Greg was stealth incarnate. He was the rushing shadow in the dark, that little shape in the corner of your eye that was gone long before you could get a decent look at it. He was the ultimate infiltrator, the perfect spy: a creature capable of melding into any environment, slipping around completely undetected. Until he wished to strike, that is. As a changeling, he was the perfect predator, living atop a food chain in an order that none dared challenge.
Alighting on the roof of a tiny farmhouse, Greg ditched his pegasus disguise for his natural, glorious changeling form. In a flash of green fire, his light-blue fur and warm, inviting eyes became the black chitin and cold blue orbs he was born with. Licking his reformed fangs, he grinned. ‘Too easy,’ he thought as he skittered along the edge of the roof and made his way to a darkened window. Pressing himself against the glass, he almost sighed with how easily it slid open. Ponies were so trusting: leaving themselves open to the world outside, completely oblivious to the monstrosities that always had them in their sights.
Sliding into the house, Greg found himself in a darkened hallway with a bit of light pouring in from a door at the far end. Flashing his fang-filled grin in the darkness, he crept towards it in absolute silence, his cloven hooves easily silently gliding over the wood-paneled floor. Slowly, patiently, he made his way towards the light and slid the door open, spotting a hot-pink mare with a carrot-orange mane laboring over a mixing bowl. Her attention was completely occupied by her work, the changeling grinned at that. ‘Just way too easy,’ he thought, licking his lips as he eased the door open and quietly made his way across the kitchen floor. His tattered wings folding against his body, Greg slinked towards his prey, completely oblivious to his presence as he crept up behind her. He had been so very patient, so incredibly quiet to make it this far. ‘And now, my reward!’ His inner voice said with glee as he descended upon the mare.
“Wha…“ she gasped in surprise, panic rising in her voice, but all too late. Long before she could have a hope of reacting, Greg clamped a hoof over the mare’s mouth and bought his lips down on her throat. She went limp almost instantly, eyes squeezing shut as her breath came in quick, short bursts, the changeling sucking with all the force in his body. After nearly a full minute, Greg’s mouth released her with a loud smack and his head darted back to survey his handiwork.
“Not bad at all,” he mused in that hiss-like, multi-layered voice all changelings possessed in their natural form. “But then, I’m no expert on hickies, so I guess I wouldn’t know.”
“Greg!” The mare yelled indignantly, pulling out of his hole-filled hooves. “What in Celestia’s name are you doing!?”
“Well,” he flashed that fang-filled grin at her, his forked tongue running along his lips. “I just stopped by, smelt dinner, and figured I’d come in for a little something sweet.”
“You perv,” she laughed, leaving her mixing spoon in the bowl to survey the damage in a hallway mirror. A huge, red welt stared angrily back at her, with a pair of tiny pink pinpricks where his fangs had scraped against her skin ever-so-gently. Fortunately, her fur color would make sure nobody would notice from a distance, so at least she’d be able to go into town without a scarf or something. The changeling was learning fast. “Not bad at all, Greg,” she mumbled.
“You’re welcome!” He called from the kitchen. She rushed back to him with an eyebrow arched. He rolled his eyes and pointed casually at one of his torn ears. “What? Changeling senses, remember? I can hear a lot with these babies.”
“I keep forgetting,” she sighed, returning to the mixing bowl. “Celestia, when will you stop doing that, though? I nearly jumped out of my horseshoes that time!”
“When you start locking your doors and windows,” he replied, a stern look crossing his face. “It’s a dangerous world out there, Cotton! And the sooner you start guarding yourself against it…”
“…the easier you sleep at night knowing I’m safe, blah blah blah blah blah…” she mocked, rolling her eyes. “I’ve heard it a million times before, sweets, but I’m safe here! This town isn’t like the Everfree, or the Changeling caves!”
“It’s close enough for me to be concerned! Just because you have a few neighbors doesn’t mean you’re totally…” He was interrupted by the softest, most warm feeling he could imagine tracing along under his chin. His black cheeks turned a bright red as her tail wafted right beneath his face, his eyes darting wide and one of his hind legs thumping against the floor, like a dog getting its belly scratched.
“No fair. You can’t use that to win every argument.” He whimpered.
“Says who?” The mare asked, smiling seductively as she planted a quick little peck on his cheek. Immediately, the breath left Greg’s lungs as just a touch of her love flooded into his mind, lighting his brain up and scrambling his thoughts into mush like an electric shock. She followed the love up with a dash of lust and a teensy bit of hope, and he was left as a little pile of goo in the shape of a changeling, barely able to even sit up straight. Smiling, the mare returned to her work, setting to the mixing bowl as her stallionfriend recovered.
“So unfair,” he mumbled. She had gotten way too good at manipulating her emotions, mixing them up to throw him off and send him reeling with a touch, as if it was six months ago and they were just starting to explore their feelings for one another again. He never should have taught her how to switch up her emotions to throw a changeling off, but oh he’d wanted her to be safe if she was attacked and hey every kiss afterwards had been FANTASTIC! Except now the only way he could ever have some level of control when they touched was to catch her by surprise…
A wicked gleam entering his eye, Greg sauntered up beside her. He took a quick look at her cheeks, glaring as if confused by something.
“Greg?” She asked, turning those big, beautiful, turquoise eyes on him. “What is it?”
“You got something on your face,” he replied.
“Oh shoot, really? Where?”
“Right here!” Quick as a cobra, his hoof dipped into the bowl and smeared a dab of batter on her cheek.
“Ugh, Greg!” She laughed.
“Oh don’t worry; I’ll get it for you!” He snickered as he locked her in another embrace and licked the batter off her cheek, bit by bit like an animal. She giggled as the tongue tickled at her face, every stray emotion of panic and arousal and, of course, love bombarding his brain as he continued. His tongue traced down her cheek until it found her mouth and plunged in.
The kiss burnt on with their passion, the changeling supporting both himself and the mare by bracing his hooves against the countertop. His brain reeling from the emotional onslaught radiating from his marefriend, Greg was completely oblivious as he lifted her up and seated her on the countertop for better leverage, which knocked her right into the bowl, sending it clattering to the floor and spraying batter everywhere. “I am a STUPID little bug!” The changeling shouted angrily, kicking away some of the batter dripping down his hooves. “Dangit all! I’m sorry, Cotton.”
“It’s not your fault,” the mare sighed, winking cutely as she accepted his hoof offering to help her down. “It was very nice while it lasted, and truthfully, I’d love to pick up where we left off later on.”
“Later?” He asked, smiling seductively as his hooves traced around her hips. “What’s wrong with right now?”
“Well, right now I need to gather more snapberries,” she replied, pulling herself free and picking up a little wicker basket in her mouth. “That batter had m’lapht batch.”
Greg’s teeth clenched, his eyes peering out the window at the darkening sky. “That’s in the Everfree, isn’t it?”
“Oh, jupht a quarter mile or tho.”
“Cottonnnnn…” he moaned worriedly.
“I’ve done this a million times before, Greg,” she said stubbornly, setting the basket on the ground and glaring at him. “I don’t need you looking over my shoulder every second of the day to make sure I’m safe. I’m a grown mare! So just stay here, clean up, and when I get back, we are going to enjoy some of my world-famous snapberry biscuits, alright?”
The changeling bit his lip, mindful of his own fangs. The mare just smiled and gave him a quick peck on his forehead, sending another warm wave of love coursing down his neck and through his body like a tidal wave of pure joy. He quivered like a mound of black, chitin-covered gelatin. “Biggest mistake of my life was teaching you how to do that.” He grumbled.
“I’ll be right back,” she whispered, giving him a last little squeeze before trotting out the door with the basket clenched in her teeth. “Jupht try t’clean up a li’l, mmkay? Ruv ‘oo!”
“Okay, love ya too!” He waved, listening to the front door open and slam shut. A worried look immediately crossed his face again as he headed to the supply cabinet to hunt for a bucket and mop. He sighed. “I love you too.”
It took forever for the changeling to mop up the batter and toss it out, sighing as he threw the ruined mop-head out along with it. One of the advantages of growing up in a cave was the numerous bats and spiders waiting in the shadows to eat up any mess someling made. Unfortunately, this meant Greg was even more inexperienced with house-cleaning than the average stallion.
“Who knew batter could get in so many little cracks?” He muttered, absentmindedly picking out another glop of the stuff from the cracks in the chitin around his knee. Distracted, his eyes wandered over to the little cuckoo clock mounted on the wall, and then widened. “That can’t be…” he gasped. Nearly an hour and a half since Cotton had left!? Where in the heck did the time go!? And what’s more, where was she? Even as a flightless pony, it couldn’t take her that long to get what she needed and get back!
Instantly, every instinct in the changeling’s brain snapped on, screaming at him that something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. Greg bit his lip as everything that could be that something danced through his mind: Cotton underneath a fallen tree, impaled on a bunch of branches; Cotton lying broken and battered at the base of a cliff; a bear relaxing in its cave, picking some Cotton-colored patches out of its teeth with the remnants of a bone that had been licked clean…
“Nope,” he said instantly, pacing back and forth through the kitchen. “Nope, nope, nope nope nopenopenopenope NO!” He was NOT gonna start thinking like that! He was a highly-trained, well-disciplined soldier (well, former soldier) of the swarm! Soldiers did not freak out because their marefriends were a bit late coming home! Soldiers remained calm, thought logically, and appraised the situation from a rational standpoint.
“Yeah,” he nodded firmly to himself, hoping the sound of his own voice might keep him calm. “She probably got distracted talking to somepony. That makes sense; mares are always chatting somepony up! Or maybe the snapberries were all eaten up at the bush she meant to go to, and she had to search for another one! Yeah! There you go, Greg! Or hey, maybe she just got a little turned around in those dark, scary forests and wound up blundering deeper and deeper in there until she came upon the changeling hive and right now is sitting in a cocoon while my former brothers and sisters all feeduponherverylifeforceholydearsweetChrysalisCOTTON!”
Completely freaked-out, the changeling bolted for the door, only assuming his pegasus form as an afterthought mere moments before stepping outside. Immediately, he took to the air, the wind billowing through his pegasus wings in an all-out rush for the Everfree. Farmland rushing by beneath him, the fake pegasus only paused when he noticed somepony on the path below: a chubby, burnt-orange mare carrying a basket of flowers picked fresh from her garden.
Swooping down in front of the mare, he darted into her vision and screamed: “Have ya seen a hot-pink earth pony around here!?”
“Oh! Oh my stars, you gave me a start!” The mare gasped, out of breath as she fanned herself with her sun hat. “Goodness gracious, you shouldn’t do that to somepony!”
“Right. Sorry. Have you?”
“Uh-what? Oh heavens, you mean Cotton Candy, dontcha?” The mare said, big, oblivious eyes lighting up.
“Yes, yes, Cotton!”
“Oh my goodness me, you must be her stallionfriend! Gary!”
“Yes, yes, oh my, Gray, Cotton’s said so much aboutcha!”
“It’s Greg, now I’m kind’ve in a…wait, really?”
“Oh yes, you sound like quite the charmer from what she says! And you should see the way she swoons just talking aboutcha, though she didn’t say you were such a handsome fella, dontcha know! Actually,” the mare thought for a second, eyes wondering upwards. “She didn’t say much about whatcha look like at all, isn’t that funny? A handsome stallion like you, you’d think she’d wanna brag!”
“Well,” he rubbed a hoof along his chest and smiled lightly, his ego boosted a few million points. “She knows I like my privacy, and…what’m I doing? I’m sorry, but I’m looking for her, have you seen her!?”
“She also mentioned you lived in the Everfree somewhere,” the mare replied, still lost in thought. “I remember thinkin’ to myself that couldn’t be right, ‘cause nopony would just live in the Everfree…”
Losing all patience, the disguised changeling gripped the mare by her shoulders and shook her frantically. “Listen to me, you scatterbrained idiot! That mare could be in imminent danger right now and if you stand between me and her then SO HELP ME…”
The mare’s eyes widened at the fury igniting in Greg’s eyes, highlighted by the ice-cold blue that hinted at the edge of his irises. For a second, she could swear she even saw fangs sprout out of his gum line, but that was impossible, right? “I-I saw her go into th-the forest about an hour ago, just over there!” The mare stammered, pointing to a small path leading into the forest.
Immediately, Greg’s eyes softened. He felt the terror and confusion radiating off her and realized his mistake. “Th-thank you!” He said quickly, the blue retreating from his eyes as he wrapped the mare in a hug before taking off for the Everfree. “And sorry!” He added over his shoulder.
Shaking, the mare stooped to pick up her flowers, dropped during the strange encounter with the stallion. She turned to hurry home, suddenly mindful of the setting sun and fading light. The nice little farm she worked on suddenly didn’t seem so nice and little at all, especially with certain…things that could hide in the dark. She shivered as she trotted home at a brisk pace, trying to keep the thought of a thousand ice-cold eyes glaring at her from the dark pinned to the back of her mind.
No matter how hard she tried, Cotton couldn’t get a rein on her fear. ‘Calm yourself,’ she thought. ‘Like Greg taught you: open your mind to the possibilities and rationalize the…’
The buzzing of tattered, insect-like wings interrupted her thought process. She clamped a hoof over her mouth to suppress a scream while a pair of changelings darted by the tree she was hiding in. Usually, that sound was almost comforting: the only warning she might have of her stallionfriend sneaking up on her. Out here, though…
Trying to distract herself, she let her mind drift. ‘Oh shoot, I dropped the basket!’ She realized, her breath slowing down from quick, short gasps to long and drawn-out. ‘Such a scatterbrained mare! What will Greg think when I come home empty-hoofed?’
It didn’t work. All it took was another buzz from the ground below and a surge of panic burst into her mind. The squalid-looking, dirty changeling beneath her sensed her fear in a heartbeat and turned to look up into her tree, a low, threatening hiss emanating from its throat while its sickly yellow eyes scanned for her. Thinking fast, she dropped down and scurried off, her hooves sliding through the mud as she made a run for it. The changeling was right behind her, though the sudden burst of movement had thrown it off enough to give her maybe half a second’s worth of lead time.
“Oh no, oh gosh, oh Celestia…” she panted, all thoughts of keeping herself calm and controlled abandoned as she darted through the forest in a wild panic. A loud, high-pitched call sounded behind her from the changeling in pursuit, and a moment later she heard the buzzing of a dozen more wings in the air all around and above her.
“Celestia, please!” She screamed, bursting through a line of bushes into a small clearing and galloping for the bushes on the other side, only to screech to a stop. Half a dozen yellow, glowing eyes glared at her from the shadows, three changelings stalking out of them, hissing with their backs arched like cats. She turned to run back the way she came, only to find the pair of changelings from before blocking her path. With another group of changelings hovering in the air just over the clearing, Cotton realized she was totally boxed in. Tears welling in her eyes, she sniffled and curled up in the middle of the clearing to await the inevitable. The hissing grew closer and closer, never ending, always advancing. “Greg, I’m sorry, I love you.” She whimpered.
“COTTON!” A voice screamed overhead. At first, she figured she had to be imagining it. It was just too good to be true. Greg couldn’t possibly be here, he was still at the house! But then she opened her eyes just as a sky-blue pegasus landed on top of her, his throat emanating that all-too familiar changeling hiss.
“Greg!?” She gasped. In response, the light-blue fur covering the leg by her head burnt away in a flash of green fire, revealing the large changeling to everypony in the field. “Oh, Greg!” She cried, wrapping her hooves around his neck as he kept his sights leveled on the changelings around them.
“You okay!?” He screamed in his multi-layered voice, keeping his eyes on the changelings circling them. They had already recovered from the shock of another changeling appearing from above and resumed their stalking motions, slowly closing in.
“Yes, of course! Wh-why aren’t they stopping?” She asked, looking around at the strange, emaciated black forms around them. “Don’t you have a higher rank!?”
“These are ferals, hun; no respect for rank,” he replied between hisses as he turned to the changelings coming up from behind, trying to keep his eyes on every attacker at once.
“There are feral changelings now!? What do we do!?”
He didn’t reply, but kept trying to intimidate the changelings into backing off. It wasn’t working. Though he was obviously bigger, stronger, and better-fed than the ferals, Greg was still grossly outnumbered. He might be able to take on three or four of these guys at once, but a dozen? Nopony could handle that many at the same time (except maybe the Elements of Harmony, he guessed) and these changelings knew it, somewhere deep in their animal-like brains.
“Greg?” Cotton asked. “Greg, just go.”
“Are you crazy!?” He screamed, still keeping up his hissing with a few roars interspaced between. “They’ll suck you dry!”
“It’s better that at least one of us survive! Greg, they just want me, but if you run now…”
“Out of the question,” he replied, lowering his body closer to hers and letting out a few more warning growls.
“Cotton, hush,” he replied, closing his lips around hers for a quick kiss (and a tiny love boost). “I’d never leave you behind, not after you refused to leave me. Not ever.”
Those gorgeous, turquoise orbs went wide-open in shock as she gazed into his icy blues. “Oh, you are a keeper,” she gasped, realizing there was no way in heaven or hell she was just going to sit there and watch him die.
A hiss at his front interrupted the moment. Greg immediately turned on the changelings before him and hissed back, fangs bared. Finally, one of the ferals worked up the courage to dash at him, teeth gnashing like an animal. The ex-soldier took it down with a well-placed punch to the throat, finishing it by sinking his fangs into the soft flesh at the base of its skull. Unfortunately, this just provoked the others, prompting the rest of the pack to descend upon him all at once. Greg held his own for a few minutes, bashing skulls together and slashing away with his fangs, but it was hopeless. All it took was for one of the dozen to get a lucky blow in on the back of his head. It only dazed him for a heartbeat, but it was more than enough for the rest to descend upon him, kicking him and beating him with their hooves, fangs, and even skulls.
Greg fell to the grass, spots dancing in front of his eyes while several more blows landed on his carapace. He howled in pain as he felt something crack. His eyes slowly slid shut as the blows fell harder and faster, every breath he took sending white-hot agony through his body. It was over. He always knew he’d be worthless in a real fight. He’d maybe managed to take down two or three of these animals, but the rest of the pack was finishing him off quite efficiently. Oh well. At least he’d earned Cotton a chance to escape…
Suddenly, something glowed within his heart, warming the inside of his chest. “No…” he choked as the blows suddenly stopped, the changelings’ attention diverted to something. Ignoring the searing flames of pain shooting through his body, he wrenched his eyes open and forced himself to turn over, spitting up a few globs of fluorescent green blood as he did. He knew that warm feeling. It was the exact same as what Cotton used on him every time they kissed, only much stronger. As he’d expected, the mare was standing in the middle of the clearing, her eyes closed as she focused every ounce of concentration on projecting her love outwards, luring the feral changelings to her.
“I’m…not…leaving you…either…Greg…” she huffed with the effort. The first changeling approached her and hissed, ready to pounce. “I’m sorry…”
“Cotton…no…please,” he stood on shaking hooves, a fire growing in his chest. He knew he had to be in complete agony at this point, but for some reason, he found it surprisingly easy to remain standing. “Stay away from her!” He barked, somehow remaining on his hooves. A few of the changelings turned to him for a second, but immediately turned back on her, one of them opening its mouth to suck the mare dry.
“Did you hear me!? I said STAY AWAY FROM HER YOU FREAKS!” Greg bellowed, an odd white glow entering his eyes. A loud hum flared up in his ears, deafening him. He screamed through it all, charging forward without caring that he was blind and deaf. Something hard hit him on the flank, and he tossed it away with ease. Something else took a swing at his head, and he deflected the blow and roared. “YOU CAN’T HAVE HER!”
There was a last, blinding flash, and suddenly the whole world slid back into focus. He kept charging, half-blind, something soft hitting his face and falling beneath his body.
“Greg?” Cotton’s voice asked from somewhere far off. His vision cleared finally, and there she was, safe and sound beneath him. Her eyes were wide in concern, her hooves up under her chin, her mane covered in sticks and twigs.
“Cotton…” she looked so beautiful just then he wanted to cry.
“What was that?” She asked.
“What was what?”
“You!” She pointed behind him, and he turned to find a pile of changelings, mostly with burnt carapaces. They looked like Celestia herself had hit them with solar magic; cloven hoof marks burnt into their carapaces, their eyes wide and blank, staring at nothing.
“Did I…” he started, but a stabbing pain pounded through his head. The changeling tumbled off his marefriend and swooned, stumbling wildly as if he’d just taken a baseball bat to the back of the head.
“Greg!?” Cotton gasped in concern. It was the last thing he heard before the ground rushed up to meet him and an inky black darkness overwhelmed his senses, his mind disappearing into unconsciousness.
Greg opened his eyes, and instantly a white-hot needle of pain stabbed into his forehead. He squinted and winced in agony, his chest rising and falling beneath his hooves. He was in a bed, he could tell that much from the soft sheets wrapped around him. He tried to move a hoof, and a faint stab of pain nettled at his shoulder. One of his hooves resisted motion, as if it were in a sling. Probably was, truth be told, though he could hardly feel it. So, where was he? A hospital? Had to be, he could remember the beating he’d taken, and anyling would need to be in total agony after a beating like that. The only explanation for the lack of pain was painkillers, hospital-grade, or from somepony who knew their way around a cabinet of herbal remedies. Still, that didn’t explain this warm feeling pulsing through his carapace.
His ears picked up some far-off, garbled sound, ringing in the darkness. Before he could even begin to ponder on that, his body was met with something warm and fuzzy wrapping around his neck and covering his chitin while a few, soft little pecks covered the front of his face and nose. The warm feeling grew in his thorax, and suddenly the changeling knew where he was. He smiled happily: there was nowhere else he would rather be.
Greg’s eyes slowly opened, the stabbing pain now just a dull ache as they worked to refocus. A soft, hot-pink blur slowly sharpened itself, a shock of orange at its top eventually coalescing into a mane atop a pony’s face, complete with gorgeous sapphires for eyes. His smile molded into a grin. “Hey Cotton, miss me?” He rasped, his mouth dry.
Tears cascaded down her face. “GREG!” She sobbed, throwing her hooves around the changeling and holding him close.
“Gwah!” He gasped in reply. Whatever painkiller she had him on obviously wasn’t enough to block all the pain.
“Ohmygosh, I’m sorry!” She squealed, dashing out of the little room and returning with a first aid kit and a glass of water which she promptly shoved into his hooves. “Here, I’m sure you’re thirsty. I’ve been doing my best to keep you hydrated, but there was only so much I could do! Do you hurt anywhere? Oh, well, of course you hurt, I mean, I’m pretty sure they broke every piece of chitin in your body…”
“Cotton…” he said with a grimace of pain.
“I mean, I tried my best to patch you up myself but I’m not a nurse! Thing is, there’s no way I could take you to a hospital! I mean, a changeling in Equestria!? Nuh-uh!”
“But I think with your hoof the way it is I did a pretty good job on…”
Her mouth clamped shut. “I was babbling, wasn’t I?” She whispered.
“I’m sorry, it’s just…” the tears started welling up all over again. “I came so close to losing you, I didn’t…”
He laid a hoof on her lips, slowly pulling her in. Still sniffling, Cotton climbed into the bed, resting on the covers next to the changeling. For a while, they just laid there, one of his hooves running through her mane, smiling as her hair tickled at the edges of his holes, allowing her warmth to lull him back to the edge of sleep. Before plunging back into unconsciousness, however, her form shifted and got up, trotting out of the room. He peered at her quizzically when she returned a few minutes later and climbed in next to him again.
“Just making sure the doors were locked before we fell asleep,” she explained softly, her body curling up against his.
“That’s my girl,” he replied, grinning as they drifted off together.
“How long was I out?”
Cotton looked up at him from her bowl of oatmeal, her big, blue eyes growing wet all over again. She had only just allowed him out of bed long enough to sit at the table for breakfast, but it looked like she still wasn’t over how close to death he had been. “A-a few days. It was…a bit sketchy at first. There were some times when I…I didn’t think you were gonna make it…”
“Hey, hey, shhhh-I’m alright, you see?” He lifted a hoof, the one still not in a sling, to her face, ignoring the small stab of pain the motion caused him and smiling. It still warmed his black heart to know she cared so deeply for him. Just imagine: a pony, being concerned for a changeling’s well-being! A few years ago, he would’ve thought the very idea to be absolutely ridiculous. Yet here he was, the changeling that, for some reason, was special enough to be cared for by this pony. He must have been a saint in a past life to deserve this.
All at once, Cotton’s hoof lashed out in a light slap to his cheek, tears still wetting her eyes. “OW!” He yelled, recoiling. “What was that for!?”
“If you ever tell me to leave you again, I’ll break your hooves off and shove them up your little, black arse!” She screeched, tears flowing down her face all over again. Greg’s smile just grew wider, sliding his chair next to hers and pulling her in so that her head rested on his chest.
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” he whispered, suppressing the urge to buckle under the pain still wracking his broken body.
“Celestia above, what were those things, anyway? They looked like changelings, but they were so…hungry-looking, like they’d just gotten out of a warzone!”
“Feral changelings,” he replied with a wince as she shifted against his shoulder. “A few decades back, the hive was hit by a huge famine, so to stretch our love reserves out Chrysalis had to abandon some hatchlings to the Everfree.”
“Really!? That’s horrible!”
“That’s survival,” Greg shrugged casually, quickly remembering her pony sensibilities regarding death. “But yeah, it kinda is, looking back on it,” he added quickly. “Anyway, once the famine ended, rumors started flying all around the hive that some of the hatchlings survived in the wild, raised on the love of animals, but without any of the training to control their instincts or any contact with civilization, changeling or otherwise.”
“No wonder they looked so malnourished, or why they behaved like a bunch of animals in a pack!”
“That’s all they knew,” Greg sighed. “I doubt they could even transform to hide their true bodies, probably why so many ponies think of us as just animals. Honestly, I never thought they were even real. Just figured it was some horror story to keep the new hatchlings in line. ‘Ooh, clean out the rest of your love rations or Chrysalis will send you to live with the ferals,’ ‘Ooh, pay attention at your transformation lessons or the ferals will come and drag you off in the middle of the night,’ that sort of thing.”
“They seemed awfully real to me, Greg.”
“Yeah,” he nuzzled the back of her head, breathing in her scent. “Me too.”
“How did you drive them off, anyway?”
“I, uh…” he frowned. “I’m not really sure. I remember a white light, and warmth, like what I feel when I feed off a bit of your love, only all over my body, not just in my stomach. Then you were under me…a very pleasant part of my memory, by the way…”
“…and then…nothing. Just darkness.”
“I remember that,” she looked up into his eyes. “So you don’t know what that light might have been?”
“No idea at all,” he scrunched up the chitin where his eyebrows would be if he were a pony. “Hold on now, if I blacked out, how did I get back here?”
“It wasn’t easy,” she replied, resting her chin on his chest again. “You’re surprisingly heavy for a guy with holes in his hooves. I think it might be time we put you on a diet; maybe let myself get angry at you more often, tamper off that love supply a little.”
“You mean, you…” his eyes widened as she nodded. “That’s a good coupla miles, Cotton!”
“It felt even longer. I had to find some leaves to make you a cot, then run like the wind to drag you back here before the neighbors woke up. I pretty much collapsed the moment I had you safe in bed,” she smiled sheepishly. “I…didn’t even tend to your wounds until the next morning. Sorry.”
“Sorry!? You worked your pretty, pink butt off to save my life, and you’re sorry?” He shook his head and laughed, the giggling fit almost immediately devolving into a dry coughing jag. She started to get up for a glass of water, but he grasped her hoof and pulled her back to him, holding her there until the fit ended and his shoulders were no longer heaving with every breath. They fell silent then, no interaction needed except for the warmth of their bodies against one another.
Finally, Cotton broke the silence: “You think my butt is pretty?”
“I think your butt is GORGEOUS,” he replied, his good hoof squeezing her. She squeaked in surprise, and promptly wrapped her hooves tighter around his shoulders, her lips closing over his again.
“I thought I was gonna lose you.” She said shakily, breaking the kiss.
“You didn’t,” he whispered into her ear. “And as long as there’s breath in my body and love in your heart, you never will.”