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ACT FIVE

    The building was packed tonight. The few seats they'd set up only accommodated a tiny portion of the audience. Ponies were standing all the way out the front door, and the windows were open to let the sound filter out to them. The room buzzed in anticipation for tonight's show.
    Party Animal gave his gear a few more tweaks and one more glance-over to make sure all of the cords were plugged in to the right inputs. He exhaled. This was a big night. ENNUI and Party Collective, coming together for one huge bash. It was exciting.
    He turned as somebody approached him. It was Vitriol, lead singer and bass player of ENNUI and his long-time friend and rival. "Hey, Party. Are you ready to give these ponies something to remember?"
    Party smiled. "You bet, Vitch. How's Sweet doing?" Party had always had a thing for Vitriol's girlfriend, but would never try to break the two up.
    "Great. We bought a new guitar and she's excited to test it out for the first time, especially on a crowd this big."
    "Awesome. And how are you doing?"
    Vitriol looked down and sighed. "Same as always. You know how it is."
    Party frowned. Of course he knew how it was, Vitriol never felt happy. "I wanted to thank you for letting me use your track. I made something pretty awesome, if I may toot my own horn."
    Vitriol smiled a little and said, "You can toot your horn as much as you want. I bet it's as good as you say." He turned and looked at an old clock on the wall. "Well, almost time to start. Good luck, Party."
    "Yeah, good luck to you, too, Vitch."
    Party turned back to his equipment as Vitriol walked away. He queued up some songs, arranged his records for easy access to tracks he'd need at certain times, and tweaked the equipment, mostly out of nervousness.
    He turned around again as Sweet flapped over to him. "Hey, Party, have you seen Vitriol? He was here earlier, but I can't find him anywhere."
    Party frowned and said, "Yeah, I was just talking to him. I thought he went over to you guys."
    Sweet shook her head. "I'll go check the bar. He may be getting drunk again. I told him not to do that tonight!" She sighed and floated back into the air, heading for the bar.
    Party stared after her. Several thoughts began to surface, but he pushed them back. He didn't want to mull over the same old feelings he had for Sweet; he already knew how he felt and knew that there wasn't anything he could do about it.
    He heard a loud sob over the din of the theatergoers. He snapped back into focus, and saw that it was Sweet who'd just sobbed. She was holding a note, and the bartender was trying to hand her a large sack.
    Party got over there as fast as possible, but by the time he'd pushed through the crowd, Sweet had already flown backstage. He looked at the barkeeper. "What just happened?"
    The bartender scratched his chin. "Vitriol left a note and a big ol' bag of money for Sweet. Told me not to wait up 'n paid his whole tab, and then some."
    Party glanced over at the backstage entrance again. This wasn't good.


ACT SIX

    It was a warm spring day. The birds were singing, ponies were snuggling in the shade and on picnic blankets, and the air was heavy with joy. Fresco noticed none of this as she slowly floated down to the weathered park bench. She folded her wings around her, dejected, trying to hide her tears.
    "What's wrong?"
    Fresco jumped as she realized that there was another pony sitting on the bench.
    "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there!" Fresco said, sniffling. She gave him a winning smile, but it didn't quite reach her tired, puffy eyes.
    The mint-coated pony stared at her, plainfaced. He took a drag from his cigarette, scrutinizing her. He was wearing heavy winter clothes, and she was surprised he wasn't sweating profusely in the heat, even though a large tree shaded the bench.
    "You, uh, don't have to pretend. It's okay."
    Fresco nodded, sniffling again. Her smile drooped back to its previous frown, and she looked down at the cobbled path.
    "I...lost somebody special to me."
    The green pony nodded and looked away as well.
    "Did they die?" he asked bluntly.
    Fresco's eyes widened and she looked back up at him. "No! No, he just...he's gone now."
    The green pony sat back, folding his forelegs. He stayed like this for a while, finally moving when his cigarette burned down to the filter. He flicked it away, then pulled another from his pocket, lighting it.
    "Why did he, uh, leave?" He looked at her again.
    Fresco shifted uncomfortably, then sighed. "He was...a changeling. He lied to me for almost a year, and when I found out, he ran away."
    The green pony scratched his beard thoughtfully. "A, uh, changeling, hmm? I see." He thought a moment longer. "Normally, changelings are, um, rather cut-and-dry: Fool a pony with their disguise for, uh, 3 months at most, feed on their love, then, uh, move on to the next victim."
    Tears began rolling down Fresco's face again, the pain of his betrayal coming back to her.
    "But," he began, "this one did not. Now, I'm, uh, not an expert on, um, changeling psychology, but I'd been led to believe that, uh, they were incapable of real love. Hence the trickery and so on." He puffed his cigarette. "So then, why did he, uh, spend so long wooing you? Were you particularly jaded or, um, shut off beforehand?"
    Fresco shook her head. "I'm not an introvert."
    The green pony nodded. "Then, and this is just a, uh, shot in the dark, but this changeling was actually in love with you. I, uh, assume he took the form of somebody you liked but found, um, difficult to travel to or get to, uh, notice you?"
    Fresco nodded.
    "Did it, uh, seem like he was trying to push you into a relationship or, uh, did he go at a pace that was, um, comfortable for you?"
    "He...was very careful. So, yeah, he made sure that I was comfortable with it."
    The green pony hummed. "Then I, uh, suppose he really did feel something for you. That's how I, uh, see it, anyway. A changeling, once found out, does not, um, simply 'run away.' They cause as much, uh, mischief as possible before fleeing."
    Fresco thought about this. When he'd been exposed, he had looked empty. Like the life had gone out of him. She had almost felt sorry for him before pushing those feelings away. Now, though... she wasn't sure what to think.
    The green pony sensed this and patted her back. "I'm, um, sure that he'll come back. He can't resist somebody that he truly fell for, and since he's a, uh, changeling, this must be a very new thing to him. His feelings for you are surely very, um, strong."
    Fresco looked up at him. He was looking at her in a very familiar way. Serious, but unrelentingly supportive and honest. Where had she seen that look before...?
    "And you, uh, clearly feel the same, because if you didn't care about him anymore, you, uh, wouldn't have sat down like somebody just dumped a bag of rocks all over the bench." He smiled slightly.
    Fresco looked back down, another tear escaping her eye.
    "Give him another chance. Trust me. And if you, uh, have any trouble with him, here." He handed her a piece of paper with a phone number scribbled on it. "This is, um, Celestia's personal line. She, uh, won't come down herself, of course, but she only gives this number to people she feels she can, um, trust. She'd definitely send enough, uh, guards to help you."
    Fresco looked down at the scrap, then back up at him, incredulous. "How...did you get this?"
    The green pony looked away. "Sometimes bad ponies are given things they aren't worthy of." He looked back. "I, uh, hope it turns out favorably for you."
    He got up to leave, but Fresco stopped him.
    "Something else?"
    She gave him a large hug, lifting him into the air slightly. He stared at her blankly, and she shot him a smile, a real one this time. "I can't thank you enough."
    He sighed and began walking away, head hung low. Fresco frowned, then looked at the number again. Princess Celestia's private line! A new hope for regaining her love! And she owed it to... to...
    "Wait!" she shouted, looking up again. But there were no winter-dressed ponies in sight. A few ponies looked up at her, but returned to their cuddling and picnicking. Fresco looked down at the paper to make sure she hadn't imagined it, and found it still there.
    She supposed she would never learn this mystery pony's name, but she would always remember him for helping her when she felt helpless.
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