A Different Perspective

Long Path, an earth pony living in Canterlot, and his best friend, a griffon named Free Agent, set out in the company of Twilight Sparkle to visit various places and species to look into what makes them different, and hopefully learn how to get along with them better. Things rarely go to plan though, and along the way, they discover things about themselves, and find love, drama, and laughter. Then Chrysalis changes everything, and the fate of the whole world might be at stake. Their lives will never be the same!
This story is set mostly after the events of Conversations in a Canterlot Cafe and builds on the fanon of the series, especially changelings, so you might want to read those stories first for background material.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/246414/a-different-perspective

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12. Chapter 11: Pawns, Kings, and Queens Part 2

 

“Go get reinforcements!” Twilight said urgently.

“What if they’ve all been taken out like the others? Twilight, we need your friends to do their thing with you, and I can’t get to the other side of the barrier to find them! You go and fetch them! I’ll hold this lot back as much as I can.”

“Are you crazy?! What can you do against this horde?”

“Whatever it takes to slow them down! Ultimately the drones will burn themselves out if they get past me, even if they cause a lot of damage before that happens, but Chrysalis is back there, and she’s the real danger. I can’t stop her, and neither can you by yourself. Remember what happened to Celestia?”

“She was super-powered on Shining’s love though!”

“And who’s to say she hasn’t stolen some other poor pony’s love to power herself up? Twi – stop arguing and get your friends before it’s too late!” Free exerted his power, and his wings shrank into his body as he absorbed their mass, but his overall form grew larger, and his talons sharper. He could not increase his real mass, but he could improve his reach and potency.

With an anguished cry, Twilight dropped the shield and launched herself into the air, making her best speed.

The changelings had immediately burst out of the building, and a couple started to chase her, only to hit the barrier. Free didn’t notice because he was already wrestling with several others. There was no finesse to his actions – he slashed, bit, stabbed, bucked, and trampled them. As he had told Twilight – whatever it took to slow them down. Unfortunately, they were equally merciless. Adrenalin and the extra energy he’d accumulated lately were all that kept him going as he suffered bites, cuts, and bruising impacts. He was being buried under a wave of changelings. He barely noticed the sonic boom, but moments later, the blue changelings were swept away by a wave of rainbow energy.

Free collapsed to the ground, utterly spent, but from there he could see through the door to observe still more changelings coming through the portal. He tried to point and yell, but he barely could croak out, “Get the portal unicorns.” And then he saw her. Queen Chrysalis stepped through the portal with a vanguard of soldier changelings.

The Harmony Bearers were not caught unawares though, and another rainbow beam came blasting through the door. The soldier changelings threw themselves in its path, blocking it from reaching their queen, and even as they were blasted away, more changelings poured in to replace them. However, it was a losing battle in that confined space, and they were quickly overwhelmed. Chrysalis screamed in fury as she was blasted back through the portal, and the rainbow of Harmony neutralized the portal unicorns’ magic. The portal disappeared and ended the flow of invaders.

“Quickly, girls!” Twilight cried out. “Don’t let Chrysalis get away this time!”

That was the last thing that Free heard before he blacked out.

# # #

I hurt too much to be dead,’ was Free’s first thought. He forced open an eye and tried to take in his surroundings. It was an unfamiliar and nondescript room though, which left him none the wiser. He looked at himself, prizing the other eye open to join in the effort. He appeared to be lying on his back, propped up with pillows in bed, with a blanket pulled over him. Not much he could see there, but the cast on his right foreleg was new. He tried to call out for someone.

Squarg!

He was instantly embarrassed that such a pitiful and incomprehensible noise had come from his beak. However, it did have the desired effect as a pony stuck her head around the doorway to investigate.

Twilight’s eyes lit up with joy. “You’re awake!” she cried as she bounded into the room. “Thank Celestia! You’re going to be okay!”

Free noticed that her eyes were extra shiny, perhaps from the tears that were welling in them? For him? That was so cool. He could taste her relief and happiness now. Nice to have survived for this moment. Time to say something appropriately heroic.

Glarble…

Right. Forgot that. Now he was even more mortified.

“Oh! Let me get you some water.” Twilight’s horn lit up, and a jug on the stand levitated and poured some of its contents into a cup which then floated over to the griffon.

Free tried to reach for it with his left claws, only to have multiple pains assault him all at once. He groaned involuntarily.

“No, don’t try to take it; let me help you.”

Twilight carefully placed the cup to Free’s beak and tilted it. Most of it made it inside, and the soothing liquid sloshed around his dry mouth. He swallowed with a bit of difficulty, but it was a blessed relief to feel it going down. She did it again, and this time it went down more easily. A third time, and he felt so much better.

“Thanks,” he croaked. He wouldn’t be doing much singing soon, but at least he might be able to be understood. “Hurts…”

Twilight put the cup down and said, “Wait a moment – I’ll get the doctor.”

She trotted out of the room, but was soon back with a unicorn in a white coat.

“Ah! I thought you might awaken soon. I couldn’t convince the princess that you weren’t about to drop dead at any moment though. Let’s have a look, shall we?”

The doctor then began prodding and poking, and doing just about everything but alleviating the aches and pains. “You’ve been an interesting case – ostensibly a griffon albeit one without wings and rather more vicious-looking, but actually a changeling. It made treating you quite an interesting prospect, I tell you!”

Free did not give a damn how interesting the doctor had found his patient. The unicorn might get very interested in treating himself if he kept this up much longer!

“Doc –pain!” he growled.

“What? Oh, yes, just a moment.” His horn lit up and a pill bottle floated out of a pocket and towards Twilight. “Give him two of these with water; no more. He seems to be recovering nicely, but I’ll come back and check him again later.”

“Don’t hurry back,” Free murmured fervently.

Twilight administered the pills and then sat down beside the bed. “Aside from the pain, how are you feeling?”

“Surprised to be alive. What happened?”

“You scared me badly, Free. I thought for sure that I had left you for dead. I could hardly believe my eyes when I returned and saw you still fighting the Blues. I’m sorry it took so long – I had to call Rainbow Dash back with her talkie-trottie.”

“Yeah, I thought I heard her sonic rainboom.”

“She made good time, but it still took a few minutes to round up everypony. You were unbelievable, lasting that long. How did you manage that?”

“You and everypony else were counting on me – I had to, didn’t I?”

“Oh, Free, that was incredibly heroic of you, but you should still have been overwhelmed. There’s something very strange about you that we’re going to have to figure out.”

“It doesn’t involve more poking and prodding, does it?” he pleaded.

Twilight laughed. “No, I shouldn’t think so.”

“Good – it can wait anyway. What happened after you shut off the portal?”

“We tried to chase down Chrysalis, but it was sheer chaos in the outpost by that time. Real soldiers were fighting with fake soldiers and undisguised changelings were causing confusion, allowing Chrysalis to escape. It took a few more Harmony beams to clear up that mess. It highlighted a problem that that weapon has – it’s great for single targets, but unwieldy for crowds. Maybe there’s a better way to wield it, but it doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual.”

“Heh! If there was one, I’m sure you would have read it a dozen times by now.”

“Of course! One can’t be too prepared! Anyway, we then had to deal with the aftermath, and helping the injured was our first priority. I got back to you as soon as I could. Oh, Free, you looked dead! You were covered in gashes and bite marks, you had lost a lot of blood, and your right leg was broken. I used healing spells to stop the bleeding and set the bone, but you were way too weak despite my best efforts. So we brought you here. Notice the ambiance?”

The pills were starting to kick in, and with the ebbing of pain, Free noticed something that he normally would have tasted immediately – love was in the air!”

“Are we closer to the city now? There’s plenty of love energy around here.”

“Yes! We set up a makeshift hospital at a site that we judged would boost your energy intake to help you heal without overdoing things. Actually you aren’t the only changeling patient here. Our Red Changeling Guards fought well, but some of them got badly hurt also. None as bad as you were though.”

“Do you know what happened to Sterling Shield and Bazztuk? They must have been neutralized and replaced early somehow.”

Twilight’s head bowed. “We found their bodies concealed in the fields.”

That jarred Free badly. While he had done his best to heckle the changeling Guards, he had been impressed with their dedication, and had thought of them as friends. “How…?”

“Captain Diamondhard has been putting the pieces together as best she can. For starters, most of those whirlwinds, if not all, were generated by the Blue Changelings. By doing it frequently but randomly placing them, they got us used to putting up with them as just a regular natural nuisance. However, they were apparently biding their time for an opportune moment. They must have figured out who to grab to gain access to the portal.”

“How did they figure that out? It’s not as if we weren’t on the lookout for spies.”

“Well, before Queen Chrysalis went power-crazy, her Harvesters were known for their skills at solving problems and uncovering secrets. If any changelings could figure that out, they would be the ones. I suppose we’ll never know exactly how, but the point is moot. They knew that Sterling and Bazztuk were the first line of defense, and they also knew who the portal-keeper unicorns were. They only needed an opportunity to get all four at once. Under cover of a whirlwind, they presumably intercepted the four as they were going on their shift. They killed the Guards and replaced them, and Chrysalis bewitched the unicorns to respond to changeling commands.”

“That’s why the Guards looked confused when I came in. The Blue Changelings did exactly the same when they confronted me in the invasion of Canterlot. For some reason, they can’t figure me out. It bought me enough time to slip past them.”

“We really need to get to the bottom of that mystery,” Twilight said fervently. “Anyway, the stage was set to move in more changelings under cover of another whirlwind. They would have had a huge number inside the shield as well as Chrysalis herself if it hadn’t been for you. You always said that something was bothering you about the security of the set-up.”

“Yeah. Pity I didn’t figure it out before the horseapples hit the fan. Everypony was so focused on trying to prevent unauthorized changelings from sneaking through or hiding among the troops, that they completely forgot that the portal was not as vulnerable as they were. Sure, it took a sneaky trick with the whirlwinds, but they still caught us completely unawares. We were prize idiots.”

“Be grateful that Chrysalis made a huge mistake of her own.”

“What was that?”

“The portal – it’s just an opening made in the barrier, nothing more. It could be made anywhere, but we put up the building to control the access to the portal-keepers and to have an office to process the changelings with legitimate access. Chrysalis must have believed that the portal was a physical thing that was part of the building. If she had realized otherwise, she need have only taken the two bewitched portal-keepers, and opened one anywhere she felt like and we would have been none the wiser.”

“The non-changelings should have been kept behind the barrier, and not just the portal-keepers. Why are all the buildings outside anyway?”

“Simple, really. Because all of the changeling Guards were required to be outside of the barrier, none of them were allowed inside, and their barracks were therefore also outside. The stores and mess hall needed to be readily accessed by changelings too, so they were outside also. Why put the very few other buildings somewhere else?”

“And with that simple, lazy philosophy, we almost lost the battle.” Free sighed wearily. “How many died because of that mistake, Twi?”

“Too many. One whole contingent had apparently been wiped out and replaced. Another oversight – no one would report an imposter among them if they were all imposters. Now I have to tell Frothy Brew that his friend died for our stupid mistake.”

“Frothy Brew? Isn’t that the café owner in Canterlot? What’s the link there?”

“Sterling was the first changeling friend that Frothy made. He brought his whole squad there eventually, and the café became well known for being changeling-friendly. But it was Sterling who started it all, and I know that Frothy is going to take it hard.”

“I’m going to miss the big lug too. Couldn’t dance to save his life, but he could take a joke and gave as good as he got.”

They were both quietly sad for a long moment before Free asked, “Did they figure out how the Blues made those whirlwinds?”

“”Yes, unfortunately.”

“Why is that unfortunate?”

“Because apparently they kidnapped a couple of weather pegasi a long time ago and Chrysalis has had them under mind-control so long that we don’t know if they’ll ever recover their senses.”

“So you found them then?”

“It wasn’t hard because they were simply abandoned. Now that we know that ruse, they can’t use it again, so the pegasi weren’t any use any more. We found them just standing in a field, staring at nothing, waiting for orders. We’ve identified them as Twister and Cyclone. Twister’s family has been notified, but we haven’t been able to identify Cyclone’s as yet. I’m not even sure if we’re doing the kindest thing anyway. They might be mental vegetables now.” Twilight hung her head sadly and sighed.

Free reached out with his better leg and lifted her chin. “Hey, you thought I’d be killed, and yet here I am alive. They could beat the odds too, Twi. Don’t give up hope for them yet.”

Twilight smiled gratefully at the encouragement.

Free let his aching limb relax back onto the bed. “What happens now, hon?”

“Nothing for you. Diamondhard has already totally revised security. All changeling Guards are now inside the barrier, and she has a team of workers relocating all the buildings. Any unicorns empowered to open a portal are now strictly forbidden to be beyond the barrier, and the border patrollers are required to stay within the shield also, instead of wherever it’s most convenient. Those kind of things. The girls left on the train to Ponyville after they finished helping clean up. Their job is done now.”

“What about us?”

You get to stay here and heal for a while longer. Uh-uh!” she said as Free started to object. “No excuses. I promise that we’ll also leave in time to get to Canterlot before Path arrives. Meanwhile, right here is the best place for you to be.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “You don’t want your very special somepony to worry about you, do you?”

“Blackmailer!” he replied with a smile. “Convince me a little more.”

Twilight smiled and gave him another longer kiss.

“I’ll be good,” Free promised. “Any news about Path though?”

“Skylark has picked up Path and Roseclaw, and they’re on their way back. I wish I could tell you more good news, but apparently he’s pretty much catatonic at the moment. I hope that the airship doesn’t get delayed because every hour counts right now.”

“I can help him, Twi; I know I can! I just need to be with him!”

“Calm down, Free – I believe you. In fact, I’m kind of counting on it. Path’s mood has been swinging rather strongly since you parted with him, and I suspect that you’ve been a moderating influence on him.”

“Because I’m a changeling?”

“Most likely, although the fact that you’ve been lifelong friends can’t be ignored either. We’ll find out soon enough when they get to Canterlot.”

Free nodded thoughtfully. For once, he wished that he knew more about changelings. It was strange that he knew far more about being a griffon than his own natural species. What else about himself had touched their lives?

Twilight got to her hooves. “If you don’t really need me for now, I have to go. I’ve been neglecting other duties while I’ve been concerned about you.”

Free gave her a gentle smile. “I’ll always need you, Sparkles. However, I think I’ll take your advice right now and get a bit more rest.”

“Good. My day will be a lot better now that I know that you’re really on the mend. I’ll be back in a few hours.” She started to leave, but then paused and looked back. “Oh! I almost forgot – I have a message to pass on.”

“Oh? Who from?”

“Applejack. She told me to tell you, ‘Well done, sugarcube’.” Twilight added a wink and then left.

Free grinned. Acceptance from Applejack was a major milestone. Maybe he could even convince Rarity that he wasn’t quite as uncouth as she reckoned? Then he chuckled.

“Nah! Who am I kidding?”

# # #

Free Agent actually managed to keep his word and be good… or at least as good as he ever was. It had taken a lot of battle injuries to keep him down, admittedly, but that did not stop him from talking. Anypony who made the mistake of stopping to see him got regaled with the tale of how he had saved the day. Okay, maybe with a little help from the Harmony Bearers, but where would they have been without him?

By the end of the day, half the ponies thought he was an amazing hero, while the other half thought he was an equally amazing liar. Free didn’t care – he was just bored and was doing it for the entertainment value. They could stick medals on the soldiers, but he was just glad that he was going to be able to hug and kiss Twilight again. He smiled at the thought. Yes, a much better reward.

By the time Twilight returned though, he had tired himself out and was falling asleep. Apparently all the love energy he was taking in was being used by his body to heal himself; staying awake was not needed. Twilight stayed by him for a long while however – a little extra affection could only help, right?

The next day consisted of mostly boredom, but at least he was allowed outside to sit in the warm sun and soak up the love ambiance. He was healing fast, far faster than a pony would, but so were the other changelings. By mid-afternoon, he felt good enough to shift back to his normal griffon form without it causing too many aches. He flexed his wings in relief and considered taking a flight, but a stern look from one of the nurses quelled that idea. It was a huge relief when Twilight arrived a couple of hours later.

“Good heavens! You look amazing, Free! I can’t believe how fast you’re healing.”

“Yeah – apparently the constant supply of love energy is very close to a miracle cure for changelings, and there’s already some excited talk about setting up a permanent hospital for the treatment of changeling patients.”

“Umm, I’m not so sure if that’s a good idea,” Twilight said doubtfully.

“I said that too. I found myself in the rare position of being the voice of moderation and I had to cite my own previous experiences. Their patients would risk losing self-control or burning themselves out.”

“I think I’ll have a word with the medical staff before we leave. I think it would be wise to move the changelings who have already healed sufficiently back to the portal outpost.”

“What about me, Twi?”

“Normally I’d defer to the doctor in charge because of the extent of your injuries, but if we’re going to get you back to Canterlot to get there before Path arrives, we’re going to have to take the overnight train. I’ve arranged for it to make a special stop for us so we don’t have to transport you to the outpost first. Until then, you soak up as much love energy as you can to heal. Can I trust you to let the staff know if you think you’re getting too much?”

“I know the signs now. If I start getting hyper, I’ll fly away from the city before I lose my self-control. That’ll burn off some energy and get me into a less energy-dense area.”

“That’s perfect. I have to go back to the city now. I only stopped by to give you an update and check on your progress. I’ll meet you at the train stop tonight. Here’s your ticket with your compartment allocation and the scheduled departure.” She gave them to him and followed up with a hug. “Looking forward to spending the trip with you, dear.”

Free enjoyed the hug so much that he barely noticed the aches and twinges it caused.

The hours spent waiting for the time to depart were more like torture though. He asked about the cast on his leg, and the doctor informed him that it was magic-infused to help bring it up to full strength again, because Twilight’s healing spell had knitted the bones already. At the rate his body was healing, he could probably have it taken off very soon, but the doctor preferred that it be left on for now. He recommended that Free have a Canterlot doctor check it out again when he got there.

With still an hour before the train was due, Free checked himself out of the facility. Many of the more lightly wounded had already been shipped out, and only the more badly injured were still being treated. According to the doctors, he should still be among them, but for some reason, despite the seriousness of his wounds, he was healing even faster – yet another part of the mystery that was Free Agent.

Free looked around for a little while to kill time until the train arrived. It seemed that they had set up the temporary facility in a small outlying village. It had the convenience of access to supplies without being too close to the city, but its station was little more than a platform and obviously not a regular stop for the train to Canterlot. If it wasn’t for dealing with all the startled crystal ponies, Free would have very quickly gotten bored.

The sun had set, and only a couple of lamps lit up the small platform as Free waited by himself. Right on schedule though, the train pulled up to the station. He had no trouble figuring out which carriage to get into because Twilight was leaning out the window and waving. As soon as he boarded, the engine’s whistle blew and the train resumed its journey. Free found the compartment and soon was hugging Twilight again.

Twilight gave Free a kiss and asked, “Are you hungry?”

“What for? Affection or food?” Free replied with a grin.

Twilight matched his expression. “Both! I’ve ordered a nice big meal for the two of us. Affection is the seasoning,” she added slyly.

“Sparkles – I think I’m starving then!”

They only made one more stop at the portal outpost to allow Free to pass through the shield. At the same time, his possessions were loaded onto the train, and he found his lute and took it back to their compartment.

Free played for Twilight for a couple of hours before they decided to call it a night. Free was happy to leave the Crystal Kingdom behind, but something was still nagging him.

“Twi, you remember how I said that before that we were overlooking something?”

“Yes, and you were right.”

“Why do I have the feeling that we still are?”

“Paranoia?”

“I’m not really the paranoid type.”

“Well, if there really is something else that we’re overlooking, I hope that you figure it out sooner than last time. Until then, you’ve earned the right to relax. Now stop worrying and come to bed. Your special somepony wants snuggles.”

Free gladly complied. He hardly noticed that his intake of love energy had barely declined since they left the Crystal Kingdom.

# # #

While Twilight reported to Celestia to discuss recent events in person, Free sought out Princess Luna. Normally the lunar diarch would be in bed by now in order to be refreshed for her night court after raising the moon at sunset. However, as sponsor of Long Path’s project, and virtually a fifth member of the team, she had stayed up in order to be present when Path arrived.

Free reported on the attempted invasion from his viewpoint. The princesses would compare notes later and decide on any further courses of action. For now though, both Luna and Free waited impatiently, fretting on the condition of their comrade. Twilight joined them with good news.

“Captain Fairweather reports that Skylark will arrive in half an hour.”

“Those communicators that you devised are most cunning, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna commented. “I would have a few of my own that I may put to good use.”

“I would be very happy to provide them for you, Luna. In fact I have a few made already. I had a lot of time on my hooves while we were waiting for Chrysalis to make her move.”

They moved out onto the balcony to await the airship. All three had the distance vision that flying creatures enjoyed, so it was a very close thing that Luna spotted it first. Twilight saw it as soon as Luna pointed it out.

“I’m not waiting for them to land. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Twilight then teleported away.

“I suspect that Twilight Sparkle will return with your companion most promptly. We shall await them inside.” Luna trotted back inside and noticed that her assistant was still present. “Scribe, you may be dismissed if you wish. This is long past your normal hour.”

Scribe replied, “By you leave, Your Highness, I would prefer to stay. My duty is to attend you while you wake, and admittedly I have some self-interest in this matter also.”

“Very well, you may stay.”

Just then, Twilight arrived in a flash of magic, bringing along with her both Path and Roseclaw. The earth pony was held in the griffoness’ arms, otherwise he would have slumped to the floor.

Free leaped over to join them and pulled Path into a hug. “Path! Talk to me, buddy! Are you okay?”

Roseclaw said worriedly, “Path hasn’t said a word for the past two days, and he’s been unresponsive all of today so far. Free, I think we’re losing him.”

“NO! I refuse to accept that! Path! Listen to me! You’ve got to get a grip on yourself. I’ve been waiting for you, brother, and so has Twilight. Rose is worried that she’s going to lose her mate. You have a family here, waiting for you to come back to them.” Tears started pouring from Free’s eyes. “You can’t leave us. You’re the strength of this herd – what would we do without you?”

Free hugged the earth pony harder, nuzzling and crooning to him. “I love you, Long Path. Don’t leave me, please.”

Suddenly, a soft green glow started to grow about the pair. Path’s eyes abruptly opened, and Scribe stumbled backwards as he was assaulted by a flood of negative emotions. Then his eyes widened in stunned surprise as that flood was just as quickly stemmed, and he realized what was happening.

“Free Agent is absorbing all of Long Path’s negative emotions,” he reported in awe.

Twilight looked at Scribe curiously. “How do you know? Are you a changeling?”

Luna spoke up. “Scribe is not only my personal assistant, but also my go-between to Queen Dianthia. He is supposed to conceal that fact though,” she added with a frown.

“My apologies, Your Highness. I was just shocked by the impossibility of what I’m seeing.”

“Why?” Twilight asked. “I already know that you can absorb negative emotions if you choose. A friend of mine was treated that way a while back.”

“Yes, but where are Free Agent’s fangs? He needs to connect with Long Path’s chi to do what he’s doing so fast.”

“Free is a changeling?” asked Roseclaw, startled by the revelation.

“He’s a very unusual changeling,” Twilight confirmed. “He’s been a griffon for most of his life though, so what you see…”

She was interrupted by a croaky voice. “Free? Oh, Free, I’ve done something so horrible,” Path lamented.

“Take it easy, Path. It wasn’t your fault. We all get fooled by people with wicked intentions occasionally.”

“But someone lost their life because I was so foolish. I hunted them, Free! I hunted them and caused them to lose their life. I could have said no, and they would still be alive.”

“No, you have to stop blaming yourself. From what I have heard, they would do this hunt anyway, and if that particular deer had not died, then possibly another would have instead. They only used the hunt to hurt you. Are you going to let them get away with that?”

Path burst into tears, and Free crooned his love for him, all the while pulling out a torrent of grief, hate, and self-loathing. The others could only watch helplessly, but with growing hope.

Eventually Path stopped crying, and weakly tried to scrub the tears from his eyes. “Thanks, Free. I’ve missed you, brother. Please don’t go away again.”

“I won’t, as long as you promise to not leave us.”

“I promise.”

“Good,” Free said in relief, and then keeled over unconscious as the aura flickered and died.

“What’s wrong now?” Twilight asked with alarm in her voice.

Scribe said, “Free Agent needs positive energy to counteract all the negative that he’s absorbed. If he doesn’t get it quickly, he may die.”

Twilight quickly picked up the unconscious griffon and hugged him. “Don’t you dare die, Firetail! You’re the passion that I’ve needed in my life, and I won’t let it go now that I’ve found it.”

Path reached out with a hoof to lay it on Free’s chest. “You took the worst of my feelings, but don’t forget to take the best too.”

Roseclaw looked at Scribe. “Can I help him at all?”

“Do you care for Free? Does he mean anything to you, especially now that you know he’s a changeling?”

“He’s my mate’s brother, and he’s one of my House. Yes, I care about him.”

“Then show him your affection – every bit helps right now.”

“Then I would offer mine also,” Luna said, turning the four into a group hug.

After a very long moment, Free’s eyes flickered open again. “Ooh, I’ve died and gone to heaven,” he said with a weak grin.

“Not yet, you silly griff,” Twilight said gruffly to hide her relief, realizing belatedly that it was a pointless exercise with a changeling. “Are you feeling alright now?”

“Weak as a kitten, but nothing a good dose of loving won’t cure.”

“Between this and your injuries, you’ve taken quite a battering lately. Are you sure there’s nothing that you’re hiding from me?”

“Well, I have to admit that I have a bad case of blue balls.”

Path laughed as Twilight blushed. “Yep, he’s going to be okay, Twilight.”

“It’s good to hear you laugh again, my love,” Roseclaw said, cuddling her mate.

“It’s like an enormous weight has been lifted from me, Rose. I can recall the incident now without collapsing emotionally. It’s a bitter lesson to learn, but I will cope now with your help. One thing that I’ve learned is that I can’t stand alone. I need you and Free and Twilight, and I even need you, Princess Luna. I’ve tried to take on too much at once, but I know that I can count on you all.”

“Well, you’re going to take it easy for a while,” Twilight ordered. “You too, Free. A vacation is officially ordered for the pair of you.”

“Yes, Princess,” they chorused, and they grinned at each other.

“I will order rooms and servants for your needs,” Luna added.

Scribe said, “I will do that immediately, Your Highness. However, after I have done so, I would like your permission to report to Queen Dianthia. She should be apprised of the latest developments.”

“Very well. Arrange for your replacement to attend me at tonight’s court.”

Scribe bowed low and then departed.

“Forgive me, but I must leave you also. I need some sleep before I must raise the moon tonight.”

“Of course, Luna,” Twilight responded. “We’ll all be fine right here for now.”

“Yes,” Path said with a joyful smile. “House and herd reunited. I love you all.”

# # #

Free made himself comfortable on a sofa in their room. It was positioned in front of the balcony window, and was presently bathed in warm sunshine. When he was settled, Twilight got up to join him and laid her head on his back between his wings. She sighed happily.

“It’s good to be able to relax and forget about your cares for a little while.”

“It’s better to be able to share it with someone you love,” Free replied. Twilight’s silence spoke volumes to Free. “You don’t have to be afraid to admit it, Twi. I can taste it, you know.”

“It’s scary, Free. I need to admit it to myself first.”

“Why? Don’t you love your friends?”

“It’s a different kind of love, and you know it.”

“In the end, does it matter?”

“It matters because it can change my entire life. Making friends for the first time changed me forever.”

“And look how that turned out.”

“The consequences of this could be more drastic, Free. We’re hardly a typical couple.”

“Don’t let that put you off, Twi. You’re a mare first, not an alicorn, not a princess, not a Harmony Bearer. You owe it to yourself to put your needs and desires up there along with your responsibilities. They aren’t incompatible goals, I assure you.”

“You do seem to make a career of proving that,” Twilight admitted.

“Everypony needs passion. Everypony deserves love. I want to give you both, Twilight.”

Twilight contemplated that for a long while before she asked, “So – blue balls?”

Free grinned. “I haven’t banged anyone, pony or otherwise, since you became my very special somepony.”

“I never asked that of you, y’know?”

“I know. It’s not as if I’ve lost interest in it, but the focus of my attention has shifted.”

“You’ve been waiting for me?”

“Yes.”

“Did you think that I might never feel that way about you?”

“Yes. Remember what you said about this being scary? It works both ways.”

Twilight was quiet for another lengthy period before she lifted her head and kissed him. “I love you, Firetail.”

“And I love you, Sparkles.”

Free’s weakness and injuries did little to dim the passion with which they made love for the first time. Her love was true, and it bolstered him until they were both sated. They then spent the next half hour just cuddling, enjoying being together.

Eventually Twilight asked, “You want to hear something really scary?”

“What’s that?”

“Let’s talk about marriage.”

# # # # # # # # # #

 
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