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PrinceBlueblood

Sorting out a New Life (ATTN: Steel)

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Blueblood wasn't sure when it had all come to a head.  Heck, he wasn't sure wasn't sure when exactly it started.  Faust, he couldn't even tell you what "it" really was.  All he knew was that his life had taken a dramatic shift from it's normal course a few years ago, and he was floundering.  

 

If he took the rather sudden reappearing of Auntie Luna as the beginning, he'd had to deal with public-dressing downs, invasions of his home city and country while he was at ground zero, sudden magical accidents that 'cursed' him with the ability to switch genders... it was all beginning to pile up.  Not that all the changes in his life were bad; he had an actual marefriend now, along with several other new friends who had helped him through quite a lot of these stressful events.

 

However, he'd never really sat down and unpacked everything that he'd been bottling up inside for a while, to sort it out.  All his life he'd had it drilled into his head that royalty maintained a calm reserve, so as not to show weakness in front of the common pony.  It was not a maxim he was always able to keep, especially when in the grip of panic, but it still was a hindering habit, hard to break.  

 

But, no more.  The nightmares had been coming on again, he felt his patience with other ponies wearing thin, and to top it all off, he had to spend an extra 15 minutes every day deciding whether he'd face the world as a mare or a stallion that day!  Clearly, he needed help, and fortunately, help was coming, in the form of the mare who, coincidentally, was responsible for his fluid gender situation.

Twilight Sparkle was coming to visit, ostensibly for a final observation of the magic that was now bound to him and a demonstration of his (or her) new abilities.  The Prince knew, however, that she fancied herself something of a psychiatrist.  Along with pretty much every -ist that existed, or at least those that could put their trade secrets in a book.

He looked up at the clock in his manor hall, the pendulum ticking starting to get on his nerves.  A lot of things were lately; sheesh.  He needed help, somepony to talk to, to help him sort it all out, and hopefully one who wouldn't make it worse by pushing quack suggestions...

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It had been some time since Twilight had been able to play any role other than Princess, and it was starting to eat away at her. All of the diplomatic wrangling and societal functions that her position requested- neigh, demanded- were nibbling away in bits and pieces until her time was eaten away. Sure she got to spend much of her time solving friendship problems and that was a joy, and when she got to discuss the ongoing tax rates in Equestria she was ready, willing, and able to unleash her knowledge and thoughts. But that was it. Her mind was one used to unlimited time to run various experiments and observing results, analyzing them for a better future.  She was a scientist and a scholar, a teacher and a psychologist, who loved to understand and understood what the love of science could lead to. And she hoped that today she would be able to finally exercise a bit of that scientific mind in her meeting with Bluebelle.

 

It had started off as an accident, but her transformation of Blueblood had proven a wonderful boon to the royal family and even to the Prince-turned-Princess herself.  Everypony enjoyed this new version of Blue far more than the last, and the character and swiftness with which she took to her duties and new form was nothing short of astonishing. Twilight had discovered a trick regarding how the changes worked and had ensured Blue took a while to discover it, but her plan had worked. Bluebelle was one of the most popular and well respected ponies in Equestria, and Blueblood's past misdeeds were being forgotten in the armada of good tidings he now represented with every gender-bent hoofprint left by either a fabulously crafted heel-shoe or an immaculate dress-shoe.

 

A part of her hoped that this state of affairs could continue, but Twilight knew that deep down, Bluebelle needed to have a decision on whether to be a mare or stallion. That calm reserve drilled into the royals was poorly placed to deal long-term with such changes. One of her ulterior motives behind her prolonging of the initial discovery of how to do the switch was to see how Blood took to being Belle. And the truth was- entirely too well for it to have been a simple case of adapting to circumstance. All of the positive markers in her life now were the result of being Bluebelle. As far as Twilight was concerned, the confusion was a result of asking oneself why not choose happiness (Bluebelle) over the more sordid past (Blueblood). The choice was obvious to Twilight.

 

But as she arrived at the estate, she made a mental note to remain open-minded. Her theories and beliefs were seconded to the wishes of the patient, after all. Landing silently she gathered herself and took a deep breath before knocking, excited to get to work- glasses, notebook, and testing materials on hoof!

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Blueblood opened the door himself to admit Twilight within the manor, which in and of itself was an indication of a respected equal.  Non-royals would be first greeted either by the butler, or the head maid.  Unless, of course, they entered by other doors than the front, which many of his friends did so by now.  Was Twilight likely to notice that?  Well, it hardly mattered in any case; the alicorn was not here wearing her 'Princess Hat,' instead opting for the 'Scientist Spectacles.'  The Prince felt a small bit of trepidation when his gaze was met by those glass lenses; it's always unnerving to be thought of as a specimen.

 

Reserve, again, masked this, and he smiled as she came in.  "Ah, Twilight!  Here at last, do come in."  He stepped aside, taking a deep breath.  Even though help had arrived, rattling nerves hadn't steadied yet.  He led her through the hall parlor into a more private room, where they could discuss matters candidly, and she could conduct studies without interruption.  "I... don't exactly know what you had planned, so I left my schedule free for the next few days."  No small task, even for a non-alicorn royal.  Nevertheless, pretty much everypony he talked to understood his need to take a few days off to 'find himself' (or, indeed, 'herself') after the kind of time he'd been having.

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Bluebelle came out as Blueblood, which was not expected. But when you were dealing with internal conflicts regarding identity it could be reassuring to fall back into an older, and more reliable, form, even if it was the source of your turmoil. It was less self-destructive than it was self-defeating but was no less an enemy that needed to be destroyed to see to her superior mental health which, science willing, would be the result of Twilight's service if everything went according to plan. It was evident that Blueblood was uncomfortable regardless, and the royal facade was lowered if only by accident rather than choice. Clearly Blue needed help; clearly, only Twilight could help!

“Thank you for having me Blueblood,” Twilight said, trotting in with an extra pep in her step. She simply loved helping! And psychology! And helping ponies with psychology! “I understand that this can be very difficult to go through. I hope I can help you, and at the very least, help you be comfortable with whatever choice you make,” as long as it is the right one for your long-term psychological help, she thought to herself. She levitated several saddlebags over and bade him to sit.

“It hopefully shouldn't take quite that long. Though if it does, it was smart to clear your schedule! Very clear thinking. Tell me, when you made that decision- were you Belle, or Blood?” She asked, fixing her glasses and levitating a pad and paper up to take very proper and exciting notes. She had brought all sorts of books and legal pads and also a great deal of more invasive, but potentially useful, tools of this very particular trade.

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With a deep breath, Blueblood took a seat.  He really shouldn't be so skittish, he told himself.  Any kind of adversarial relationship with his would-be therapist was only going to make matters worse, even if the Prince did suspect her of having a prima facie bias towards a particular solution to his dilemma.  The main problem with Twilight's theory was that his gender issues were only one part of a larger tangle.  He could only hope that she would let him get to that before issuing a prescription.

 

The first question did not give him very much hope for that.  "Uhh..."  He blinked, actually trying to recall that answer.  "I... can't remember.  It was one of those days when I was both... actually, now that I think about it, my secretary might have done it for me.  Have you met him?  Useful fellow, very useful.  Wordy as all get out, but very reliable."  *And I'm reasonably certain you haven't suborned him.  Reasonably.*  And that was the trouble; he suspected, but he could not prove, that Twilight had manipulated his servants into keeping him as Bluebelle at first for much longer than it would naturally take for him to figure out the whole coffee/tea trigger.  Didn't argue well for her being unbiased, and raised the possibility that she would put her hoof on the scales when weighing any evidence.

 

"I don't think it matters, in any case; I haven't noticed any difference in my decision-making process as either, in public or private affairs."  Now, would she accept that answer, or would she push?  Blueblood waited for her to speak next, to give some clue as to what this afternoon was going to hold for him.

 

 

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Not being able to discern whether it was Blood or Belle who made the call was a possible red flag of some import, unless it really was the secretary who did so. It was one thing to be confused vis a vi preference but if it was causing day to day memory and recall issues, it spoke to a larger problem. There was always the chance, no matter how unlikely, that long term bodily and mental changes could cause aetheral gaps to appear. Memory less or mental defect could result along with physical illness. Mind you, the chances were abnormally low even in high risk cases and the condition was very treatable regardless. Still, she wouldn't go ahead and jump that far just yet. They had a long road to travel together and she needed to make sure they both breached sensitive subjects together, gently, at Blue's own pace.

 

"I understand. Good help is so valuable these days!" she said cheerily as everything was set up. Such an exciting time to have such a friend in need! She brought out several notepads, magical materials, books, and guides, and settled in for the long haul. She was going to help Blue so well that Blue wouldn't know what to think of it, except be grateful because of all the wonderful aid she was offering! But enough idle chatter and prattling about It was time to get down and dirty, and help Blue discover her- or his- true self! But probably her. Bluebelle was so beloved. "So, Blue, let us start simply enough. Can you describe how you're feeling right now?" Twilight asked, deciding to start simple.

Much rode on this, after all. For as excited as Twilight was to help it was true that there was no small kerfuffling about in regards to what was happening.

 

The Royal family outside of Blue were generally not as attractive to the tabloids due to their less than lurid  and flamboyant lives, but the ongoing public debate about Blue brought out far too many opinions on the matter for her liking. For all of his prancing about and showboating, Blueblood was beloved for his general generosity and boisterous good charm. For all of her somewhat awkward demeanor, Bluebelle had instantly captured the hearts and minds of many. Yet underneath all that was a current of confusion and rubbish that needed to be dealt with. When identities were in play and commanded such varying opinions there were losers to be found, but the only winner who mattered was Blue- and whether Blood or Belle, it was best to resolve what Blue wanted to be. Besides, Bluebelle had good charm already.

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Twilight's instincts weren't necessarily wrong, in that she sensed Blueblood dealing a larger issue.  Larger even, one might say, than his current gender fluidity.  Indeed, he felt that as only the latest in a series of issues he'd put off dealing with until now.  No more; despite how intimidating Twilight's readiness to help could be, the Prince knew that he had to get this all out here.  "Right now?  Worn thin."  The unicorn sighed, rubbing his temples.  "I've been taking on a lot lately, and not sleeping well.  I thought if I got myself tired enough, the nightmares wouldn't come.  That only worked for a little while."

 

'Taking on a lot' was putting it mildly.  In the past few years, the Prince, and later Princess, had been ramping up their diplomatic and political engagement, founding and funding IMAGINE, an international effort to promote global harmony.  Not only that, there were the social demands kept up with as well, including organizing this past year's Grand Galloping Gala, which was itself diplomatically significant as paying host to multiple foreign dignitaries and heads of state.  That was enough to put a lot of stress on an ordinary pony, let along one dealing with everything else that came with Blueblood's current position.

 

 

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Twilight wrote down what he said, even as her mind raced to deconstruct it all. Indeed, Blue had decided that the shoulders equally broad as they were slender could take it all. IMAGINE was a great success so far, so much so that various field offices were in the pipeline and donations from big money and small money alike were flowing. Engagements socially as Blueblood were showing the fruits of success after years of being tabloid filler. He was networking for good causes and that was showing up everywhere, from Stalliongrad to Unyasi. Bluebelle was highly popular and had done enough to attract her own level of attentions and care to causes and it was a huge boon to efforts everywhere. There had to be costs however, and a reckoning was theirs to see.

 

"Being stretched thin? I see. All of the social engagements you have, IMAGINE, other important matters...your schedule really is tight. You've done such an amazing job keeping it together and doing well by all of the ponies who look up to you. Do you think your status as a role model is hurting you in this regard? Feeling as if you aren't allowed to take a break, stop, or fail?" Twilight asked. She felt the same in some ways. Her status as Princess of Friendship meant she always felt that she had to put on the best face and give great advice when it came to friendship. She ran EPIC and the Keepers, not to mention her vast tax reform and education initiatives. Royalty in Equestria did considerable work, that she knew, and that was without worrying about one's gender identity.

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Blueblood blinked.  For all the pressures that were on him, that of being considered a role model wasn't one he had been especially conscious of.  Twilight could make a fair case that it bore down on him unconsciously, in the sense that the Prince(ss) always managed their appearance at whatever function as if the whole world were watching.  "There... is that, I suppose.  But if it was a mere matter of considering what ponies thought of me when they looked at me; well, I've sort of always done that.  I've recently sought to appeal to a larger group that the Canterlot nobility, which is one of the reasons I've changed my public persona... and private person too, I suppose.  But... that's not the real problem for me; I can handle that."

 

He sighed, and took a deep breath.  He rarely talked about what he was preparing to say.  It admitted few vulnerabilities to merely mention that a high workload was wearing one down; indeed, it was almost a boast of strength and capability to point out what a large load a pony was able to lift in the first place.  But troubles of the inner mind, the weaknesses known only to the inner soul... to lay these bare took real courage.  But, Blueblood had simply had enough of being afraid of the skeleton in his mental closet, and was hauling it out and scattering the bones for Twilight to classify.  "It's that... whenever I pause, stop, close my eyes, collect my thoughts, try to relax alone, I see them.  The caribou Vikings, charging the citadel... dying guards and falling bodies from a shattered tower... the, the leering face of the changeling that sealed me in that pod... and the nightmares, dear Faust!  The nightmares..."

 

The unicorn tried to steady himself, but he was shaking, visibly shaking.  He had, after all, been at ground zero during no less than three major invasions of his homeland in the past five years: The Canterlot Wedding changeling invasion, Chrysalis' follow-up at Ponyville's Nightmare Night, and the Red Jarl's sacking of the Crystal Empire.  It was fairly obvious that these experiences had traumatized him, especially considering that he had been taken as a POW in one of them, by an army that didn't give two horseapples for the Geneighva Conventions.  If anything, Blueblood's gender situation was not so much his main mental issue, as the straw that broke down the aristocratic reserve under which he buried everything.

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Hmm, interesting. It was good to know that Blue's ability to see the perception of others and react accordingly to the best and most important desires of the people and royalty was still there. If nothing else everypony had always admired Blueblood's attention to detail and social graces, which made even the more lurid and debasing of tabloids about Blue colored with a friendly attitude rather than the viciousness reserved for others. Maybe Blue never realized it but he was beloved- or maybe he realized it all too well! Regardless, she was happy she steered it in that direction, if only for a moment. It was good to give the subject a sense of security or accomplishment to fall back on as they ventured deeper into the darker confines of the soul.

 

Before long they moved onto the real reason for all of Blue's trauma and it really had little to do with any gender identity questions. Instead it had far more to do with several of the more dramatic and terrifying incidents in recent memory. The attack on Canterlot during the wedding was a troubling day for many, especially when several Changeling infiltrators were revealed to have lived among the soon to be targets of their campaign for years. The more insidious attack a few years later during Nightmare Night was less bombastic but the cause for even more nightmares, especially those caught by Sachadara. The caribou attacks were far more visceral but no less frightening for what they left with you. Twilight felt lucky she had been knocked unconscious during the attack, though the cleanup afterward left many images burned in her memory. He was suffering an identity crisis yes, but it was nothing compared to what sounded like some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

"These were very terrible events, Blue. I think most of us who have went through it have had nightmares. Luna knows I've had mine. You seemed to respond very well with IMAGINE- that takes a great deal of courage to be so affected by something and still try to find what good can come of it. You're a very brave pony, Blue." she wrote down some more notes. "These...nightmares of yours. I can guess to a degree what they're about, but if you are able, could you please tell me about them? What are the consistencies?" She asked softly, wondering absent-mindedly if Luna could be brought in at a later point to discuss his dreams. As the Dreamwalker, Luna had more than enough insight into dreams and their meaning.

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Dredging up nightmares from the depths of memory is not easy.  Partly because dreams are so fragile in the light of day, that the incidents and connecting treads fade in the sunlight, leaving only a memory of it being sweet or terrifying, with a few concrete images sticking out like stray icebergs in the sea.  The other problem being, the more vivid they are, the more recalling them brings back the fear that infused them.  Blueblood had dreaded this necessity, but knew that it would come.  Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and recalled.

"They... they always start the same way.  Something normal.  I'm having tea, taking a walk, things like that.  But it doesn't feel right; I know something terrible is about to happen, or might happen, but I don't know what or how.  And then... I make a wrong move, knock over a cup or something, and all Tartarus breaks loose."  He took a few more deep breaths, shutting out the more traumatic scenes before they broke through into his consciousness.  "What happens next varies.  Changelings, Vikings, even local insurrections by ponies with terrifying eyes and voices... I remember those most of all, but I couldn't tell you why.  Just that I never heard them shout like that, or saw them look like that, before."

 

"Things are destroyed.  Buildings, books, places I knew as a foal.  Ponies I love, too, they.... they..."  The scenes rushed on again, this time breaking through the barriers.  "Sometimes they fall to what comes, and I'm forced to watch what happens to them.  But other times... they turn out to be collaborators, or mind-controlled, or disguised changelings..."  Those were the worst, if he had top judge.  "And all throughout, I keep feeling... that there was something I missed, or that I'd forgotten, that could have stopped it."

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Twilight listened closely, her compassion for Blue growing along with the sympathy she felt for Blue. The events of the past few years could weigh heavily on anypony regardless of the walls of strength they put up. They were only ponies after all, only capable of handling so much. Even then the strongest amongst them could be undone by the stings and barbs of venomous incident, and there was little defense against such things. The mind was your greatest tool and your greatest weakness. The flaw ever exploitable and nearly impossible to corral. She had to think that with dreams this persistent and negative that Luna had to know something. But if she hadn't intervened...then perhaps there was a reason. Luna was wise despite all of her disbelief of her own capability. Such powerful dreams with consistency, dreamed by a royal? Her non-intervention told her lots.

 

His mind was a battlefield of the unconventional sort. While the foe was obvious- vikings, changelings, etc- the triggers were linked to a sense of powerlessness and failure. In the dream Blue believed him/herself responsible. Why? No real trigger for it. She was sure that it all came down to how out of control Blue felt. These big events happened and Blue was simply a spectator to the horrors that transpired. Then the physical change came and Blue once more was not in control of what he/she could and could not do. Powerlessness in face of external action was one thing. Powerlessness in regards to yourself was a whole other bag of worms. She felt a little responsible for that second part but believed it had been for the best- if they could get Blue there, anyway. For now though she did believe that the problems he dealt with required something more than powerlessness.

 

It required a sense that you were responsible in some way. That was in many ways the core issue since it made no sense. Blue could have done nothing to prevent any of that and Blue needed to know. "Well, you know there isn't anything you could have done to prevent any of this, right? You aren't in Intelligence and you weren't in a position to do anything. You aren't to blame. You know that, right? All you can do is to decide how to take your experience and use it to do good for others, and you've done that," she ended on a positive note. Time to bring it back. "What do you do to make yourself feel better after all this, Blue? What is bringing you the most happiness now?"

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"That's the thing though!"  Blueblood's reply was a little louder and sharper than etiquette would allow, but that was mostly from him wrenching himself back to this conversation in the present from an imagined nightmarish future.  "Shouldn't I have been?  I'm a Prince!  Royalty!  That's still supposed to mean something, right?"  Now this was a sore point that pre-dated even the birth of the present Prince.  It had been several generations since House Platinum had been asked or relied upon to do any vital work for the Equestrian government as it modernized.  Whether this was from an oversight, or simply a matter of a noble family stuck in the old ways and unable to adapt, it meant that Blueblood had inherited little in the way of power or responsibility along with his title.  Royalty gave him access to an exclusive club, but it had to be said that he often felt like a third wheel.  "I haven't been invited to any of your Princess conferences, even after I became a Princess!"

 

The unicorn stallion took a deep breath, standing steadily on four hooves once more.  Not the most decorous outburst in the world, but it shook the doldrums and shivers out of him, so that was to the good.  "Sorry."  He said quickly, clearing his throat.  "Right now?  What I enjoy most, I suppose, are the breaks I take from my work just to spend time with Star Crusader, or any of my friends.  Sailing, too, though it's been a while since I've been able to put the boat out."
 

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Twilight didn't react to the outburst. She would have been a terrible psychiatrist if she did take it poorly, after all. Blue had earned the right to have strong emotions by experiencing such strongly impactful events so personally. Not being allowed to vent, to speak, to allow oneself that expulsion of fury- that was a sure path to internal dissolution of self. She continued writing, also noting her own failures in this regard. Not completely her fault in any case; they simply hadn't had a Princess Summit in some time and thus wouldn't have had the chance to invite Bluebelle. The fact that Blue was vexed by this did provide more ammunition for her theory that she thought of herself as Bluebelle, a Princess, and less as Blueblood, a Prince. Of course he also exclaimed that he is a Prince, shooting a hole in that theory. Gender dysphoria could cause such troubles.

"I'm sorry that you feel that way, Blue. We just haven't had any summits recently. No big problems or conflicts of interest lately- nothing worthy of a summit. But if you want in on the Princess summit we have annually next year I'd be more than happy to invite you. I wouldn't dare have you think we don't value you and all you have done to help Equestria, especially as of late. You may not know it, but you have always provided an important service to the Royalty and will continue to do so. I guess maybe we do a poor job of letting you know that. I'm sorry- truly, I am," Twilight said with maximum sincerity, allowing her fellow royal the opportunity to continue onto the fine things. When Blue was done, Twilight nodded.

"Ah, I've heard of Star Crusader but never met her. What is she like? I heard she is fairly- significantly= fit and athletic," Twilight said lowly, in an almost conspitorial tone that seemed to say, 'hey fillyfriend, let's gossip'.

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If you asked him, which Twilight hadn't yet, Blueblood would have said that his political frustrations pre-dated his gender issues.  But, since his psychiatrist was viewing everything through a certain lens, she probably would have countered that the exact opposite was true, that Blueblood's fundamental problem was a discomfort with who he was.  It was ultimately a dispute over whether to address the problem at the level of circumstance or identity, and the Prince wasn't totally in control of either.

 

"Are you sure nothing's going on?  I've been hearing all kinds of rumors... and wasn't there some conference about reforming the Royal Guard?"  He sighed.  "I'd just like to know what's really going on, and maybe be asked what I thought about it.  That would make the rest of my work just that much easier; half the problem is just knowing what's important enough to prioritize."  Trying to build a more harmonious world, all the while bedeviled by rumors of conflict and war beneath the surface... it could sap one.

 

It was with frank relief, then, that Blueblood turned from discussing the issues straining him to the ponies who kept him together.  "Fit?  I should call that a near-slanderous understatement!"  He said, in a low tone of mock offense.  The unicorn seemed quite ready to enter into the spirit of gossip, which was frankly bragging on his special somepony, a thing any stallion worth the name would do.  "She's a carved amazon goddess, that's what she is.  Stands practically eye to eye with Auntie Celestia, solid with muscle, and yet built to an exquisite, statuesque feminine form.  Unflappable, utterly reliable in any situation... we first met when she extracted me from the High King's antlers in Whitescar, and was assigned to me when I was dealing with an old family curse in my summer home.  I admired her then, but it was when she helped so much during the initial weeks as Bluebelle... that's when we really began to be close.  It was immensely helpful to have a mare near at hoof who could help me through all the... things that came with being one." 

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Blue was right to keep an ear to the ground for rumors, especially as the safety of royalty was more out in the open than ever before. Blue was wrong, however, to be concerned. These talks about reforming the Guard were part of a boring, cyclical fight between budgeteers and musketeers in the employ of the Guard, all of whom had the passion to protect but had different beliefs on how best to do it. Her desires had best been expressed through Task Force Suntrot. Protection through action rather than reaction, and she was proud to say it had worked. Mostly. Nothing was perfect.

“Reforming the Guard? Well it's no different from what they're almost always trying to do. More royals, more protection needed. You'd think it be a relatively simple matter but you have two powerful factions vying for control. You have those who are more worried about the budgets and trying to keep costs down while not allowing protection to suffer. Meanwhile, those who want to expand without budget control want to increase security for all Royalty. Both have major issues. While budgets are important, I feel as though we would be spreading the Guard too thin. On the other hoof, I don't find the idea of increasing the Guard size too much very appealing from an internal security point of view,” she said casually while taking a sip.

“I'll send you over the paperwork detailing the debates,” Her eyes lit up! “Oh! If you're interested I could also send you over the analysis by Celestia's Department of Royal Protection, Budget Division as well as Luna's Public Guard Response Mistresses' response to Memo A-12, Proactive Protection, Lower Costs. It has been very exciting stuff! Sadly, it is more of an internal matter. Once the Guard do come to an internal decision they will approach us, and we will then likely take it up at the next Princess Summit- which you will, of course, be invited to now! Yay!”

She regained her composure, her excitement clearly derailing. The it was time to gossip about special someponies. Blue was very much taken with this mare, who owing to her form was definitely one of the more impressively described. You had to put an asterisk due to the aspect of love but Twilight had no doubt she cut an impressively potent figure. Good for the REA- great for Blue, apparently. “oooh, she sounds right up your alley! How lucky are you- and to have her now, of all times. I wish I had a special somepony like her, you lucky devil.”

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budgetary crisis?  If one could even call it a crisis?  Was that it?  Hearing that simple explanation from Twilight provoked Blueblood to respond with the classically aristocratic gesture of a flat stare with a raised eyebrow.  "Really, now?  And here I thought it was about reforming them out of rank incompetence."  The rather frigid nature of his skepticism was somewhat broken and spoiled by his next hesitant remark.  "Or, was that the REA meeting?  I might be mixing them up."

 

Regardless, the fact remained: the Prince didn't have to bend his ear all that far to the ground to pick up on the general public opinion that the official security forces of Equestria had not been making the best show of it lately.  The most generous would concede adequacy in the daily grind of duties expected in that station, but would point out that most every crisis faced by the nation in the past few years had been resolved by efforts of powerful individuals or eccentrics, usually utilizing some kind of magic or artifact.  Blueblood didn't know what the least generous were saying, as they would no doubt verge on outright treason, but he could reasonably postulate that some crisis of confidence was brewing underground.  And to hear that the last major conflict in the guard had been just one more round of the eternal battle over the budget... well, he couldn't see that improving the situation, if word got out.

 

He took the papers with a sigh, making a mental note to have his secretary look over them.  Perhaps something of actual substance was in there after all.  And from the guard in general, he turned with relief to the subject of one guard in particular.  "Oh, you don't need to tell me that!  I'm still not convinced I deserve a special somepony like Star Crusader, in-laws and all.  Funny thing, it was actually her brother that I had to come to you for friendship advice, do you remember?  That was before I knew he had a sister, though..."  He trailed off, the last words of Twilight Sparkle beginning to sink through.  "Are you feeling lonely, then?"  It would make sense, this time of year.  Hearts and Hooves day, combined with the general trend of lovers coming out to enjoy the Spring.

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Twilight chuckled at the thought that the REA were incompetent. "Oh, I know what many say. But considering what they have to deal with, their record is stellar. Consider that we have the worst service personnel to populace AND landmass ratio in the world, and have the majority of that focused in the Heartland. Since we have made their stance defensive, the borders are penetrated by caribou, WRAITH, Tartaran escapees not to mention more mundane and violent elements. We are the most prestigious nation on the planet and that comes with the associated enemies. It is all a recipe for disaster, in my honest opinion. The solution is for the rEA to be more proactive. Task Force Suntrot, for example, showed a great deal of success, and recent incidents are coming from areas they had not operated in mostly because they sought out and engaged with problems rather than wait. 

 

When we allow the REA to engage rather than wait to be engaged, it has shown near flawless ability. The REA, REN, and the Guards should all be given more capability and a clearer mandate to operate as more proactive elements. Even without the REA growing larger, a few Task Forces like Suntrot could do wonders," Twilight rattled off her own opinion. She reached for a folder full of data and then realized that she hadn't come here for a discussion on whether or not forming new Task Forces was wise. Still, Blue wanted in. "Luna more or less agrees with me, though not strongly. She is a bit more aggressive and old-fashioned in how she views the military forces in her employ. Celestia is firmly against, though she allowed me to form Suntrot and has acknowledged its success. She worries about the possibility of international incidents."

 

A legitimate worry, which is why they used it intelligently and not flippantly. She also took her role as Princess of Friendship seriously, which is why she remembered Blue and Star Crusader. "I do remember! Tell me, have you managed to make someone you don't like a friend, or simply found a way to make peace? So much has been going on for us that we haven't had time to catch up on that. As for being alone..." she sighed, "can't lie and say that I'm not. It seems like all my friends and family, you included, have special someponies. Still, I wouldn't say it's a big deal. Just more like that pebble that gets caught in your hoofshoe and stabs you in the peddy all day and irritates you to no end. But no big deal."
 

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Happy at last to be included in on a policy discussion, Blueblood nodded at Twilight's assessment.  "I'm not surprised; taking the initiative always gives you an advantage, whether it's in war, or social conversation.  I mean, look at me.  Until I took active steps myself, I was basically letting the tabloids write my public record for me.  And it's really that angle which worries me."  

 

The Prince felt he had a unique view on the problem, less connected with inner workings than outside appearances.  One might criticize the view as superficial, but in fairness it was the view that the outside public had as well.  The court of public opinion was in session, and the counsel for the defense seemed woefully under prepared.  "The most dangerous thing is that the failures have been considerably more public than the successes.  That lack of public confidence can mean that, in a crisis situation, the crowd is more likely to listen to a shouting eccentric with some glowy rock they say is a magical artifact than a pony in uniform.  And I don't blame them!  It was these eccentrics out of the civilian population that proved crucial in most of those major invasions- and I hope you're not offended if I include you and your friends among them.  Actually..."  He tapped his chin with a hoof as a thought occurred to him.  "You protege, Starlight Glimmer met with similar success, with an equally eccentric party of civilians, if I recall correctly.  Do you suppose that, I don't know, that sort of thing can be replicated on a larger scale?"  It was an idle thought, but it refused to be dislodged from his brain.

 

He shook his head.  This wasn't necessarily what Twilight had been called over for, but in its own way, such talk was therapeutic.  It opened a possible way forward, and a steadying foretaste of what the future could hold, rather than blank, anxiety-inducing uncertainty.  That's all he wanted, really, right now.

 

"Well, yes, actually.  I mean, counting from that meeting.  I consider Java one of my best friends now, though if you told my younger self that I'd have said you were crazy."  He chuckled, shifting to a more sympathetic expression as Twilight unburdened her own issues.  "Ugh, no big deal? That sounds horrible!  I would never be able to work under such conditions."  He shuddered, shaking out a phantom irritation in his hoof.  All those hours standing around soirees, chatting up donors, arranging peace mediations, keeping House finances stable enough to fund all his ventures, all the while with the constant, torturous stabbing in his once-pristine hoof?  It didn't bear thinking about!

 

"Well, we were just talking about pro-activity... have you taken any steps to remedy that situation?"

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Blueblood wasn't wrong in how public perception was unkind to the heroes of the REA. They were told of the failures only and had been told of the heroism of small groups of heroines in repelling the most dire threats. But she had some thoughts on how to change this perception. "You're right in saying public perception has been more unkind than not, Blue. Failures speak far more to tabloids than successes- you more than most know this. And to 'fail' in some very key ways only harms matters. In some ways, I blame us- or more accurately, budget decisions. Tirek was a threat, but we have allies in Saddle Arabia and even Whitescar who have weapons and tactics that would have lessened the danger. Our intelligence agencies are gutted and therefore few agents are tasked with the creation of safety nets to protect the nation. How could they handle changeling infiltrations when so much bunk is centered on so few? The REN has been asking for new ships and sensors for generations. How arrogant were we to deny them this and then balk when they're unable to repel a concerted caribou ambush and attack the Crystal Faire?

 

So yes, they've failed, but their reputation has been tarnished without great cause. I want to publicize their successes more. Task Force Suntrot's actions are about to become declassified and I will widely distribute them. Even in previous failures, tales of heroism abound- Guards who protected hundreds of civilians despite incredible odds several times during every major event. A small unit that sacrificed their magics in an impossible assault upon Tirek so others may flee. And this is on top of the common stories of guardsponies saving Caribou slaves, venturing into the Everfree to rescue the lost and harried, and preventing a number of attempts to harm us that the public is unaware of. I assume this will lead to some blowback against the royalty, but we've hidden from our failures in this realm so long and allowed them to languish that I think it is more than acceptable," she said with a tone of finality. Spike had advised against it, but she had met one too many wounded Guardsponies to believe that the royalty should be free of blame in this regard.

 

"As for what you're saying in regards to civilian aid, that is something Task Force Suntrot does to an extent. It has built-in civilian command and support infrastructure so the Task Force can operate alone for years at a time. As for more 'special' teams..." she shrugged, "I don't think that is something that can be trained or discovered. The Magic of Friendship and the Elements of Harmony, to borrow a somewhat pointless phrase, seem to operate in mysterious ways. I prefer to think of it as aetheric fate structures in alignment with post-harmonic historical time landmarks," she said with somewhat lacking confidence. She was unaware of anyway to judge who could and could not save Equestria in that way; everypony could, should the tides of time and the rays of fate align for them.

 

"I'm pleased to hear that your friendship has been fruitful. It has been my experience that a friendship born out of struggles to find commonality can be very strong over time. As for me...well, yes," she said as multiple folders popped into existence. Each one was marked different locales and types. "I mean it's just a bit of a side project, no big deal. But I've looked at potential mates in thirty-nine different cities and five countries, five species, and then arranged them based on age, fertility, academic background, general health and fitness, employment records, morality reports, friendliness, and the hypothetical production increase via companionship. Like I said, no big deal."

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Some cynical strain in Blueblood couldn't help but respond to the apparent fact that money could buy a better reputation for the guard; at least, that was what he deduced from the fact that a lack of funds had done the greatest hurt to them.  He could personally attest that his own rehabilitation had been greatly aided by having a fortune to spare for philanthropy.  "Well, if you ever need help in getting information out, feel free to use whatever information channels I can offer.  I have investments in a few newspapers and publishing houses.  Maybe a book series might be the best way to start; real tales of heroism and all that.  Daring Do is perennially popular, but she's only one mare, and the public's appetite for that sort of stuff is insatiable.  And the profits could be used to fund the necessary programs, too."

 

The Prince raised an eyebrow at Twilight's lack of confidence.  Granted, it all sounded a little hocus-pocus to him; no scholar himself, he wouldn't have recognized post-harmonic fate-thingamajiggers if they bit him.  But he had actually learned a thing or two about friendship, and about how ponies could stand out of the crowd.  "That's... not quite what I mean.  See, if Friendship really is the most powerful magic of all, then anypony's friendship should be powerful, right?  And, from what I've seen, it actually seems to be, if ponies actually try to use it.  What if we generally tried to encourage ponies to be extraordinary, rather than wait for other extraordinary ponies to save them?  Seems the best way to always have a hero around when you need them is to encourage the emulation of heroism."

 

Phew, that was getting practically democratic at the end, there!  Best to ramp back on that little speech, didn't want to go overboard.  Speaking of, Blueblood practically goggled at the bulging folders the lavender alicorn casually summoned into existence.  "No big deal?  Twilight, that's more research than I've done for anything in my life."  Which spoke as much about his own work ethic as Twilight's obsessiveness, but never mind about that for now... "Have you... considered asking your parents to arrange something?"  He put out the suggestion tentatively, aware in the back of his mind that such things were considered a bit old-fashioned these days, as well as stereotypically aristocratic.

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"Any help would be appreciated, Blue. Your experiences with information dissemination have uniquely qualified you, I believe," Twilight responded honestly.It was true that his seemingly endless run-ins with tabloids had been distractions for many, but had given him the sort of skill and knowledge needed to not only get the information out there, but shape the messaging. Celestia was an amazing communicator and messenger but she wasn't going to knife fight the press. Luna wasn't involved in that arena in any way, and that was to everypony's benefit. Cadance was good but she was not that highly respected by some of the tabloids- being the 'love Princess' made for saucy articles but not much in the way of being taken seriously. Twilight was very well-respected for her recent deeds, the manner of her ascension, and the scientific method of her approach, but none of that made her a superb communicator. Blue could knife fight the press and was an excellent communicator- few ponies elsewise could be trusted.

 

She listened to him talk about how to use the magic of friendship and how they could get this to work for the greater good most often. "You're absolutely right, Blue. Which is what we do already- friendship and harmony are core Equestrian values that are taught to ponies from an early age. This forms the basis of what makes the magic of friendship so important and powerful. However, trying to teach ponies to 'use' this magic counter-acts what makes the harmonic nature of the magic of friendship work. You lessen and weaken it when you teach it as power rather than as love. We see again and again that the combination of harmony and friendship create heroes when they are needed, where they are needed. Modifying curriculum to produce heroes, even indirectly, may have the opposite effect- magic is fickle that way," Twilight responded, ruefully noting that her research on the matter was fraught with difficulties. She may have been the Princess of Friendship but that did not necessarily entail a guarantee that she could wield it like a sword at all times, or even be able to delve as deep as she wished she could.

 

The topic switched to whether or not she had asked for her parents to arrange something. Ad also how much research she had done. She felt her face burn a little at the implication, as accurate as it was,that she was maybe studying this far too hard for her to be as non-nonchalant as she pretended to be about it. "My parents?" She asked in more alarm than she had intended. She couldn't even fathom something more embarrassing than asking her parents to set her up with somepony. "I hadn't. It strikes me as positively medieval and really...embarrassing, I guess the word is," she said, hoof to chin in thought. She shrugged. "Just because I like to do research doesn't mean I'm desperate or even looking. I just think having a shortlist of fertile and capable candidates who can enrich my life as well as Equestria and ensure a great mar- future, for all of us," she said, trying to sound professional. It was hard to do so with a blush.

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"Certainly!  I can begin as soon as you can get me some good material."  Blueblood nodded crisply, already flipping through a list of names and faces withing the journalistic world.  Who was hungry for a scoop this month?  It might be a good idea to send his secretary to go fish in the Bohemian club for a likely print-hound or three.  

 

It was beginning to strike him how this conversation had shifted, from him in a rather stressed state seeking therapeutic help to two royals talking policy as equals, but wasn't that the goal, after all?  To be able to operate functionally, do one's duty, and be happy, whatever the circumstances or mental quirks one was dealing with at the time.  The very fact he could do so was visibly heartening to the Prince, and Twilight certainly would have noticed it as he replied.  "I can see how changing from a desire for friendship to a desire for power can certainly erode what he hope to strive for, but I'd like them to at least have the idea that they could be heroes if they tried, regardless of their talents and careers.  Hope and courage aren't listed in the Elements of Harmony, but I don't see how we can keep any of them without those two.  Speaking as someone who has lived without either for a little while... well, you saw what I was like."  It was true, in that much of the Prince's prior bad behavior had cynicism at the root, which amounted to a lack of hope that he could have anything better, and therefore a lack of courage in pursuing it.  It had taken no less than three national crises plus a personal humiliation to shake him out of that funk, but here he was.

 

And with the last turn of the conversation came the last shift of the dynamic.  Now, it seemed that Twilight was the one dealing with a personal issue, with Blueblood extending his assistance.  "Twilight..."  He sighed, as he flipped through the list again.  "Do any of these ponies know you've been keeping tabs on them like this?"  The answer was probably 'no;' he couldn't imagine her possibly getting signed or verbal consent for any of this.  "You know, I really think the medieval mind is not given enough credit these days, in so far as it did not ignore a source of wisdom, even if it was not bound between two pieces of cardboard."  He chided gently.  "Your parents know you very well, and what's more, have personal experience in what a successful long-term relationship actually needs and looks like.  I'll bet gold bits that going to them, even if the attempt is a failure, will be more constructive than making lists in the abstract.  As for embarrassment..."  He shrugged.  "Well, one of the most embarrassing situations I was ever is was when I had to be extricated from the antlers of the the High King of Whitescar after challenging him to a drunken duel.  And that was how I met Star Crusader.  Take that for what you will, but I have to say... it actually kind of hurts to see you ignore a potential source of help.  After all... not everypony has access to something like that."  He finished softly, remembering his own parents.  Twilight might also remember them, or at least the fact that Blueblood didn't have them anymore.  How much that factored in to what he became, or what he was trying to turn himself into was hard to say, but it was certainly not irrelevant.

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Twilight laughed, but it was a nervous laugh, a guilt laugh full of guilt and nervousness. She hadn't exactly asked anypony(or griff, or horse) for their permission, though everything she collated was available to her very legally. She had checked and made sure! Others could get this same sort of information. It just required a request and if the information wasn't classified for security reasons, they'd likely receive it. She just didn't need to ask, she just could. So she didn't need to get permission, not really. Not legally. And it wasn't like she was going to use the information except to create lists and rankings, just in case they showed interest. That's what she did. She created lists and notes and lists and notes.

 

"Well...not necessarily, but it is all publicly available information anyway. The way I am studying it may be unique, but the information isn't. Besides, what harm is there in study? This way if any of them in the future potentially maybe do seek courtship and I am in the field of needing that for the good of Equestria or maybe whatever- is it hot in here- then maybe I have information to separate what is best for Equestria from what isn't in her best interests. And by her I mean Equestria! Not a specific mare. It doesn't even need to be a mare, it could be stallion, or not even a stallion it could be a Griffon! I'm not judging, I'm casting a wide net for m- Equestria!" Twilight spoke quickly and flush, working through her reasoning quickly and ending with another laugh. This was also a nervous laugh.

 

On the subject of her parents, she did think that they had valuable insight into a successful relationship. And she had quizzed them about important qualities specifically so she could include those qualities in her algorithm. "Well I mean, I'm, not going to ask them to set me up because- well , I just don't- they're a beautiful people, but when I was a filly they kept on trying to set me up on dates- no, uhh, no. And I don't need it! I did ask them about important qualities to look for in a special somepony. That is part of my algorithm I have made. In the interests of Equestria, of course. See? Everything has a place! It is all good. Not that it matters for now, because I am very definitely not looking," she said very definitively. And she needed to change the topic.

"Umm, do you have anything to drink?" She asked, trying to get her mind back on track. She was here to help Blue- and it was time to get back to that.

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True, true.  Collating information that was publicly available wasn't illegal.  Neither, for that matter, was it illegal to reverse the expectations of chivalry without telling the mare you were with.  But, as Blueblood had found out by painful personal experience, whether or not something was legal was a separate question altogether from whether it would get you into trouble.

 

And really, looking at his fellow royal, Blueblood felt equal parts sympathy and amusement.  Sympathy for her flustered state, which he'd found himself in multiple times recently, and amusement at seeing the oh-so-poised and famous Twilight Sparkle finally down on his level.  It was an indulgence in his worse half, he knew, but he couldn't help it.  "Oh?  Well, if you're sure it's alright, then you won't mind if I let the reporter chappies know you've been collecting data.  They're always looking for insights into royal behavior, and they remember favors.  That will be important when we're using them to highlight the heroics of the guard."

 

He kept his poker face on as he watched her reaction.  At least she had asked her parents for advice, though she probably owed her big brother a big "Thank You" for giving their parents a grandfoal, which undoubtedly took quite a bit of pressure off of her.  "Drinks?  Oh, yes, tea should be ready in a few minutes."  Some instinct told him that anything stronger would be a mistake, and besides, it had been a bit of a while since Bluebelle had come out.

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