The farm ponies looked at each other, embarrassed.
“Er, actually, um… Dursaa, was it?” said Oakback, “best you pay her no mind…”
The new worker blinked. He gazed calmly at Oakback, and spoke.
“Forgive me my questioning, oh noble steeds: I mean to show deference for one who leads.”
Oakback’s ears quirked. “Dang. Uh… I don’t rightly think we ever been called noble steeds before…”
Snowy Hocks smirked. “You ain’t been hangin’ around the right mares, Oakback. Or mebbe you ain’t impressed ‘em prop’ly?”
“Aw, shut up, Snowy!” grumbled Oakback. He turned to the newcomer. “Anyways, all you need ta know about lil’ Tiara here is—”
“—that she could buy this whole farm and all the ponies in it five times over,” said Diamond Tiara, “and Apple Bloom serves at her pleasure, as well as FOR her pleasure.”
Farm pony ears all laid back in unison, except for the newcomer’s. Farm pony eyes glanced at Apple Bloom, except for the newcomer’s. Dursaa was looking at his new co-workers, inquisitively. Snowy Hocks snickered, watching his fellows cringe at Diamond Tiara.
Apple Bloom stamped her hoof. “East field, missy! You kin pick daisies again until you figure out a few things!”
Diamond Tiara sniffed. “I would be delighted to. Perhaps when I come back, you’ll have learned some decent manners. I like the east field.” She straightened her tiara, and Dursaa quirked his ears as he watched the demure gesture. Snowy Hocks snickered again. Knothole whimpered. Diamond Tiara departed, ceremoniously.
They watched her trot off for a while, then Dursaa spoke.
“This one boasts a crown surpassing fine, yet she pulls a plow like unto mine?”
“You ain’t gettin’ plow duty, Mister Dursaa!” retorted Oakback. “I got that covered!”
Dursaa’s striped face fell. He glanced back and forth, obviously dismayed. “I thought I answered to young Apple Bloom. May I inquire when to obey, and whom?”
Oakback turned on him. “Dang right ya do, you silly pony! She’s our Boss Mare, an’ I’ll kick your fancy behind for ya if you cain’t figure that out…”
Apple Bloom broke in, but not to address either Dursaa or Oakback directly. “Aw, shucks, ponies! Ah’m sorry, okay? I din’t figure on mixin’ y’all up with such a crazy filly. If I could cut her time here short, Ah would, but there’s more’n a few reasons why Ah don’t.” She gulped. “She got a point about pleasure, to be honest, but don’t let it throw you. Ah will try not to let it disrupt things, okay?”
“Naw, that’s fine!” reassured Oakback. “We got your back, Apple Bloom! Don’t you worry about the lil’ pink princess, all right?”
Apple Bloom’s lip quivered. “Thankee. She rages and gits upset an’ I don’t believe this-all is good for her an’ I don’t rightly know what Ah’m gonna do with her…”
“Don’t you worry,” repeated Oakback. He turned to the farm ponies, his head high, all the authority of his straw-boss role on display. “Fern Gully, you get the plow ready! Knothole, I want you to continue to check them banks, as Apple Bloom tole you to do yesterday. Snowy Hocks, you show our new farm-pony around so’s he knows the farm and where to find everything…”
“Farm zebra, you mean,” corrected Snowy.
Oakback glared at him. “Makes no difference and you know it! You one of them ponies what thinks he’s gonna cast spells on your sorry hide?”
“Aw, it’s jes’ Snowy,” protested Apple Bloom. She turned to Dursaa, apologetically. “Don’t you mind Snowy, he din’t mean nothin’ wrong!”
Oakback frowned at her. “Nope. Nope nope nope. He’s gonna treat Mister Dursaa respectful-like!”
Apple Bloom still looked fretful, and kept glancing off where Diamond Tiara had gone. They could all see the little pink form trotting away into the distance. Apple Bloom gulped, again. “Okay, okay,” she said. “You treat our new helper respectful-like, Snowy! You hear?” She stared after Diamond Tiara, her ears laid back.
“Got it!” said Snowy Hocks.
Dursaa said nothing, but the look of dignified dismay wasn’t leaving him. He glanced back and forth between Apple Bloom and Oakback, trying to make sense of the odd situation, and he didn’t speak further.
Diamond Tiara dropped a daisy into the little wooden bucket. She trotted off in search of more. Topping the hill, she spotted the familiar form of Knothole, shoving a big rock down the stream to place it along one of the banks. His supple stallion muscles bulged with the effort.
Diamond smiled, standing on the crest of the hill. Over by the stream, Knothole glanced up and saw her. She heard his squeak of alarm, faint and incongruously high-pitched coming from such a big pony. Of course, even at his best he didn’t rumble like the newcomer Dursaa, but Diamond still found Knothole’s reaction comical: all the more, when the strong virile stallion scrambled out of the stream and ran into a stand of trees to hide himself from her appreciative gaze.
Diamond Tiara began a leisurely trot down the hill, toward that stand of trees.
There was a rustling behind her, and a gentle thump of hooves on the ground, and Diamond whirled, startled, to discover a stern pegasus mare approaching.
“I know what you’re doing,” said Fluttershy. “Stop that!”
“Stop what? I didn’t do anything!” said Diamond, stalking forward to confront her assailant.
Fluttershy glowered at her. “I know your secret.” She dropped her gaze, unable to face Diamond Tiara’s irate eyes. “Um… so maybe you should consider the idea that there might be a pony who knows what you do. I mean, what you don’t want to admit you’re doing…”
Diamond Tiara blanched, just for a moment, but only a moment. She advanced, step by step, on Fluttershy, and her voice grew sharper and sharper the closer she came.
“Oh? Oh, really? First of all it’s none of your business, and secondly it doesn’t matter if you tell all the world. It is nothing but a mark of my significance and importance. Other ponies don’t have personal servants like I have.”
“I don’t think he…” began Fluttershy, but Diamond wouldn’t let her speak.
“So I don’t care if you’ve seen Daisy dyeing my mane and tail. I have a perfect right to wear them as I please, and the pattern is modeled after my mother, who was the most beautiful pony in all Equestria. My father l… loves the way it looks and I know he only looks sad when he looks at me because he misses her, and you have no say in the matter at all.”
Fluttershy stammered, “I wasn’t talking about…”
“And, I might add,” said Tiara, advancing right up to the adult mare and glaring up at her, “it may not be my natural mane color and yes I don’t publicise that fact but unlike SOME ponies it is at least my real mane, and tail, and not a set of ridiculously long, fake-looking extensions that don’t fool anypony…”
Fluttershy gasped. Tiara smirked.
“Or do they? You’ll never know. For all you know, they’re all laughing at you behind your back, mocking you and your pathetic attempts to seem even slightly acceptable. Aren’t they polite about it? You’d better leave me alone, Fluttershy, or it will be the worse for you. You’ll end up shunned by all good ponies, miserably excluded, and they’ll point and sneer at you and rightly so. You’re disgusting, aren’t you?”
She grinned up at Fluttershy, who was baring her teeth in a grimace of pain… but then she froze. Those huge sensitive eyes had flicked open, and suddenly Diamond couldn’t move, pinned in their gaze, not understanding why.
“Be quiet, Diamond Tiara, and listen,” commanded Fluttershy, continuing to stare.
Diamond gulped, and had to comply.
“You really are like me,” said Fluttershy, “aren’t you? Yes, I wear extensions, yes I’m terrified of what ponies will think of me, maybe I’m disgusting but I’ve watched you and I’ve seen what you do to others. They can’t understand you like I do. You’re disgusting as well, Diamond Tiara, and you have to stop before you lose everything you think you care about.”
“You dare…” began Diamond, but the eyes flared and she trailed off, helpless.
“Yes, I dare,” said Fluttershy firmly. “I may not be able to help myself but I refuse to let you go down the same path. You spend your life manipulating others, probably because you’re afraid they won’t love you. I don’t know why, you seem to have everything. It might have been the tragic loss of your mother, but I can’t help that. Applejack and Apple Bloom lost their mother and they didn’t let it turn them into a horrible bitch pony.”
“Don’t you call me a horrible bitch pony!” screamed Diamond Tiara, shaking her head in an attempt to break that hypnotic gaze.
Fluttershy’s lip curled. “Takes one to know one. I watch what you do. I saw you torment that poor, wonderful stallion. I know everything, Diamond Tiara, and you are going to be hated like no pony was ever hated before, when you are exposed in the harsh light of day. I am warning you as one monster to another that you’d better do as I’ve learned to do. Take that judgement, take that desire to control, and suppress it! You need to not act on all your impulses—or, well, any of them really—and you need to make the effort to be kind. Don’t trust yourself. Your self is not your friend, you’re a bad pony who does bad things unless you can restrain yourself from doing them. It’s time you learned that!”
Fluttershy was panting, her wings raised aggressively, glaring down on Diamond Tiara as if the little pink princess represented all that she loathed about herself.
Diamond was trembling under the onslaught of criticism and the stare, but all the same she registered an overtone in Fluttershy’s attitude. Something about the angle she was taking suggested weakness, a vulnerability. Diamond, trying to look away from the gaze that trapped her, racked her brain for a way to turn the tables on the angry pegasus mare. Then she had it. Of course! It was a gamble, but if she was right…
Her ear flicked. A little smile began to grow at the corner of her mouth. It wasn’t friendly, or nice.
“Not act on all your impulses, you say?”
“Bad pony that does bad things, you say?” continued Diamond Tiara. “Don’t trust yourself? One monster to another? Fluttershy… aren’t you with Pinkie Pie? Don’t you even have a little foal you’re raising with her? So… what brings you here, Fluttershy? Who are you really watching?”
Fluttershy’s face began to cave, disintegrating into panic. She glanced at the stand of trees where Knothole had fled. Diamond Tiara spotted it.
“Oh, good taste,” suggested Diamond. “Such a big fat cock he has, doesn’t he? Well, I guess you would know, by now, wouldn’t you?”
She gazed into Fluttershy’s terrified eyes, and Diamond Tiara smiled, her mind clicking like a well-oiled machine of hate. It all fit together perfectly, and she was so accustomed to taking advantage of every opportunity for punishment and control. There was only one way she could react. For a moment, she briefly and unexpectedly pictured Apple Bloom frowning at her. It didn’t stop her, as she laid the hammer down with every spirit-crushing word.
“You do know. Oh, Fluttershy, Fluttershy, Fluttershy. What would Pinkie Pie think? But then you’re afraid to tell her. Wouldn’t it be awkward if some other pony were to tell her how awful you really are?”
Fluttershy gulped, shifting from hoof to hoof.
“You see, I’m not the monster,” explained Diamond. “You are. It’s a thing called projecting, Fluttershy, perhaps you’ve heard of it. I’m not the unloved laughing-stock that all ponies despise, I’m really not. I’m not! It’s you. And you’ve got that one pony who puts up with you, and look at you endangering even that scrap of respect! Was it good, Fluttershy? Did it feel good, while it lasted? I wouldn’t know, I’m a nice pony whom everypony looks up to and admires, so I wouldn’t know about getting molested in a field by somepony that doesn’t even care about me at all. Oh, wait, nopony cares about you either, do they? Once Pinkie Pie finds out.”
Fluttershy let out a little shriek of horror, and she whirled and galloped off across the field, sobbing. Diamond Tiara chased after her.
“That’s right! Run, you bitch! Don’t even fly, you miserable excuse for a pegasus! And don’t ever challenge my rule again!”
She drew to a halt, panting, and straightened her tiara again, carefully. She straightened her mane, and shook out her tail, allowing the lilac and white stripes to settle, nearly as good as life.
Diamond Tiara stood for a minute, and then in a sudden flurry of energy she galloped off, back to the barn.
She had to get Apple Bloom to take a break from her stupid work and attend to her. She’d tell Apple Bloom to head out to the west field and wait upon her convenience. Then, she would walk in a leisurely fashion out there, watched by envious farm ponies, to have her lov… her servant, corrected Diamond Tiara in her head. To have her servant soothe her erotic tensions.
Maybe then her heart would stop pounding, and maybe then she wouldn’t feel like she needed to scream.
Diamond Tiara forced herself to stop running toward where Apple Bloom was, and walked. Well… trotted. Cantered, really.
The barn was full of farm ponies, somehow. They’d all gathered at once. Diamond Tiara peeked in the door, sensing something was wrong. She glanced up, and immediately shied away: she was under the new zebra’s hindquarters, and her nose had nearly brushed his huge, massive testicles. Diamond Tiara backed off a step, unnoticed.
She peered through the forest of stallion legs, and she saw Apple Bloom—cornered.
“You got something you want to say to me, Oakback?” Apple Bloom demanded. Her ears were laid back, hard.
“Ah wouldn’t say ‘want’,” muttered Oakback. He was blushing. “We was jes’ talkin’. Ah am only wonderin’ if jes’ for right now, for a lil’ while, you might take mebbe what you might say a leave of absence? You know, from Bossin’ and all that.”
Apple Bloom’s head snapped around, and she looked straight at another farm pony. “Snowy Hocks, you always wanted to challenge Applejack, and I reckon you wanted to challenge me, and by Celestia if you think you can do that through my faithful Oakback…”
“Nope,” said Snowy. “Weren’t my idea, Miss. Ah kin see the sense in it, but Ah did not bring this up.”
Apple Bloom stamped her forehoof. “Who challenges me?”
There was a silence, and then a deep voice calmly rumbled forth. Diamond Tiara flinched. It was the zebra, the same broad-shouldered stallion whose rump veiled her in shadow.
“From homeland to Ponyville always I find; a lover, a leader, never both combined.”
“An’ what’s that supposed to mean, fancy stripes?” demanded Apple Bloom.
Dursaa shrugged, dipping his head. He really did have the most amazing shoulders, thought Diamond distractedly. And testicles, of course.
“If the pink filly grabs your reins, you may defer to her again,” he said placidly. “You are together, and either one leading is fine. I would, however, suggest that you make up your mind.”
Apple Bloom’s jaw dropped. “Y—you seriously reckon that I’mma share the Boss hat with… Oh, no. Aw, HELL no!”
Snowy Hocks’ eyes narrowed. “Can’t blame us for wonderin’, Apple Bloom. You’re undermined, day after day. We got to wonder whether you like it… and it don’t make for a good Boss Mare.”
“You sayin’ I ain’t a good Boss Mare?” yelled Apple Bloom. Behind Dursaa, Diamond Tiara stared in horror. Somehow, she was getting no kick out of Apple Bloom being taken down a notch. It felt great when she did it, but to see the farm ponies ganging up on Apple Bloom filled Tiara with inexplicable horror.
Apple Bloom bared her teeth. “Well, now, let me tell you!”
Diamond Tiara’s lips parted in delight to see the glorious spark in her lover’s eye. The delight lasted all of a few seconds.
“She ain’t but a hired mule when she’s on th’ clock, same as the lot of you!” raged Apple Bloom. “Ah will get th’ hang of controllin’ her, I swear to you, or she’s goin’ back to her fancy house having not helped us worth a damn! Do you hear what I’m sayin’? Ah will not be held responsible for mah struggles gittin’ that pink brat to work! Ah’m tryin’ everything, ponies, and you will not judge me for workin’ with the carrot rather than th’ stick! It ain’t yours to call, so back off!”
Diamond Tiara’s face fell, and fell. Pink brat? Not worth a damn? Going back to her fancy house?
The farm ponies considered this, as Apple Bloom glared at them.
“Carrot, eh?” said Snowy Hocks. “You reckon that critter will work for carrots?”
Apple Bloom made a wry face. “Prob’ly would help. Ah admit they might not git inserted into the mouth. Might crunch ‘em up pretty good anyways, though!”
Diamond blanched, appalled—and the crowd of farm ponies erupted in crude laughter.
“Haw!” snickered Snowy Hocks. “Cheap labor!”
“Sorry, Boss,” said Oakback. “Ah get it, now!”
Dursaa stirred, the heavy testicles swinging above Diamond Tiara’s head as she cringed back against the wall. “Her payment’s not coinage with its silvery shine, but inserting a carrot in her little vagina?”
Fern Gully shrieked with laughter. Apple Bloom glanced at him, beginning to grin harder and harder, plainly feeling more secure.
“Like Ah said, it might work. Though ya know… it’s even cheaper labor than that. All you gotta do is work your hoof jes’ right!” She winked, not with her marehood.
Fern Gully fell over laughing, and squalled in pain. “Ow! The rake! Aaah!”
Oakback laughed, and helped him to his hooves. “All right, Apple Bloom! So you invented a new kinda mule, that works all day for nothin’ but a cloppin’? Not bad, Boss! Don’t your hoof get tired?”
Apple Bloom looked around at the farm ponies. Hidden behind them, Diamond Tiara shook, feeling like she was about to throw up.
“Nah,” said Apple Bloom. “Ah kin jes’ switch to my tongue!”
Shrieks of laughter rang out again. “Oh, Boss, that’s nasty!” guffawed Oakback loyally.
“Only when she squirts all over yer face!” said Apple Bloom proudly, wearing a fierce little grin.
“Hey, what’s back there?” snapped Snowy Hocks. “A varmint sneak in here with us?”
There was a scuffling. The farm ponies milled about… and then, they saw her. The pink princess in question, hysterical, and charging around behind them toward the rickety scaffolding.
“Hey, she tryin’ ta fix the roof again!” blurted Oakback, astonished. “Hey! HEY!”
Apple Bloom’s heart gave a horrible lurch. Diamond had already made it up onto the second landing, and she wasn’t slowing down. She leaped the tricky little gap, and kept on going.
“Aw, sweet Celestia,” moaned Apple Bloom. Clearly, Diamond had heard everything.
“Hey, come down! No lickin’s worth that kinda hard work, girl! All you gotta do is pick daisies, Boss kin do that stuff way up there!” called Fern Gully, cheerfully.
“Boss mus’ be better at it than we thought!” joked Snowy Hocks.
Apple Bloom whirled on them, and charged.
“Git out! This here’s between us! Git OUT! GIT OUT!”
“Aaah! All right! We gettin’!” squawked Fern Gully.
“Get them out, Oakback!” screamed Apple Bloom. Without sparing the farm ponies another glance, she whirled again and galloped for all she was worth, across the barn and onto the scaffolding, which shook as she charged up it.
Diamond Tiara had made it right up to the very top. Apple Bloom saw her up there, heard her pitiful whimpering, slowed down by necessity for fear her rapid ascent would shake the scaffolding out from under Diamond’s little hooves.
Apple Bloom climbed on, laying her ears back as Diamond screamed. It was a particularly horrible scream, and it chilled Apple Bloom to the core. Diamond was supposed to sound angry, not tortured. Despair seemed frighteningly wrong, coming from her.
“Hold on,” gritted Apple Bloom. “Ah’m a-comin’ an’ what’s more, Ah’m sorry…”
“Don’t save me!” wailed Diamond Tiara. “Not now! It’s all over, don’t come any closer!”
“Don’t look down!” snapped Apple Bloom. “Steady!”
“Goodbye,” moaned Diamond. “I was a monster! How did Fluttershy know? How could she say the things she did? It’s all true, they hate me, I am despised and horrible, a mockery! All I had was respect, and now?”
“Dammit,” said Apple Bloom. “Stop that! I got to get you down off’n there right away…”
“I must die,” said Diamond Tiara. She trembled, balanced on the highest board of the scaffolding. “I must jump. Everything I tried to become has failed. It’s gone, I’m nothing now, worse than nothing. I have to jump, I can’t face them all! I can’t stand any of this!”
Apple Bloom’s heart was trying to thump out of her chest. “Don’t talk like that, Diamond! Don’t look down, you jes’ turn around and we’ll discuss things…”
“I have to, I have to!” wailed Diamond. “Don’t come any closer, don’t you talk me out of this! I’m going to jump!”
Desperately, Apple Bloom seized on a wild idea. She’d heard the fear in Diamond’s voice. She yelled, “Fine! Then look where you gone land, missy, look down right now!”
Diamond looked. The two ponies froze into silence for a horrible second.
Diamond Tiara began to keen, a horrible high squeal of ultimate, gut-melting terror.
“There,” said Apple Bloom, “don’t look so nice now, do it? Now you hold still while I come getcha… Ah said… Aw crap!”
Diamond had begun to wobble, nearly fainting where she stood. In a panic, Apple Bloom sprinted forward, around the last corner, up the last ramp, and just as Diamond began to swoon, Apple Bloom tackled her and wrapped her in country-pony forelegs, knocking her tiara from her head with the force of the tackle, straining her desperately tight, leaning against the slanted roof to brace herself though there was a gap between the scaffolding and the wall there as well.
“Easy now. Easy now,” soothed Apple Bloom, her eyes wild, her heart hammering painfully against her ribs.
Diamond Tiara wailed, hiccuped, shook, moved uncoordinatedly as if she was fixing to reel back and forth. She couldn’t budge an inch. Apple Bloom had her and was not letting go.
“Easy now,” repeated Apple Bloom. “We’re gonna walk backwards leanin’ against this roof. It might scrape me a bit. Kin you walk backwards? You’re gonna walk backwards.”
She stepped backwards, sliding against the tilted roof. She tugged. Awkwardly, like a baby foal taking her first steps, Diamond Tiara stepped backwards as well.
Diamond shrieked, her body shaking violently in reaction. Her hoof had missed the scaffold, and dipped inches below it for a horrible moment. She yanked it back, and placed it on the board again, but couldn’t move it.
“Steady, baby,” said Apple Bloom. “There’a a lil’ ol’ landing. Ah made it for me to rest on. A lil’ farther, honey chile, come on. We’re gonna walk backwards jes’ a little farther.”
Blindly, cowering, Diamond obeyed. She stepped backwards again, and again.
“One more… one more…” said Apple Bloom. “This way… again… now turn. Over here!”
She pulled Diamond onto the landing, and laid her down on the sturdy boards that extended right over to the wall. The old blanket that padded them had bunched up, and Apple Bloom wanted to straighten it, but Diamond didn’t seem to notice: she curled up in a little ball, shaking, and Apple Bloom forgot the blanket entirely and just wrapped Diamond tightly in a hug, holding her.
“I… I lo… I love you…” whimpered Diamond, and began to bawl pitifully, melting into Apple Bloom’s embrace.
Apple Bloom gave the empty barn a weary look. “Guess that figures. I wish I knew if it makes this easier or harder.”
“My life is over! My life is over!”
“Uh-huh,” said Apple Bloom. “Harder. Listen, you! What the hay have you been playin’ at, all this time?”
Diamond could only weep. Apple Bloom held her close, stroking her silky mane, and bit her lip, giving in to a case of the shivers herself. It had been so close, and it had all happened so fast. One minute, she was reminding the farm ponies that she was the boss farm-pony and no shrinking violet. She was throwing her pleasures in their faces and making them like it, and she’d won them over without having to physically fight anypony, and then she’d seen the pink form heading for the scaffolding, and the look on Tiara’s face…
Somehow she’d known in an instant, and in that instant she’d have laid down the whole thing, let Oakback or Snowy or even the new zebra take over the farm, if only she could have taken the words back: unsaid them, removed the hurt, returned to the crazy and fascinating embraces of Diamond Tiara. That fiery little personality, the lusts, the challenges… Diamond had been constructing a whole impossible world for them, a world in which Apple Bloom was central even though she wore the mask of some underling. Now and then, there’d been the intoxicating hint that she meant far more to Diamond than the prissy princess was willing to admit. Those implications got tangled up with incredibly passionate desires, and nothing was as exciting as gazing into Diamond’s fierce eyes and seeing the shared amusement, as if she was saying: this hidden devotion is not only one-way. I’ll never admit it, but you’re becoming my world as well.
And now Diamond was broken, and she, Apple Bloom, had broken her.
Diamond bawled, inconsolable, seeming to cower away from a larger world that had turned on her, taking refuge in Apple Bloom’s embrace. Apple Bloom cuddled her, speechless, but then she considered how well secrets and silences had been working, and forced herself to think up words.
“Easy, baby. This here’s a mighty big change!”
Diamond sniffled, wiping her nose with a hoof. “Don’t remind me…”
“Well, now, what brought this on? Ah mean, I’m sorry an’ all. You know it ain’t no thing, I really liked lickin’ on your hoo-ha and I ain’t ashamed to admit it.”
“I’m too scared to jump anymore,” said Diamond faintly. “I’ll never do it now…” Tears surged to her eyes again. “Oh, Apple Bloom, what am I going to do? Maybe I can stay up here for the rest of my life? You can tell them I was killed in an accident.” Her face twisted. “I was…”
Apple Bloom clung tighter. “Whoa there. I’mma ask you very kindly to talk sense at least a little bit. Ah do not believe you mind bein’ considered sexy, nor was you shy about expressin’ it in private. What th’ hell happened to you? You can’t mind them farm ponies laughin’, they laughed at Fern Gully fallin’ on a rake, the silly ass!”
“That’s just it,” managed Diamond. “They’ll never look at me the same way again. They’ll tell all their friends, all Ponyville. And I’m nothing without respect.” She shuddered. “I worked so hard to make Ponyville fear me. I learned so many of their secrets, I played them off against each other, I made them dread seeing me and fear my disapproval and now what’s happened? They’ll laugh! They’ll imagine me degrading myself, making a mess, s—squirting on your f—face even…”
“Why? Ah noticed, missy, about you makin’ ponies afraid! There’s your problem! WHY do you make ponies fear an’ hate you?”
Diamond twisted her head to look at Apple Bloom. The despair in her eyes was chilling.
“Because I’m nasty and mean and nopony loves me, Apple Bloom… and I have to take what I can get.”
“AH love you,” said Apple Bloom, and Diamond froze.
Apple Bloom hugged her tighter, defiantly. “Ah love you. Ah don’t care what anypony thinks…”
“Oh my God!” wailed Diamond, and burst into tears again, shaking uncontrollably. “How? What? No!”
“Don’t you tell me no,” said Apple Bloom. “Ah’m stubborn that way, it ain’t nopony’s business but mine.”
Then, Diamond was wriggling in her embrace, squirming with shocking strength to turn herself, and she’d grabbed Apple Bloom and was hugging her back with such desperate ferocity as to squeeze the breath from the country pony’s body, like her very life depended on clinging to her once-servant and would-be lover and mate.
“Please, please, please, please…” Diamond whimpered, nuzzling against Apple Bloom’s neck in a frenzy.
“Easy there, baby,” soothed Apple Bloom, but then Diamond had pulled back and was staring into her eyes like a madmare.
“Don’t be joking. Oh, Celestia, don’t be joking, tell me you’re not making this up…”
“Ah am not!” squealed Apple Bloom, her ears laid back. “Since when do I make stuff up? Diamond Tiara, will you settle down?”
Diamond’s eyes held Apple Bloom’s, searching them expertly for the signs of deception, betrayal, trickery—and finding nothing, not a glimmer of doubt. She gazed into those warm amber eyes and longed to disbelieve, tried to resist the utter dismantling of her deepest darkest feelings, but it was no use: as Diamond’s lip quivered in piteous distress, Apple Bloom’s eyes only became more helplessly adoring and the compassion just poured forth, irresistible sincere earnest compassion like that of her older sister and impossible to doubt… and then Diamond couldn’t see for the tears and Apple Bloom was holding her so close, petting her.
“Aw, poor sweet baby,” sighed Apple Bloom, “poor lil’ crazy pony! It’s okay, Diamond. You kin rest now, it’s okay.”
It took a long time for Diamond to stop crying. Every time she’d look at Apple Bloom, it would start up again. Apple Bloom lost track of time, wasn’t sure if it was day or night: the only thing that existed or mattered was the strangely vulnerable lovely pink princess cradled in her forelegs, so impossibly fragile in a world that knew her only as a monster.
Three stories below, Diamond’s tiara lay bent and forgotten on the barn’s dirt floor.
Finally, Diamond just looked at Apple Bloom, and asked, “How?”
“How can you possibly love me? You’re the only one.”
“Bite your tongue. Your Daddy loves you, he’ll do anything for you.”
“But I control him,” explained Diamond. “And looking at me makes him sad, so very sad. What do you even see when you look at me? It can’t be the same thing other ponies see. They all hate me, every one. I worked very hard for that.”
Apple Bloom shook her head. “Fuckin’ crazy pony…”
Diamond whimpered, her eyes suddenly terrified, and then she was being hugged close and comforted and Apple Bloom said, “Steady! You got no business bein’ surprised at that lil’ remark. I dunno, Diamond, it started with your total hotness but it din’t stop there, Ah’ll tell you.”
“Please tell me!” begged Diamond. “I feel like you know the real me and you’re okay with it. How? I’m a beautiful shell over a thing of evil. It’s not stopping you. Do you just like meanness? I don’t know if I have any left. Oh, Celestia, I’m not sure I can do that anymore, I’m so frightened…”
“Ah would tell you to talk sense but it ain’t worked the last six times so how about we let that be?” said Apple Bloom. “I don’t know. Ah was super hot for your lil’ pink pussy, right enough, but then I thought about how tough an’ strong you was. An’ then, I saw you was hurt, and it jes’ made you angrier, and I wondered if it was the hurt that made you so mad and if I could mebbe heal it or somethin’…”
Diamond boggled at her. “Are you insane? Hurts can’t be healed. Maybe the pathetic little hurts of the lesser ponies. You’d be mad too if…”
She trailed off. Apple Bloom was staring levelly at her.
“My Mom died too, sugarcube. Try that again. What if them hurts could be healed?”
Diamond Tiara pouted, tearfully. “How?”
“Ah had Applejack, o’ course. And Big Macintosh, an’ Granny Smith. That’s who hugged me. Who hugs you?”
She stared at Diamond for a moment, at the sulky defensive glare, and just as Diamond spoke, she figured it out.
“Daisy,” admitted Diamond. “Don’t tell! Don’t you dare tell anypony!”
Apple Bloom remembered Diamond’s freak-out when her father threatened to send her servant on vacation. At the time, she’d rooted Filthy Rich on, she’d considered it spoiled petulance in the extreme, but now it took on a whole new light. “How come? Are ya ashamed? You shouldn’t have to be ashamed. Is it only Daisy, seriously?”
Diamond pouted, glaring. “Must I beg you not to tell? Of course it is. Dad doesn’t hug, not really. I think to him it must be weakness, and he is never weak, ever. He doesn’t need it. Please don’t tell him I get hugs from Daisy, I’m terrified he will fire her and then I’ll have nothing.”
“Diamond Tiara, you need a change. That ain’t enough huggin’ and that’s a fact. You got me now, and that ain’t all.”
“Since when?” demanded Diamond. “It’s hard enough to believe you don’t hate me, who else could possibly stand me? Don’t you endanger Daisy! Don’t you tell on me and put her position at risk!”
“Filthy Rich ain’t the only business pony in these parts,” vowed Apple Bloom. “If he fires Daisy, Ah will hire her jes’ for you. I’m just as good a business pony as he is!”
That got her a stare of disbelief. “No, you certainly are not. Your notions of marketing are antiquated and completely unable to scale. You haven’t the least idea of network effects and your advertising efforts are horseapples.”
“How much does Daisy work for?” challenged Apple Bloom, laying her ears back.
“Ten bits a week, room and board.”
“Petty cash,” snorted Apple Bloom. “Don’t insult me. You will NOT lose your Daisy so long as I’m Boss Mare.” She blinked. “Um. Besides that… you are actin’ like your Daddy has the power to make your Daisy abandon you. Do you understand that Daisy will prob’ly always hug you, girl? If things are like you say? Ya cain’t fire love!”
“I couldn’t be sure,” said Diamond Tiara, quietly. She was trembling in Apple Bloom’s embrace.
Apple Bloom sighed, overwhelmed. It hurt her head, just trying to understand how Diamond saw things.
“You… you can’t fire love?” said Diamond, in a tiny little voice. “Even when it’s all alone?”
Apple Bloom shook her head, hugging Diamond tighter. “Boy howdy, you got such a lot to learn. On th’ bright side, you’re gonna be a lot easier to deal with once you do. Dang! No wonder you was scared. Nightmare’s over, missy. Wake up, it’s mornin’.”
Diamond trembled. “I don’t recognize my world anymore. I don’t understand how you can love me. You’re so sure. I don’t know what to do anymore…”
“Do you trust me?” said Apple Bloom.
“How is that supposed to help… yeep!” squeaked Diamond Tiara. Apple Bloom had smacked her butt with a hoof.
“DO you TRUST me?” demanded Apple Bloom, glowering fiercely into those wide, vulnerable eyes.
“Eeee!” squealed Diamond, panting. “With my life!”
Apple Bloom beamed. “Mah precious lil’ princess, it’s gonna be a good life.”
Diamond quivered. She made another little squeaky noise, too overcome to be coherent. She gulped, pulled herself together, and asked, “What are you going to do?”
“Ah’m gonna love you and take you for my mare. An’ Applejack is gonna love you as if you was her own little sister. And Rainbow Dash is doubtless gonna tease the crap out of you but don’t you mind that, darlin’. An’ we’re gonna be your other family, and you’re still keepin’ Daisy an’ your Daddy, and you are going to be safe and loved and you’ll learn to be kind and sweet. That’s your bargain, Diamond Tiara. Take it or leave it.”
“I’ll take it!” squeaked Diamond. She grabbed Apple Bloom, kissed her madly, clung to her while sobbing and laughing. “How can you promise that? I can’t imagine it! I don’t even know how that works!”
“Damn right you don’t,” snorted Apple Bloom. “But you know something? Ain’t the first time your Daddy sent you to us. I s’pect maybe even he understands things a lil’ better than you think. You are a proper maverick filly, you are, headstrong an’ unbreakable. But ain’t nopony better at herding than th’ Apple family! Trust me. Your life is gonna be beautiful.”
Diamond drew back, gazing worriedly at her new mate. “But… I don’t deserve any of that. Shouldn’t you be punishing me and not get into all that love crap unless… unless I’m beautiful? Not in grooming!” she added. “I buy physical beauty with money and I don’t count the cost! I mean, inside?”
Apple Bloom’s amber eyes glowed with faithful devotion.
“You are beautiful inside. Ya jes’ too scared to show it. Time to start.”
They rested for a while, gazing into each others’ eyes. Outside, farm ponies plowed and gathered crops. Inside, two fillies clung together, gathering strength, preparing to break the news of their unthinkable bond upon the world, the one girding herself for what could be a terrible fight and the other one trying to prepare something even more alarming—a terrible surrender.
“I’m scared, Apple Bloom,” said Diamond.
“Ah will protect you with everythin’ I am, darlin’,” said Apple Bloom. “You jes’ be sweet an’ pretty and Ah will stop anypony messin’ with you, don’t you worry about that.”
“No,” said Diamond, “that’s just the problem.”
Apple Bloom hugged her reassuringly. “What is it, sugarcube?”
Diamond Tiara frowned. “I want to do this for you. I want you to hold me close, and I want to be your little filly and be sweet, kind and pretty… but that’s completely impossible and unlike me, and I’m going to screw it up!”
“Oh yeah?” challenged Apple Bloom. “Define screwing it up!”
“I just told you your notions of marketing were antiquated and unscaleable!”
Apple Bloom blinked. “My whut?”
“I said your ability to leverage network effects was pitiful! I’m still saying horrible things even now! Every time I turn around I’m a controlling bitch-pony from hell!” wailed Diamond.
Apple Bloom shook her, and she stopped and listened.
“Diamond, they prob’ly are. What’s network effects? Somethin’ to do with fishin’?” guessed Apple Bloom.
“I’m sure to backslide,” said Diamond Tiara. “I’ll be telling you what to do and I’ll be all haughty and acting like Diamond Tiara again.” She gulped, her lip quivering forlornly.
Apple Bloom snorted.
Diamond Tiara’s jaw dropped, and she stared wide-eyed at Apple Bloom, speechless.
“That’s sexy!” said Apple Bloom. “Ah don’t want some weak filly piece a’ crap! Such a pony would not be able ta stand me for long, I’ll tell you that. Ain’t you payin’ attention? What’s a marketing? Does our market stall count?”
Diamond stared. “Really? I thought I needed to be like Fluttershy or something.” She winced, remembering their conversation. “Never mind that. You actually want me to challenge you? To know things you don’t know? To be better than you?”
“You’re better at market-makin’,” suggested Apple Bloom.
Diamond nodded, entranced. “I would expect so. You seem to not have the slightest notion of…”
“You’re better at fancy thinkin’,” added Apple Bloom. “Ah hates it, myself. Ah’d rather be out bossin’ the farm workers or buildin’ something with my hooves.”
Diamond nodded. “I’ve seen you do that! It’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever…”
“You’re better at bein’ a smokin’ hot hunk a’ filly,” said Apple Bloom, and her wicked grin was intoxicating.
Diamond could hardly breathe. “Do you really think so?” she squeaked.
Apple Bloom dipped her head, and fixed Diamond with a saucy, fiery gaze.
“Diamond, will you be my marefriend and work with me—not against me—on our farm, an’ use your clever-hooves fizzin’ brain to help us with all them things you mentioned?”
Diamond leapt to her hooves, and began bouncing up and down in excitement. “Yes. Yes! YES! Forever! Always!”
“WHOA!” yelled Apple Bloom, seized her, and grabbed her, dragging her back down. Diamond shook off her giddiness and realized she was still up in the high loft. For a moment, she’d seen nothing but the love in Apple Bloom’s eyes. She gave way to the shakes, again.
“Let’s get your silly-filly butt down where it’s safe,” suggested Apple Bloom.
“Yes, l—l—let’s,” quavered Diamond Tiara, petrified again.
Awkwardly, they made their way across the scaffolding, around and down: Diamond so very slowly, Apple Bloom not rushing her progress and ready to grab for her at the least sign of unsteadiness. Yet, the pink princess didn’t falter or stumble. She methodically went step by step, refusing to be daunted by her terror, the only sign being her shaking legs as she walked along the high planks. Apple Bloom loved her for it. As she approached the barn floor, her fear lessened, and when she reached the ground she sprang forth with a cry of relief, and then bowled Apple Bloom over as soon as her new love joined her on solid ground.
“Aw, Diamond, Ah’m sorry! Look!” cried Apple Bloom.
Diamond gasped. She’d forgotten her headgear entirely. She inspected it. The polished gleam was sullied by the dirt, but even more by the twist in its graceful tines. One of the metal balls adorning it had come off. The tiara was ruined.
Diamond shook her mane, and glared defiantly at Apple Bloom.
“Break the rest of these balls off, please.”
“Well, obviously, they need to be apples now, don’t they?”
Apple Bloom gawked at Diamond Tiara, who held her stern look for at least three seconds before descending into giggles and pouncing her new marefriend, crying, “The look on your face! I got you!”
“You sure did!” marvelled Apple Bloom. “You was jokin’, right?”
“Oh, of course,” said Diamond Tiara dismissively. “Apples aren’t properly heraldic at all. I’ll get it fixed. Dad will fix it for me, I’ll make up some story.” She smiled at Apple Bloom, and Apple Bloom felt herself smiling back, wider and wider.
Diamond wobbled a little at the utterly unfamiliar sensation of togetherness. She didn’t control Apple Bloom now, but neither did the country filly control her. Instead, they stood together, and Diamond glanced at the fallen tiara. That had given way, the alloys of precious metals not withstanding their fall. And yet, though she felt far from precious, she sensed that she and Apple Bloom could form an alloy of their own, stronger and tougher than either could be alone.
Diamond began to hop again. “I can do paperwork, and forecasts, and come up with a marketing plan with quotas and break-even points, and, and…”
Apple Bloom guffawed. “Hah! Go get ‘em. Do it, filly! Be my mare and my better half, an’ do all the stuff I was too dumb to do. I can’t wait to see it all!”
Suddenly, Diamond sobered. She stepped forward, and she kissed Apple Bloom impassionedly, and she breathed words softly into her ear.
“You weren’t too dumb to save me from death,” she said, tears glistening in her clear blue eyes. “You could have fallen yourself, but you didn’t even hesitate. You saved me. I will never, ever forget it.”
“Ah’d be the dumbest pony in all Equestria if I hadn’t,” replied Apple Bloom.
Diamond followed her hesitantly through the barn doors and out into the farmyard, bare-headed, feeling naked. The breeze blew through her mane like it was an entirely new thing that had never happened before, and Diamond faced a world that had never seen her this way: a world unrecognizable, alien, with the only certainty the fact that everything was going to be utterly, totally different, inside and out.
And that, of course, was the very best part.
Diamond Tiara smiled.