“Rarity?” said Sweetie Belle, hesitantly.

The door to the inner sanctum was open, just a little. Sweetie stepped closer, peering in, biting her lip because she knew Rarity didn’t approve of her entering.

Rarity called it personal space. Sweetie did truly want to respect Rarity’s personal space.


“Sweetie!” came that familiar voice. With admirable alacrity, the older unicorn appeared in the doorway, face wreathed in a disasterproof smile. “How may I help you, darling?”

“I know you don’t want me going in there…” said Sweetie.

Rarity’s smile didn’t crack. “I’m cleaning, darling. In relatively few minutes it will no longer matter and you can go where you like. If you would give me those few minutes, I will be with you shortly.”

Sweetie’s lip quivered. “But I kinda needed to talk to you real bad!”

It was Rarity’s turn to hesitate, torn between the purge of her too-adult life and the demands of her personal life. Abruptly, she trotted through the sanctum door, shutting it behind her. “Of course! I will get back to my cleaning when time permits. What is worrying you?”

Sweetie gulped.

“Rarity? I think I’m pregnant. But I don’t know how to tell for sure. Can you help?”

Rarity’s jaw dropped, and she sat back onto her haunches, stunned.

“Because,” said Sweetie, “I think you might know about this stuff.”

She gazed earnestly at Rarity, and realized she had no idea what reaction she’d expected. Disapproval? Comfort? Anger? Instead, Sweetie watched emotions pass across Rarity’s face, too turbulent to interpret. Then, one emotion dominated—fear.

“Oh, Sweetie Belle! What shall we do?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Sweetie. “I was hoping you could tell me!”

Rarity was panting, hyperventilating. “Okay. First things first, Rarity. Handle the situation. Sweetie Belle, before we speak any further, have you told anypony?”

“No!” said Sweetie. “It’s just us! The Crusaders, I mean. Me and Scootaloo had a secret plan that we should get to have a foal too. Apple Bloom helped. I think maybe it worked but…”

“Oh sweet Celestia. Sweetie Belle, promise me you won’t speak of this to anypony!”

Sweetie gulped again. “Did I do something bad?”

“We shan’t get into that! There is more going on than you know about—Sweetie, swear to me you won’t tell anypony! We’ll try to keep a lid on this. Oh dear, oh dear, why me? Why you? Oh, Sweetie Belle!”

“I did, didn’t I? It’s bad. I did do something bad. Really bad,” managed Sweetie Belle. Her mood began to plummet.

“The important thing is not to go from bad to worse. Have you heard of what’s called earth pony’s friend? You shall,” said Rarity, gritting her teeth. “I shudder to think of it but desperate times call for desperate measures. Thank heavens you came to me! I will protect you at all costs, Sweetie, and there are things that must be done!”

“Terrific,” mumbled Sweetie. “What’s a desperate measure? What’s an earth pony’s friend? You’re talking about taking my foal and… and making it not be a foal any more!”

Rarity’s expression was grim. “Darling, beloved Sweetie Belle, you cannot understand. You are too young. If you’ve gotten yourself in this sort of trouble, we are going to have to get you out of it, for I shall not stand by and allow your life to be ruined.”

Sweetie’s lip quivered. She looked like she was about to cry. “It’s so bad that, that it would ruin my life, huh? That’s what a little baby foal is, Rarity? It’s a life ruiner?”

“Poor Sweetie! At your age—yes. We’ll talk! Again, you have no idea what that would mean, none! How have you even learned this fact? Who told you that you might be pregnant? You needn’t tell me how you did it, I fear I’ve told you far too much already…”

Sweetie sat, and looked at Rarity bleakly. “We stole, I mean Scootaloo stole a thing from Town Offices. We thought it would show us our foal, and then we’d know what sort of a foal it was. But it didn’t show anything, because the foal hasn’t been born yet, maybe.”

Rarity blinked. “A thing from Town Offices?”

“It was a jewel,” said Sweetie. “We tried it on Scootaloo, and it showed her as a baby and her Mom and two guys, and one of them was an earth pony.”

Rarity’s eyes widened.

Sweetie went on. “And we tried it on Apple Bloom, and it showed two ponies I never saw except in that picture on her wall in her house…”

Rarity opened her mouth, but she couldn’t speak. Sweetie was still looking her in the eye, with that terribly bleak, betrayed expression.

“And we tried it on me, and it showed me as a baby, and Daddy, but it didn’t show Mom. It showed you. Rarity, why did it show you? It was you, when you were about as old as me—I mean, as old as I am, now. Maybe you were a little older. You were really pretty.”

Rarity’s mouth opened and shut, but no sound came out.

“I don’t understand how you could have showed up in something like that, because you always do everything right and you never do anything wrong, ever…”

Rarity gulped, unable to look away as Sweetie kept quietly talking.

“But maybe I understand how come you have to make my foal go away, because it must be the most bad thing ever, to do this. So I guess that one day you did do something terribly wrong, and you never wanted to do anything wrong again, ever, after being that bad. Now I understand why you have to be so good…”

Sweetie’s voice caught for a moment—and then, unbearably, continued.

“And I guess it means that… I must be the horrible, wrong, bad thing you did…”

Rarity sobbed, out loud. “Noooo!”

“It’s okay,” said Sweetie. “It explains a lot. I should probably go away now that I know why you hate me…”

Rarity shook her head, tearing up. “No, please, Sweetie! Don’t think of it that way! Just… don’t think of any of it, pretend it is a bad dream, okay?” She grovelled, pleading. “Just pretend none of this happened, and we’ll figure out something to do about your little problem and I love you dearly and let us make a world for us to live in where it never happened, where none of this is happening…”

“RARITY!” called an anxious voice from outside. Moments later, Applejack trotted in, breathing hard from a brisk run. She did a double-take upon seeing Sweetie Belle facing Rarity, and pulled up short, staring at both of them.

“Huh!” she said. “Damn if that won’t save some time. Rarity, this lil’ scaper thinks she’s pregnant! Ain’t so! They got up to all sorts of mischief, but they din’t have no colt handy! Ya look peakied. Has she been tellin’ you a big ol’ story about all that?”

Sweetie stared at Applejack in horror. Rarity swallowed hard.

Applejack met Sweetie’s look first. “That’s right, Sweetie Belle. You ain’t pregnant, nohow! What you done, that don’t count as far as plantin’ no seeds. I’m sorry, honey, I see you’re upset. Take it from me, it’s a blessin’ because you don’t want to be dealin’ with what it entail. That… would be bad.” She rolled her eyes, wearily.

Sweetie Belle sagged, and stared at nothing, somewhere on the floor.

Rarity gulped, seeing that. “Ah… Applejack, thank you for your concern, but we already knew that. If you could just leave us to work it out ourselves…”

Applejack blinked. “What? You know it?”

“Just pretend you never saw us, and we will take care of things—please?”

“Wal, now, wait jes’ a minute,” demanded Applejack. “What the hay are you talkin’ about? I realize your lil’ sis is upset right now, but she ain’t the only one involved! Rainbow Dash has gone off to talk to that Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom looked worse’n I ever seen her!”

Applejack’s attention turned to the downcast Sweetie. “And don’t you be cross at her, she was looking out for your best interests, missy! You hear me?”

Rarity’s attention was also on Sweetie, and she didn’t like the look of that dull stare at all. “Applejack, you should not scold my, my… little sister! I explained that we have it under control, there is nothing happening here that I cannot understand and deal with…”

“Is that so! You knew about all this? Happens I’d like to see an apology for poor Apple Bloom for putting her through these here challenges, but if you are behind this nonsense I’m inclined to expect an apology from y…”

They weren’t alone. Another figure had appeared in the doorway of the Carousel Boutique.

Rarity’s father.

He walked heavily forward, looming, and staring at Rarity with the most peculiar expression: part ingratiating, part angry, all desperate.

“Rarity, honey, you know your mother is very upset right now and she seems to think you’re maybe not behaving right…”

Applejack stared in disbelief. Rarity had gone speechless again the moment he appeared. He continued to advance, step by step.

“You know,” he said, “that you can’t be a bad girl, right? We have reputations to uphold and stuff, and you’ve usually been so good about not being, you know…” He gulped, looking panicky, as if afraid to look at her directly.

“The hell is this?” demanded Applejack. Rarity sagged back, unable to look away from his eyes. Sweetie Belle’s dull gaze lifted, and she looked at her father, and at Rarity’s traumatized, cowering posture.

He turned to Applejack. “Uh, there were some rumors going around that my daughter was living some sort of wild lifestyle…”

Applejack snorted. “Like half o’ Ponyville, you mean?”

He was undaunted, getting angrier. “Yeah, well, Mom doesn’t approve of that stuff! We need Rarity to behave, it’s important for a lot of reasons!”

“Oh yeah?” demanded Applejack. “For your information, she’s runnin’ a business with all that kinky stuff like you mention, and it’s puttin’ food on her table and feedin’ her and her cat AND her lil’ sister there! An’ she’s got enough on her plate, your younger daughter has been stirrin’ up trouble the likes of which I won’t mention right now! I think maybe you’re bein’ a mite hard on my dear pony friend. How about you lighten up, mister?”

Rarity’s father glowered, and pointed at Rarity with a foreleg as she cringed against the ground and covered her head with her hooves… and he began to shout. “Well, how about she stop being a bad girl, then? And upsetting her Mom?”

“Daddy,” said Sweetie Belle, beginning to understand where the demands for silence came from.

“And stop doing things that get us all in bad trouble…”

“Daddy!” said Sweetie Belle, getting to her hooves.

“Ah don’t know about your family,” argued Applejack, “but in the Apple family we forgive our children when they done wrong…”

“She’s just a…”

“DADDY!” shrieked Sweetie Belle, in her glass-shattering squeak, and both he and Applejack winced. Rarity showed no sign of responding—she was cowering in a heap on the floor, trembling, clearly unable to cope with any of this, and Sweetie Belle had seen that.

She stepped forward, her eyes still bleak and slightly tearful, but grim and hard as well. She faced her father, standing between him and Rarity. She stamped a forehoof and lowered her horn menacingly, glaring up at him from under lowered brows.

“Daddy,” hissed Sweetie Belle.

“Leave my MOTHER alone!”

In the resounding silence, Sweetie Belle stamped her hoof again, bracing herself, physically protecting Rarity. Her little jaw was set, her stare was grim. At that moment, Sweetie Belle didn’t care if she was the thing that had ruined Rarity’s life—it didn’t matter, all that mattered were the adults who were shaming and hurting Rarity and driving her to despair, and Sweetie was not having it, not for one more moment.

Applejack’s mouth had dropped open in shock. She glanced quickly back and forth.

At Sweetie, so grim, so protective.

At Rarity, making no move to defend herself, offering no argument or contradiction.

At Rarity’s father, who shied away slightly—who looked at Applejack, the outsider, with a look she’d so recently seen on the face of Apple Bloom. There was a childishness, and some sort of petulant anger—and guilt.

Applejack looked at him as if for the first time, and he looked like a big colt who’d been caught breaking something.

“Mommy’s a filth-” she breathed to herself, and stopped before she finished the phrase. “Oh, Rarity. Ohh, Rarity…”

Sweetie Belle’s teeth were gritted together harshly, and she breathed as if she was about to charge at her father, horn-first. She took a moment to glance at Applejack, and said, “You too! Get out!”

Applejack’s eye flashed. Her lip curled. “Like hell!” she snarled, and she leapt.

Sweetie shrieked—only to realize the next instant that she was not being attacked. She was being supported. She still stood, protecting the cowering Rarity, but now, over her, stood a fullgrown earth pony mare in a cowpony hat, the child of the notorious Applesauce, matriarch of Sweet Apple Acres, and there were now two of them glaring at the male intruder—Sweetie’s, and Rarity’s, father.

Applejack’s eyes were just as grim as Sweetie’s, but much more frightening.

“Ah think ya need t’ go away, sport. How about now—how’s that work for ya?”

Rarity’s father backed off a step.

Applejack stamped a hoof. A moment later, Sweetie did likewise.

“Git!” snarled Applejack.

He backed away another step, and another, his eyes wide. He bumped the doorframe—and at the touch, he jerked in surprise, and whirled, and bolted—running out the door, and continuing down the road, his galloping hooves pounding the earth heavily as they receded in the distance.

Applejack’s heart pounded as she listened to him go. She looked down, as Sweetie Belle looked up with her expression full of sudden vulnerability.

“Dang,” said Applejack, helplessly.

They both turned to Rarity, who did not rise.

She looked up at them with none of her usual attitude, neither to pretend glamour and poise nor to wail in noisy despair. She cried softly, and she shrunk back from them.

“I am so sorry for everything,” she quavered.

Applejack glanced at Sweetie. They stepped toward Rarity, and she scrabbled awkwardly back across the floor as if expecting a blow or a torrent of abuse. Seeing this, Applejack frowned, and before Rarity could flee further, the earth pony pounced.

Rarity screamed piercingly, but her friend and protector figure was already hugging her tightly, and would not let go.

“Now your craziness makes a lil’ bit more sense!” said Applejack.

Rarity heaved deep, shuddering breaths, with a tormented look—trying to hold herself apart, and failing. She was no match for the sturdy earth pony, and first she gulped, then her tears doubled, and then all at once she broke and turned to bury her face in Applejack’s mane, weeping piteously while Applejack petted her.

Sweetie looked on, trembling.

“Dear Celestia,” said Applejack, “what you must be thinkin’, child. Is this even true? I’ve heard tell of a thing they got in Town Offices which kin show us if Rarity’s really your mother. Maybe I jumped hasty there…”

“That’s how I know,” said Sweetie. “Scootaloo took that thing. It’s a magic jewel. It must be true.”

Applejack blinked. “That’s right. Apple Bloom came to me ‘cos Scootaloo was stealin’. It all fits together. So much fittin’ together. She ain’t no sister-hooves—she’s mother-hooves! All that advice about foalin’ for us, an’ we thought she was jes’ bein’ clever like always…”

Sweetie watched, and Applejack gave an exasperated sigh. “Don’t keep on standin’ there, child. Come here. Come here!”

“I’m bad,” protested Sweetie. Her tail was tucked between her legs, and she shifted from hoof to hoof, on the verge of making a break for it.

“Like hell you are,” said Applejack. “I saw what you did there. I know you. We love you, Sweetie. Come here.”

“She hates me. I’m a wrong thing. I’m her big mistake.”

“Bite your tongue, child,” said Applejack tartly, much as Granny Smith might have. “You come here and look in her eyes and then you dare tell me that.”

Rarity was already shaking her head, as soon as she heard Sweetie start talking that way, and she gazed imploringly over Applejack’s strong shoulder, her mane disheveled, her eyes running with tears that streaked her mascara, and she cried, “Sweetie, I could never hate you! I have been awful, but I will always love you, always, always! How can you ever forgive me?”

Sweetie stepped closer. “You… don’t want me to go away? And pretend nothing ever happened?”

Rarity’s lip quivered. “I have pretended that your whole life, Sweetie Belle. Look where it’s got us. Our lives are ruined, and all is lost.”

Applejack opened her mouth to object, but Sweetie Belle was shaking her head, opening her mouth, and something told the country mare to wait. That bullheaded, determined little filly was about to speak, and it wouldn’t be the first time she’d cut through all the confusion with a few unexpectedly shrewd words. That look was in her eye again, and Applejack hesitated.

In fact, it took just one.

“Mommy?” said Sweetie Belle.

Rarity jerked in Applejack’s embrace. “Oh, Sweetie, no. I don’t deserve…”

“Mommy,” repeated Sweetie, stepping forward.

Rarity struggled, but Applejack held fast, and whispered, “Listen, you. It’s important.” She could sense where this was going as well as Rarity could.

Sweetie came right up, shaking, but with the tenacity that exemplified her.

“I love you, Mommy,” she said, and snuggled up.

Rarity stood it for about half a second, and then burst into loud, wailing hysterics—but she wasn’t trying to push Sweetie away. She reached out and clung to her filly, straining Sweetie to her chest, dripping tears onto her face.

Sweetie was crying and smiling, though it was a wobbly smile. “Mommy…”

“Oh, baby, I don’t deserve this, I don’t deserve any of this…”

Sweetie looked her hard in the eye. “I love you, Mommy,” she repeated, and at that, Rarity stared right back with desperate intensity, and replied, “And I love you SO MUCH.”

Sweetie shut her eyes, and nestled against Rarity, and Applejack breathed again.

“My sakes,” she said. “When I think back on all them clues…”

“I don’t make clues,” objected Rarity, weakly. Applejack shot her a sharp look.

“Is that so… ‘mommy’?”

Rarity’s ears went back. “Ah. Yes. That.”

“Not ta mention all that foalin’ stuff you mysteriously knew about,” added Applejack.

“Can you ever forgive me? Er, I mean… It is quite all right if you cannot,” said Rarity. “I have been simply beastly and lived an elaborate lie. Or, rather, a very simple but very significant one.” She pulled Sweetie a bit closer. “It was for a reason.”

“I can’t see why you din’t come to us sooner. Aw, Rarity!” said Applejack. “If that feller was hurting you, such things need ta be stopped! Why din’cha run away? Somepony woulda hid you! And why’d you let Sweetie grow up with them evil folks?”

Rarity’s expression was serious, and a little haunted. “It’s more complicated than that, Applejack. I won’t say there wasn’t some justice in the way things unfolded. You must realize, I was not the fashionista I am now. I had gained my cutie mark, and believed I would take the world by storm with garments heavily bedazzled with jewels. Canterlot fashion was most unimpressed, at first. I had so much to learn. The real world is not a child’s school play…”

“You’re sayin’ you were poor, Rarity? You left your baby with your folks because you couldn’t afford to get free of ‘em an’ live? Folks would’a helped, especially if they knew what was happenin’.”

“It’s not that I was poor,” said Rarity. “I was making my way in life. It didn’t start well. There wasn’t time. I was a fool. I was… betrayed…”

“I’ll say,” snorted Applejack. “I think I understand what they did to you.”

Rarity shook her head, the haunted look returning. “No, I don’t think you do. There is a reason my fetishes and personal ways center around shame. It’s associated with that time. There are worse things than shame, Applejack. I own my shame—I play tricks with it, make money from it, allow it to inform all that I do. It is a part of me, but there was a time when I shone like a jewel myself, and hadn’t a trace of shame.” She winced. “And yet, in some ways I was dreadfully ugly. Shall we say, I grew up?”

Applejack scratched her head with a hoof. “You’re mighty confusin’, Rarity.”

“Yes. I am,” said Rarity, serenely.

“So… is Mommy a filthy pony,” asked Applejack, “or not?”

Rarity winced. “Back to the shame. Applejack, what I might say during intimate moments is personal…”

Applejack blushed. “Sorry! All’s I mean is, we don’t see you like that, never did! We love you, and we love your baby that we thunk was your lil’ sister, and we hate your folks for hurtin’ you in such a way…”

At that, Sweetie twisted to stare at Applejack. “But my Mom and Dad wouldn’t hurt anybody!” She blinked, realizing what she’d said. “I mean… stop that! Even if Rarity is my real Mom, they didn’t hurt me! They’re kind of grumpy, at least my M… darn it! Why does this have to be so confusing?”

“Of course they didn’t, Sweetie Belle,” consoled Rarity.

“Uhhhh… if you say so,” said Applejack. Rarity gave her a look.

“I do say so. I understood very quickly why Mother had brought Sweetie Belle here—blind trust was destroyed years ago, never to return—but they would not have harmed her. They shall not vanish from your life, Sweetie, I’ll see to that, just as they saw to it that you did not vanish from mine. Maybe it will even be slightly easier, now. Mother has always had her reasons, I cannot fault her. Daddy is… impressionable.”

“…sicko,” muttered Applejack, but Rarity silenced her with a glare.

“We all have our burdens to bear, Applejack, be grateful if yours are more easily understood.”

Sweetie stirred, looking up at Rarity unhappily. “Is this a bunch of grown-up stuff, Rarity… I mean, Mommy?”

“It’s okay, Sweetie, you may call me whatever you wish… and yes, indubitably. Very grown-up stuff.”

“Does all grown-up stuff hurt this much?”

Applejack winced, tears coming to her eyes, and Rarity gazed steadily into Sweetie’s, saying, “Maybe sometimes. We must soldier on through, Sweetie Belle. You were hoping to take on terribly grown-up stuff yourself, you know.”

“Will anything ever be okay again… ever?”

Rarity hugged Sweetie. “Of course it will! Be brave, darling. It is all part of growing up. I have had to grow up too, it’s not so bad!”

Sweetie’s lip quivered. “I… I… I don’t wanna EVER grow up, now!”

She buried her face in Rarity’s mane, crying, and Rarity cuddled her, rocking her back and forth, crooning soft words. “It’s okay, baby, you’re going to be okay. Things don’t have to change so much… We’ll keep you safe. Won’t we, Applejack?”

Applejack gulped. “Hell yeah. Never you mind, Sweetie. Everythin’s gonna be okay.”

There was a sound at the door, and Applejack glanced over in a panic, fearing it was Rarity’s father again—but it was nothing of the sort. It was a magenta pegasus mare, poking her head in, and then a more familiar face underneath—Scootaloo, looking cross as usual, with a shocking black eye and the signs of fillyish tears upon her cheeks.

Scootaloo’s eyes widened and the cross look dropped away as she saw Sweetie weep. She took off, galloping towards them, and Sweetie lifted her head to see who was coming. Suddenly she was scrabbling, jumping to her hooves, pushing Rarity aside.

The adult ponies watched as the two fillies came together in a frantic, clinging embrace…

…broken only by Scootaloo pulling her head back to deliver a kiss to the weeping unicorn.

“Are you okay? I kinda need you to be okay,” said Scootaloo. “I had a feeling something was gonna be wrong.”

Sweetie wiped her eye with a hoof, blinking at Scootaloo. “Your eye! What happened to your eye?”

Scootaloo glowered and shrugged. “It’s nothing. Pretty much my fault. Don’t cry, please…”

Applejack was shaking her head in disbelief. “Don’t ever wanna grow up, huh?” she said, but Rarity shushed her, and Sweetie ignored her completely.

“Oh, Scootaloo!” she said. “We’re… not going to have a foal together.”

Scootaloo blinked. “What?”

“There is no foal. I’m not pregnant. Applejack said so.”

Scootaloo stared into space grimly, as three adult ponies looked on.

“Next time we’ll get it right!” she said, and three adult jaws dropped.

“Now hol’ on jes’ one minute!” stammered Applejack.

“You’re gonna do what?” demanded Flight Lightning, at the same time.

Rarity protested, “It really is not wise…”

Scootaloo glared at them, and began to argue. “What gives you the right to…” she began, but she in turn was cut off—not by a word, but by Sweetie Belle, who had gently put a dainty hoof to her lips, and looked Scootaloo earnestly in the eyes.

“No, Scootaloo,” she said. “I changed my mind. I don’t need that from you. Not right now.”

“But the PLAN…”

“It’s okay. We don’t need to go through with it. It will be okay,” soothed Sweetie Belle.

“If these ponies put you up to it…”

“They didn’t. I promise. I want… I want some things to not change, right now.”

Scootaloo pulled back to stare suspiciously at Sweetie. “Are you sure?”


“But… okay, fine, then what do you want from me? All I want is for you to be okay. It’s kind of important! What can I do to help you?”

Sweetie trembled. She licked her lips, her eyes not leaving Scootaloo’s.

“Kiss me again…”

As Scootaloo leaned in to deliver a scorching kiss to her companion in Crusader pubescence, in glorious disregard of the viewing adults, and as Sweetie melted into her embrace, Flight Lightning rolled her eyes and said, “Right. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.”

Applejack gasped and Rarity looked panicked, but before they could say a thing, Scootaloo had turned her head and was glaring at her mother.

“WHAT? Do you have a problem with it or something?”

Flight gazed back levelly, and rustled her wings a bit.

“Nah. What the hell. You’re still my kid. Maybe it’ll keep you out of other kinds of trouble.”

Applejack had got up, and walked over to the magenta pegasus. “Well, I’ll be. So you are Scootaloo’s Mom? I don’t believe I ever have seen you, in all my days!”

Flight gave a little half-smile, as Sweetie and Scootaloo walked over to a quiet corner of the Carousel Boutique, talking in low voices.

“Yeah—dunno about the unicorn kid, but me and Scoot are having some changes. She insisted on coming here. Said her friend might need help. I thought it was a good enough time to, uh, to say hello and all.”

“And you are?” said Rarity.

“Flight Lightning. I know you’re Rarity, and you, you’d be Applejack. I actually work with your marefriend…”

Applejack’s jaw dropped. “Flight L… YOU!” she gasped, remembering a conversation so many months ago. This was the pony who had kicked her foal while still in the womb…

“Applejack?” said Rarity. “Applejack!”

Applejack wasn’t listening. She’d run at Flight Lightning, reared to strike, and then whirled, obviously wanting to bring her devastating hind legs into play. Had she lashed out with a forehoof she’d have started the fight she intended, but her urge to deal more serious damage had slowed her just enough for two things to happen, accompanied by shrill filly screams as Scootaloo and Sweetie saw the violence break out.

One was Rarity reaching out with a magical grip and seizing her hoof while it was poised to kick, upsetting her balance. The other was Flight Lightning jumping back with a mad flapping of her powerful wings, yelling “Whoa, hey, STOP!”

Applejack struggled, balancing on three legs, trying to get her hoof free of Rarity’s desperate grip. “Why?” she barked.

“Rainbow Dash tried to save my kid’s life,” said Flight Lightning, and Applejack stopped struggling and listened.

“What did you say?”

“We’re cool—me and Dash, we’re cool. She totally tried to save my kid. Scoot was chasing her and flew way the hell up in the air, and got a cramp. Dropped like a rock. Dash turns around and powerdives, trying to reach her. Nearly made it, too. I owe Dash a hell of a lot. Us fighting, that’s history, I swear it is. She could have cratered if she didn’t pull out at the last moment… cratered, trying to save my kid. Fine, she’s my hero, okay?”

Applejack tried to process this, her face woebegone.

“Do ya think we could have five minutes without this sorta thing happening?” she said, weakly.

“It would be nice!” said Scootaloo. She and Sweetie Belle looked shaken. “Grownups suck!” she added.

The three adult ponies stared at each other, shame-faced.

“Naw,” said Applejack. “Naw, Scootaloo, that ain’t fair.” She gulped, steadying herself, taking a deep breath. “I’ll tell you what grownups do… Grownups rise above their problems, even when they’re big bad problems. Grownups find a way through, they don’t just go with their first impulse. Grownups forgive—an’ grownups, they work to build a safe place for all y’all ponies, even cantankerous ones. Like, well, uh… like me, I reckon.”

Flight Lightning sighed. “Yeah. Me too. Guilty.”

“I’d guessed that,” said Applejack wryly.

“Scoot’s turning out the same way, I can tell you.”

“Hey. C’mere, y’ purple varmint…”

Flight Lightning approached warily, but Applejack was in a mood to underscore her peaceful words. She hugged the haggard pegasus mare, careful to stay clear of the wings, and she smiled. “Are you gonna be friends with me and Rainbow, now?”

“Do I have to listen to her boasting?”

“Yes,” replied Applejack and Scootaloo, together. As they glanced at each other in startlement, Rarity added, “We certainly do, so you are obliged to lend moral support!”

“I’m sorry if it bugs ya,” said Applejack. “She can’t help it. Girl’s got a desperate need to be awesome. Half th’ time it’s even true, you know.”

Flight nodded, slowly. “It seems different once it’s more personal. I mean, all those times listening to her go on and on, but then when I saw her trying to reach Scoot in that powerdive… maybe there is some truth to all that bragging.”

“I’m gonna have to talk to her about that one,” said Applejack darkly. “She ain’t in no condition for such carryin’ on and that’s a fact. You say she din’t manage it? She pulled out, she din’t hurt herself?”

“That’s when I knew she had a heart,” said Flight Lightning. “She couldn’t help it. She had to save her foal. She was screaming, Scootaloo, no… The sound of her voice…” Flight shuddered.

“If she couldn’t save Scootaloo from fallin’, then who did?”

Flight Lightning looked down demurely, and rustled her powerful wings.

“More than one pony out saving their foal… Place was filthy with ‘em.”

Applejack slowly smiled. “Heh. Good.”

“Would you like tea?” suggested Rarity. “I have often found that ruffled spirits can be soothed by the serving of tea. Or spa treatments, of course.”

“Oh, Rarity!” said Sweetie Belle. “That’s your answer to everything!”

“Then you’ll admit,” said Rarity, “that some things never change?”

Sweetie Belle began smiling wider and wider, and then she’d run over and hugged Rarity’s hind leg, squeaking “I love you, Mommy!”

“Wait, what?” said Scootaloo.

“It’s been a mighty complicated day,” explained Applejack. Her expression darkened again. “Rarity, are you sure you’re safe? What with, you know, the fella that was here earlier? Do we need to do somethin’ about that?”

Rarity shook her head. “We do not.”

“But… well, it jes’ don’t seem right. How can you say that? What do you know that I don’t?”

Rarity’s gaze was steady and calm. “Perhaps I’ll tell you one day. I think I would like that—perhaps it would bring me a measure of peace. You must believe me, however. Daddy has gone home. He will not be a danger to Sweetie, or to anypony. Mother… has him.”

Applejack’s eyes widened. “Dear Celestia. You’re sayin’ you got the kinky bondage thing from your Mom?”

Rarity snorted. “Certainly not! She would be shocked at the suggestion! I am only saying that there are things you do not understand about Daddy. You don’t know him. There is no danger.”

Applejack’s eyes were wide.

“How can you be sure?”

She felt the shaking of the ground, heard the galloping hoofbeats, before she saw him.

Her mouth tightened, and her eyes narrowed, and she waited.

Before long, he burst in, his weight shaking the house, his eyes wide and dismayed, and she sighed—picking her words carefully, waiting for him to stop panting and settle down.

“Chased you away, did they?”

He nodded, extending his lower lip in a pout.

“I don’t want to see the tears right now. I told you to stay away. You knew this would happen…”

“Why can’t they be nicer to me?”

She gave him a slow, sad look. “Why should they?”

The hurt look was still fresh—it hadn’t changed a bit after all those years. She winced, trying to resist her sympathy, and she remembered as if no time had passed…

The years of bliss with ‘her big boy’, his devil-may-care attitude, the coltish charm that never faded. That stunted little horn, the endearingly silly hat he concealed it with, that big, big… not-horn.

The marriage, the foaling, the curious remark.

“Who would have thought a big kid like me could do that?” he’d said, marvelling at the new baby. “That’s got to be a rarity, for sure!”

And so she was.

And then… the gaining of weight, the filling out into the grown mare, the… loss of interest. He’d seemed ashamed, like he wasn’t supposed to be responding to her in that way. He’d put on weight and size as well, but there was something in the eyes that didn’t change, that hadn’t changed for all the time she’d known him.

Little details. His balking, that foolish refusal to take out the trash. His greed for food, the voraciousness, the inability to keep special treats around. He’d wolf them and then not admit it.

Still, he was always so good with little Rarity. He’d had endless time for her, playing silly games, to the point that she would tease them. “It’s like I’m raising two foals together!” And they’d laugh, sharing the joke.

And then, the dark times, when his cheerful open countenance was overcast and fretful. Rarity continued to be perfect, bringing home good grades and growing in confidence by the day, and meanwhile he skulked and smiled too widely, and something was up, and she didn’t dare even think of it. Some things were too dreadful to bear thinking about.

And then there was the day the dream died.

He was worse than ever, his knees positively shaking, that ingratiating smile a complete mockery, and she was almost at snapping point, ready to demand an explanation… when Rarity strolled in, with stagey nonchalance.

The world ended as her eyes took in the little char on the tip of Rarity’s horn. She knew in the pit of her churning guts that it wasn’t a school-colt who had put it there. She saw his terror, his grin freezing as Rarity made her move.

“Could we pick up a larger bed for my room, Mother? I feel I deserve one. Or shall I say—we deserve one?”

The brazenness. The screaming argument. Him sitting, frozen, not daring to leave or say a word as mare and filly fought with words of increasing savagery. The parting shot…

“What is your problem, Mother? Oh, don’t tell me, I already know—you’re jealous, because I am more beautiful than you! Well—it won’t work, you’ll just have to share!”

Filly Rarity had been so very wrong. There would be no more sharing of the handsome, hulking, boyish stallion.

That stallion sat looking at her, years later, with eyes still as innocent and youthful as the day they’d met, but terribly sad and disheartened. He gulped. He spoke.

“It’s hard not being with kids your own age…” He sniffled. “Forever…”

She sighed, and extended a foreleg in his direction, and he stumbled over and began to sob against her chest. She petted him, staring grimly into space. This was a Daddy that Rarity did not get to keep—for what that was worth.

She’d outgrown him, somehow. He was a good boy, inside. The trouble was, that worked literally. She had heard there was a pony at the hospital who was a dog, inside, and barked and chased things. There were times that she bitterly thought that dog would be a strangely suitable pet for him…

“Are you going to listen, the next time I tell you what is likely to happen?”

He sniffled again. “Yes—Mommy.”

“Can’t you leave her alone? I know you’ve promised me you’ll be good. On top of that, I know she doesn’t pursue you now, hasn’t for years. Nor should she! Why can’t you give it a rest?”

His tears were for himself, and himself alone. “I won’t do anything! I just wish I could look. Can’t I just look?”

She dropped her gaze, frustrated—and a strange impulse took her. “Listen. Honey. We’ve been together a long time…”

“Uh-huh,” he said, forlornly.

“And we’ve worked out our little arrangements, so you can play the little colt…”

He pouted. He didn’t like it when she said it, like that. Made it seem like pretending.

She bit her lip, and risked it. “Oh, honey… can’t I ever be the little filly? For you?”

Her eyes implored, quivering with vulnerability, as they met his… and his eyes were tragic as they met hers, then roamed up and down her mare-ly body, and returned, apologetic and sad.

“I really really really love you, Momm… uh, I mean, honey… but you just… don’t look right…”

Tears hid him, mercifully, from view. “Shit,” she cursed, helplessly.

“I wanna go fishing… fish don’t care how big a pony you are…”

She wiped her eyes brusquely with a hoof. To hell with it. The accomodation they’d worked out would continue. It always did. She had that little stubby horn of his, and the great big not-horn, and she had his heart—for what it was worth. It wasn’t a big heart, and it sure wasn’t an old and wise heart, but there was something forever charming about the unearthly innocence of it.

“Go,” she said, and leaned to kiss him. “Go fishing, honey. I’ll make dinner. If you’re good… Mommy will make cookies with you later…”

He shot her an inquisitive look.

She bestowed a sensuous, eyes-half-lidded look upon him, in return.

His tail flicked, and he sat a little straighter.

“I like cookies…”

“Go. Do your fishing. Everything is going to be okay.”

With obvious relief, he lumbered to his hooves and trotted off. He never seemed to tire of fishing, or his favorite dinners—so solid, so predictable. She watched his massive, well-muscled flanks recede: such a glorious chunk of stallion, and yet so strangely broken.

Her fate had been sealed the day she worked out she could pervert him. Rather than seeking girls ‘of his age’, he could be seduced by a special game, in which he was still himself as he understood it, but she was someone’s Mommy. He’d once told her that she was the queen of naughty. She didn’t tell him what he was the king of, but privately marvelled that young Rarity had ever been able to take him. It was no wonder she’d lost her filly mind and tried to steal him. Pity they’d had no sons to pass that thing on.

Instead, the madness was all hers, and the true fillies were safe—with a little caution and care, where appropriate.

And he did love her, in his way.

It would do.