lay dead-snake near his hooves. He swayed in exhaustion eyes drooping. Little spikes of pain pricked his flanks. I...I can't. Not anymore. If this is death approaching it is welcome. If it is a coma it is disappointing. Flater's mind blacked out while contemplating these factors.

"Sadly I just passed out." The hybrid sighed, deep in nostalgia. He killed some internal turmoil by eating a cupcake.

Pinkie Pie patted his pearly wing-shells comfortingly. "It's okay Flater! Nopony will ever dump acid on you here! Treehugger might try to sell you some but..."

"Debatable. But if he survived that he can survive anything." Rainbow Dash hovered midair to inspect his blemish. Flater resisted the urge to kick her away from it.

"I think he handled it quite well. We all appreciate your sacrifices to get where you are now." Twilight Sparkle beamed, nuzzling his cheek.

Flater's ears flattened. "Could you all maybe come in one at a time? I don't need a claustrophobia attack in the middle of Sugarcube Corner."

"Yea guys. How else can I tell him where Sugar Cane lives with all of you swarming?" Pinkie Pie huffed in mock anger.


Escape from Flames (part 1)

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"Y...you know where she lives? And it's pronounced Sugar?" Flater shot to his hooves, his heart fluttering. "The pony that I've grown up with, the pony who shaped me into who I am today? Here?"

Pinkie Pie, enjoying his reaction, wiggled happily. "Uh huh! She works on the other side of town as a corn syrup processor. And it is pronounced 'sugar' because she's kinda southern so you never picked up on it!"

The pony that stole my heart away. Living here practically next door! Flater's head swam as he fell back into the beanbag chair. "This is a change of events." Especially since he had been pronouncing her name wrong for years.

"Bro, you should totally invite her to the party." Rainbow Dash punched his shoulder. Pinkie Pie giggled in agreement.

Twilight Sparkle frowned slightly. "I don't think that's a good idea. Just appearing out of nowhere and expecting a warm welcome."

Flater's head drooped. "You're probably right. I doubt that she'll even remember who I am."

"Twily!" Pinkie Pie snapped. "How could you dampen his glimmer like that? Jealousy does not help friendship!" The pink pony jabbed an accusing hoof into the alicorn's chest.

Twilight stepped back shocked that Pinkie Pie, of all ponies, had called her out in such a manner. What hurt even more was that it was true. Twilight pinned her ears inching to the door. What she had on Flater was nothing more than a fillyish crush, or so she thought. Now it was to the point of borderline destroying their friendship! And as the princess of friendship that meant that she had failed miserably in her duties. Her exit abruptly ended as a hoof latched onto her tail, yanking her back.

"Nuh uh Twi. You run away from your problems too often! You're staying here to sort out this thing." Pinkie commanded, shoving her friend into the couch nearest to Flater (who looked clearly flummoxed). With a sharp nod, the pink party pony exited the area.

"She's right in a way." Rainbow Dash shot Twilight an apologetic glance.

Twilight Sparkle chewed on her lip as the cyan pegasus also evacuated. A suffocating silence transcended in an awkward cloud between the two remaining ponies. Flater coughed slightly. Twilight parted her jaws to speak, then snapped them shut with an audible click. All of the cards were on the table; Both attempted to wrestle their whirling emotions and thoughts.

"I would like to start off with an apology." Flater broke the quiet first. "It wasn't hard to pick up the vibes you radiated every time you entered in my presence. So if I have done anything in any way to lead you on..."

Twilight broke in. "No! No. Flater, don't apologize to me. It's all my fault and I'M sorry. For every time that I might've made you feel uncomfortable or divided. I should have admitted it sooner and we probably could've worked it out somehow." She let her ears fall in shame.

Flater reached out a foreleg, waved it around, and eventually found Twilight's shoulder. "Hey, don't beat yourself up about it. We can't help who we fall in crush with. If we could, then gryphons wouldn't exist!"

Twilight let out a wry laugh. "You're right. I just...don't want you to get hurt by this mare."

"Well, even if she does deny me, at least I'll have a solid answer and the knowledge that I tried." Flater's foreleg retracted as he sat upright like a stoic statue. Twilight took in his Changeling-ish appearance in all its shiny white glory with a giggle.
"I still fail to see why this mare still matters after years and years later. It's not like she tried to contact you."

Flater didn't deflate at her observation. "The depths of the roots cannot be described in normal dialect. It can, however, be felt through story."


Flater came to on the floor of his cell and in a ball of extreme pain. It leaked slowly back into his senses as he attempted to come to terms with what just happened. He groaned in agony, weakly lifting his head.

"Oi, sit still won't ya? It's hard to apply this when yer wigglin' around."

Flater dropped his head in complete shock. "S...Suga Cane?" He choked out.

"That's mah name, don't wear it out. Gawsh, they shore messed ya up this time." There was a rustling movement down by his open wounds then a welcome wave of cool relief. Flater almost sobbed in gratitude as the gel she rubbed on eased the acid's stinging burn. "Feels good, huh?" Suga Cane inquired, completely amused by her friend's reaction. In reply, Flater rolled over so she could do the other side.

From then on, she tried to visit him every other day. Beneath his fanged exterior she found an intelligent survivor. So Suga Cane helped him learn all about writing and the outside world. Writing was difficult because of his impaired vision, but he had an excellent sense of direction so his pencil marks rarely overlapped. Flater himself enjoyed the lessons to a high degree. They took his mind off of his pain until it healed. The scientists had even deemed him useless now that he was damaged. He was just a full time prisoner with tons of time to spare, which he used to practice his new knowledge.
Suga Cane was often impressed with how quickly he grasped new concepts.

The end of his back had regenerated to normal. His flanks had not; Two scars remained as if needing something to fill the void of an absent cutie mark. It didn't bother him in the slightest anymore. Because now he had a friend.

Period of time later...

Something was horribly wrong. Flater blinked the sleep from his head as he emerged from under his cot. (This small endeavor had gotten more tricky ever since his growth spurt kicked in.) There were more screams than usual he realized as he stretched his long limbs. The air hung hot and heavy all around him. This too was unusual, since his cell was climate controlled. He took a tentative sniff. A bizarre chemical stank pricked his nostrils. He sneezed, now concerned. Faint crackling could be perceived and it seemed to be surrounding his cell. The temperature grew almost unbearable within a few seconds. Flater flattened out on the floor in a sweaty, panting mess. What an odd way to kill your captor.

Another wave of heat slammed into him as his cell door got wrenched open. "Flater, git out of there an' follow meh!" Suga Cane shouted over the loud roar of flames.

Cinders and brimstone. That was the stench. Flater asked no questions as he calmly followed her. She had enough sense to bring along an abandoned piece of rope, so they could each hold an end without losing each other. Suga Cane moved in a brisk trot through unburnt passageways. All around bolted panicked ponies and test subjects. Some were still trapped as their scientists abandoned them. Suga Cane would pause to free the easily reached, but those behind a curtain of fire were unhelpable. Flater bit into the rope every time she hesitated then moved on. He tried hard to block out their pleading cries.

They continued in this fashion for awhile until they passed a certain open-doored lab. There were many voices chorusing for an audience from within, but one held a higher pitch than the rest. Flater's legs locked in place; He refused to budge from the opening, no matter how many times Suga Cane tugged. He had to save him. He couldn't let Whiny Voice die! Flater flash-inspected the doorway. The flames didn't seem to pass his knees based on his sniff test. He dropped the rope and took the leap through.

At his arrival, the voices picked up in volume. He had ears only for a specific one.

With much inspection Whiny Voice was located underneath an overturned cart. The scientist was too petrified in fear to attempt an escape. Flater firmly grasped the nape of his neck and dragged him out. "18629 what're you doing?" Whiny Voice bawled. "Are you here to throw me into the fire? I deserve it."

"Flater! Hurry up and git out!" Suga Cane's warning held an edge of terror.

The fires that raged were not normal in the least. They started in the cosmetic section when a frustrated dragon blew the whole section up with a tiny spray of sparks. Bottles of testing makeup did not mix well with flammability. Normally, the fire would have sputtered out against the merciless marble masonry. Unfortunately a bit of flame had reached the inside of the sound system. Wires for the speakers ran throughout every inch of the facility, and some overlapped with maintenance wires. The whole building was a giant microwave. Mini electrical fires grouped together to weaken the ceiling. Flater did not know this until it was almost too late.

"Flater!" Suga Cane pleaded once more. She watched in scared fascination as the ceiling above him started to bulge outward. Flater flicked his ears skyward just as the tiny cracks flaked apart. He could hear it giving away bit by bit. Whiny Voice might not have heard it, but he sure could see it. He squealed at the same time Suga Cane did. Their vocal complaints snapped Flater back into the moment. The hybrid shot forward, holed legs pumping to the point that the doorway's licking flames didn't get to take a solid taste of them. Behind, the ceiling gave up the ghost in a crumple of blank rock. The aftershock sent Flater sprawling into the hall.

Flater's burst of speed ended as he ran right into Suga Cane. She knew that he'd hit her; It was better than him colliding with a wall and being knocked out cold. He barely had any time to trip over before she had him and Whiny on their hooves, gripping the rope, and heading away from the hungry fires.

Suga Cane led them with less certainty than earlier. Halls had been blocked by rubble. Passageways became super-heated to extreme temperatures. She often backtracked to safer areas, and each time she did so, she became more and more disoriented. All around them hung thick black smoke.

Flater sucked in a breath, immediately wishing that he didn't. It ripped down his throat polluting his lungs. He dropped the rope to cough violently. Suga Cane had completely stopped moving. "Flater," She wheezed hoarsely, "ah'm lost."

"Aw buck, that's it. We're all going to die here! You should've left me under that cart." Whiny Voice's voice cracked, thick with inhaled particles. The scientist stamped his hooves in fear.

Flater pondered their possible actions. "Guys. I think I can lead us out."

"What?" Whiny complained. "You can't do that, you'll walk us right into the flames! It's the blind leading the blind."

Flater ignored the protest, picking up the rope and heading forward.

"It's not like we got much of ah choice anyway." Suga Cane whispered as she grabbed the middle to follow the hybrid.

"Madness. This is all madness." Whiny Voice spat. Soon enough he joined the line by bringing up the rear.

Navigating by sound alone wasn't that difficult as Flater found out. You just had to strain your ears through the surrounding chaos and concentrate. If your head doesn't hurt, you aren't doing it right.

He felt the weight at the end of the rope. His friends were increasingly weakening, pausing often to cough in a chest splitting way. Flater had no idea how much farther he had to go; It seemed that the corridor-ducking, hot-floor-crossing, leave-before-flames-from-above-fell-on-you would never end. His insect-ish eyes were dryer than the desert. The hybrid's hooves shuffled due to heat exhaustion. His lungs were clogged and his head swam. Everything seemed to be lost.

But what was that? Flater lifted his lowered head to be sure. It was. A cool tendril of air danced across his forehead, and very faint sirens rang out in the distance. He perked up body flowing with newfound hope. "The exit! It's near." His voice rasped from a sandpaper throat. Somehow the others heard him. Suga Cane took the lead, scanning the area.

"Tha smoke is thinning... Ah see light!"

"Behind that barricade of flame you mean." Whiny panted. The scientist eyed the obstacle with utter hatred.

Suga Cane grinned at Whiny Voice. "Are ya thinkin' what ah'm thinkin'?"

"Uh no." Whiny squeaked.

"I think I follow you." Flater piped up.

"Good. Two outta three, majority rules. Try ta keep up whitecoat!" Suga Cane reared, grimy face set in fierce determination. Whiny Voice inhaled to deny her actions, but was denied in turn as she galloped full-tilt towards the flames. Flater, hearing her take off, dragged the terrified scientist behind him with aid from the rope. Ahead, Suga Cane successfully shot through completely unscathed. Flater sensed the harsh heat and, pinning his ears, thrusted his neck straight forward. This action hauled both him and Whiny over.

Flater landed hard. Whiny Voice careened past him, bleating in relief or insanity. He must see the exit. Flater sighed to himself, glad that the endeavor was finally almost over. He sped up just as another section of building collapsed nearby.

It would have been a clean escape. Flater could taste the fresh, clear air as he neared the end. From behind he picked up somepony's squawking. It took him a second to recognize Suga Cane's mewls of pain. His numb hooves stopped cold, and Flater fishtailed as he spun in a perfect 180. She must not have been fast enough to dodge the cave-in! His mind raced in concern for her. Flater followed the voice, locating the fallen pony relatively quickly. A metal beam had her rear ankle pinned, and she was coughing so heartily it was a miracle she could even yell for him.

"Suga Cane!" Flater yelped, scrabbling around for an edge. He had to get the beam off before it became a branding iron.

"Flater?" She whispered. "Ah twisted mah leg while runnin' an' couldn't git away."

"Shh shh, it's okay now." Flater soothed as he shoved at the beam. It was extremely heavy, and if it wasn't for the adrenaline already surging through his blood, it wouldn't even be possible to scoot it. He did manage to lift the end a tiny bit with much staining.
It was enough for Suga Cane to grasp the opportunity by yanking her leg out.

Flater dropped the beam with a loud thunk. He helped Suga Cane regain her footing. She swayed then collapsed under a heavy barrage of coughing. "Ah can't Flater."

"I have a solution, don't worry." He nudged her onto her hooves once more, then shoved his head under her belly until she rested on his shelled back. Flater wasn't sure how long she'd remain there, so he spun and charged for the exit.

"Fl...Flater?" Suga Cane's legs flopped lightly at his sides. "Ah'm glad that ya came back fo' meh." Her body went completely limp. A lump formed in Flater's throat as he broke into the brilliant sunshine. The air tasted so sweet and refreshing, but none of that mattered. His friends' lives mattered first.

As a firefighter, Tarmac had seen many wonky things in his line of work. Like a toilet that had combusted because the owner attempted to flush kerosene. Or a pegasus foal stranded in a tree at 3:30 in the morning because he was certain that he was a batpony. The best for sure was an elderly stallion who sleepwalked for five miles because he was dreaming about a tuna vs. corn marathon. Today almost hit that level of craziness for him. To start, this was an unlicensed facility. Second, most of the fires were blue, green, and purple (Tarmac soon found out about the whole electricity thing). And finally, the creatures that ran out were just demented. A dragon with three wings, a two-headed rabbit, and a bald unicorn to name a few. Several were unidentifiable. Many were still alight. A few died on site.

After a few hours of hardcore spraying, Tarmac's walkie talkie crackled. "Sir, this end is uncontrollable. Requesting permission to just wet the surrounding area?"

Tarmac wasn't having much success with his unit either. Spraying the surrounding area meant that the fires couldn't spread to the neighboring forest, but it also meant that the fire couldn't be controlled manually. "Permission granted." Tarmac grunted in reply. He was fine with watching the building burn. It allowed him to turn his attention to whatever came out needing help.

About fifteen minutes after his command a creature did come stumbling out from the blazes. It appeared to be a scientist with large glassy eyes, a now dark lab coat, and a voice with just the right pitch to drive one crazy. He was jabbering gibberish as he staggered drunkenly in Tarmac's direction. Tarmac figured that the heat had gotten to the pony's head.

"The walls. Are they still falling? Tell them to stop! The hybrid's still in there! And the a...apex pony. I abandoned them all. I'm a bad pony." The scientist broke down into soot-soaked tears. They carved mini paths in his grimy cheeks. He also vehemently refused all offers to go to the hospital that Tarmac made. The firefighter supplied the loopy victim with an oxygen mask while wondering what to do with him.

From his seat in the grass, Whiny Voice sucked gratefully on the air while casting mournful glances back where he came from.

Tarmac, in turn, watched him while scratching his head. Is it possible to get PTSD and epilepsy at the same time? His thoughts scattered as the scientist's face lit up. He jumped to his hooves dropping the oxygen mask, filthy coat flapping. "See? There! There they are!"
Tarmac turned to see what he was screeching about. It took him a minute to pick out anything from the smoke. By squinting fiercely, Tarmac could distinguish a figure, no, two figures. One carrying another. As the carrier stepped out from the dark plume, Tarmac's jaw dropped. It was a beast of awesome proportions. A tall pale beacon that stood out from the disgusting darkness.

Its head, beneath a matted mane, held two large fly-like eyes and pearly fangs that protruded in a curved angle from the upper jaw. Its legs, holed and gangly, firmly carried their owner onward. The beetle-like shell was partially hidden by its passed out cargo, but Tarmac could see a little bit of an abdomen band that covered the ribcage. He knew that he should be attending to the unconscious pony draped across its back, not gawking in gross awe, so he took a few shy steps to meet the creature. Up close, it was borderline terrifying. In fact it almost paced right past him, as if it didn't know he was there. The poor thing's body was peppered with soot and charcoal. Some of the leg holes appeared to be singed. Tarmac winced at the amount of grime trapped in the scars. I guess this thing is blind or in shock. The firefighter gathered up his courage. "Pardon, do you require assistance?"

The creature's head snapped toward him, and the body followed. "Yes please, but her first."

Tarmac decided that the voice was male as its owner knelt down. He sucked in his breath; Tarmac had no idea that so many shades of white existed. All of them must have been displayed on this beast. He diverted his attention to his patient. The mare seemed to be in bad shape, but with further inspection all she needed was air and rest.

Flater breathed in relief when the official sounding pony took Suga Cane. The relief grew when Whiny Voice hollered apologies over to him. By now, all of the words melded together into one giant mumble. His head was light, and it swayed slightly. Something was being slipped over Flater's muzzle. Fearing a bridle, he resisted weakly at first. A wave of cold coaxed him into the mask. Welcome oxygen was his last sensation before succumbing to the fuzzy warmth that clawed at his brain.

Tarmac scratched his head some more. This odd menagerie around him seemed to be connected somehow. The filthy-coated mare and blackened hybrid lay passed out but breathing, and the annoying scientist hung around them, taking full responsibility for them, refusing to break up the set. Somehow, hopefully, this would all be sorted out by the cops when they showed up.

Repose From the Flames (part 2)

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Flater knew that he was in a strange place as he stirred to life. For one thing, it smelled differently than the sterilized lab did. Oh no the lab! At the thought of the dreadful place his head swam with traumatizing flashbacks. The thick smoke...the screaming....the undeniable rank of fear emitted from terrified creatures... His heart hammered in his ribs as his throat closed up in panic. Taking several desperate inhales of air, his head calmed and heart slowed. There was no trace of smoke or charcoal here. In fact, it kind of smelled like laundry detergent mixed with old newspaper. Flater blinked at his own foolishness.

Familiar hoofbeats rang out nearby. Flater assumed that the cool flooring was wood paneled by the way they creaked as weight was applied. "Flater?" Suga Cane's voice gently called.

"I'm here. Just not sure where 'here' is."

Flater's friend wasted no time in locating him in the poorly furnished guest room. "There ya are silly." She stuck her head down until their eyes were level. "How'd ya even fit under there."

Flater sneezed having breathed in a dust bunny. "I suppose I subconsciously hid beneath a bed. Where are we?"

"Tha screechy scientist's house. He brought us here afta tha doctors refused ta treat ya." Suga Cane shifted a bit.

"That's odd. Why wouldn't they?" Flater was perplexed. A doctor's purpose is to aid healing from what he'd been told. He also never imagined that Whiny Voice would have a house outside of the torture ring, let alone a normal life. He always figured that the scientists lived in the lab.

Suga Cane sighed deeply. She was stumped on how to answer his question. Her friend hadn't been exposed to the real world for a long time. Ponies loved, no, craved, conformity. They feared the unknown. Fear leads to hate. An average citizen wouldn't understand why this tall, pale, fanged creature resided among them. What if it ate flesh? What if it sucked them dry of all emotions? That bit of unease often sparked mistrust. She had to explain how the doctors took one look at his beaten face and ran off. How quick the cops were to pawn him into Whiny's care. But worst of all, they were more than willing to help her. She sucked a breath between her teeth and made a valiant attempt. "Well Flater, some ponies don't lahke weirdos. They shun 'em 'til they need 'em. More often than not we ain't needed."

As her words sunk in, Flater reached an understanding. "Suga Cane you didn't have to include yourself in the mix. I think you're perfectly normal."

"Aw shucks, stawp. Yer makin' me blush." Suga Cane snort-giggled. "They told meh ta git ya so they can monitor yer vitals."

'They' were Whiny Voice and some other official (who had a degree in Nursing). The lack of willing doctors meant that some strings had to be plucked to insure the hybrid's recovery.

Flater yawned.He pulled himself out from under the bed, stretching luxuriously. "Dang that was a tight fit. How did I ever squeeze in there?"

Suga Cane sucked on her lip as he emerged. She never notice-noticed him before, but now that he had saved her life she couldn't help it. His body no longer had the gangly awkward appearance of a colt; His form had now started to noticeably fill out into a stallion's build. Especially the chest and flank areas. His head was well shaped, and the undamaged parts of his pelt were glossy. All of that and he was still extremely tall. She swallowed in an attempt to cool her own pelt down. Her face felt like it was on fire. Thank goodness he remained blind! "Ah dunno how ya managed it." She stalls for time by answering his rhetorical question.

"Are you okay?" Flater's expression read concern.

"Uh yea. Why wouldn't ah be?" Suga Cane deadpanned as she tried to keep herself together.

"Your accent gets thicker when you're upset." Flater tilted his head. Being in a new house was stressful for anypony, so maybe she would feel fine in a few days.

"Ah ain't upset! Ah'm just...tired. Yea, tired." Suga Cane yammered. "Come on, lemme git ya ta tha nurse before they start ta come up afta us." She sidled over beside him to act as guide. At least she could do that without looking to closely again. It'd be fine if she ignored his muscles pressing up against her.

Flater happily obliged. He didn't want to find out the hard way if this house had stairs or not. Something about Suga Cane seemed...off. As his shoulder touched hers a zing shot through his system, speeding to his heart as it passed. Whatever it was sure felt nice. The air around them now hung thick, sweet, pricking his nostrils in a tantalizing manner as it traveled through. "Do you smell that?" He breathed throatily, useless eyes glazing over. It was so wonderful: like powdered sugar and donuts and vanilla.

"Nope. Nuthin' except yer singed hide." She stared intently ahead. Thankfully, there were no steps in this house.

He shook himself to snap out of his daze. Whatever it was had passed for the moment.

The nurse sat slouched at the kitchen table. His patient seemed to have recovered incredibly well, yakking his ear off nonstop. Life was not going so smoothly for him so far. Being an undercover cop really sucked the life out of a pony. Somehow his sibling Tarmac roped him into caring for these fire-scarred creatures. Heck, he actually didn't have a degree in nursing. In fact he barely passed his yearly CPR course. Thank goodness for the instructions printed on one of the air mask's tabs. And this miserable pony was acting like he was mute until this point in life. The only interesting part of this single-sided conversation were details of the lab. With several well placed nods and 'hmms' he was able to piece together a decent mental file on this matter. As the ex-scientist yipped on about highly flammable cosmetics legality, he perceived somepony's approach. IT had arrived. His back shot ramrod straight as the thing entered with aid from a young mare. In all of his life he had never seen such a horribly wonderful creature. A thing fabricated from a twisted foal's nightmares. But no, IT was solid and possibly breathing.

"We're here doc. No need ta gawk." The mare at ITs side piped up.

He scrambled around for his voice, and, grasping ahold of it, managed to croak a reply. "Of course miss. Could you have him please step over there?" His hoof motioned to the tabletop. A stupid, stupid mental decision. The mare's glance stated the obvious. He managed to plaster on a tight-lipped smile as she used a chair to aid her ascent.

"Come on Flater, onta tha table."

Flater? What kind of name was that? Freakin' gender neutral names nowadays. He stewed silently while eyeing his bag of medical equipment. Aw heck please let that be the stethoscope....

Flater balked in momentary confusion as Suga Cane's tail hit his muzzle. Oh right, the table. Whiny Voice ceased his monologue to get out of his chair for Flater to use. There was no need. The hybrid lifted his forehooves, placed them onto the table, and then easily hauled himself up. He could sense the nurse's presence as Suga Cane nudged him into correct alignment.

Now accessible, the nurse slipped a band around one of Flater's hooves. There was a slight pressure that gradualy increased with each puff of air. Flater had been checked up on before as a foal, and he could tell that something was amiss.
"Um sir? Ma'am? I think the blood pressure reader goes farther up the leg."

The nurse softly muttered some unkind words while making adjustments. Whiny Voice and Suga Cane retreated to the living room for a game of checkers. The nurse's breath tickled his side, and his voice reminded Flater of the firefighter he had met. He waited serenely as Nurse pony poked around until he figured out the air release valve. He must be pretty nervous to talk to himself like that.
A circle of cold pressed into his shoulder. The stethoscope. It appeared to be the only tool that the Nurse pony apparently knew how to operate. Flater snorted in amusement at the healer's new struggle as his sensitive ears picked up more murmuring.

"(Indecent choice words). Where the hay are the bucking lungs in this thing?! Too many yearly tax dollars die for me to do this. I could've been a banker like my mama said. But nooo, now I'm stuck here doing Celestia knows what wrong. The buck are the lungs..."

Flater pitied Nurse pony. It's not easy to pretend to be something you're not. "I believe my lungs are located behind my shoulder joints."

"Thank Luna's full moon flanks-I mean-thanks kid." Nurse pony responded gruffly, embarrassed that the hybrid had heard him. Flater dipped his head as the 'healer' found his destination. "Now breathe deeply in....out. In....out."
It was the usual lung test all doctors partook in. After making several official 'hmph' noises, the Nurse pony packed his equipment. "Your airways are back in tip-top breathing condition. The same applies for all your crew."

"That's very reassuring thank you." Flater grinned deciding to voice his suspicions. "You're really not a nurse, are you."

"What tipped you off kid." Nurse pony sarcastically admitted. There was no point in hiding out anymore. "In reality I'm actually a cop."

"Are you here to throw us into an asylum?" Flater sat down as a pang of fear spread through him.

Nurse pony considered this for a minute. "Erm, no. As much as I hate to say this you and the young mare haven't done anything illegal per se. It's your annoying scientist buddy we're taking in." He pulled out a notepad and scribbled what he learned furiously onto the paper. "Got to get this all down before I forget it."

"What?" Flater frowned. They were locking Whiny Voice up? "I know he's done some questionable things but he's changed. Can't you make an exception just this-"

"Kid, several innocent souls have perished by his hooves. That's equineslaughter." Nurse pony violently dotted an I. "And if we turned a blind eye every time a pony has 'changed' we'd have a lot more villains besides Queen Chrysalis to worry about."

"Oh." Flater's ears drooped.

"Sorry kid, life's a beach. An unfair beach." Nurse pony avoided direct eye contact with the hybrid. There seemed to be something offsetting about his insect eyes.

Flater went silent for a moment. "Your walkie talkie is crackling." He pointed out after a bit.

"Huh?" Nurse pony hadn't heard it himself but he dug through his medic bag anyway. "Thanks kid."

Flater shuffled his forehooves as Nurse pony affirmed his location to what he imagined was backup. Why one scientist needed reinforcements to arrest him Flater couldn't comprehend. It wasn't like Whiny Voice was armed or anywhere near dangerous. In fact, he seemed to be having his tail whipped in checkers based on the raucous voices emitting from the living room.

"Alright kiddo. You might want to take your filly friend there and clear out before they arrive. It'll get edgy real fast." Nurse pony clicked the bag shut. "I'm off to secure the premises."

Flater nodded a bit. "Understandable. But...what's to happen to us? We can't live by ourselves and she's definitely not my filly friend."

"Eh, I imagine that you'll stay here for a few nights before being shipped off to foster care or something. Have a nice life kid." And like a lost spirit, the undercover cop was gone.

Flater tapped a hoof on the tabletop. What am I to do? In the far distance a siren wailed. He had but minutes to act. "Suga Cane! Could you be so kind as to escort me back to the room?" His voice almost cracked as he yelled in the calmest manner possible.

"Hmm? Of course Flater. Gimme ah sec." Chair legs screeched against wooden floor. She entered in time to see him just barely avoid a rough fall off the table. "Hold yer horses! Ah'm here!" Suga Cane offered him a steady shoulder.

He accepted it gratefully. "Thanks. That could have ended in a bad way."

"Geez, yer such a klutz." She rolled her eyes good-naturedly as they navigated the house. "Here ya are." Suga Cane escorted him over to his bed.

Flater sensed her moving to leave. "Can you maybe stay for awhile? And please do close the door."

"Ah'll close it as ah leave." Suga Cane replied nonchalantly. "Besides, ah have ah game ta finish."

"Stay." He turned his head to face her. She blinked, shocked at the desperation on his face.

Sirens cried out, closer this time. "Wait..." Her brows furrowed as she caught on. "Are those sirens comin' closer?"

"Just...close the door. Please." Flater now faced the wall his voice drained of all venom. His body seemed bone tired and visibly deflated. Suga Cane swiftly heeded his advice. By the time she returned Flater had already crawled under the bed. With much exertion she managed to squeeze down next to him. Her pelt brushed his sympathetically.

A dry rustle as his head came to rest beside hers. "You forgot about the lights."

Suga Cane was too distracted by his warm breath dancing against her cheek to fully comprehend his words. "Huh?" Was her stellar reply.

"The lights. They'll ransack this place to find us. They're here for just him, but if they catch wind of any more, higher powers would want to bring us in as well." Flater knew that Nurse pony wouldn't rat them out. His higher ranking bosses might. Suga Cane seemed to comprehend the quiet urgency, for she wiggled free in a matter of seconds to complete the task.
Just in time. As soon as the last section of her tail slipped under the bedpost a loud knock reverberated the air.

"Now where'd those kids run off to?" Whiny Voice was muffled but still audible through the thin walls. "I guess I have to get it." Floorboards sighed as he crossed them. A pause. Then: chaos.

"Put your hooves up where we can see them!" A police pony roared with vocals of unbridled thunder. Whiny Voice shrieked some unrecognizable words. The cop bellowed his warning again as many hooves beat the floor in attempt of catching him. What sounded like a vase shattered to the floor. Somepony bolted down the hall. Several heavy hoofbeats followed, but a set lingered outside of their door.

The knob rattled after an uncomfortable silence. The door swung open with a soft thump. Labored breathing as the hyped cop flicked on the lights to scan the drab room. He paced about, poking at the closet.

"Ay man. What are you doing here?" A mare's voice called from the entryway. All three figures inside jolted.

"I saw this in a cartoon once. The villain hides in a nearby alley while the crowd passes by. Then he sneaks out. You know?" The nosey cop replied sheepishly.

"Jay, you're stupid." The mare cop snorted. She desperately wanted to rejoin the squad's chase. "They're cartoons, not real. You know? The part where he gets smushed by a hammer and pops back up?"

"Oh yea? I bet he's under that bed. What'll you give me if he is?" The nosey cop snapped attempting to patch up his injured ego.

"Good night. There's no way he could've fit there in such a small lot of time." Mare cop pondered for a second. "Buut...I suppose I would give you the ramen noodles I was saving for lunch."

"Ha! Get the microwave ready." Jay tip-toed towards the bed in set concentration.

As his hooves neared Suga Cane clenched her eyes shut. This was it. They'd be poked at and interrogated and probably shipped to a zoo. It was fun while it lasted.

Two gunshots sounded from farther down the hall. Jay's head shot up. "Aw what? They found him."

"I hope they used blanks. We had to sit through a whole meeting about that." Mare cop grumbled. "We really need to find a better signal."

"Oh, I suppose cartoons are just cartoons after all." Jay turned away, sadly plodding back.

Mare cop seemed to soften. "For your determination, let's just split the noodles. Fifty-fifty eh?"

"Yea! That sounds fair." His voice perked up considerably.

A horrid screech resonated from where the shots sounded. "Aw hay, they didn't tranquilize him yet?" Mare cop, exasperated, took off to lend aid.

"Yikes. I almost don't want to help." Jay muttered before galloping after her.

The two forms under the bed didn't dare to breathe until the last of the authorities left. When the final cop car rumbled off, sirens blaring, was when Suga Cane released her lips from her teeth's sharp embrace. Rusty metal of blood soaked her tongue. Her heart refused to cease hammering like a trapped rabbit. She longed to be out in the open, running and running, bucking, frolicking her distress away. The rest of her body returned from its numbness only to find a terrified Flater wrapped around it.

His eyes were undefinable, for that's how tightly they were closed. His fanged jaws were slightly agape, enough for shallow rapid breaths to pass through. His sweat-soaked coat trembled still. Every few seconds his whole body shook as light breaths were replaced by deep gulps.

Suga Cane's heart slowed in pity. He's so scared. And he was. Scared of being captured again. Scared of officials. Scared of what could happen. Scared of change. She stroked his damp mane with a gentle hoof until his spazzing stopped and his unseeing eyes opened.

"A...are they gone?" He whispered hoarsely.

"Yuppers." Suga Cane confirmed to him. "That was ah close one. Ah could feel tha cop's breath as his muzzle came at us! Ah little farther an he woulda seen us." She shivered herself. "But now even tha stragglers are gone. He put up quite tha fight ah think."

Flater nodded. "He'll be missed." Ironic in a way. Whiny Voice was the last pony who should be mourned. He untangled his limbs from hers, ears pinned apologetically.

Suga Cane happily ran about the abandoned house a few times, then returned to find Flater sitting in the doorway. She went to take a seat nearby.

"What's to become of us?" Flater asked, face solemn.

"That's ah tricky one." Suga Cane licked her mangled lips. "Ah suppose somepony will be down ta fetch us."

"I mean after that. This might be selfish, but-" He let out a choked sob. "I don't want you to leave me. Nopony has ever even slightly cared for me the way you have. There's no way...no way that they won't separate us. You're perfect. Beautiful. And I'm...me. A mutant." He sniffed head bowed under the weight of unshed tears. "I don't think I'd be able to carry on without you nearby."

Suga Cane's muzzle popped open. Flater, a solid rock wall, calmer than glass, was shattering over her. She was speechless. Fortunately, words never dried up for long. "Flater...Flater. Ya know ah'd never do somethin' like that on purpose. C'mere." She wrapped her fore hooves around his bent neck and hugged him tight. "Let's make ah pact."
Before he could protest she grabbed his head and, using one of his fangs, nicked a tiny bit of her skin open.
Slightly confused, Flater copied her. She rubbed their tiny dots of blood together by the source. Suga Cane was surprised to find that his blood was the exact hue of oil, complete with the multi-colored film.

"There. Now no mattah what we're connected by our life's liquid. Even if ah'm miles away."

Flater gingerly licked at the slight injury to keep its sting at bay. "Although the thought is nice, this still won't keep me from missing you."

Suga Cane grinned. "It's tha thought that counts silly!"

Flater finished his dialogue, drifting off into his mind. Twilight Sparkle tilted her head quizzically.

"So...then what? There's no way you both lived there until now."

"Well, Nurse pony kept to his word. Within the week we were sent off. Of all places we ended up at the Happy Hooves Orphanage." Flater laughed ruefully. "Back to where I started. Life sometimes goes full circle."

Twilight had reached a decision in her heart. "Flater. I'll gladly escort you to Sugar Cane's house so you can invite her to the party."

"You would?" Flater's puzzlement quickly grew into glee. "Oh thank you! I was going to ask you to, but wasn't sure if that was appropriate. I'm sorry if this is hard for you." His face fell.

"It wouldn't make much sense to allow one of my friends to wander aimlessly and bump into things, now would it." Twilight replied. "Besides, Pinkie and Dash ditched us."