New Morning

Pinkie sighed. “I don’t know, baby. Keep in mind it’s me saying this, and you remember what I went through with Cranky, right? I just feel maybe it might be a good idea to take it easy, try not to expect…”

“No!” sobbed Fluttershy. “I can’t bear it! I need to know there are no hard feelings between me and her.”

Pinkie gave her a skeptical look. “You kicked the crap out of her, squishybuns.”

Fluttershy sulked. “I didn’t mean to!”

The skeptical look intensified. “You did. You were really proud of yourself. It creeped me out, Fluttershy, it was totally unlike you.”

That got a major pegasus pout. “Not really. Not when things are very wrong in the world. I got upset at the Grand Galloping Gala when the animals simply would not be nice to me, and I was being totally nice to them, and they wouldn’t listen!”

“Oh, right,” said Pinkie Pie, “that.”

“And I was very cross with you and Rarity that one day, and I was ever so sorry afterwards and you completely forgave me and understood, didn’t you?”

Pinkie’s ears laid back. “Uh-huh…” she said, remembering.

“And that time when Twilight Sparkle had the nerve to practice levitating using my poor innocent animals, and I shook my hoof in her face and threatened her about what I would do to her if anything happened to them! And she completely forgave me and understood it was just because I was so frightened for them. Didn’t she?”

Pinkie gulped. “Sure, Fluttershy…” she said, and twitched. “Gee. Maybe we need to have a talk about you and your temper. And, um, about what’s reasonable to expect from ponies? And griffins.”

Fluttershy’s lip quivered. Her eyes filled with tears, and she wailed, “You don’t believe in me! You think I’m a bad pony!”

Pinkie didn’t lose a second. She seized her mate in a hug, and stroked her mane as she sobbed, and murmured reassurances, but her eyes were dry and slightly narrowed.

This again…

The trembling pegasus quieted under Pinkie’s comforting touch, as always responding to determined love and affection. Pinkie could feel it. Not that it was a hardship to fondle Fluttershy—there was always something magical about cuddling and stroking Fluttershy—it was a fantasy Pinkie’d had for years and years, never believing it was possible. Now she had her dream mare, the most intensely feminine pony Pinkie had ever known, and she had no regrets on that score. Every day was a blessing and a joy, just to spend with her soul mate and such an apex of pony girlyness.

However, it did pose challenges Pinkie hadn’t planned for.

“Feeling better, flitterfeathers?” she sighed.

Fluttershy nodded a delicate little nod.

“Because you can come back to me and have somepony who loves you no matter what?” suggested Pinkie.

Fluttershy shook her head. Pinkie blinked, and said “Huh?”

“Because,” said Fluttershy, “I just know Gilda will forgive me. She has to, because she was hurting bunnies, so she must understand she kind of deserved it anyway!”

Pinkie Pie stared at her. “Are you loco in the coco?!” she squeaked. Rock was directing a skeptical look Fluttershy’s way, as well.

“But I can’t rest until everything is nice and full of love!”

Pinkie shook her. “Stop it! Gilda isn’t your job, Fluttershy, you’ll just make it worse!”

“But…”

“You just want her to love YOU!”

That got through. Fluttershy stared at Pinkie, those huge lush eyes wide and shocked. Before she could pivot to more lamenting, Pinkie laid into her. “Fluttershy, the trouble with you is, you’re so scared that you won’t get anything—that you want everything! I really, really need you to get a grip, okay? For me! Let’s start with the basics, like when I’m starting a recipe for a cake I put in a cup of sugar…”

“A cup of flour,” corrected Fluttershy, sulkily.

“I said when I’M starting a recipe, and don’t interrupt me! We’ll start with the basics. We love you just the way you are, Fluttershy. Me and Rock, we’re your cheering section. That’s the start, and that’s not gonna change. Are you with me so far?”

“I’m with you forever,” mumbled Fluttershy, looking cranky. “Except I think you’re going to be mean to me now. But I probably deserve it.”

Pinkie sighed, and pressed on. “Hold that thought, buttertunnel. Second point. I, Pinkie Pie, am not Gilda the Griffin. Right? I mean, that should be really obvious, what with me not being a big meanie-pants.”

“Neither of you wear any pants,” said Fluttershy. “So there!”

“I wore a skirt at the Grand Galloping Gala! Stay with me, Fluttershy, it’s important. So first, I love you forever, and second I’m not Gilda. Right. So, third—Gilda doesn’t love you one bit.”

Fluttershy pouted, and Pinkie shook her again. “Understand? The first time she saw you, she screamed in your face and made you run away crying! Then, you got in a fight and you beat the heck out of her and pretty much made HER run away crying, except you knocked her out cold…”

“She was trying to hurt Stout Heart!” protested Fluttershy.

“Remember what she said yesterday, when you were finally able to talk to her? When we were all hanging out, after you two made up? She said she was only trying to knock him off the cloud and run away. I think maybe ‘away’ is a good direction for Gilda Griffin, but the point is, you hurt her bigtime, Fluttershy.”

“So?” challenged Fluttershy.

“So, there is no reason she should think you’re a nice pony. Ever.”

Fluttershy sagged. Her lip quivered. Rock was watching attentively.

“Maybe it’s easier for me to see the problem here,” said Pinkie, “because I get the same thing. Don’t you remember Cranky? I was lucky I was able to find his long-lost love. Gosh, Fluttershy, what if she wasn’t living in Ponyville? That is so lucky it’s, like, too lucky. I can’t even take credit for that. I should have been able to calm down and let Cranky do his thing without bugging him so much. It was only special Pinkie magic that saved me, and a hit song and the fact that it was totally my episode.”

Fluttershy gave her a boggled look. “What?”

Pinkie shook her head dismissively. “Fluttershy, my point is that you and Gilda are just not going to get along. I think she mentioned something about a long flowing mane bothering her. Would you cut off your mane and tail to make her feel better? Or, you know, cut them short?”

“What? No! Why does she want that? It’s not fair for Gilda to ask that, I spend hours washing my mane and letting the spa ponies condition it…”

“Whoa!” said Pinkie. “Stop! Listen to me. She didn’t ask anything of the sort! I’m telling you, that bothers her and I know because she said so last night. She didn’t say why, maybe something with a long flowing mane hurt her when she was little? Your mane upsets her, and she is not asking you to change it. It’s just gonna have to upset her, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy bridled. “That’s not nice. I should find some way…”

“And her eating bunnies upsets you,” said Pinkie.

Fluttershy stopped mid-sentence. “Yes.”

“Even when it’s way out in griffin country.”

“Yes. It’s just wrong.”

“That’s not gonna change either, Fluttershy. Even if Gilda didn’t do that—and remember, she’ll get sick eating birdseed—other griffins will.”

Fluttershy was silent, sad.

Pinkie went on, implacably. “You don’t have to like each other. But I want Gilda to let you go on being Fluttershy, with the long flowing mane and tail and maybe even that mama-bear thing where you clobbered her for getting physical with an innocent pony… and I want you to let Gilda go on being a griffin, somewhere that isn’t Ponyville.”

No response.

“I don’t want her to love you, or even like you,” said Pinkie. “I got that covered and I don’t need her for that. I want her to respect you…”

Fluttershy glanced up and met Pinkie’s eyes, and Pinkie finished the thought.

“And I don’t want you to like her. I don’t like her either. What I want is for you to respect her right back. Then you won’t fight.”

Pinkie waited. For once, her opinionated pegasus beloved wasn’t arguing. She was thinking. She bit her lip, and Pinkie repressed a treacherous squee: it was so hard to keep from going bouncy with devotion and love for her delicious sweet darling, but Flutterbutter concealed some razor-sharp edges and that had become dangerous. She had to get through, somehow, or resign herself to loving an endearing monster.

Fluttershy gulped. “She attacks ponies, hurts bunnies. Kills them. How can I let things like that happen in my world, Pinkie Pie?”

“Your world starts with us, Fluttershy,” said Pinkie, pulling Rock into a three-pony hug. “Your world is us, and Ponyville, and our pony friends. Griffin country isn’t your world anymore, okay?”

Fluttershy was thinking again, looking extremely frustrated and more than a little frightened.

“You can protect YOUR world,” added Pinkie. “You’re good at that. Gilda said you were an honorary griffin! She’s always gonna be scared of you, I think. Maybe she’ll tell the other griffins to watch out and never hunt near Ponyville or the terrible Fluttershy will get them and eat them all up!”

Fluttershy made a face, but the thought seemed to cheer her.

“So,” said Pinkie, “let griffin country be NOT your world. Okay? Can they have a place too? Is it okay if there’s a place in Equestria that’s not nice for you, if you still have a home you can count on?”

She watched Fluttershy’s expression, holding her breath.

“…okay,” grumbled Fluttershy. “It’s against my better judgement, Pinkie Pie. And not really fair to ask. But okay.”

Pinkie heaved a huge sigh of relief, and hugged her. A bizarre series of blinks and twitches rushed across Pinkie’s eyelids and ears.

“Oh!” squeaked Fluttershy. “Is that your Sense? What happened?”

Pinkie shook herself. “Gosh! It’s almost as though somewhere millions of griffins cried out in gratitude, because they weren’t going to get beat up or maybe killed by a vengeful pony who needed the whole world to be her personal safe place!”

Fluttershy’s jaw dropped. “Pinkieee!” she wailed. “That’s mean! I already said I wasn’t going to hurt them or anything!”

“Sorry!” said Pinkie, and hugged tighter. “Sorry! I’m so sorry. It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay, Fluttershy…”

Pinkie’s ear twitched again, with that very complicated but unmistakable feeling, and she snuggled her beautiful pegasus darling in relief, knowing the Sense didn’t lie—that Fluttershy had taken that first step away from the danger zone.

What she’d said had indeed been mean.

But it was also true.


Trixie Lulamoon woke to find herself alone in bed.

Her eyes flew wide, and she looked around in a panic, but Twilight was nowhere to be seen. There wasn’t even a note—but had there been, what would it even say? “Bye, I’m letting things take me away from you again”?

Trixie squeezed her eyes shut in defiance of the world around her and the thoughts that plagued her, and clung to what control she had.

It’d been building up for a long time, long before this alicorn business with the wings and all the new power.

Long ago, Twilight had wanted that earth pony Applejack, and lost her to the pegasus Rainbow Dash. Trixie had claimed Twilight at the deepest pit of her despair, after preventing her from committing murder—and as little as Trixie cared for most ponies, what Twilight had intended was murder, pony-cide in full awareness and intent. That lovely drive and determination had been focused on a dark, dark end, and it’d taken everything Trixie had, to break that obsession and stop her beloved from the act.

Trixie had managed to redirect Twilight’s attention to her own ‘end’, and Twilight had found it good. Yet all the same, it fed Trixie’s grovelling slave-mindedness to know that she had been second best, if that.

Then, Trixie had been kidnapped by Princess Luna, and Trixie had finally seen real evidence of what she meant to her lover. Twilight had been terrifying as she faced down her rival. Apparently she’d been a wreck in Trixie’s absence: it seemed odd, as Twilight found it so easy to treat Trixie like furniture. But then, Twilight had a knack for treating all ponies like furniture…

Trixie shook her head, trying to shake the thought out. No! That wasn’t fair. She just had some peculiar kind of detachment. That quirky brain, so bright, so needy for affection, and yet Twilight had no more comprehension of others’ feelings than a pet cat. There was a part of her that just soaked up the love and trotted on her way, pursuing those projects and checklists. In some ways that made it more magical when Twilight did love Trixie back, but the more Trixie thrived, the less maintenance Twilight gave.

Trixie’s eyes teared up, and she glowered at the ceiling.

And then there was Girl.

Rarity had invited herself into the relationship not one day after Trixie had been reunited with her beloved. It had seemed like such a glorious thing, too. Suddenly, there was another unicorn, so wise and mature, subbing to both of them, providing lesson after lesson in the proper way to dominate or submit. So ingenious, so adventurous, so delicious, dripping with elegance yet packing a terrifyingly thick and potent horsecock in the magically induced sack: Rarity had been a real find, kicking off a spectacular phase of Trixie’s life.

And yet, something had been lost at the same time, and the loss was a canker that hurt more and more.

It wasn’t fair to blame Twilight. That endearing innocence made her accept the situation, and try to do her best by it, and so she devoted herself to Trixie and also to Rarity and tried to fulfill their needs. Trixie just needed her Twilight to be there, her north star, healthy and happy and in charge. Rarity seemed to need an ever-increasing diet of shame and degradation, penance for some ill-defined crime that drove her on ruthlessly, doubtless having to do with her foal Sweetie Belle who turned out to be not sister but daughter.

Trixie winced. That was around the time that Twilight really began to stress out.

Something about the obligations of meeting Rarity’s need for abuse while also keeping things appropriate for Sweetie had hurt Twilight badly. Rarity had flung herself back into the games with renewed vigor but a strange hunger, as if they weren’t reaching her the way they used to. The old rules weren’t working, and Rarity gave no indication of any way to fix them, and Trixie could see Twilight getting more and more uncertain by the day. She had a contract, with everything spelled out in writing, and it no longer seemed to correspond with reality.

Trixie frowned miserably, going over the thoughts in silence one more time, getting no more answer than before.

Escalating with Rarity wasn’t helping. Girl had been very cross when Trixie had struck her in the street. Of course, that was a public space, Trixie reminded herself. And Trixie had overstepped her bounds even had it been private: her anger over that griffin prisoner turning up (even while Twilight struggled with bit research) had pushed her too far. Girl hadn’t meant to be disrespectful and flippant. She’d been walking on air with that pegasus, the stupid one, and hadn’t intended offense.

Trixie rubbed her temple, just below her horn, with a hoof. Trixie’s brain hurt. It was all too difficult and complicated, even before Twilight had cast that last fatal spell and been transformed. And now Twilight wasn’t in bed, resting, but somewhere else.

Trixie gasped. What if Twilight had suffered some further magical transformation? None of them could count on anything anymore, that was the problem. Everything shifted and changed, and Twilight took that very poorly, and Trixie couldn’t bear to see it. What if something else had happened?

With a little squeal of dismay, Trixie jumped to her hooves and out of bed, clattering across the floor to run down the stairs, crying “Mistress!”

“Hsss!” came a furious reply.

Trixie froze. Twilight was glaring at her from the study nook, behind the lectern. She looked awful, like she hadn’t slept for a minute before rolling out of bed, leaving Trixie, and returning to her research on the provenance of the magic bits.

“I’m WORKING!”

Trixie’s lip quivered. She gazed defenselessly at Twilight, her ears back, and then slowly turned and slunk away, as quietly as possible. Twilight returned to her concentration. From the glow around her horn, she was really going for it.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight called. “I can’t rest yet. All our friends have these bits! I have to find out what powers them. I have to find out if they’re really dangerous before anypony else gets hurt, it was me who created them!”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Trixie wiped away tears with the back of her hoof, and realized she was looking at the couch. There would be no curling up on that couch, however. Girl was on it, her broken leg resting comfortably, half-healed by Twilight (not that she’d been grateful for that, waving the thing around so!) and snuggled by that pegasus—Derpy, was it? The one that had come into their house demanding sex with Twilight.

And there she was, that same pegasus. The new addition, apparently. Girl’s new pet. One more level of complicated to trouble their lives.

Trixie Lulamoon’s eyes darkened. She gritted her teeth. Her horn lit. It’d be easier to draw power from Twilight, but Mistress couldn’t spare it. Trixie’s eyes glowed white, very weakly, as she concentrated for all she was worth, exerting her not inconsiderable power to the fullest…

Outside the library, in a soft and clean stretch of grass, Rarity and Derpy Hooves appeared, in exactly the same poses and positions they’d held. She’d placed them so carefully that even Rarity’s injured leg didn’t feel a single twinge. A breeze stirred Derpy’s ash-blonde mane. Rarity’s ear flicked. Neither pony woke from their slumber.

Inside the library, the couch was empty, and Trixie hopped up and curled up in the warm spot previously occupied by Rarity. She blinked away another tear, glancing at Twilight with a sulky look, but Twilight was still working.

Trixie settled down to wait.


Derpy blinked sleepily. She crossed her eyes, but not in the usual way—rather in an attempt to focus. There was a butterfly sitting on her nose. It was a lovely blue, like Rarity’s eyes.

Derpy tried for a moment to figure out what a butterfly was doing in Twilight’s house, before she realized she wasn’t there anymore. She was lying in the grass, cuddling Rarity. Derpy whickered gently, fluffing her wings, nuzzling the nape of Rarity’s neck.

The alabaster head moved, the elegant little horn pivoting in a graceful arc. “Hrrmmm?”

“Good morning, Rarity!”

Rarity stirred, then winced. “Ouch! Damndable forelimb. Good morning, Derpy, I… where are we?”

“We’re on the grass, Rarity!”

“Well, I can see that, darling,” snapped Rarity. “However, I distinctly remember the events of last night, and Twilight attempting to heal my leg, and my concern is this: WHY are we on the grass? I would have expected the offer of shelter, not simply leaving me where I lay!”

“I don’t know,” said Derpy. “I thought we were on the couch.” She gave Rarity a plainitive look.

“Couch. What couch?” said Rarity.

“Twilight Sparkle’s couch! Me and Twilight and Trixie and Sweetie Belle all carried you indoors after you’d fainted. Sweetie went home by herself once she knew you were safe. Is that okay? I stayed with you, Rarity!”

Rarity’s ears were back. “Indeed you did. Are you telling me they did bring me inside? I know that couch, though I am more accustomed to sharing Twilight’s bed—don’t pout, Derpy, it is just our way. They brought me indoors? This is not indoors, darling. Dew dampens this grass, and while it is a pleasing snack it is no couch substitute. Who put us out here?”

Derpy hung her head. “I don’t know, Rarity.”

Rarity’s nose was high, and she glared out at the world as she considered her situation. “Well. Well. WELL!”

“Yes, that’s it over there, Rarity. Would you like some water from it?”

“No, Derpy, that’s not what I… rrrrh! WELL!”

“You shouldn’t be angry at the well, maybe you might want some water after you have breakfast?”

Rarity gritted her teeth, her eyes blazing… but when she saw Derpy flinch and cower, she dipped her head and forced herself to be calm, saying “Pray forgive me, darling, I have had a… a rude shock!”

“Are you angry at me, Rarity?”

Rarity shook her head. “Of course not. However, SOME ponies,” she hissed, “should feel my wrath! I cannot believe they had the audacity, the AUDACITY to dump me—me!—on the damp soil, next to a garden of very undistinguished and ill-cared-for flowers. Has she no sense of propriety? Scenes have a beginning and an end! One does not simply replace one’s daily life with an unbroken expanse of… what is it, Derpy?”

Derpy was frowning. “It’s gonna be okay, Rarity. Don’t be so angry, Rarity.”

“But my owners have irresponsibly abused their position! Cruelly placing me outdoors when they know I have been injured and…”

She stopped, shocked. Derpy had placed a gentle hoof to her lips.

“Don’t be angry, Rarity. My Mama told me that if I stay angry with mean ponies, I’ll just stay hurt. But if I stay with the ponies that love me, the mean ponies can just go and be sad and mean somewhere else, and it won’t matter.”

The sapphire eyes were wide, vulnerable. “Good heavens,” said Rarity.

“I promise, it’s true,” said Derpy. “Please don’t be angry? I don’t want you to stay hurt, Rarity.”

Rarity blinked, for dew had apparently got in her eye somehow. “Good heavens. Well!”

“Yes, I know, it’s over—”

“—of course it is, and thank you, though I don’t need any water at the moment, darling,” said Rarity. “Goodness! Hmph! Help me up, please? Yesterday I rose to my hooves unassisted, and though I suffer less today I don’t relish this journey.”

“Where are you going, Rarity?” said Derpy, trying to brace her as she struggled to rise.

“I am going home, Derpy!” snapped Rarity. “I have better places to be! Did you say Sweetie went home last night?”

Derpy nodded. “Yes, Rarity! She’s okay. She was worried about you!”

“That makes one pony who was,” muttered Rarity darkly. She glanced up at Derpy, and amended herself. “Two, rather. Well, guess what, Derpy Hooves?”

“What, Rarity?”

“We are going back to Fillydelphia, and we will BOTH find nice ponies to fuck, do you hear me? Not like the ones in this dump!” she brayed at the silent library.

“Yay!” said Derpy, and then added reprovingly, “You’re being angry again. Are we going to the Carousel Boutique?”

“Yes, yes we are. And yes, I am, Derpy, I’m sorry. We’ll show them. Oof! That’s the way,” said Rarity, balancing on three legs and holding her injured foreleg at just the right dangle so it wouldn’t damage itself further.

“Who’s going to fix your leg, Rarity?” asked Derpy, trotting fretfully in place. “We can’t leave it that way!”

“Obviously not dear Twilight, for it is beyond her capacities,” said Rarity scornfully. “Perhaps Princess Celestia can oblige. I suspect the spell Twilight attempted was from the royal library. Ah, yes… the touch of a properly royal healer… then, perhaps later, the touch of a fine stallion, one for each of us… for lovely Rarity, and her charming, hah, WINGmare… hmm?”

Derpy bounced. “Eeee! But we have to fix your leg, Rarity!”

“Help me get home. Then, if you would be so good as to fly to Canterlot and fetch the Princess? I know it’s a long way and I don’t want to seem unreasonable…”

Rarity oofed, frantically trying to keep her injured leg clear, for Derpy Hooves had pounced and wrapped her in a glowingly affectionate embrace, wings quivering and held high. Rarity giggled. “I must take that as a ‘yes’!”

“Yes, Rarity! Come on, Rarity! I’m going to help you get home now.”

Rarity hobbled off, leaning on the bubbly pegasus. Though the jolts sent painful shocks through her, by the time she’d got ten feet she was smiling. It didn’t occur to her how odd it was, that she was smiling in spite of the physical agony—rather than because of it.


“Should I…” said Derpy.

“Yes! Yes, please,” said Rarity. She caught sight of herself in a mirror and winced: she’d be entertaining Princess Celestia with a mane that looked like a rats’ nest that had been used as a mop for a dreadful plumbing accident involving a toilet. But there was no helping it… not unless she had Derpy stay behind and wash her mane before pursuing her errand of mercy…

Derpy hesitated. “Did you want something else, Rarity? You look not sure.”

“Oh no no,” said Rarity decidedly. “Please do fly off to bring Princess Celestia. I’m sure she’ll be happy to help. Unless it is too much trouble to do that for me?”

Derpy didn’t answer in words. She expressed her opinion by galloping for the door, and bursting through it, only to be met by a shriek, immediately followed by a “THE HAY?!”

Rarity’s eyes flew wide. “Applejack!”

That reassuring head with its funny hat poked in the open door. “Rarity? Derpy Hooves just bust through here like she was a one-pony stampede! You scare her or somethin’?”

“No, darling, not in the least. Did she fly?”

“Flew straight off Canterlot way without even stoppin’ to look at me!”

“Oh, good,” said Rarity. “She’s fetching Princess Celestia, it may take a while.”

Applejack ambled in, looking around. “You reckon she’ll get lost? I could go fetch Dashie, she could get to Canterlot in a few minutes for ya.”

“No,” said Rarity. “I am in good hooves: Derpy will get there, and certainly she will not get lost, she’s the mail pony, silly Applejack!”

Applejack gave her a sidelong glance. “Uh-huh. All righty then. Ah won’t bring up our local mail mix-ups or nothin’, we can keep my Dashie as what you may call a fall-back position. Glad to see you at home, Rarity.” She dug at the floor with a hoof, awkwardly. “Er… I was wonderin’ if…”

“It shan’t feel like home until I’ve had a bath, mane treatment, tail treatment, and hooficure, not to mention a horn polish,” said Rarity. “And I cannot have the hooficure until Princess Celestia has healed my foreleg. Oh, don’t scrape, darling, what’s the matter with you?”

“What?” blinked Applejack. “I thought you was with Twilight! She ain’t fixed you up a second time? They brought you into her place an’ everything!”

Rarity’s eyes flashed. “So I hear! Events have been… let us say, disturbing. I am not ‘with’ Twilight, and I believe Princess Celestia will be more my ally in the matter.”

Applejack’s jaw dropped. She stared at Rarity, who met her gaze and reflected it back with steely determination. Applejack shook her head. “Why do I get the feelin’ the unicorn crazy jes’ left another casualty?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Sorry,” said Applejack. “Yeah, events been disturbin’ an’ no mistake. You weren’t awake for all th’ festivities?” She winced.

“I awoke,” said Rarity primly, “upon the grass. I have no idea what happened last night, nor did I see any ‘festivities’, unless blades of grass count as festivities. Let me be clear: they do not.”

Unexpectedly, Applejack lit up at those words. Her eyes widened, and a wild beaming smile crept upon her face bit by bit. “Well, dang. So as far as you’re concerned, Ponyville’s jes’ the same as it was yesterday. An’ to you Ah’m still… well, dang!”

“On the contrary, Twilight Sparkle’s showed herself to be a faithless winged wretch and I’ve washed my hooves of her, and that Trixie Lulamoon! They haven’t the least idea of legitimate scene boundaries, apparently! Amateurs!”

Applejack continued to smile, drinking in the sight of Rarity with a strange eagerness. “Awww. Well, it’s okay, Rarity. Heck, I still care for ya! I would never break faith with you. An’ ah…ah’m still an important pony, right? Don’t that make it even better?”

“Better? Better? I’ll have to go back to Fillydelphia, win back respect at my nightclub after the shame of bringing Derpy Hooves there only to cut short what would have been a shattering, devastating, hideous, glorious scene…”

“But we love you, sugarcube. Ah know you kin do it. An’ you can believe me, right? On account of, ah’m the b—b— th’ boss Apple mare! An’ that means I matter.”

Rarity glanced warily at her friend. Applejack was trembling, and her eyes were too bright. The adorable country grin was too wide. Something was up. “Applejack? What were these ‘festivities’ you speak of?”

The grin dropped away like flicking a switch.

“Nothin’,” said Applejack.

“Applejack?” pressed Rarity. “Why are you here? Did you want to talk to me about something, Applejack?”

“Uhh… nope!” said Applejack. “Ah just thought, bein’ a pony of compassion AN’ consequence, it be-hooved me to trot on over here to see if you was okay. I thunk Twilight woulda fixed you up, to be honest! An’ then I could… uh… I guess, check to see if Twilight fixed you up good? Which she din’t, so I’m right glad I paid this visit!”

“You believed I was going to be in perfect health,” said Rarity, “so you rushed over first thing in the morning, ignoring your chores, just to see if I was enjoying my restored condition?”

“Sure!” said Applejack, eyes too wide, grin pasted on. “Ain’t that just the sorta thing you’d expect ol’ faithful Applejack to do?”

Rarity’s eyes narrowed. She bared her teeth.

“Derpy will return soon, with Celestia, and I haven’t time for this nonsense.”

Applejack bridled. “Nonsense? Of all th’—Ah took time out of my boss mare duties to come check on you, and this is th’ thanks Ah get?”

“You’ve never said that before, either! Since when have you postured in this foolish manner, Applejack? Tell me what happened last night that’s making you behave like this!”

“Ah will jes’ be on my way!”

“Tell me!” demanded Rarity. “Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me!”

“Good day to you!” cried Applejack, her eyes tearing up, but then she let out a squeal. Rarity’s horn had lit up, and unicorn magic grabbed her by the ear. “Hey!”

“Rarity has seen topping from the bottom before, young lady, but never from you! You SHALL tell me, this instant! Into the inner sanctum with you, go on!”

Applejack struggled, but Rarity was behind her, hopping three-legged, and the country pony couldn’t bear to physically wrestle a unicorn with a broken leg. Instead, she dashed into Rarity’s inner room and whirled to face the exit, but it was too late—Rarity had hobbled through and shut the door firmly behind her with an ominous click. She glared, commanding eyes glinting under glowering brows, an alarming battered apparition with her mane still disheveled and ruined, and obviously not caring one iota.

“Tell me what happened yesterday,” said Rarity. “Did you do something bad? Did you come here to be punished?”

Applejack gulped. “How dare you? Bossin’ me like this? I got half a mind to…”

“You’re hiding something! Don’t lie to me!”

“Lie? Lie? You… you pointy-headed mule!”

Both Rarity and Applejack froze, shocked, for a moment. Then, Rarity’s lip curled up in a smile, and she became chillingly calm.

“You do want to be punished. I’ve never seen you even consider a slur of that nature: for some reason you want to be punished very badly indeed. You may not leave until you have confessed, which I’m sure is what you really want, and why you came to me. Don’t deny it, it is too obvious, darling.”

Applejack flinched. “W—what give you that idea? I ain’t actin’ like no pony wantin’ punishment. Ah’m a…”

Rarity hopped a step closer. “You’re acting strangely! I can’t let you leave until I’ve unearthed the truth!”

“Ah tole you, Ah…”

“I have a truth spell, just like Twilight’s,” interrupted Rarity, though it was only a bluff. “Please be so good as to tell me everything is fine, into the teeth of that spell—my dear Element of Honesty.”

Applejack stood at bay, trembling, staring Rarity in the eye—and then she’d flung herself to the floor in a fit of despair, crying “Aw, it ain’t, it ain’t fine at all! You got me, Ah made all that up! Ah jes’ needed to feel like ah mattered for a lil’ bit more!”

Rarity hopped closer, her eyes flashing. “Made all that up. Made up what? Don’t lie to me, Applejack, I shall have the full story out of you! What happened yesterday?”

“Weren’t jes’ yesterday,” sobbed Applejack.

“Noted! But that is not what I asked. I asked, what happened yesterday? Answer! I don’t need to whip you, darling. Your spirit is broken, and you SHALL obey! And,” blinked Rarity, “that is extremely odd in its own right, isn’t it? Never mind. Speak!”

“Ah lost th’ Boss job!”

“Good heavens,” said Rarity. “Do they take your hat away? Who on earth did this, those Flim Flam characters?”

“Naw! She let me keep th’ hat. It was Apple Bloom! She’s th’ new Apple boss mare!”

Rarity’s jaw dangled. “Guh. Are you joking?”

Applejack wriggled on the floor, despairingly. “Naw! I got beat by my own lil’ sister, now I don’t count for nothin’!”

Suddenly, Rarity’s face was right next to hers, staring. “Applejack, what happened to you? What you say is impossible. You’re the strongest mare in Ponyville, you would never fall to the challenge of even another pony, much less a filly like Apple Bloom! And yet, you are on my floor in a pitiable state, and clearly you’re telling me the truth at last, but it’s impossible! How could Apple Bloom possibly defeat you?”

Applejack shuddered. “Ah… ah…”

“Tell me,” ordered Rarity, sternly.

“Ah were already defeated, Rarity,” admitted Applejack. Tears came to her eyes. “They caught me, asked me about this here scar.”

“Oh!” squeaked Rarity. “Goodness! And you flopped right down onto it, are you all right? I see it’s been magically healed.”

Applejack sniffled. “Aw, that ain’t so bad. Don’t feel it so much now. But I am not all right, Rarity! Help me understand! I let things get on top of me so much that ah wanted to die! Rarity, I got with Gilda in such a way that I knew she would hurt me, and I pushed her until she din’t know what she was doin’ and cut loose! Ah… ah was holdin’ my neck against her beak and everything… Ah was tryin’ ta get hurt, to get killed. That’s wrong! Ain’t it?”

Rarity was very quiet.

Applejack gulped. “Ain’t it?”

“You let things get on top of you,” mused Rarity. “Boss mare, authority figure, responsible, turned to by all Ponyville.” She thought back over some of the characters she’d known in Fillydelphia. It was always the ones under terrible pressure who went to the club to vent, to have control wrested from them at last. She’d never made the connection to Applejack, but now it was starkly obvious.

“An’ now I’m nothin’,” said Applejack weakly. “An’ I still did hurt the ponies I love. When I admitted I was wantin’ for Gilda to kill me, and then I looked in Dashie’s eyes…”

“And that is why you came to me,” said Rarity. “I, the virtuoso of pain and shame, dark mistress of Fillydelphia’s finest clubs, dominant unparalleled, submissive carpet beneath Ponyville’s trampling hooves. You came to me.” She looked all of that, her burning eyes transfixing Applejack’s soul.

“Yep,” said Applejack. “Ah don’t know what to do. Then I thunk I could still get a few moments of bein’ the Applejack everypony trusted so much with everythin’, ‘cos you din’t know shit about it, but you wormed th’ truth out of me, dammit!”

“And you want to be brought to justice. You seek a higher authority.”

Applejack winced. “Aw, hell, ya gonna give me a whippin’, ain’t you?”

“Do you deserve that?” demanded Rarity.

“Ah—”

“Silence!” cried Rarity. “It was a hypothetical question and not for such as you to answer! YOUR judgement is not being asked for today.”

“Aw, crap…”

“Are you prepared to submit to Rarity’s judgement, country mare?”

“Kin you even use a whip with that busted leg? No, wait, y’all use them unicorn horns, Ah’m in for it now…”

“Close your eyes!” commanded Rarity, imperiously.

Applejack whimpered, and squeezed her eyes shut. She’d been on the verge of hiding her face in her hooves, anyhow. Her ears laid back, then quirked up at the sound of some faint metallic clinking noises, and Rarity’s hooves hobbling nearer.

“Don’t you open them! Let me confirm: you acted out on your anxieties and pressures, seeking the escape of death in a moment of strong emotion, blinded by your own woes. Is that true?”

“Uh-huh,” admitted Applejack. Her tail flicked, and she cringed at a scraping noise that sounded like a blade. “Oh, lordy!”

“Stay there! And you have come here for Rarity’s judgement, after your own judgement proved so fallible.”

“Fallible?”

“Your judgement sucked, darling,” purred Rarity. “You shan’t be trusted with it here. Did you, or did you not, betray the trust of those who loved you? Did you work yourself into a state, seeking no advice nor guidance from anypony, fretting over your problems alone until you decreed yourself judge, jury and executioner?”

“Uhh, Gilda were more th’ executioner. She din’t want to be, Ah hurt her too by it…”

“Stop! Here, you do not make such decisions! I will weigh the injury to Gilda as part of your guilt. I have known griffins in Fillydelphia and understand how they see things.”

“Gilda don’t want to be no griffin!” protested Applejack, and then squealed. Rarity had nipped her ear. She grovelled against the floor.

“Then that is her burden to bear, and she is not here. You are. Are you prepared to accept Rarity’s judgement and the consequences thereof?”

Applejack felt Rarity’s breath against her ear. That voice rang out with such authority, masterful. She cringed, still squeezing her eyes shut as directed. “Uhhh… what you gone do?”

Rarity nipped her ear again, and Applejack yowled and began trembling all over. “Aaagh! Aw hell, ah gittin’ a whippin’ or some such…”

“Do you accept Rarity’s judgement of you?”

“Yes!” wailed Applejack, pressing herself against the floor submissively. “Yes! Ah give!”

“You will cease to pursue situations of self-harm,” ordered Rarity. “You’ve been relieved of boss mare duties? Very well, you shall accept that! Before we go further, Applejack, before you receive Rarity’s consequences in full, you will agree to these things!”

“Ah do! Ah agree!” moaned Applejack. “Aw, I cain’t stand it! What you gone do to punish me? I jes’ know it’ll hurt! But I deserve ta get hurt!”

She squalled, as Rarity nipped her ear a third time and cried “Deserve? Rarity will decide what you deserve!”

Applejack was hyperventilating, flat on the floor, hooves clamping her hat onto her head as if it was some protective helmet and Rarity was a bomb about to fall on her.

“You agree not to seek self-destruction, you agree to accept the events that have transpired?” declaimed Rarity.

“Uh-huh!” squeaked Applejack in a fillyish voice.

“Are you prepared to accept Rarity’s judgement and Rarity’s consequences?” boomed the tyrannical unicorn.

A tear leaked out from Applejack’s tight-squeezed eyes. “Yes’m!”

There was a terrible pause, and then…

Applejack felt a kiss on the end of her muzzle.

Her eyes flew open, to see tears in Rarity’s radiant sapphire gaze.

“You are forgiven,” said Rarity earnestly. “I love you… and Applejack, that is because you are a loving, sweet mare… who deserves to be loved.”

Applejack’s mind reeled, her lip quivered, and then all at once she burst into noisy weeping, clinging to Rarity who hugged back as best she could with her one good foreleg. “There, there,” Rarity soothed. “And remember, you were ready to accept ANY consequence! You must accept it, I insist! We love you!”

“Oh, Rarity!” sobbed Applejack. “How could you fool me like that?” Then she yiped, for Rarity had delicately nipped her ear a fourth time. “Dang! Ya hungry for ear or somethin’? Ow!”

“That was a warning!” snapped Rarity. “I was NOT fooling! You were prepared to obey me and I expect that obedience, young lady! You may be inexperienced in these things, and a hard case besides, but I took pains to reduce you to a state where you would accept my command—don’t you take control back!”

Applejack gulped. “Yes’m!”

Rarity’s manner changed completely. “Gooood. Lovely darling,” she said, stroking Applejack’s mane with her good foreleg, “how do you feel right now?”

Applejack’s eyes were wide. “Um… ah feel like a lil’ innocent filly. Is this what y’all do this crazy business for?”

“And not,” suggested Rarity, “like an old and guilty mare burdened by her own duties and sins?”

Applejack winced, and Rarity immediately cuddled her again. “There, there. Rarity will protect you, yes she will! Applejack does not have to take care of everypony right now. Applejack can go out and help ponies, and if she fails she can just try again. Won’t that be nice, hmmm? Applejack can be that little, innocent filly. Forget the burdens! Your mind has been freed of them, you have been judged and you have paid your price.”

“That th’ only price, Rarity? Now that you got me at last?” said Applejack in a tiny voice.

“I beg your pardon, darling?”

“Well… we was datin’ once and never done nothin’ like this. Ya gonna make me your lil’ filly in other ways now? Wouldn’t blame ya.” Her eyes were wide and accepting.

Rarity smiled.

“Oh, Applejack. Darling… this is more intimate. I know you have your Rainbow at home to turn to. I’ve just walked—well, hobbled—away from a complicated relationship with two other unicorns; at one point it was three other unicorns all bursting out with magic penises in all directions. I don’t need anything of the sort from you… all I need from you today is your promise to take care of yourself, to be gentle with yourself. Because I love you.” Rarity smiled wryly. “Anyhow, I have already conquered your marehood. That is not what we just did here, together.”

“Uh-huh,” said Applejack in the fillyish voice.

“Do you understand? I’m gearing up to reconquer Fillydelphia, my old stomping grounds. I’m good at this, darling, so very good. I’ve used my expertise and capacities as a uniquely skilled dominant to reduce you to a vulnerable state, and in that moment of greatest suggestibility, I delivered a message of love that I hope will resonate and stay with you,” said Rarity earnestly. “I’ve always known how strong and stubborn you were. Truly, I should have guessed what drove you that mercilessly. That time is done, darling. Your life has changed. It is time for you to love and be loved without conditions or reservations. You need not prove anything to us now.”

Applejack sniffled. She was crying again. Rarity cuddled her tenderly.

“You see? Your old ways need not bind you any longer. I’ve shown you the truth and set you free! Love is there for you, all around you. You don’t need to perform miracles to earn it, silly Applejack!”

The country pony mumbled something into Rarity’s neck. Rarity bent her head. “What did you say, darling?”

The deep green eyes met sapphire.

“Neither do you,” said Applejack simply.

Rarity’s jaw dropped. She looked stunned, as her many impassioned words turned around on her and fitted perfectly all the same.

“Good… heavens.”

There was a muffled banging at the door.

“Rarity! I brought Princess Celestia! Rarity!” called Derpy Hooves, from outside the soundproofed room.

Applejack wriggled free of the embrace and jumped to her hooves, helping Rarity up. It took some doing, for Rarity behaved as if she was in shock, her eyes wide and unfocussed. They opened the door, and Derpy rushed in to hug Rarity, only to have Princess Celestia’s magic hoist her cutely by the tail and scold her for leaping upon an injured pony with a hurt leg. Derpy was absolutely adorable dangling upside-down, but then she was adorable any way you wanted to count it.

Applejack sat, feeling awed and overwhelmed, watching the Princess and the ponies. Celestia knew just what to do, and her manner was orderly and reassuring in its settled certainty. It was a little like Rarity herself: the total confidence let you sit back and trust that she would do what was called for. Derpy certainly wasn’t arguing. She sat, wings lifted high, gazing at Rarity, who proffered her foreleg into Celestia’s magical grasp and sat quietly allowing the Princess to do her healing work.

Rarity wasn’t meeting Derpy’s eyes. Applejack thought she seemed frightened, almost terrified, as if she’d been taken unexpectedly into a state much like Applejack had reached—the abrupt revelation of a vast new world both hopeful and alarmingly changed. She glanced back at Derpy, to see that golden gaze still drinking in Rarity with absolute trustingness, with no fear or even comprehension of the white unicorn’s dark and perverse depths. She, so obviously, saw only Rarity’s precious heart…

“Applejack!” called Princess Celestia.

“Erk!” said Applejack, looking around. The Princess looked amused.

“Goodness! If I did not know of your relationship with Rainbow Dash, and the lovely foal you had together, I would suspect you had grown sweet on dear little Derpy Hooves!”

“Not me!” blurted Applejack, and then winced. Rarity stared even more fixedly at nothing, and was beginning to blush.

“I was just telling you,” said Celestia, “that I’d finished setting Rarity’s bones. The cantrip requires practice, but I’ve had many thousands of years to acquire that. Just to be sure, Rarity should not undertake great exertions. She is a unicorn, so that simplifies things. If she requires assistance lifting things too heavy for her magic, do you think there might be somepony attending her? It should only be for a few weeks, but she should have an adult pony on hoof in case she needs help.”

“I reckon!” said Applejack, and winced again. Rarity was cherry red and wouldn’t meet anypony’s eyes.

Celestia noticed this. “I’m sorry. Was there something untoward in my suggestion? I merely…”

“How about you come on this way, Princess?” said Applejack. “It’s been a funny ol’ morning. Mighty grateful to you, Rarity! We’ll be on our way!”

“By all means, faithful Applejack,” said Celestia. “It warms my heart to see you thriving and recovering, you’re looking better already. Does it hurt, still?”

“Naw. Ah don’t have ta hurt, now,” said Applejack. “C’mon, this is mebbe an awkward time to be here.”

“Oh, in that case we shall depart,” said Celestia. “Come along, Derpy, we…”

“Nope,” said Applejack firmly.

Celestia shut her mouth. She glanced at Rarity, and her eyebrows lifted. She glanced at Derpy, and they lifted more. She glanced at Applejack.

Applejack gave a jerk of her head, toward the door, and Princess Celestia took the hint immediately.

“Thank you so much for your hospitality! And for allowing me to heal you! It’s no trouble at all, where would I be if I could not keep in practice? We shall, ah, bid you adieu. Enjoy yoursel… oh. Um. Forgive me, I’ve no intention of coarseness…” Celestia was peering around the room, and everywhere she looked were more suggestive devices and bondage gear.

Applejack was chuckling. “Come on, Princess! Ya jes’ makin’ it worse!”

“Ah… toodles!” called Princess Celestia, and practically scampered out of the inner sanctum, Applejack hot on her hooves. The door clicked firmly shut behind them, and Derpy hadn’t budged an inch the entire time, even when Princess Celestia had called her.

Outside the Carousel Boutique, Princess Celestia finally slowed down, shaking out her wings and folding them primly to her sides. Applejack trotted up behind her, still chuckling.

“Good heavens,” said Celestia. “Are they going to… to…”

“Ah reckon!” said Applejack brightly. “An’ you know what? I bet you that’s a good thing, too!”

“With whips and chains and bizarre mechanical dildos?” gasped Celestia. She’d gone quite red, herself.

Applejack hesitated. “You know what? Ah don’t think so. I don’t think Derpy would want that stuff.”

“I’d have thought not!” said Celestia. “But what of Rarity? Alarming, amazing Rarity?”

Applejack thought.

“Princess… ah don’t think she needs it as much as she thought she did.”

“And… is that good?” said Celestia cautiously. “I’m trying not to judge ponies when they behave in these ways. It’s… difficult. I don’t want to assume, or intrude.”

Applejack thought some more.

“Yeah, it’s good. Everypony’s got their needs—but in the end, we all got to grow.”

They walked on.