“Applejaaack!” wailed Rainbow Dash.
“Make up yer damn mind,” snorted Applejack. “It was your idea, sugarcube! As far as I’m concerned, it’s still a lettuce-stealin’ varmint. Do you want to feed it or not?”
She frowned at her experiment. Below her, the remnants of a bunny rabbit sat befuddled, a carrot sticking out of the hole in its neck. There was no sign that it was particularly soothed by this treatment, but it did cork up the horrible noises the thing made.
“It can’t breathe! Make it stop!” protested Rainbow Dash.
“Good,” retorted Applejack. “It also can’t eat my vegetables. As we kin see! Fine, I’ll quit tryin’ to feed it. What do you propose I do, missy? We can’t turn it loose!”
Dash whimpered. She peeked sideways at the spectacle. Reluctantly, she mumbled, “Kill it. It’s too bad hurt.”
“Y’ think?” snorted Applejack, as the bunny fumbled with one-and-a-half paws, trying to dislodge the carrot stuck down its neck. “Maybe this is a bunny upgrade! Look how good it is at not eatin’ up all my crops.”
“Kill it!” squealed Rainbow Dash, covering her eyes with her hooves, then her wings.
“Oh, fine!” said Applejack. “You jes’ keep on not lookin’. Soon be over.”
She flexed a hind hoof, considered removing the carrot, and then decided the critter was entitled to a last round of garden-looting and left the orange prong in place. Decorously, Applejack rotated, aiming her potent hindquarters square at the mostly-bunny, which sat confusedly and pawed at the carrot, oblivious. She turned and looked back at it.
“This is gonna hurt you one heck of a lot more than it’s gonna hurt me,” said Applejack truthfully.
“Just kill it already!” wailed Dash, from behind tight-furled wings.
“All righty,” sighed Applejack. “Here goes.”
One orange hoof drew back, and then flicked out with unthinkable speed and power—her country-mare muscles rippling in a destructive spasm that could knock all the apples off a tree or kick a hole in a wall. It connected with the bunny, flattening it and firing it at high velocity against the cupboard, so hard that the door flew open and a china bowl inside shattered. The results bounced messily off two more walls and landed in a heap in the corner. Even the carrot was in three pieces.
Applejack turned and regarded her hoofiwork sadly, but with a certain satisfaction. “All right, Dashie. It’s over, you can l…”
The bloody heap stirred, and moved.
Applejack stared, her eyes wide, as the thing pulled itself together. Its limbs no longer bent in normal places, but that didn’t seem to stop it. Her jaw dropped as it heaved itself over to take its place in front of her again, facing her with no face to face with, and standing up as tall and proud as it could with no intact bones left in what remained of its body. A bunny arm rose defiantly…
Applejack’s jaw dropped, as the ‘zombie bunny’ flipped her off. She gawked, as it rotated and proceeded to hop, much more slowly and painfully than before, toward the same wall it had aimed at the first time.
“Well, Ah will be damned…” marvelled Applejack, and she took off her hat again, this time in respect.
“Did you kill the zombie bunny?” asked Rainbow, peeking from between her feathers. Her jaw dropped too, as she watched the monstrosity squelch determinedly along.
“I reckon zombie bunnies is tough lil’ bastards,” said Applejack.
“Did it attack you?” said Dash. “I mean, when you kicked it? Oh my gosh! This is outrageous. Spy says there are more of these things?”
“We kin herd ‘em,” said Applejack. “Not like ya got to be gentle! And no, that there bunny din’t attack me or nothin’. It did make a rude gesture, but believe me I don’t blame it for that nor would anypony else. Bunnies don’t attack ponies, Rainbow. This here pile of bunny bits wants somethin’ else.” She blinked, shaking her mane. “Ah do not think monster bunnies will harm our Northern Spy. Wonder if they’re bad to eat? I mean, for th’ critters that eat bunnies and such?”
“If it’s a zombie,” quavered Rainbow Dash, “wouldn’t that mean it was, you know, spoiled?”
Applejack scratched her head with a hoof. “Well, it was mighty pissed off, but I can’t blame it for that. Seems to have got over it already. I reckon it’s a friendly enough zombie bunny, or whatever the buck it is, and it don’t seem to expect too much outta life. Naw, it’s fine.”
“Is it a vampire?” quavered Rainbow Dash again. “Does it have fangs for teeth?”
“It don’t have a HEAD, Dashie,” explained Applejack. “See? How’s it gonna have fangs if it ain’t got no head to have ‘em on?”
“Is it dangerous?” said Dash. She crept up, trembling, nose extending toward the little horror, and then flinched when it made another awful noise out of the hole in its neck.
“I kin stop that up if you like,” offered Applejack. “Worked before.”
“It’s hurting!” wailed Dash. “It sounds horrible!”
Applejack made a face. “No shit it is. If you din’t want that, you mighta said so when you asked me to buck it into next week. Mind you, somethin’ did a number on the lil’ bugger before I ever got to it. Think we kin drown it?”
Rainbow Dash whimpered, and Applejack took pity on her. “Actually, let’s not. I can see that troubles you, besides which it might not work and that’s gotta be a distressin’ way to not die. I’ll tell you what. You grab up them pieces of carrot, and I think I kin pick this thing up like it was a lil’ old furry sack. We’ll put it out in the barn, where it’s warm.”
“What are we gonna DOOOO?” moaned Rainbow, struggling to cope with the gruesome scenario.
Applejack scratched her head again. “If I don’t miss my guess, we’re gonna collect the lil’ buggers. Spy is on a tear, and she’s bringin’ em to us. You ever heard of a zombie bunny farm? Like, out Cloudsdale way, or them crazy ponies in Fillydelphia?”
Rainbow pulled herself together, somewhat. “No! Nopony ever had to deal with things like this!”
“Like what, youngster?” came the crotchety voice of Granny Smith, investigating the commotion. “All you young colts and fillies think you invented every consarned thing. I tell you… whut in tarnation is that?”
She squinted at the headless, wrecked bunny as it kept trying to hop through the wall.
Dash took a deep breath. “Things like this, Granny.”
“Well I kin see that,” snapped the old mare. “What’s it doing?”
“Not much, Granny,” replied Applejack.
“That there’s a bunny,” declared Granny, squinting hard. “Why’s it all squished up?”
“Cos I bucked it into the cupboard,” said Applejack.
Granny nodded sagely. “Yep, that’d do it. Who brought it in here?”
“Spy,” said Rainbow Dash.
“No kiddin’?” said Granny. “What fer?”
“We tried to stop her!” protested Dash. “She’s trying to hunt the monsters of the Everfree Forest!” She cringed, expecting a scolding.
Granny Smith snorted. “Heh. Good!”
Dash’s jaw dropped. “What?”
“You heard me!” snapped Granny. “You think I ain’t noticed th’ attitude of our newest Apple? Dern fool horses tryin’ to hide things from me! I’ve seen that lil’ scaper jump right out a window without a by-your-leave. She’s a-hunting in the Everfree Forest, eh? I got words to say about THAT sorta carryin’ on, young lady!”
“I told you, we tried to stop…” began Dash, but Applejack waved a hoof to hush her.
“Granny? What do y’mean, Granny?”
The old mare’s eyes glistened.
“Why, Applejack, I would say that I done lived to see another generation carry on the tradition of th’ Earth Ponies. That’s the sort of carryin’ on I mean.” She sighed, tremulously. “Dern it! Makes me all soppy to see it. I don’t know what you expect of me, youngsters, an’ I don’t know what you expect of this lil’ fireball neither. Seems like you are frettin’ and tryin’ ta hide her cantankerousness from ol’ Granny?”
Applejack shifted from hoof to hoof. “Maybe. We don’t like seein’ her disrespect her elders, you included, and that’s a fact. And it’s a bigger and bigger problem, let me tell you. Ah don’t like to admit it but we can’t rightly control her no more and she’s still a mighty small stack o’ apples.”
Granny snorted fondly. “Pah. Good luck to you. Now you know how I felt, raisin’ your own dear mother! The grief she caused me, practically from birth and right along to her sad an’ untimely end. I did my best, too, an’ I always wondered if I done wrong or failed her somehow. And now blood will tell, and our family has a new lil’ terror and I do believe I see the tradition of the Apple Boss Mares unfoldin’. I do not know whether lil’ Northern Spy will end up tearing up this farm, or fight our Apple Bloom to be Boss Mare, or jes’ strike out and homestead her own farm which is another way it kin go. But, Applejack, I know one thing for certain, and you best listen sharp because I am not going to tell you this twice, missy…”
Applejack gulped. “What is it, Granny?”
“Ah’m proud of you,” said Granny Smith. “You raised your foal to be a proper Apple pony. Y’done good, Applejack.”
Applejack’s lip quivered, and then she’d rushed forward and the two mares embraced, sniffling and sentimental.
“HEY!” squeaked Rainbow Dash. “Aren’t you leaving out somepony?”
“An’ how kin we leave you out,” said Granny Smith, “when you’re bein’ such a noisy lil’ chickadee?”
Dash’s expression went fretful, but then Granny was holding out a foreleg and inviting her to join the hug. With a flutter of blue wings, Rainbow Dash did.
“Ow!” she squawked. Granny had clonked her on the head with a hoof, playfully, and then ruffled her mane.
“Thought you knew where you stood, y’crazy varmint! I wouldn’ta believed it, but I reckon at least half of Spy’s earth pony spirit comes from a pegasus, and that pegasus is you!” said Granny. “We already know you’re amazin’. You tell us that every other Tuesday!”
Dash made a face. “Uh… it’s good to be sure.” She stuck out her tongue at Granny, then nuzzled her white mane affectionately.
“Yah! Git off you daft featherbrain!” protested Granny. “Dern crazy hotblooded pegasuses, I ain’t yer fancy-pony!” Surreptitiously, she cuddled Dash to her for a moment, even while vituperating up a cranky storm.
“I don’t suppose you could be at your age!” retorted Dash with spirit, and gave Granny’s ear a little kiss.
“Help, help! Overamorous pegasus! Hide th’ mares!” yelped Granny, and scrabbled away from the cuddly ponies, panting.
Dash stuck out her tongue at Granny again. “Spoilsport!” she teased, secure that the scary over-earnest phase had safely passed. She flicked her tail happily, face wreathed in smiles.
“Uhhh…” said Applejack.
“Did we have to stop that cuddly business?” said Applejack plainitively. “Ah liked it.”
Rheumy eyes met ruby eyes, with the same amused and tolerant expression… and then, both Granny and Rainbow Dash re-hugged Applejack. “For you, babe,” murmured Dash, “all the cuddles ever.”
Applejack smiled, snuggling against Rainbow, and then squawked “Ow!” for Granny had clonked her gently with a hoof too. “Whut was that for?”
“You soppy soft thing, Applejack,” said Granny, not angrily. “Thank goodness for Apple Bloom, is all I kin say.”
“Oh yeah?” protested Applejack. “Why?”
“Cos if you was still Boss, dearie, your own foal would be overthrowin’ you before she was prop’ly weaned! How Applesauce had enough sweetness in her to make up you, Ah’ll never know,” said Granny. “Strong as an ox an’ sweet as candy apples, jes’ like your brother. It’s a mercy you kin deal with varmints an’ pick weeds. You ain’t got a mean bone in your body, you soppy thing!”
Rainbow Dash smirked. Rainbow Dash opened her mouth. Rainbow Dash got a geriatric hoof to the ear, and shut her mouth, smirking, her remark about mean bones in Applejack’s lovely body left loudly unsaid.
Applejack looked stricken. “Ah was a good Boss! For a while! I… shucks. Maybe you’re right. That there’s a mercy, I guess. Bad enough losin’ your Boss to your lil’ sister, imagine losin’ to your little foal!”
Granny Smith smirked at her. “Don’t have to, child. I been there. Land sakes, how mad I was when young Applesauce kicked my poor teeth in and took th’ farm! You go on bein’ the sweetheart, dear Applejack. Somepony around here ought to be!” She mock-glowered at Rainbow Dash.
Dash smirked back at her, then turned to Applejack.
“Don’t ever change,” she said, and kissed her mare.
“Dern tootin’,” agreed Granny Smith. “Maybe you kin put a heart in our new tiny but ty-rannical crab-Apple.”
“Oh!” said Applejack. “That reminds me. I got to go talk to Fluttershy! I feel things ain’t right with Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy ought to know about it. I ain’t sure she’s any too happy about Fluttershy’s zebra. Even though she’s picked up one of her own, Ah mean.”
“Tomorrow,” said Granny firmly. “It’s gettin’ late. What are you gonna do with that thing?”
She gestured, and Applejack and Rainbow Dash cringed. The semi-bunny was still feebly trying to hop through the wall.
“We’re puttin’ it in the barn where it’s warm,” said Applejack. “Northern Spy might be gettin’ more. It’s harmless!”
Granny regarded it critically. “Eyup. You know, for all I was claimin’, I will admit you’re good with varmints. Apart from keepin’ em as pets, anyways. What do you feed it?”
“Not carrots,” said Applejack. “Don’t ask…”
Rainbow Dash made a gagging noise, gave her a kiss, and trotted upstairs to bed. Carefully, Applejack picked up the twitching monstrosity by a scrap of spare fur, and headed out to the barn.
“An’ don’t you put it in the saddlebags, nor the baskets!” called Granny after her. “You got to fetch groceries tomorrow and we don’t want no gore-ceries in this house!”
Applejack set the gruesome thing down, gently. “Yes’m!” she called, picked it back up, and then continued on her way.
“Fluttershy! I was jes’ thinkin’ about you, how glad I am to see you!” called Applejack.
“Oh! Hello,” replied Fluttershy, setting down her little shopping basket. “What’s the matter? You look worried. Is something wrong?”
“Kinda! Maybe. Fluttershy, kin I talk with you for a minute?”
“Of course! Oh, dear. Something is wrong. Is it dangerous? I’m not very brave…”
“That’s an interestin’ question,” replied Applejack, thinking of Pinkie Pie’s past escapades, “and I ain’t prop’ly sure of the answer but all the same we need your help, Fluttershy. At least, I think we might.”
Fluttershy gulped. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s about Pinkie Pie,” said Applejack.
Fluttershy’s expression changed, immediately. The fear went away, but her countenance became grave.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve been expecting this. Will you walk with me, Applejack? I was heading home, have you finished shopping?”
“Sure! Wait, is that a fish?”
Fluttershy bent to pick up her basket, then looked apologetically at Applejack. “May I put my basket in your saddlebag? I can’t talk while holding it in my mouth.”
“Don’t think I’ve ever stuck a fish in this saddlebag before…”
“It’s not an alive fish,” said Fluttershy, “but I don’t think it will smell. I’m sorry.”
“Feedin’ animals, are you?”
“Something like that. It’s all right if you don’t wish to. Er, except that you needed to talk to me and I am just a teensy bit sure that I will need to talk back. I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient. I could leave the f… but no, I don’t think I should.”
Applejack gave her a hard look, bent to lift her basket, and placed it securely in one saddlebag. “There you are. What do you mean, you’ve been expecting this?”
Fluttershy pouted, peering from under her huge eyelashes. “Will you promise not to repeat these things to anypony? And we should walk alone. Not that I see anypony coming with us. I fear ponies may still be uncomfortable around me, which I’m sure I don’t blame them for.”
“Nonsense,” said Applejack staunchly. “What with them nice mane extensions Zecora made for you, you’re just like everypony else. Er… dependin’ on what you got to say, I might be talkin’ to Dashie. If you know anything important about Pinkie Pie, that is. We’re pow’ful tight with Pinkie, and I hope that’s okay.”
Fluttershy considered this. “I think so. It might help. Yes. Is it okay if we head out of town now?”
“Sure,” said Applejack, and watched Fluttershy closely as they cantered away from the market stalls, away from other ponies, on the road to Sweet Apple Acres and Fluttershy’s cottage. Once they were well out of earshot from other ponies, she spoke again. “What have you been expecting, Fluttershy?”
The gentle pegasus winced. “How is dear Pinkie? Is she well? I haven’t had much time to talk to her lately.”
“I was wonderin’ that myself,” said Applejack. “Seems you might have answered some of that question already. You’re not speakin’ to Pinkie Pie?”
“I didn’t say that!” objected Fluttershy. “I said that I haven’t had much time. I’m making a point to try and talk to her, which is not always easy.”
“You spit your bit or somethin’?” gawked Applejack. “You’ll never find a friendlier, happier pony than our Pinkie Pie!”
“Friendly, is she?” said Fluttershy. “And I suppose now you’ll tell me she’s thoughtful, and compassionate, and kind. Just the sort of pony you could take all your problems to.”
“Well, I…” began Applejack, and thought. “Hmmm. I ain’t sure thoughtful is exactly the word for our Pinkie. You sound mighty cranky, Fluttershy, you okay there? Why would you be sayin’ Pinkie is compassionate, in such a way that it sounds like she ain’t?”
Fluttershy glowered unhappily at the ground, as she cantered slowly along. “Everypony behaves like Pinkie is so compassionate. It’s not really true. I mean, it is and it isn’t. She needs things to go a certain way and she won’t listen. You run into these cliffs in the clouds, with her. If what you need fits with the way she sees things, she’ll do anything for you. If it doesn’t fit, there’s a problem, and it’s impossible to talk about the problem.”
Applejack’s ears were laid back. “Maybe you just aren’t tryin’ hard enough? I don’t usually see you insist, Fluttershy. Are you sure you’ve tried to work out your problem? What is this problem, anyway? Maybe you just din’t tell her.”
Fluttershy frowned. “She just fires party cannons at you and insists everything is happy. I get very worried when I think that she isn’t happy, because I don’t think she listens to herself either.”
“Now see here!” objected Applejack, trotting with high, bouncy steps as she got more caught up in the argument. “This is Pinkie we’re talkin’ about! How can she not be happy? That’s, like, her whole thing!”
“That’s what frightens me,” said Fluttershy. “That’s why it’s become so hard to talk to her.”
“Well, ponies need to talk out their problems! First of all, there ain’t nothin’ you can’t talk yourself through, and secondly how can you be acting so nervous of our sweet bouncy Pinkie Pie? Have you flipped?”
Fluttershy shot her a sudden, sharp look. “Have you broken a Pinkie Promise lately?”
Applejack hit the deck with a whinny of alarm. She stared all around her, ears flattened back against her head, hat pulled down by her own forehooves until she nearly disappeared under it.
Fluttershy stopped, and regarded her with a weary look, waiting until the blind panic receded. She said nothing, but her expression said it all without a word. Applejack, still scanning the horizon for screaming pink vengeance, got up.
“Guess maybe you might have a bit of a point…”
“I don’t have a b… oh. Actually I may need to pick up one of those, it’s complicated. But I most certainly have a point. You know it’s true, if you’re honest with yourself. It’s a big scary problem and it’s getting worse,” said Fluttershy resignedly.
“Did you make a Pinkie Promise?” demanded Applejack worriedly, and scanned the horizon again as she said the words. “Is that it? Maybe we’ll, I dunno, try ta negotiate it or something…”
“No,” said Fluttershy. A tear came to her eye. “She never demanded anything like that. No, she’s promised me.”
“Everything,” said Fluttershy simply.
They began to walk again. Applejack watched Fluttershy, giving her time, not rushing her. Eventually, the demure pegasus continued.
“I wish I had never become a vampire, Applejack. Even though I love dear sweet Angel, and surely it must all be for the best because Angel didn’t mean it, but all the same, if only I had remained a pony! If only Pinkie Pie had found me before that. Maybe if I’d known her early enough, she might have turned me lesbian too. I’ll never know,” said Fluttershy, in a kind of quiet despair. “I can’t return her feelings the way she has them. It doesn’t stop her, or even slow her down.”
“Yeah,” sighed Applejack. “Yeah, that’s our Pinkie all over.”
“She is my heart,” said Fluttershy bitterly. “Quite literally. She is at the center of me and is supposed to be my everything. We even have a foal together, who is wonderful and whom we both love like life itself. But I don’t have life itself, Applejack. Pinkie is my heart, but she is my heart that doesn’t beat… and about as relevant.”
“She loves you,” said Applejack earnestly.
Fluttershy’s glance in return seemed sad, even angry. “What does that mean, Applejack? What exactly does ‘she loves you’ mean?”
“Wull, uh…” said Applejack, and fell silent.
“Yes. She needs things to go a certain way, and has never really been at ease with me being a vampire. She indulges me, and that can be very bad. She can’t accept how I really am inside. Not that I can, either, but that only makes it more awkward.” Fluttershy pouted. “There are things I need that she simply cannot accept. I’m beginning to ask for them. I’m beginning to grow, Applejack, because I have to: I can’t just go around being what ponies would like to see, anymore. It’s important that I do better, even when it’s confusing. Pinkie Pie just stops all of that completely.”
“Hmmm…” said Applejack.
“She’s not good with me finding fault with myself,” said Fluttershy. “And there’s a lot of fault I need to work on, and I don’t really know how. I’m trying everything I can, to find my way.”
Applejack set her jaw. “Sugarcube, don’t you worry. One way or another, we’re gonna work all of this out. Maybe what’s frightening you is just that Pinkie has more than her share of good old earth pony power? There’s a lot of that around these parts. My foal, Northern Spy, whoof! But the great thing about earth ponies is that connection to pure pony love. We carry that on across the generations. We’re not gonna let you fall.”
Fluttershy winced. “I wish I had that. I’m a vampire, Applejack. I connect to something else, and it draws me. I’m trying to fight it with all I have, but I’m scared. What if I give in? What if I let that power tell me what to do, instead of listening to pony love? How can I be sure I’ll do the right things, when I get,” and she shuddered to the tips of her wings, “temptations?”
Applejack shivered too. There had been something in the way Fluttershy said ‘temptations’ that didn’t bode well.
“We’re gonna take care of you, Fluttershy,” she said bravely. “Don’t you underestimate that earth pony power. There’s a lot we can do. Speakin’ of which, I need to ask you about some new critters we’ve discovered in the Everfree. Sturdy buggers, but there’s some things about ‘em…”
“Not right now,” said Fluttershy. “Please don’t distract me now, I’m almost home. It’s just a teensy bit complicated and difficult and I must be careful, there are several things I must do.”
“Y’ don’t say?”
“Shhh,” said Fluttershy.
Applejack’s eyes widened. She’d never seen the gentle pegasus… well, vampegasus… so firm and resolute. She watched, curious, as Fluttershy approached her door, winced, then pulled it ajar with her teeth.
There was a harsh squee of delight from inside, and the door was burst open entirely by a pouncing griffin: Gilda.
“EEEEE! It’s so good to see y…”
“GILDA!” declaimed Fluttershy, in a voice like doom.
She squawked. “I’m sorry! Aaaa! Did I, did I not greet you nice enough? I just can’t help it, I…”
“Gilda! Down!” demanded Fluttershy.
Startled, Applejack regarded her vampegasus friend. There was no sign of Fluttershy doing anything spooky. It was just Fluttershy, but being commanding and dominant like when she’d taken assertiveness lessons, or had turned grey thanks to Discord. But there wasn’t the vindictiveness so present in her attitude the last time, or the bullying nature Iron Will had taught her. She was just laying down the adorable law to a full-grown, very excited griffin.
Gilda lay right down and grovelled on the ground, before Applejack’s amazed eyes. “Mmmmf!” she went, and fell silent, quivering.
Politely, Applejack trotted around behind her, and peeked. “Dang! Dunno if you knew it, Fluttershy, but Gilda’s about cross-eyed with horny. Wow! Need some help with that, honey? Me and Dash know how ta help you out!”
“F… fluttershy…” sobbed Gilda.
Applejack blinked. “Dang,” she said, helplessly. Glancing up, she saw Dursaa, who didn’t seem happy. It wasn’t that he was angry with the state of affairs: a traditional zebra stallion might have taken offense at not being in control of the situation, but Dursaa seemed to have no objection to Fluttershy dominating a horny griffin on the lawn. He did look scared, though.
“Applejack,” ordered Fluttershy, “get my basket out of your saddlebag.”
Applejack did so, trying to keep an eye on all three creatures… no, four. Little Dursaa peeked out of the door, and fluttered up to stand on his father’s broad back.
Fluttershy turned to Gilda. “Eat this fish. It’s dead and won’t mind. Do it now.”
“I don’t want to!” protested Gilda. “You’re going to think it’s horrible! Give me some more seeds, they’re terrific, the best!”
“Gilda Griffin!” insisted Fluttershy. “You’re acting more and more twitchy and unpredictable. You’ve eaten nothing but birdseed since you arrived here, and you are staggering and irrational! Some animals like ferrets need to eat fishes or they get sick and nasty. You are clearly something like that, now eat the fish!”
Applejack felt a presence behind her, a breath across her tail, and whirled in her tracks to see… Zecora, looking back at her and wearing an expression of dismay.
“Oh, Zecora!” said Fluttershy. “I’m so glad you came. We need to talk. I have to confess I’ve been thinking about that toy you brought me ever since I saw it. Gilda! Don’t make me wait, eat the fish this instant! Applejack, you can help me tell her. Zecora, I mean, not Gilda… Zecora brought a big wooden horse thingy for me. I’d been sort of hoping she might feel that way about me…”
“Ya don’t say,” managed Applejack. She couldn’t take her eyes off Dursaa and Zecora, even with Gilda, fluffed out in humiliation, devouring a fish right in front of her. The zebras were on the verge of fleeing in all directions, from sheer awkwardness and fretfulness.
“Oh yes,” said Fluttershy, all the while watching Gilda critically. “I’ve been trying to explain to my Dursaa that I would like more stimulating personal times and I am more, well, durable than he thinks, as I’m sure we all know. Zecora must have heard, perhaps Rarity dropped a gentle hint! She’s brought a toy for me, but Zecora, this is Ponyville. The clever unicorns invented something that’s very popular. I would very much enjoy being intimate with my stallion while also being intimate with Zecora as another stallion.”
“Dang,” said Applejack. “Am I readin’ too much into that?”
Fluttershy pouted. “Well, it is possible. I remember how very exciting it was when I’d angered Big Macintosh, and also Braeburn helped. Do you think when you discover new exciting things, it makes the regular things seem less interesting?”
Applejack kept eyeing the zebras. “Good thing you’re… how you are, is all I kin say. Me and Rainbow were keepin’ an eye on you that time, and I swear it ought to have kilt you and turnt you inside out. You’re wantin’ more, huh?”
Fluttershy turned to her, with another sharp glance at Gilda. “Well, yes, Applejack. I think it’s my vampire nature? I’m always wanting more and more. I’m so excited to see how Zecora responds to a magic bit, it could be very impressive, you know. But there’s something else. I’ve talked to Discord…”
“Sweet Celestia,” said Applejack in horror, and took off her hat.
“What? No!” protested Fluttershy. “Discord is my dear friend in a different way, we don’t do naughty things with each other! He gave me advice! I was going to say that Discord persuaded me to try things the way Dursaa likes them, sometimes. I’m worried that it is too seductive and dangerous. I’m pretty certain that making love with both Dursaa and Zecora as a stallion, at the same time, would hurt so amazingly that I wouldn’t lose track of who I really am, especially if I do it in pony form where I feel things more acutely.”
Applejack saw the pain in Dursaa’s face. “Uhh… maybe you want to dial back this talk a mite, sugarcube? Stallions bein’ stallions and all? This conversation can’t be easy for him.”
Fluttershy blinked. “What? But we need to talk about my needs. And not only my needs, Dursaa’s matter very much too.”
Zecora cleared her throat. “Stallions need this from a mare: to give, to serve, but not to share.” She glared at Dursaa.
“We learn to live,” said Dursaa, “from such wide-varied schools. I see that Ponyville has its own rules. I know my rival is a mare who’s gay… It is not that which worries me today.”
At that, Zecora’s jaw dropped. Her eyes bugged out. “A rival to you? No, not I! I wish the best for Fluttershy. How can you be with her, and yet, prepared to see us intimate?”
Dursaa’s chin lifted. “My dearest beloved has fires that no single stallion could possibly quench! Is this not Ponyville? I must expect this—from even some zebra mare wench.”
“Do not assume from what you see,” said Zecora sternly, and then dropped her gaze. “I’d hoped she’d use the toy on me.”
“Sweet an’ sour apples!” blurted Applejack, in amazement. Both zebras glared at her, and she blushed and was quiet.
“Goodness, no!” said Fluttershy. “I don’t want to wear a wooden dildo, or the magic bits for that matter. I am a mare through and through and only want to be treated as one, which is to say very fiercely and aggressively. And anyway, if I do take one of those bits in my teeth, my thingy is far too b…” She trailed off, looking at Zecora’s large and powerful zebra body.
Zecora bit her lip. “A gentle marely touch… from that… would mean so much.”
Fluttershy narrowed her gaze. “Zecora, haven’t you gone off to be lesbian with Pinkie Pie? Is that not going well? Tell me, or we won’t be continuing this conversation any farther.”
Zecora made a face. “Indeed, her attitude can chafe. It’s true the cheery, bouncy waif has passion and technique enough… but, Fluttershy, she plays too rough!”
“This, then, is the desired result of your romantic coup?” asked Dursaa. “To have my wife a wife to me, but a husband to you?”
Zecora just looked at the ground. “It’s not worth such a feud. I shall not thus intrude. No Zebra stallion males could stand what that entails.”
“Dude, if Fluttershy turned into some huge-cocked stallion stud that would be amazingly awesome!” squawked Gilda unexpectedly, springing forward. “I’ve had that kind of thing from ponies. Wow! If she agrees to do it can I have some?”
“Gilda!” snapped Fluttershy, furiously. Both the zebras and Applejack had cringed away from Gilda’s enthusiasm, instinctively flinching from the big predator. Fluttershy didn’t even hesitate. “Stop! Sit! Go sit in the corner!”
“Awk! B…but we’re outside, there isn’t a corner!”
“Go inside and find a corner and sit in it,” ordered Fluttershy. “I gave you a basket. Go sit in that and be quiet! You frighten my friends with your rude jumping around!”
Gilda wailed, turned, and fled back into Fluttershy’s cottage with a storm of wings, and the collected ponies tried to pull themselves together. It did something to the pony psyche to have such a large predator moving so impulsively in their presence: even the zebras looked alarmed. Zecora glanced at little Dursaa, atop his father’s sturdy back. The tiny colt had gone very quiet, his wings folded, and seemed to be trying to look as small as possible. She glanced back at Fluttershy’s cottage, sobs coming from inside it.
“You gave this fierce beast not just a fish feast,” she accused, “but a place as your pet? I’ve no fit epithet!”
Fluttershy faced her. “She says she’s fallen in love and wants to live as a pony and learn to be like me!” she said. “I can control her. I really think she doesn’t mean any harm, and anyway I can make her behave if anything goes wrong!”
Applejack blinked. “That ain’t new. I mean, Gilda’s wanted pony tail for a long time, and I reckon what she sees in us, Fluttershy’s got a lot of. I did not see this comin’, though. Rainbow says griffins go all romantic when you beat ‘em up. You’re gonna try to reform her, Fluttershy? You’re givin’ her a home? YOUR home?”
“She’s not a bad griffin,” said Fluttershy. “I think I was wrong about her. She’s just made some bad choices. Yes! I can teach her to be a good griffin, and what’s more I’m going to do it. Though I admit I’ll probably end up wanting some major zebra special times to get the taste out of my mouth.” She made a face. “I really don’t like her. She’s a big meanie. But she does want to learn better. How can I say no to that?”
Zebras and pony looked at each other, then at the pouting, stubborn vampegasus.
“Lemme get this straight,” said Applejack. “You got Dursaa here. You’d like to tack on some Zecora for added hole-fillin’ power even though she’d like things to swing the other way, and even though you know zebra stallions ain’t down with such crazy things as a rule, plus you’re keeping a starving griffin who’s lost her damn mind as a PET?”
Fluttershy pouted. “You make it sound bad!” She scuffed the dirt with a hoof.
“Uhh,” said Applejack, daunted by the scope of the explanation. “Far be it from me to suggest we’re settin’ new heights of Ponyville crazy, no ma’am. Please yourself, Celestia knows I’ve got up to some shenanigans in my day.” Her voice grew softer, placating. “Ah am sure we’ll all work everything out just fine in the long run. However, I think I kin speak for not only myself and Dashie, but also your honey Dursaa there and prob’ly Princess Celestia while we’re at it, when I say that we got to have one little concession, sugarcube. If you want this.”
“Yes?” blinked Fluttershy, still frowning slightly as she continued to try and calculate how to make all the things line up properly and add up to a peaceful and pleasant life. Then she gasped, for Applejack had suddenly fixed her with a hard stare, burning out from under the brim of her hat.
“Yer little foal’s got to stay with his brother while you do it,” demanded Applejack. “At Pinkie’s, not here. I ain’t askin’. You will not keep your baby under the same roof as a hungry griffon, even if it’s Gilda. Dursaa might not be fixin’ to give you orders, but I ain’t afraid to.”
Fluttershy couldn’t speak. She gazed into Applejack’s uncompromising eyes. She glanced at Zecora, and found the same expression. Then, she glanced at Dursaa, at those loving eyes that she’d become so sure would back her up in all things, those eyes that would never betray her or judge her, that gave her all the confidence in the world to set about reinventing her life or unlife and making something new of it, something that was hers to decide.
Dursaa looked very sad, and had a sulky look that eerily reflected her own. He wasn’t going to defend her. He wasn’t telling her what to do, or how to decide, or any of that, but it seemed that Applejack spoke for him.
She realized he’d turned to face her, so that little Dursaa on his back was hidden. Then she saw that Zecora had moved to stand between the foal, and her cottage door. They were all instinctively sheltering the colt from the threat of Gilda, who was still sobbing, out of sight, in her basket.
Fluttershy’s lip quivered. “She WOULDN’T hurt him!”
“Din’t say that,” said Applejack staunchly. “You heard what I said. Just to be sure, Fluttershy. There’s some things you just don’t do.”
“I’m not going to turn against Gilda! She says she wants to be good!”
“Fluttershy, she was wobbly with hunger,” explained Applejack. “I saw her tear into that fish you got. She’s actin’ real funny, ain’t like herself at all. Look at me. You KNOW what Gilda did to me once. I’m a big pony with amazin’ friends and I was lucky. Do you really expect to make your foal run that kinda risk, jes’ because you believe in goodness and light?”
There was a long silence.
“Maybe it will make Pinkie feel more like part of the family,” said Fluttershy, reluctantly.
Applejack released the breath she’d been holding. “That’s a good girl. You go on and try to teach Gilda our grass-eatin’ ways. One thing about it, I am reasonably sure she can’t hurt you, on account of nothin’ can kill you ‘cos it already did, right? And I can see you got her eatin’ out of your hoof. And I do hope ol’ Gilda feels better. You okay in there?” she called, to be answered by a loud sob.
Fluttershy pouted. “Dursaa can bring Little Dursaa over to Pinkie Pie’s. Rock simply adores him, you know, and so does Pinkie. I had better get in there. I want you to know that Gilda cries at night unless I cuddle her. Does that sound dangerous to you? I will need to give her some hugs and cuddles before she stops crying, and you’ve probably upset her stomach with your mean judging ways, and she’s already struggling to adapt to the birdseed she insists on eating for me. Shame on you.”
“Nevertheless,” said Applejack. “You go on and be mad at me, then. Nevertheless, missy. But thank you… for puttin’ up with what you’re danged well gonna put up with anyhoof! Good girl for not fightin’ me.”
“Nopony fights in MY home,” muttered Fluttershy darkly. “Nopony and no griffin. Dursaa, go bring little Dursaa to Pinkie’s and then come back. I’d like a little soothing, my way, if you would be so good. I feel like I’ve had my nose rubbed in misbehavior when I’m NOT, I’m really not!”
There was an awkward silence.
He was staring, not at Fluttershy, not at Applejack, but at Zecora. She was staring back at him. They seemed lost in thought, in some private zebra-only communication.
“Elders?” said Zecora, resignedly.
Dursaa nodded. “Elders. Please. If you would?”
“Hey, they ain’t rhyming!” said Applejack.
“Yes,” said Zecora to Dursaa. “I will. It is so difficult. I am lost.”
Dursaa nodded gravely. “We will leave young Dursaa with the mad pink one. We will go. There is far to travel.”
“What th’ heck are you two talkin’ about?” said Applejack. “Where ya goin’?”
Zecora turned to her. “When life is all tumult, our Elders we consult. The silence we refine, and wait for light to shine. Their wisdom you will see. Please do wait patiently.”
Dursaa nodded, his jaw firmly set. He couldn’t quite meet Fluttershy’s eye… or perhaps he dared not risk the chance that she’d compel him to stay. “In times like this, it is our protocol: we shall return with truths that work for all.”
Zecora nodded. “It may take days, or hours, or weeks. But when it’s peace a Zebra seeks, if she is sure and brave and smart, the Elder speech will heal her heart.”
Applejack blinked. “Oh. So… you’re going off so’s your Zebra Elders can tell you what to do, on account of they’re so wise?”
Both Zecora and Dursaa looked offended.
“I fear you do not know our ways. Of course they will do no such thing!” declared Zecora. “Since when would that take timeless days? And yet, their wisdom we shall bring.”
Dursaa nodded. He hesitated, and rumbled, “My love? Trust me.”
Fluttershy’s lip quivered, and then she whirled and rushed into her cottage and slammed the door. Vaguely, Applejack and the zebras heard the sounds of confused and fretful mutual comforting, as she clung to the big twitchy predator that she refused to break faith with, once she’d extended it. Applejack looked helplessly at Dursaa and Zecora.
They were looking at each other again.
“Elders,” suggested Zecora, soothingly. There was pain in her eyes, and not a lot of trust for the big zebra stallion, but she seemed sure of herself.
A tear came to Dursaa’s eye. He nodded. “We will go. Tonight?”
“Tonight,” said Zecora. “I will not rest. We will go.”
“Thank you,” said Dursaa. He turned, like one in great pain, and began lumbering down the road toward Pinkie’s place, Zecora staying by his side.
Applejack glanced at Fluttershy’s door, and trotted fretfully after the zebras. “Uh, anything I kin do? If ya need to talk it over, on account of this is one heck of an awkward situation, though by Ponyville standards it’s kinda tame, shucks if you remember the last time Gilda came to town, they all…”
Zecora turned, fixing Applejack with a disapproving look. “Shhh!”
“Oh come on,” argued Applejack. “You got to admit we managed all right so far! We’re bringin’ little Dursaa to where he’ll be safe. I promise, all this will work itself out. Don’t judge Fluttershy too harshly, if she starts takin’ care of some wild beast you jes’ can’t shake her and that’s a fact…”
“Shhh,” repeated Zecora.
“No, listen,” continued Applejack. “Don’t you worry. I kin see you’re upset and it must seem like your family’s all mixed up, but let me tell you, be brave! It’s gonna be okay. Why, you wouldn’t believe the things my own family has gone through, and look at us now, we’re strong and we’re goin’ on to the next generation, just like you’re doin’ with little Dursaa there and of course Rock, and though even now we got us some minor struggles, good old earth pony love will see us through and we’re proud as anything…”
Dursaa could bear it no longer, and cried out in anguish.
“Let us PASS, Apple ass!”
Applejack eeped, and fell back, readjusting her hat. “Um! All righty then. I, uh… hmph! Good day to you. Hang in there!” Making a face, she turned and began trotting quickly back home.
Zecora’s face was stern, impassive, but somehow, sympathy could be read in her eyes.
“Shhh,” she said. “Elders. Elders.”
Dursaa took a deep breath, and continued onward. Pinkie Pie’s place lay ahead, and then… the journey.
Rock Candy peered into the interior of the old hollow tree, their superhero base.
“Spy? I mean, Streak?” he said, nervously. His tail twitched violently, and an ear flipped.
“Go forward,” ordered Northern Spy. He couldn’t see her. She sounded almost impossibly thrilled.
“But you haven’t turned the light on,” protested Rock.
Spy, unseen, sighed. “Duh! I’m standing by the light. Go in! You know where the floor is.”
“So turn it on, already!”
“Not yet,” insisted Spy.
“Exactly!” said Spy. “It only works at night, so far. Come on, come on. Go inside!”
“Are you sure?” quavered Rock.
He could hear Spy’s exasperation. “Here I am, trying to show you the most awesome thing ever, and my own superhero partner won’t even walk across a stupid floor. I ought to fire you and replace you with Mom. Go inside, already! And then turn around and face my voice. You’re gonna love this.”
Every instinct in Rock’s body said no, he wasn’t. But all the same, he walked with small, awkward, stumbling steps into the dark emptiness of the tree, past Spy, past the lantern they used at night. He made his way to the center of the tree, and he turned.
“This had better be good,” he said.
“Gimme a dun dun dunn,” said Spy.
“Aw, come on!”
“Do it yourself!” replied Rock. His legs were shaking.
In the darkness, Northern Spy sighed. “Fine! Welcome to your new awesome partner, Rock. Dun dun DUNN!”
The light went on, blinding him, and he rubbed his eyes with his hooves, and then he looked, and saw.
Northern Spy beamed at him.
“How cool is THIS?” she said, the light gleaming off her cute little fangs.