Conversations in a Canterlot Café

Frothy Brew is the barista in the Canterlot café owned by himself, his wife, and his daughter. Years of hard work had made the café a successful and modestly popular place to stop and get a drink or a snack. Nothing prepared him though for it to become a hub of interaction with the undisguised changelings that were being seen more often in the streets of Canterlot. Can he put aside his feelings for the species though after witnessing the most horrifying aspect of the invasion years ago?
This story runs concurrently with the latter part of my Change of Life story. While reading that and Prelude To Change is not necessary, they do give valuable background that is glossed over in "Conversations". Cover art and story illustrations are all done by Foxenawolf.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/192085/conversations-in-a-canterlot-caf

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6. Chapter 6: True Brew

Frothy was still a little uncertain about his feelings about Cogs the next day. Logically, he understood that the pegasus was a helpless pawn in Queen Chrysalis’ plans, but it was still hard to accept that a Blue Changeling could be totally blameless. What he did know was that he would never have acquiesced to Princess Twilight’s viewpoint so quickly back when all this changeling nonsense had started. Were they really wearing down his resistance to them? If so, why couldn’t he warm up to them? Cherry had told him in no uncertain terms that she sensed no ill will in them, and although his wife was blind, he trusted her ability to judge these things far better than he could. His own daughter liked one of them enough to go out on a date with him! Still, every time Frothy tried to accept their viewpoints, the vision of Miss Kettle’s mind rape kept coming back to him and made him shudder in disgust.

Fortunately for Frothy, business soon picked up enough that he could not spare a thought for those unsettling matters, and they did not resurface until the afternoon lull, and the by now habitual arrival of the changeling Royal Guards. At least they spent up well every day, and his takings had improved since they had become regular customers. He had not finished serving them all before a new arrival caught his eye. Although it was obviously a changeling, it was significantly different from all the others he had seen so far. Whereas all five previous had crests, this one had a proper mane, white in color and a matching bushy tail. Also, while its back carapace was colored a strong yellow in the manner that the other changelings had distinctive colors, the body of this one was a light shade of yellow rather than the dark grey or brown of the others. Finally, although it had the holes in its limbs like other changelings, there were no voids in its wings, mane or tail. It was the most pony-like changeling that Frothy had ever seen, and it had a proud and wise bearing that was so different from the others too.

 

 

 

The newcomer took a place at the back of the remaining queue and patiently waited. The curiosity of the Reds was obvious, but it paled compared to Frothy’s. At last it was the Yellow’s turn and he waited to hear what it had to say.

“A vanilla latte in a cup, please,” the Yellow Changeling ordered.

The anticlimactic statement momentarily left Frothy nonplussed, but he quickly recovered and started making the coffee. “Is there anything else that I can do for you?” Frothy asked.

“Yes, actually, Mister Brew. If you can spare the time, I would appreciate it if you would come and sit with me while we have a talk.”

“Then you are the changeling that I’ve been expecting to see for a few days?”

“I am, and I must apologize for my inability to come here sooner. As a busy pony yourself, you must be able to appreciate the difficulty there is sometimes to get a free moment in your schedule.”

Frothy was bemused by this changeling. Not only did it look different, but it certainly had very different mannerisms. “Unless another customer walks in the door, I’m free as soon as I have your drink ready.”

“Excellent,” the changeling said with a tight smile that betrayed no fangs.

Frothy passed the completed brew to the Yellow and asked, “Would you care to order a pastry with that?”

“No, thank you.”

The changeling paid for his drink and levitated it over to a nearby unoccupied table.

Frothy said to Peach, “If a customer comes in while we’re talking, please see to them.”

“Right, Dad,” Peach replied.

Frothy walked over to join the Yellow Changeling and sat down opposite the table from it. “You obviously know who I am, so who are you?”

The Yellow sipped some of his coffee first before replying, “Yes, I do know who you are, although it was first by your reputation for good coffee and pastries, and not this current interesting development in pony-changeling relations. It was quite fascinating to me to find out that your establishment has become the focal point of so much interest lately. Anyway, my hive name is Kallistum, but I’m not one of the changelings that has been presenting themselves in their natural form in public. Very few of us Yellow Changelings have chosen to do so, but that’s because our primary professions require a close and trusting relationship with ponies, and that is somewhat hard for us to achieve in the current circumstances without our pony alter egos.” Kallistum paused to take another sip of the coffee.

Frothy took the opportunity to ask, “What kind of things do you do then that requires such secrecy?”

“We are a very spiritual species, and we offer guidance in such matters, counselling for troubled ponies, and are involved in such things as foal-protection services, orphanages, and homeless shelters. In light of what Chrysalis did for the reputation of changelings, we can hardly afford to have our work undermined by fear and mistrust.”

“I find it hard to believe that you would be so deeply involved in those kind of things,” Frothy said with a look of skepticism firmly on his face.

“I would ask you why, but it’s obvious that you have seen the worst of our kind, and find it hard to imagine the best. Therefore I’m not going to try to convince you of anything today.”

Frothy blinked in surprise. “You’re not? You certainly give up easily for somepony who professes to give counselling.”

“I said nothing about giving up,” Kallistum replied with a tolerant smile. “Instead, I am inviting you to see for yourself exactly what some of my kind does, and judge us on that.”

“And where and when exactly would that be?”

“The where is the Royal Canterlot Orphanage. The when is up to you because as I said earlier, we are both busy people, but I would suggest tomorrow afternoon during your usual afternoon lull. Your lovely daughter is quite capable of managing briefly without you, I believe?”

“You seem to know a lot about me and the café, Kallistum,” Frothy accused.

“I told you that I knew of your reputation before this. I have been a customer here on several occasions, although obviously in a pony alter ego. I confess a weakness for good coffee.” Kallistum held up his cup. “You never fail to please, Mister Brew.” He then drained the remaining coffee.

Frothy pondered the invitation for a while Kallistum patiently waited for an answer. In the end, it was sheer curiosity that won him over. “Okay, I’ll try to be there tomorrow, circumstances permitting.”

“Excellent. I will inform my secretary to expect you. Just ask for Director Guiding Hoof at the reception desk.”

“You’re the director of the orphanage?” Frothy asked, surprised once again.

“Yes, I am. Her Highness Princess Celestia was surprised to learn that also, but reaffirmed her royal patronage of the orphanage after her review of it.”

Frothy suddenly felt as if the princesses were ganging up on him. Two of them now had given their express approval of changelings, and that made him question his own feelings about them even more greatly. He had to learn more. “I’ll be there,” he affirmed.

“I look forward to seeing you then, Mister Brew. Until then, I wish you a pleasant day.” Kallistum got up from the table, gave the Red Changelings a nod, a smile to Peach, and then left.

Frothy wandered back behind the counter and said to Peach, “That has got to be the most… different person that I’ve met so far.”

“Interesting to hear you call him a person already,” Peach noted.

“Huh! How about that? I never anticipated anything quite like him. Curiosity is going to keep me on tenterhooks until tomorrow. Are you going to be okay coping for an hour or so by yourself?”

“I was thinking of asking Nimble Steps if she would like to do an extra shift tomorrow. That will let you take as much time as you need.”

Nimble Steps was their part-time help for the busy morning and lunch periods, and she usually was available for extra shifts for special occasions. While Frothy had not originally considered this to be a lengthy visit, he decided he might as well leave his options open. “Okay, let’s do that.”

* * *

Frothy had no difficulty finding the orphanage as he was already aware of its location. He paused for a long moment before entering however, considering how little he had thought of it before, never dreaming that changelings might have a significant part in running it. His world was being rocked all too frequently lately like that. The building was unexceptional, fitting in with the local architecture. It was a three-storey edifice with large fenced-off grounds adjacent to it. Frothy could see foals of various ages playing games, chatting with friends, or just sitting on the grass and enjoying the sunny day. There was laughter to be heard, and smiles to be seen, so the foals seemed to be happy there. The building and grounds looked well maintained too, so it seemed like a pleasant environment for those unfortunate children.

Frothy took a deep breath and then pushed open the front door to enter the reception area. There he found a middle-aged unicorn mare seated behind the receptionist’s desk.

“Can I help you, sir?” the mare asked with a pleasant smile.

“Yes – Frothy Brew to see Director Guiding Hoof, please,” Frothy replied.

“Ah, yes, Mister Brew. You are expected. Please wait for one moment while I check to see if the director is free at this time.”

“Thanks.” Frothy would have been surprised if he had been able to just walk straight in to the director’s office, and he settled in to wait.

The receptionist returned quickly and said, “Director Hoof will be available in about ten minutes. Could I offer you a drink in the meantime?”

“A cup of water would be appreciated, thanks.”

It was nearer to twelve minutes before a unicorn stallion came out to the reception area to meet Frothy, and although he had never seen this stallion before, Frothy knew instantly that it was Kallistum. The color of his coat was still the same pale yellow, his mane and tail virtually unchanged, and his pony eyes were yellow also. Aside from the lack of wings, there was not a whole lot of change from his natural form.

“Mister Brew! I am very happy to see you. Please forgive the delay, but without knowing exactly when, or even ifyou would come, I could not schedule my time better.”

“Not a problem, Director Hoof. I expected as much,” Frothy replied.

“Very good. Come with me to my office, please. We have a little to discuss before we take a tour of the place. As you may have noticed, the children are playing outside at the moment during recess, and I’d like you to see them doing their normal daily activities inside.”

Frothy followed Guiding Hoof down a hallway to an office marked with a sign that proclaimed:

Dr. GUIDING HOOF Ph.D

DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS

Doctor Guiding Hoof?” Frothy queried as they entered the office.

“Yes, I graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Canterlot. Does that surprise you so much, Mister Brew?” Guiding Hoof replied as he closed the door behind them and went to sit behind his desk.

“Frankly, yes. I admit to never having considered that possibility,” Frothy admitted. “And please call me Frothy.”

“That is one of the things that you need to understand about us changelings, Frothy. We may be born and raised in the hive, but those of us that have shown aptitude will frequently be given further education in pony institutions. That enables us to get more familiar with the ponies with whom we’ll be living, and a better understanding of their needs.”

“Makes sense now that I think about it, although it does make me wonder about some of my own classmates now.”

Guiding Hoof chuckled. “I think you’ll find that some ponies are stranger in their behavior than most changelings you have ever been likely to meet. We’re all thoroughly socialized before we’re allowed to venture out by ourselves from the hive.”

Frothy was embarrassed to realize that Guiding Hoof was probably right, so he changed the subject. “Speaking of familiarity, your pony alter-ego is very similar to your changeling appearance. Weren’t you afraid of ponies associating your two selves when you visited the café?”

“I’ll let you into a little secret, Frothy. I changed into my natural form in an inconspicuous laneway near your shop before I arrived, and changed back there later. Very few ponies actually saw me as a changeling, and none of those saw me as a unicorn. As I told you in the café, I need to keep my secret to maintain trust.”

“And yet you trusted me with that secret, despite knowing that I only tolerate changelings and don’t actually like your kind?”

“I did, and specifically because I want your trust also. How can I persuade you of our good intentions if I keep secrets from you? The changeling community is putting a lot of hope into this project, and we all have to do our part.”

“So I’m a project now?” Frothy asked with trademark smirk.

“Indeed you are. With every new encounter, you have learned a bit more about us, and you tolerate us in your own gruff manner. Tell me, if you had met that Blue Changeling before you ever met Sergeant Sterling Shield or the others, what would you have done?”

“Probably thrown him through a window and hoped the glass would give him a fatal cut,” Frothy admitted.

“But you parted with him on relatively amicable terms instead. Why is that?”

“I think you know already.”

“I’d like to hear it in your own words, please.”

“I have been learning a lot about changelings, and come to realize that most aren't to blame for the invasion. Princess Twilight Sparkle convinced me that Whirring Cogs was an exception to the Blues, and he’s a family stallion like me, so I was forced to admit that he was no different from the rest of the changelings that I tolerate.”

Guiding Hoof nodded. “So with all that in mind, why do you merely tolerate us rather than actually like us? And I’m not speaking of individuals such as Weighty Words or Punchline.”

Frothy was a little startled. “You know those two revealed themselves to me?”

“As I said, Frothy, you’re a project, and both of them volunteered that information to us. However, you are avoiding the question.”

Frothy frowned. “If you must know, it’s because of how you eat our emotions, especially our love. If that wasn’t enough to creep me out, it’s the memory of seeing a mare being forcefully drained of her love that sickens me every time I see a changeling. How can I be friends with any creature that can do that to a pony?”

“So we can assume that the trauma of that event forms the basis of your problem. Can you tell me what help you have sought to deal with that?”

“Help? Why should I need help? I’ve moved on from the events of that day and got on with my life.”

“I’m sorry, Frothy, but it’s quite clear that you have not moved on. You have shoved it into a corner of your mind and let it fester for years. Other ponies who have had similar experiences have sought help with coping, and have far better mental health because of it.”

“I thought that I was here to see what good you Yellow Changelings do, not to analyse me?” Frothy queried with a scowl.

“Frothy, counselling is one of the things we do…” Guiding Hoof began before being interrupted by a ringing bell. “Ah! Recess is over. Come, Mister Brew. If you want to see more, then more you shall see.”

Frothy followed Guiding Hoof out of the office and into the hallway. Ahead of them on a cross-hall, there was a stampede of foals hastening to various destinations.

“Where are they going?” Frothy asked.

“It’s a week day, and they have school, just like any other foal their age. We not only feed and shelter the orphans, but also continue their education until such time as they are adopted. No foal in our care is ever disadvantaged by their circumstances. Come, take a walk with me.”

They headed up to the cross hall, turned right, and were almost run down by a pegasus colt.

“Sorry!” the colt said and picked up a book that he had dropped.

“Why aren’t you in class, Quick Wit?” Guiding Hoof asked.

“Forgot my textbook, Mister Guide. Gotta go!” With that, the colt dashed off.

Guiding Hoof chuckled. “One of our brightest students, but he’s so absentminded sometimes.”

“He called you ‘Guide’ – why’s that?” Frothy asked curiously.

Guiding Hoof smiled. “I am not their boss, nor their parent. I am simply their guide while they are in my care. That is what they call me, and I like that.” He led them up to one of the rooms along the hall and they peered in through the window.

Frothy did not know what to expect, but the utter normalcy of the scene was still a surprise. It was a classroom with foals seated at desks – some attentive, and some fidgeting, just like any other class. They moved onto another room where pre-schoolers were being supervised in play activities. Another room had a few slightly older foals doing more advanced classes. The next had just one teenage unicorn being tutored.

“What is he doing here?” Frothy asked, indicating the teenager.

Guiding Hoof looked a little sad. “He’s one of the true victims of the invasion. His parents were both killed, and he had no family to take him in, so he was sent to us. The problem with foals his age is that no pony wants to adopt an older child. They all want either a baby or young foal to raise. It’s very likely that he will be with us until he comes of age and can move out on his own.”

Frothy snorted, and said, “That’s ironic. Parents killed by changelings, then ends up being raised by changelings.”

“A bitter irony, yes, although I will point out that only about a quarter of the staff here are changelings. The rest of them are regular ponies.”

“Do the ponies know that some of you are changelings?”

“A few. The receptionist you met knows, and a few of the higher placed staff. Some of them knew long before the invasion and we started a policy of trying to integrate ourselves.”

That surprised Frothy. “You told some ponies about changelings?” he asked incredulously.

“We always have, Frothy. While we have operated under a cloak of secrecy for the most part, there have always been some ponies whom we’ve entrusted with the knowledge of our existence. That it remained a secret shows the trust that they had in us.”

“You’re revealing your secrets to me now. Are you saying that you trust me with them?”

“You have your reasons to mistrust my kind, so it’s up to us to give you reason not to. You have it within your power to do us great harm with what I am telling you, and what the others have told you. We’re asking you to see the good that we do, and trust us to be friends to ponies.”

“That’s a lot to ask for, considering that we were invaded by a whole hive of changelings,” Frothy pointed out.

Guiding Hoof nodded solemnly in agreement. “That is a valid point, but I can point out in return that ponies are hardly angels themselves. You have a long history of wars between yourselves, and with other races. It was not until the unification of the three tribes of ponies that peace was made and Equestria was born. Conflicts still occur occasionally too. Neither ponies nor changelings are perfect, Frothy – don’t let recent events cloud your perception of reality. I don’t think that you need to be told yet again that we will do our best to see that the likes of Chrysalis never do such damage again if it’s within our power to prevent it.”

Frothy mulled that over as they moved on and took stairs to the next level. They entered a room which turned out to be a crèche. One baby was crying softly in its crib while others slept. A mare was feeding two others – one from a bottle and the other naturally. She looked up when they entered and said, “Good afternoon, Doctor.”

“Good afternoon, Sweet Milk. How are the infants doing today?”

“They’re all doing fine, sir. No unusual problems to report.”

“Excellent. I hope you don’t get too attached to that one though,” Guiding Hoof said, indicating the one at her teats. “We have a prospective couple looking to adopt a pegasus colt.”

Sweet Milk looked fondly at the foal. “You know I can’t help but get attached to all of them, but I’ll be glad to see him get a good home.”

“Good. I’ll let you know how that progresses. Come along, Frothy.” Guiding Hoof headed out the door again with Frothy in tow.

As they walked down the hall, Guiding Hoof said, “Pop quiz, Frothy – was that a pony or a changeling looking after those infants?”

Frothy thought for a moment before replying, “I honestly couldn’t tell, but since you’re asking, I’m going to guess and say that she was a changeling.”

“A very good guess. Yes, Sweet Milk is our best wet nurse and also a changeling. She uses her ability to always keep herself in milk for our infants. She absolutely loves them all, and because she can taste their emotions, she is very responsive to their needs, and so they are usually very contented and loving in return. She is always full of energy because of that.”

“You’re saying that because she’s a changeling, she can do the job better than a pony, and both she and the foals get what they need.”

“Right again, Frothy. She is a very graphic example of our symbiotic relationship with ponies. We both have our needs, and we both can contribute in our own ways. That way we all benefit – a win-win situation as they like to say.”

Frothy found it impossible to think of a reason to disagree.

They continued on, and Guiding Hoof showed Frothy the other facilities including a small nurse’s station, a library, and an indoor sports room. On the top floor, they had a mess hall and a dormitory that consisted on lots of single-bed and two-bed rooms. They were kept clean, but not ridiculously so. They were obviously lived in by foals, but ones who took pride in their rooms.

“Some of the foals prefer to sleep with a roomie, hence the two-bed rooms. It makes them feel safer and more secure. Often it’s the new arrivals who use those rooms, only later getting a room of their own. We go to great lengths to ensure that our charges are comforted when they come to us, and they are counselled also if they’re traumatized by the events that orphaned them. When they are ready, they get their own room to decorate as they please, within reason. A happy, well-adjusted foal is much easier to place into a new family.”

“You make this place sound too perfect, Doctor Hoof,” Frothy said with a touch of skepticism.

“I suppose I have, Frothy, and I wish it was. There are always problem children though, and there are the unfortunates like Flapjack, the teenager you saw earlier, who may never leave the system. It’s an imperfect world, my friend, and we can only do our best for the ones that come under our care.”

“So what do you do with the problem foals?”

“We have counselors including myself. We try to get to the root of their problems and resolve them. Sometimes they are too mentally scarred by their experiences to ever be truly whole though. Again, we are not perfect, but we have a lot of success. It’s one of the reasons that Princess Celestia is our patron. She was extremely impressed with our methods, and quite moved by how we took care of the foals orphaned in the invasion. I was quite flattered by her praise, I confess.”

Again Frothy was confronted by the approval of the Princess, and who was he to disagree? An ageless monarch with centuries of experience surely knew better than a middle-aged stallion running a café. So why couldn’t he shake the dislike of changelings?

“Come with me, Frothy. I have one more place to show you,” Guiding Hoof said.

He took them back down to the ground floor, and went into one of the offices along the first hallway where his own office was located. This one though opened up on one side into a small walled garden with a fountain splashing in one corner. Various shrubs and flowers bloomed, filling the air with sweet scents.

Guiding Hoof said, “This is one of our counselling rooms. It’s designed to be soothing and private, so our charges can relax and tell us their problems.”

“It looks very nice,” agreed Frothy.

“While these facilities are primarily for the children here, it’s still used occasionally by adults. Sometimes the ponies who come seeking a child to adopt need a bit of counselling of their own. Some of them are adopting for the wrong reasons, and some need to understand what they are getting into better.”

Frothy nodded. “Makes sense, I suppose.”

“I would like to counsel you, Frothy,” Guiding Hoof said earnestly.

“What?! I don’t need counselling!” Frothy objected.

“Lots of ponies were traumatized by the invasion, Frothy. While some of them recovered on their own, many sought help to deal with the things that they witnessed; things such as what you saw. They were terrible things, and they linger in your mind and taint your perspective. I have tasted the fear, anger, and hatred within you, my friend.”

“I don’t hate changelings – I just don’t like your species,” Frothy insisted. “That’s not a crime, is it?”

“I never said that you hated us. It’s the abomination that you witnessed that you hate and fear.”

“And you think that by talking about it, I can magically be healed? I don’t think so!”

“Others have felt the same way, but have had their lives improved by counselling,” Guiding Hoof argued.

“I am not going to be counselled by a changeling!” Frothy said with finality.

“I see. If that’s the case, I cannot ever see us being in complete agreement, and making this project a complete success. Frothy, while we seek acceptance, we would much prefer friendship. As Princess Twilight Sparkle could tell you, it’s the most powerful form of magic in Equestria, and one that benefits everypony. Gaining your friendship would mean far more to us, but it can never be until you rid yourself of that fear and anger.”

“Then you’ll be waiting a long time, Doctor Hoof,” Frothy said defiantly.

Guiding Hoof sighed and was silent for a long moment. Then he said, “I have one last alternative to offer.”

“Oh? What’s that?” Frothy’s curiosity was piqued.

“It’s a uniquely changeling method. I can draw out those negative emotions. Just as your Miss Kettle had her love drained, so can I do that for your fear and hatred.”

“You want to rip emotions out of me? You want me to be unable to feel those things anymore ever again?” Frothy asked in disbelief. “Copper Kettle was so unable to love that she left her husband!”

“Frothy, draining a pony of her love does not destroy her ability to love. In fact, the lack would have instinctively drawn her to someone who loved her. That she left her husband indicates that she was in a loveless marriage, or he was mistreating her, or somepony else loved her far more whom she could love in return. Draining you of your fear and hatred would not stop you from fearing or hating again, but it would stop poisoning your mind and bring you peace. You shouldn't have nightmares about that anymore either.”

“I just said no to counselling by you, so why should I say yes to this? It sounds even more frightening!”

“Counselling can be a long and drawn-out affair. It can be a bit traumatic too as you force yourself to confront your fears. The other method is quick, relatively simple, and not nearly as traumatic.”

“Then why didn’t you offer that first?”

“Everything has its price, Frothy.”

“It’s not one that I’m willing to pay, Doctor Hoof. Good day and goodbye!” Frothy spun around and trotted out the door.

“Wait, Frothy!” Guiding Hoof called out as he started to follow. “I didn’t say that it was you that had to pay that price.”

However, Frothy either did not hear, or chose not to hear, and quickly left the building.

* * *

“How did the meeting go?” Peach asked her father when he returned to the café.

“He showed me all the good things that Yellow Changelings do, and that was impressive,” Frothy admitted.

“I sense a ‘but’ in there,” Peach said with a little concern.

“Then he wanted to counsel me about my experience with the changeling draining Miss Kettle’s love.”

“That’s great… isn’t it? We know that it has been bothering you since it happened.”

“You think that I would trust a changeling? If I ever did seek counselling, it would be with a pony, only now I can’t ever be sure that the counselor is a pony.”

“Dad, you’ve got to learn to trust them sometime,” Peach insisted.

“No, I don’t, and that’s the last I want to hear about it.”

* * *

Frothy was not to get his wish though. Peach told her mother what he had said, and that night, Cherry confronted him with it.

“Frothy Brew, I am very cross with you!” Cherry started.

Frothy knew he was in trouble the moment that he heard her use his full name. “Why are you cross, dear?”

“I hear that you have knocked back counselling.”

“From a changeling, yes,” he confirmed.

“So you’re quite prepared to continue to wake me up in the middle of the night with your screaming because of the nightmares that event has given you ever since?”

“You know I can’t help that, and I hate disturbing you,” Frothy argued.

“Apparently you don’t hate it enough to do something about it after all these years.”

“I won’t do it with a changeling!”

“You wouldn’t do it even before you knew that some counselors were changelings. Well, I’ve had enough, and I’m putting my hoof down. Either you do something about this, or else you’ll be sleeping in a separate room from me until you do.”

Frothy’s jaw dropped in shock. “You’d do that? You’d force me to into counselling?”

Cherry’s tone softened. “No, my love, I won’t force you into anything. I’m asking that if you love me, please learn to trust them for once in your life.” She then turned and, despite her blindness, unerringly marched out of the room.

Frothy just stood there watching her leave, his mind full of confusion.

* * *

Cherry’s blind eyes turned to face Frothy as he entered their bedroom that evening. She waited expectantly.

Frothy said, “I’ll go see Guiding Hoof again tomorrow. May I come to bed now?”

Cherry pulled back the covers. “Please do, my love.”

Frothy got into bed and his wife snuggled up to him.

“Thank you,” she said. “I would have hated being alone in this bed.”

“Only for you would I do this, y’know?” he asked.

“That means a lot to me, dear. Let me show you how much.”

And then they made love with a passion undimmed by the years.

* * *

Frothy entered the Royal Canterlot Orphanage the next afternoon. Before he could say anything, the receptionist said, “Mister Brew! Welcome back. Doctor Hoof said that I was to send you to him immediately if you returned.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose that’s a good thing,” Frothy answered with a weak smile.

“Go right on in, sir. He’s available right now.”

“Thanks,” Frothy said, and headed for Guiding Hoof’s office. He raised a hoof to knock on the door, and hesitated. Once inside, he knew he would be committed, and that still frightened him. However, he firmed his resolve and knocked.

“Come in!” came Guiding Hoof’s voice from behind the door.

Frothy entered and meekly said, “Hello again, Doctor.”

Guiding Hoof’s face lit up with pleasure. “Frothy! I’m so pleased that you chose to return. I was truly hoping that you would. What made you decide to come back? Last I tasted your emotions, you were full of fear and revulsion.”

“Thank my wife for the change of heart. She’s the one who showed me that my feelings were affecting our relationship also. She gave me an ultimatum to do something about it, and the mere fact that she had to do so proves that that she is right. I was finishing each day feeling aggravated by all the changelings visiting my shop, and transferring that to her without even realizing it. It’s even been affecting my relationship with my daughter. Up until recently, we have never had any serious disagreements, but now we’re butting heads every day just because she’s been dating a changeling.”

“It’s good that you have realized this, and it’s certainly a positive step towards dealing with your problems, but are you certain that you are doing this for the right reasons, and you’re not just feeling pressured into this decision?” Guiding Hoof inquired. “If I treat this problem but not its underlying cause, it will likely just come back again.”

“Of course I’m being pressured! However it’s a pressure that I chose to bear long ago. I accepted the burden of being a good husband and father, and right now I feel that I am doing a less than wonderful job of it, and that hurts.”

“So, you are content that this is entirely your choice?”

“It is,” Frothy affirmed.

“Good. So what course of action have you decided to take?”

“I’ll take the second option – take away those unwanted feelings.”

“Are you absolutely sure, Frothy? Yesterday you were appalled by the very idea,” Guiding Hoof pointed out.

Frothy snorted in disgust. “Don’t get me wrong – it still gives me the creeps just thinking about it, but Cherry asked me to trust you for once, and because I trust her, I will do as she asks. I gave her my word that I would, and besides, I’m tired of dealing with the pain of those memories. I want neither that nor my wife’s disapproval, so that seems to cover them both.”

“Very well, Frothy. Just so you understand exactly what you are in for, the process will not be pleasant. You will not be harmed, but what comes out will not do so without you experiencing it all over again.”

“You warned me that there would be a price to pay, so I’m ready for it,” Frothy reassured him.

“No, Frothy, the greater price will be mine to pay,” Guiding Hoof said solemnly.

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind. Just call Flora – the receptionist – when we’re finished. She will know what needs to be done.”

“Um… okay. What do I do now?”

“This is the part where you must really trust me, because there’s no other way to drain you of those negative emotions.”

Frothy suddenly realized what Guiding Hoof meant. He pointed towards his neck. “You have to…” His voice trailed off.

“Yes, exactly. Are you ready?”

“As ready as I can ever be to let somepony bite me,” Frothy replied before angling his head to expose his neck more.

There was a flare of white magic, and the changeling, Kallistum, stood there in Guiding Hoof’s place. His lips drew back to expose the short, normally-hidden fangs, and then he leaned forward to bite Frothy’s neck.

Frothy was surprised that it did not really hurt much. He felt the fangs puncture his skin, but they did not go deeper. Then he felt a strange and indescribable sensation as there was a connection made between the changeling and his brain. There was a swirl of all kinds of emotions until certain ones came to the fore. First he felt the horror of reliving the sight of Copper Kettle being drained of her love, and the revulsion at the feeding process twisting his guts. The terrible keening of Miss Kettle as she lost the love of a lifetime stabbed him like a spear of ice through the heart. Then came the fear rolling over him like the deepest and blackest cloud, and he trembled in terror. The changelings would feed on all of them when they were done with the first! Then it all faded away, only to be replaced by guilt. He had escaped being drained of his love by luck alone. He could not even protect his customers or his friends. He should have been the one to be first! He should have saved Miss Kettle from that fate. He collapsed to his knees under the weight of the crushing guilt until it too faded away. Anger filled the void and blossomed into rage. How could any species do such an unspeakable act to another? Such a race did not deserve to exist! He screamed his fury at the atrocity, and then his ire was spent. Hate! His hatred of what had been done seemed boundless – a pool of ebon that was deep and deadly. Such a thing should never be allowed to happen again, and he would never cease to hate the cause of it. Only he did. The hate flowed out of him as had the other negative emotions, and at last he felt peace.

 

 

 

Frothy felt Kallistum disengage his bite, and he stood there in a fog of blessed relief. Until this moment, he had not realized the weight of the burden of his feelings because of that incident. Now he felt better than he had in years. He searched his feelings about the incident, and although he still recalled it clearly, his fears and hate were but a dim echo. Enough had been left for Frothy to know what it had been like, but it no longer had the power to torture him and distort his judgement. He turned to Kallistum to express his joy at being healed, only to gape in shock at the sight of the changeling sprawled in a heap on the floor.

“Doctor Hoof!” exclaimed Frothy.

“Call… Flora…” Kallistum barely whispered.

Frothy abruptly remembered what he had been asked to do, and he raced out of the office to the reception desk. “Flora! Come to Doctor Hoof’s office now! Emergency!”

Flora was on her hooves and racing to the office in a trice. She saw Kallistum on the floor and recognized the problem. “Stay with him!” she ordered. “Hold him and give him encouragement while I get help.” Then she raced off again.

Frothy was a bit confused as to what was expected of him, but did as he was told. “Hang on, Doctor. Help is on the way.”

“Thanks… Frothy…”

Frothy just held him and willed him to get better. It did not even occur to him the irony of the situation. Mere minutes passed before Flora returned with several of the foals in tow, including Flapjack and Quick Wit.

Flora said, “Guide needs your love, children. Show him how much you care so he can get better.”

Without hesitation, every foal came over to hug the stricken changeling.

Frothy did his best to get out of their way. He went to stand beside Flora and asked, “Those foals knew that Doctor Hoof is a changeling?”

Flora nodded. “Most of our charges learn that as soon as they are ready for that knowledge. It’s all a matter of trust, Mister Brew. He trusts them to keep his secret, and they trust him because he cares for each and every one of them.”

“Then the purpose of them hugging him is…” Frothy began.

“To give him their love; love that was earned and freely given. Love that each of them give him because they know he loves them in return. That’s the true power of the changelings, Mister Brew. They inspire love, joy, kindness, generosity and a loyalty that can never be bought.”

Frothy watched as Kallistum visibly gained strength. “How long has he been doing this kind of thing?” he wondered aloud.

Flora answered, “I’ve only been here for twenty-six years, and he was director back then, but I found out that he’s been here for over a century. It’s the love and joy that sustains him.”

“That’s amazing.”

“Isn’t it though?” Flora said with a smile.

Just then, Kallistum started shakily getting back on his hooves, and the foals backed off a bit to give him room. He tousled the manes of a couple of them. “Thank you, children. You have helped me greatly. I am sorry to have given you such a fright. I’ll find some special way to thank you all later. Right now, I must talk with Mister Brew in private.”

“Okay, Guide, but we want you to rest soon,” Flapjack replied.

“I will, I promise,” Kallistum reassured them.

The foals filed out, followed by Flora who closed the door behind them.

“What happened, Doctor?” Frothy asked with some concern.

“I was dying, Frothy,” Kallistum replied in a matter-of-fact manner.

“But why?”

“Just as positive emotions such as love, joy, or kindness can give us strength, negative emotions have the opposite effect and drain our strength. I was literally dying of starvation in a matter of minutes.”

“But I had no idea my fear and hate were that strong,” Frothy protested.

“They were not especially strong, but when they get drained in that manner, it gets concentrated into its pure essence, and seems far worse than it is. There was a bit more than I had anticipated though, especially the survivor’s guilt.”

“Survivor’s guilt? No pony died that day,” Frothy replied in puzzlement.

“You survived the experience without harm when another was ravaged. You hated that abuse, and the changeling who did it. You feared that it might happen again. All these I took from you except for enough to not lose the memory of it.”

“Why leave that?”

“We are the sum of our memories,” Kallistum explained. “To take that would be to diminish you. That would be to your detriment, and I promised that you would not be harmed.”

“Doctor, I… I’m ashamed at how I treated you and the others. You have proven yourself my better.”

“Don’t be ashamed, Frothy. Positive emotions, remember? Just do your best to help our cause, and I’ll call us even.”

“You have my promise, Doctor,” Frothy said sincerely.

“Thank you, my friend. And please, call me Guide.”

Frothy smiled and held out a hoof. “A pleasure to know you, Guide.”

The changeling returned the smile, and shook Frothy’s hoof.

Frothy started to leave, but paused in the doorway. “One last thing, Guide…”

“Yes, Frothy?”

“Free coffee for life, okay?”

Guide chuckled. “Deal!”

* * *

The first death threats had come a mere two days after Frothy had erected a sign in his café’s window that proudly proclaimed: ‘ALL CHANGELINGS WELCOME’. He was not worried – he had a whole Royal Guard squad looking after his welfare and that of his family too. While business had initially dropped off, it had not only bounced back, but had grown considerably. Many new changelings became regular customers, and many new ponies too, although he strongly suspected that a large proportion of them were also changelings. He did not ask. If they wanted him to know, they would tell him.

There was no such thing as an afternoon lull anymore. In fact, he had to put on extra staff to cope with all the extra customers right throughout the day. They also had some part-time help from the newest addition to the family.

“Who gets this order of Devonshire tea, Frothy?” Flapjack asked.

“Table six, Miss Weighty Words and Miss Harmony Bow,” Frothy replied.

“Right,” Flapjack replied, and headed for the table.

Frothy smiled proudly at Flapjack. He had been eager to help out with the family business ever since Cherry and he had adopted the colt; only after school, of course, and on Saturdays. He was a diligent and considerate foal, and Frothy looked forward to the day when Flapjack might call him ‘Dad’.

Peach came out from the back room with a tray assorted of pastries. “The triple-layer chocolate cake will soon be ready also, Dad,” she said as she put the pastries in the display case. “Mom’s just icing it now.”

“Thanks, Peachy,” Frothy replied. His daughter had been spending a lot more time in the kitchen lately. Her mother’s pregnancy was not really slowing her down as yet, but they were starting to ease her workload, especially since the demand had increased so much lately. Cherry had been overjoyed to find out that she was pregnant after that night of making love just before Frothy had gone to visit Guiding Hoof for the second time. Frothy had been a bit more cautiously happy for her, but so far it seemed that his concerns for his wife had been more than a little excessive. What mattered most was that his wife was happy, and that was enough for him.

Peach still found plenty of time to socialize though, and she and Archer were still going out regularly. Whether that would turn into something more serious, nobody knew for sure yet, but Frothy would not stand in their way if it did. It did not stop him from ritually threatening Archer with bodily harm if he did not bring her home safe, but the sting was gone from his words. Heck, Archer seemed almost disappointed when Frothy had forgotten the threat one evening!

“Frothy – I have an order for two cappuccinos, and a long black espresso for table nine.”

“Coming right up, Mixxy,” Frothy replied to the waitress as he started up the bean grinder.

The young Violet Changeling had been a surprise applicant for the waitress position after Frothy’s previous one had quit in disgust at all the changelings that had started coming in at all times of the day. Mixitkl was proving to be a more than capable replacement though, and had quickly become the darling of the customers. Of course, a changeling with a particular taste for gratitude would always strive to satisfy her customers.

Mixitkl smiled and left to serve another table.

Frothy sighed. Yes, life would be near perfect, if only he could get used to those dratted fangs!

 

 

* * * * *

Author's Note:

This concludes the introduction of all the hives, but this is not the end of the conversations in that café! Believe me, Frothy's problems aren't over yet.

 
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