Postal Blues and Grey Feathers
The new century had rolled into the world of the Royal Equestrian Postal Services a few weeks ago when their Canterlot headquarters had been fitted with a new sorting system. The old and severely outdated steam driven machine had been replaced by a much more intricate and modern clockwork mechanism powered by unicorn magic, the new system promising both a twenty-two percent increase in speed as well as a significant cutback on downtimes. Or at least that was the sales pitch, in practice the results had been rather underwhelming thus far, with frequent outages.
Early this morning the complex machine had malfunctioned altogether. It had done so in the most spectacular way possible, sending mail to all the wrong directions. The cause was a weak gear that had stripped in the central processing unit of the automation block, which had caused the whole output end of the system to go haywire. Unfortunately the error wasn't readily apparent as the fault detection magic relied on the same sub-system to operate. As a result the fault had gone unnoticed for a few hours and by the time it was discovered the damage had already been done. This information was relayed to different branch offices via an urgent letter, although it didn't say much to those not technologically inclined. For that reason the technical explanation was abridged in a little blurb at the end of the letter, as so:
The little spinning thingy broke.
It made a big mess.
– Allen Wrench, M.Sc.(Eng), M.IT, B.A,
Chief Technology Officer,
Royal Equestrian Postal Services,
The malfunction affected the mail services in most of continental Equestria and Ponyville was no exception. Derpy couldn't help but curse a little as she was dragged awake an hour early by her supervisor. The same irritated mood continued at the office, where the morning chatter centered around the budget cuts they had received in the past couple of years, as those had necessitated a bidding war for the new system. As it turned out, money and quality went hoof in hoof and the new system was a jury-rigged mess, held together by little more than unicorn farts and happy thoughts, as some of her more verbally inclined coworkers had put it.
Sorting the mess had taken well into the afternoon, and had meant plenty of extra work for Derpy, but thankfully they had gotten everything back under control by closing time. However, combined with the backlog of mail they already had in store meant that it was already dark outside when she got back home. Not helping things either was the fact that she had a splitting headache that had been growing progressively worse as the day had worn on. What had began as a small nuisance had slowly developed into a full blown migraine and come nightfall she could hear and feel her heartbeat in her ears, a flash of white light in her peripheral vision accompanying every beat. Still, she kept a smile on her face as she tucked her beloved daughter Dinky in for the night. Thankfully the little unicorn hadn't wanted to hear a bedtime story tonight.
“It's probably just a cold coming on. Or something. You've had a migraine before. You'll feel better in the morning,” she thought as she trotted up to her bedroom.
Derpy stopped at the door to take a look at the mahogany desk seated under her window. She had fallen behind on some paperwork, and there was a neat pile of papers and opened envelopes on the corner of the desk to remind her of that. They were mostly bills and she had been meaning to sort through them that night, but then her body had come up with other plans. Right now even the thought of doing finances made her head spin. She decided they could wait another day.
The grey pegasus collapsed onto her bed with a moan and let her tired wings spread out. Even though she was single she had opted for the double bed just for this reason, even if it had cost her a bit of extra. Then there was also the fact that she was a restless sleeper, and would often fall out of a more narrow bed. That had happened many a time since she was a foal, to the extent that waking up on the floor in a tangled mass of sheets didn't even surprise her anymore. The wider bed had mostly fixed that problem, however. Mostly.
She wriggled around for a bit until a series of quiet pops could be heard. A satisfied sigh escaped her lips as the joints in her wings shifted, relieving some of the tension. She buried her head deep into the soft, cool pillows, hoping that it would ease the throbbing pressure in her head. It did, at least to some extent, and she quickly fell asleep.
The piercing shriek of the alarm clock was met with a groan, followed by a loud clunk as the offending timepiece was swatted to the floor. This was nothing unusual, as despite her occupation Derpy was not a morning pony in the slightest. She liked the idea of being up early and did truly enjoy the morning hours once she was up, it was just the part of actually getting out of bed that always gave her trouble. This morning was nothing out of the ordinary in that regard.
After lying awake for a few minutes Derpy slowly got out of bed, stretching her limbs as she did so. Her mane was more frazzled than usual and just looking at the sheets one could tell she hadn't slept well, tossing and turning through the night again. The headache still lingered, but it was slight and she was relieved to find that the pounding in her ears and the flashes of light had disappeared. Her eyes, however, were struggling a bit more than usual with finding their focus, but that didn't worry her too much. It happened from time to time and would always sort itself out. She took a quick look to the direction of her work desk and the pile of papers stacked atop it, shaking her head slightly. After a moment her eyes drifted back into their proper alignment.
“There we go,” she thought, turning away and stopping to give an apologetic look at the battered clock, before setting it back atop the nightstand.
“I'll just take it easy today. It's Friday, with any luck I'll get off work a bit early,” she mused as she walked to the kitchen to start on breakfast. She let out a loud yawn. “And I can probably take a nap during my lunch break.”
The coming weekend didn't really mean as much to Derpy as it did to most everypony else, as she had been working Saturdays for a while now. The pay was roughly the same, but the hours were shorter and as such she was usually back home well before noon, leaving the rest of the day to herself. Sundays, on the other hoof, were dedicated solely for herself and Dinky and as such were something she was always looking forward to. That day she wasn't going to trade away, no matter what the pay.
Derpy went over the tasks for the day in her head as she prepared breakfast for Dinky and herself. The day was promising to be nothing unusual, a welcome departure from the mess that the previous one had been. But then again her line of work rarely offered much excitement anyway, dullness was the norm and she quite liked it that way. After a while the aroma of freshly baked muffins and tar black coffee filled the house.
By the time the breakfast was served the clock was nearing four, the time for Derpy to leave for work. She pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a quick note for Dinky for when she would wake up. It wasn't something she really needed to do, but it was a habit and one she liked at that. Her usual greeting and well wishes were jotted down quickly, almost out of memory. She then took a quick look at the thermometer on the windowsill and added a postscript urging Dinky to take a scarf with her. The fall weather could be surprisingly chilly, after all.
She put the note down next to the basket of warm muffins and picked out a nice and plump looking pastry for herself. She chewed for a while, delighting in the warm and mushy texture of the freshly baked treat. However, as she swallowed a frown formed on her face. After taking another tentative bite she sighed; her throat was sore. For some reason the muffin didn't appear as appetizing anymore.
Derpy finished her breakfast quickly, downing another muffin mostly just out of spite and washing it down with a cup of scalding hot coffee. After taking one final look around the house she slipped her saddlebags on and was out the door, into the chill of the cool morning air.
Derpy awoke to a shiver. When she had fallen asleep the pleasant glow of the sun had felt inviting, but now that warmth was all but gone. She realized that the midday nap on a cloud might not have been the best of ideas after all as she reached to feel her forehead. It felt a little warm, as did her ears, and as an added bonus her nose was stuffy. There was no question about it now: she was coming down with something.
“Figures I'd get a cold in time for the weekend,” she thought getting up, letting out a bitter sigh. “Oh well, just a few more houses to go.”
A gust of wind caught her off her guard as she flew off from her cloud on the outskirts of town. Correcting her flight required more effort than it usually did, for some reason her wings seemed stiff. As a matter of fact, all her limbs felt stiff, the joints giving protest to every movement, and the headache was back with a vengeance. After making her next delivery she landed on a nearby rooftop to stretch for a bit, but the attempt was to no avail.
“Ugh. I should have just called in sick today,” she muttered under her breath as she took to the air once again. A subtle smirk flashed briefly on her face as she finished. Now that she was actually on the job, she was determined to finish her route; “The mail always gets through,” after all. The slogan had become a matter of pride for her.
Derpy made her next few deliveries quickly, forgoing the usual idle chatter. The next stop would be her last for the day and she was happy to know she would be on her way home as soon as she had finished up her tasks back at the office. The thought of home and promise of rest gave her new strength and she picked up her pace.
As she was flying over the Ponyville park the white flashes suddenly came back, as did the pounding in her ears. Her eyes started losing their focus again and every flap of her wings required more effort than the last. A quick wave of nausea passed over her and she swallowed hard to keep a hold of her breakfast. The sudden realization hit her: something was not right.
“I have to land.”
She looked down and found the ground to be a soupy, slowly spinning mess of green and brown somewhere below. She angled her wings back to slow her forward momentum, taking a deep breath as she started her descent. With that the edges of her vision started to grow black. White spots danced in her eyes and the low hum of rushing blood filled her ears, quickly joined by a high-pitched squeal.
A few futile flaps of her wings was all she managed before gravity took over.
“Oh, hello mister Ground. How nice... you're getting... n-”
Twilight Sparkle was enjoying her own lunch break in the park. In reality it wasn't so much a lunch break as just, well, lunch. While she was technically taking care of the library while she was staying there, she didn't really consider it to be work. Still, she liked to go out for an hour or so around noon, figuring the fresh air would do her good after spending the morning cooped up indoors.
The park was a nice place this time of the year as there were few others around and that made it a good spot to go for thinking in peace. She had been doing just that when a muted thump jolted her from her thoughts. It hadn't been loud, but for some reason it sounded very unpleasant, the kind of sound that made one's stomach knot instinctively. Her attention turned to the source of the sudden noise, her half eaten daisy sandwich falling onto the bench as her eyes wandered over to the grey form lying on the ground. After a quick gallop Twilight found herself standing next to the fallen pegasus. She gave the mare a cautious prod and when there was no answer her blood ran cold. Her mind went blank for a split second, but then her horn quickly erupted with a brilliant burst of magic. A bright red flare exploded high in the air and stayed lit above them. It was one of the many signal spells all unicorns learned from a young age, this one calling for medical assistance.
“Derpy? Derpy!”, Twilight yelled, trying to shake the pegasus back awake as she undid her saddlebags. To her relief she found that the pegasus was breathing, and much easier now that the firm straps had been undone. She gave herself a moment to look the situation over.
The mailmare was lying on her side, having come to a halt after skidding on the ground for a few feet, a couple of broken grey feathers littering the track made in the torn grass. She seemed to be in a daze, somewhat conscious but not completely aware of her surroundings. After a couple more fruitless attempts at getting a response from the pegasus, an idea sparked in the unicorn's mind.
“Hey Derp-eyes!” she yelled, forcing a mocking tone.
Derpy's ears perked up and one of her eyes opened lazily halfway. It took her a few seconds to realize who she was looking at.
“T- Twilight? I thought...” she said in barely a whisper. Twilight noted that her speech was coming out slightly slurred.
“I know, I'm sorry. I just had to get your attention somehow. How are you feeling?” Twilight asked, immediately feeling dumb for coming up with such an obviously stupid question.
Derpy just whimpered and shook slightly. She mumbled something, almost inaudibly.
“Sorry, I didn't hear,” Twilight said, leaning closer.
“Hurts,” Derpy said, through gritted teeth. Her speech was a little clearer this time, although still quiet.
“I know, I'm sorry. Help is coming soon, just hang in there.”
Derpy shifted uncomfortably and let out a quiet moan. Her left wing was pinned under her body, jutting out at an unnatural angle. Twilight thought it looked painful, or at least uncomfortable, and decided to roll the pegasus onto her back to free the limb. As she did so, she brought a hoof to Derpy's head. Her temple felt warm and sticky and Twilight could feel her stomach knot further as she took a closer look, which confirmed her suspicion; the fur there was matted with blood. The wound was bleeding profusely, staining the golden blonde mane of the pegasus.
“Uh-oh... Don't worry, it'll be fine,” Twilight said, more to herself than to the downed pegasus. “Just lie still. Don't move.”
Twilight looked around quickly for something she could use. There was nothing else on hoof, so she took her scarf off and pressed it against the wound to stem the blood flow. The grey mare flinched away slightly, letting out a quiet, but pained, gasp. Her muscles tensed up momentarily, then she fell limp again.
Twilight found herself suddenly remembering how she had wished to become a doctor for a while as a young filly. A few nights spent riffling through medical textbooks had shaken that wish away, however. She had always been squeamish to the sight of blood and even now she had to avert her eyes and take a few calming breaths before concentrating again on the task at hoof. Even then she felt her stomach turn.
“I'm... tired,” Derpy said, her breathing turning heavier and eyes falling shut. She let out a ragged and sickly cough and Twilight was afraid she would see more blood, but luckily that didn't happen.
“No Derpy, stay awake. Help is coming. Talk to me.” Twilight shook the pegasus gently, eliciting a moan of protest and causing her to stir a little. Derpy opened her eyes lazily halfway.
“What do you wanna to talk about?”
“About anything! Um...” Twilight paused briefly, trying to think of something. She knew she had to keep injured pony awake, somehow. The mailmare seemed to have different plans, though, as in that brief time she had started to drift off again. A quick idea came to her.
“Tell me about Dinky. How is she doing?”
A small smile crept up on Derpy's face. “Dinky... I love her so much. She's such a good little filly... I'm so proud of her...” The smile disappeared and was replaced by a much more troubled expression. Her eyes sprung open. “I have to get home,” she said, propping herself up before Twilight could stop her. The effort was too much and the limb gave out under her weight. She fell flat on her back again, out of breath and with a painful grimace on her face.
“I don't think I can...” she said with a whimper.
Derpy turned to look at Twilight as she continued: “You have to promise me. If something happens to me... make sure Dinky has somepony to take care of her. Somepony to love her. Promise me.”
Twilight forced a smile at her. “I promise, but I don't have to, because nothing is going to happen to you. You've hit your head pretty hard and it looks like you have a concussion, but you're going to be alright.”
A moment passed in silence. Then the mailmare spoke again, her voice quivering:
“Twilight? I don't feel so good...”
“Just hang in there. You'll be alright,” Twilight said, her barely contained panic seeping into her voice.
What the pegasus said next came out slurred again and soon her speech dissolved into quiet unintelligible mumbling. Her body went limp and her chest slumped down an inch as the air escaped her. Twilight tried to get her to speak again, but the mailmare had already gone to someplace else. She looked around in panic and noticed that a few worried onlookers had appeared in the distance, making their way towards them at a quickening pace.
Twilight was sitting on the waiting room bench, looking around anxiously. She had been waiting there for the better part of an hour and was growing more worried and impatient by the minute. The painfully slow ticking of the clock was starting getting on her nerves and for a moment she considered stopping the timepiece altogether just to make it quiet. Eventually a unicorn doctor clad in a white lab coat walked up to her. Twilight didn't recognize him, he had to be new.
“Hello, I am doctor Silvertail, and you're Miss Sparkle, I presume?” The doctor extended a hoof, Twilight following suite. “Pleased to meet you.”
“How is she?” Twilight realized she was being a little blunt, but she really wasn't in the mood for pleasantries. Thankfully the doctor didn't seem to mind.
“She has a severe concussion,” the doctor started. “And she is unconscious now, in a coma, if you will. There are some other, more minor injuries as well... but she is stable. She is breathing well on her own again and her heart rate is normal, which is a good sign... You said that she was still conscious when you found her?”
“Yes. She was pretty out of it, but we did talk for a while.”
“That is a good sign as well. It would hint that there is no extensive damage, at least.”
The doctor's words helped to dispel some of her fear, but not all of it. There was something else on her mind that had been growing heavier as she had waited for the news, but first she needed to ask one more question. She shook her head in worry.
“Do you have any idea when she might wake up?”
It was the doctor's turn to shake his head. “I'm afraid it's impossible to tell with a case like this, I'm sorry. I wouldn't expect her to wake up any time soon, the swelling in her brain has to go down first.” He paused to give a sympathetic look. “And, well, with an injury such as this, you have to understand that there is always the chance of further complications... We'll just have to wait and see. We will know more in a day or two.”
Twilight let her head hang low, allowing the words to set in for a minute. She looked back at the doctor. “She has a daughter, Dinky. Derpy is a single mother. What will happen to her now?”
“Do they have any family nearby?”
“Not that I know of, no,” Twilight said. “She is not from around here originally, I think I remember her saying that she moved here from Phillydelphia.”
The doctor bit his lip briefly. “So a long way then... We'll have to contact the social services. They will find a foster home for the time being. In any case, she will be taken care of, so don't worry.”
Twilight wasn't entirely sure she liked the idea. She knew Dinky was adopted, it was sort of an open secret, and Twilight feared what her reaction would be if she was suddenly thrust into a new family. She would be broken up enough as it were. At the same time she knew there was little else to be done, however.
“I understand,” she started, stopping to take a quick glance at the time. “Dinky is at school right now, I think. Do you think it would be alright if I told her what has happened? I mean, she knows me already. We can go on from there, then.”
The doctor was silent for a while, but then nodded. “I suppose it would be. It's not exactly standard procedure, but I can see where you are coming from. It would probably be better if a friend told her.”
Twilight wanted to clarify that she wasn't really a “friend”, but more of an acquaintance from the library. She didn't have the chance, though, as the doctor quickly continued:
“I'll contact the social services. Just bring her here, and we'll go from there, as you said.” He paused briefly to give a questioning look. “I trust you know how to be... gentle... with this kind of thing?”
“Yes, of course. I'll break it to her gently.”
The classroom was filled with excited little ponies. To say that their excitement was due to the lesson at hoof would have been lying, though, the real reason probably had more to do with the ever nearing weekend. Looking through the glass Twilight could see the lesson was about geography, Cheerilee was talking passionately about the topic, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of her students weren't listening anymore. A small smile crept up on Twilight's face, until she found what she was looking for. Dinky was sitting at the back of the class, chatting happily with a friend.
“How am I supposed to tell her? She looks so happy,” she thought.
She took a moment to clear her head, taking a deep breath, then raised a hoof to knock on the door. All other sounds ceased. A muted and somewhat surprised “Yes?” came the answer from the other side. Twilight opened the door, cringing a little at the ominous creak it made in the silence as she stepped into the threshold.
“Sorry to interrupt your class Cheerilee, but there is something that has come up that I need to talk to you about.”
“Could it wait until after school?” The teacher said, seemingly not catching onto Twilight's tone right away. She glanced at the clock. “There's only half an hour left...”
“I'm sorry, it's important.”
Cheerilee saw the look Twilight was giving her and didn't like what she was getting. She nodded in response. “Alright...” she said, warily. “Class, I'll step out for a minute. Keep reading pages one hundred and nine through one hundred and eleven, I'll be right back.”
Cheerilee kept her word, coming back just a minute later. She did a remarkable job at keeping her expression from giving away the nature of the news she had received. Some might have noticed the usual spring in her step was gone, though.
“Alright class,” she started, picking up a pile of loose papers from her desk. She tapped the edge of the pile against her desk to make it into a neat stack. The simple gesture managed to get the attention of the class, as always. “It seems we'll be wrapping up a little early today. I'm sure you won't mind,” she said, shooting a smile at the class. “Read up on pages one hundred through one hundred and fifteen and we'll have a small test on Monday. Have a nice weekend!” Her façade of normalcy gave a little at those last words, but thankfully enough nopony seemed to notice.
The class didn't need to hear more and soon a stream of students was heading out the door. As Dinky walked by to her desk, Cheerilee called her up:
“Dinky, please wait. Could I have a word with you?” The teacher felt a pit in her stomach and it took great effort to keep it from showing. She read Dinky's expression quickly and relaxed a little. The filly looked surprised, perplexed even, but not worried yet, just as the teacher had hoped.
“Let's go to my office so we can talk in private.”
Cheerilee's office was a small room along the hall, just slightly larger than something that could be called a janitor's closet. The teacher was efficient, however, and little room went to waste. Her desk stood the furthest from the door. It was covered with piles of paper and various writing implements, as well as some other more miscellaneous clutter. A row of dusty filing cabinets took up one of the walls, while a worn couch occupied another. She had even found room for a small potted plant of some sort, which seemed to flourish in the corner of the room despite the lack of natural light.
Dinky had been too surprised to ask what Cheerilee wanted to talk to her about, but as she entered the office and saw Twilight waiting there she began to worry. Cheerilee noticed this and gave her an encouraging smile, motioning her to take a seat on the couch. There was a moment of silence, with Dinky alternating between looking at Twilight and her teacher. The air hung heavy with tension.
“Is this about that thing at recess?” Dinky spoke up before either of the older mares had a chance to. “I don't know where those older colts hid it, I swear... I'm not in trouble, am I?”
Dinky's question gave Cheerilee pause. It was not unusual for students to assume that they had done something wrong if they were invited into her office, and usually they were right. She couldn't help but wonder what had happened at recess that she had missed, but she pushed that aside, with the feeling that she would find out sooner or later. She knelt down to Dinky's level.
“What? No, not at all dear. But...”
Dinky seemed to notice the change in her tone. The teacher fell silent for a short second and lied a hoof on her shoulder. It was time. Cheerilee breathed in deeply and did away with her smile before she continued: “I'm afraid we have some bad news for you. There has been an accident.”
Nothing good ever followed those last words, Dinky knew that much. Cheerilee noticed her expression change and decided it was best to just push on. This wasn't the first time she was in a situation where she had to be the bearer of bad news, and had learned that being frank was usually the best way to go.
“Your mother, Derpy, was in an accident earlier today. She is in the hospital. They are taking care of her.” She condensed the news down to the bare minimum of words. That was another thing she had learned over the years: sugarcoating things rarely did any good.
Twilight was genuinely surprised. She had been expecting to see some kind of reaction, but Dinky's expression was completely blank. The filly blinked, opened her mouth to say something but then just blinked again. At the second try she managed to get a single word out, her voice cracking slightly:
It wasn't a question. The unicorn's mouth hung open and she was looking at her teacher in disbelief. She had heard what she had said, but the words were slow to sink in.
“I'm sorry Dinky,” Cheerilee said. She pulled herself a little closer, anticipating what might happen next.
The unicorn filly gulped, the words having started to form a meaning in her head. She shifted uncomfortably. “It's not... serious, is it? I mean, she's alright, right?” she asked, her eyes watering as her pulse started to pick up. A telltale twitch appeared at the corner of her mouth.
Cheerilee turned to look at Twilight and in a split second she had two pairs of eyes focused on her. The purple mare dug her hoof anxiously at the floor, fazed from being put on the spot so suddenly. She wanted to avoid the filly's gaze, but couldn't, seeing the fear and worry in those eyes.
“They are taking good care of her,” she started, trying to keep her voice as level as Cheerilee had, “but... yes. I'm afraid it is... serious.”
She paused for a moment, trying to think of what to say next, but her mind went blank. What she had wanted to say, and what she knew Dinky needed to hear, was that Derpy would be alright, but for some reason those words never came out. The moment came and went.
For a few seconds the clock ticking lazily away was the only sound in the room. The ticking of the timepiece was then joined by quiet sobbing as Dinky shot her front legs around Cheerilee's neck and cried. The teacher gave a quick, and mildly accusing, look at Twilight as she hugged the filly, stroking her mane in a vain attempt to calm her.
“Gentle. Right...” Twilight thought, digging awkwardly at the floor.
“What happened? Why?” Dinky asked, leaning against the edge of the bed. She had been silent for the past five minutes. Twilight wasn't sure if that was an improvement or not, as before the filly had just been sobbing quietly. Even now she was barely holding together, distress welling up behind every word.
“We're not sure. She just fell. It could have been a gust of wind that caught her off guard, or something else like that,” Twilight said, making a guess. Her words fell on deaf ears, however.
“Does it hurt? Is she in pain?”
Twilight laid a hoof on the filly's shoulder, the gentle weight of it pushing her down an inch. She had to choose her next words carefully, that much was clear. 'Coma' was a bad word, too scary and to the point, a definite no-no, but then she couldn't lie, either. 'Sleep', on the other hoof, that was good. It was a nice word, and one Dinky would understand without more difficult questions. Twilight stroked the filly's mane as she spoke:
“No, she cannot feel a thing. It's like being in a really deep sleep. She is comfortable.”
The doctor had been waiting in the corner patiently for the past ten minutes. He noticed that it was his cue.
“She's right,” he said, getting up. “Your mother just needs to... rest for a while. She'll wake up when she gets better and in the meanwhile we are taking good care of her. However...”
His tone was much more confident than Twilight's, but then again this wasn't the first time he had been in a situation like this. He paused to take a calming breath and lowered himself down to Dinky's level, smiling with his eyes as he spoke:
“While she is here we need to find you some other place to stay. If you would come with me, there are some nice ponies that would like to talk with you.”
Dinky jerked herself away and clung herself against the edge of the bed, shrinking. “I don't want to go anywhere!” she cried. “I want to stay with mom.” The outburst died out into a quiet sniffle that echoed in the room.
“I know, and I'm sorry, but that just isn't possible,” the doctor said in an compassionate, but determined tone. “This isn't a place for a filly, you need a real home.”
The filly just sniffled louder.
It was just as Twilight had feared, and it was breaking her heart. Dinky was already scared out of her mind and now they were going to put her in with some strangers. While she knew they meant only what was best, she wasn't completely certain if it was the right thing to do. She also wasn't completely sure what she was doing, but she had to step in. The final words Derpy had said echoed through her head.
“Would it be alright if I took her in with me?” Twilight asked suddenly, breaking the pressing silence. The doctor gave her a puzzled look, and Twilight continued: “I mean, wouldn't it be better if she was with somepony she already knows? I'm free to look after her.”
A moment of silence ensued and Twilight took the opportunity to kneel down next to the filly. Two small legs clamped around her neck. Twilight gave the filly a gentle nuzzle as she spoke: “Would you like to stay with me?” There was no answer from Dinky, but Twilight felt her grip tighten, even if ever so slightly. Perhaps that was answer enough.
The doctor scratched his chin. “Well, I suppose, if you are certain you can manage. We'll have to clear it with the social worker, but I doubt they will resist your idea too much. If you'd follow me to their office we can talk this over.”
Two hours later the two unicorns arrived back at the library. Twilight had been surprised at just how easily they had agreed to let her take care of Dinky, though she figured being Celestia's personal student had probably helped the matter. The social services had promised to send somepony to visit them daily, and for that she was grateful.
After leaving the hospital they had gone to get some of Dinky's things from her house, a small and somewhat lonely and unkempt looking cottage on the outskirts of town. Dinky had fallen silent after that. Twilight was hoping she could get the filly to cheer up a little once they got settled at the library, although she wasn't quite sure how that would happen exactly.
She nudged the door open and could immediately hear the rapping of tiny claws from within the building. Spike greeted them at the door, running up to Twilight the moment he heard the door swing open.
“You've been away for hours! Where have you... uh, hello.” The dragon trailed off when he saw Dinky standing behind Twilight. He noticed something seemed off and gave a puzzled look at the purple mare.
“Spike, you've met Dinky before, haven't you? Her mother was in an accident earlier today and she's at the hospital now, so Dinky will be staying with us for a while.”
Spike's expression changed the moment he heard those words. The look on his face was a difficult one to read, but seemed to mostly consist of surprise and worry. “I'm sorry to hear that,” he started with concern in his voice. “Is it serious? I mean, it has to be serious if Derpy is in the hospital and you're here, and-”
He stopped when he noticed the look Twilight was giving him. It was one he had learned to know well, it served to say: “Shut up, you're not helping.” Twilight's expression softened quickly, however, and her tone was the same gentle one as before when she spoke:
“Could you make the quest room ready, please? And then you could start dinner. I'll come help you once we're settled in.”
Spike nodded his head and gave an apologetic look Dinky's way, though the filly didn't seem to notice; the floor was far too interesting to look away from.
The evening dragged on slowly. Dinky hadn't spoken much all night, mostly giving monosyllabic answers to Twilight's questions. It was getting late, the sun having gone down a few hours ago. Twilight wasn't sure what time Dinky used to go to bed, but the filly had started looking drowsy and she figured that it was just as good as time as any. It had been a hard day, after all.
“You look tired. Would you like to go to bed now? I won't make you if you don't want to, we can stay up some more if you want to.” She didn't get an answer and after a moment she prodded the filly on the shoulder. “Dinky?”
“Huh?” The filly said, snapping out of her thoughts. She let out a quiet yawn. “Yeah, I guess.”
Twilight patted her on the back, but Dinky didn't respond in any way. She seemed to be in a world of her own and didn't even seem to notice when she bumped her leg against the coffee table as she got up.
The guest room was pristine, Spike had done a remarkable job of clearing the the clutter usually filling the room. Twilight tended to think of the room as extra storage space and as such it usually looked the part too. It was a little piece of sloppiness the usually well organized unicorn had allowed herself, it was almost a guilty pleasure. Now, however, the loose papers, books and boxes that normally littered the room were stacked neatly against a wall and the layer of dust covering the floor was gone as well. The room looked just about as nice as it could. Twilight made a mental note to thank her assistant once she had the chance.
Twilight sat down next to Dinky on her bed. The filly was staring at the wall, her front legs held against her chest.
“Would you like to hear a story before you go to sleep? I have some really good books,” Twilight said, eying at a shelf standing against the wall for a storybook.
The filly shook her head. “No. I just want to be alone,” she said. It was the longest sentence she had spoken since they had arrived. Dinky pulled the covers over her head, as if to emphasize her point.
Twilight patted her on the shoulder, again not getting any kind of response. “Alright then. If there is anything you need, remember that I'm right there upstairs. Just come wake me up. Don't hesitate to ask, I just want to help.”
She got a sour snort in response, making her heart sink.
“Good night Dinky. Don't worry, everything will be alright, I promise.” With that she trotted to the door, flicking the light off as she left the room. The room went dark, save for the small nightlight in the corner. It was something that Spike had come up with. For some reason it stuck out to her as a nice touch.
Twilight was lying awake in her bed, in the same position she had been for the past hour or so. It had gotten uncomfortably warm for her and she had tossed the covers aside a long while ago. She felt exhausted, but there was just too much going on in her mind to grant her rest. Spike didn't seem to have trouble sleeping, though he rarely had, and for that Twilight was glad. At least one of them would have the energy needed for tomorrow. She tried to escape the thoughts in her head by rolling to her other side, but none too surprisingly, they just kept coming back.
“This isn't going well,” she thought. “How did you ever think you could handle this? You don't have any idea about what you are doing! You don't even know what to say half the time! Maybe there's a book... no, that's just stupid. Why do you have to be so stupid? Huh?”
She glanced at the clock sitting on her nightstand. It was just past midnight. A sigh escaped her lips as she let her head sink deeper into the pillow, ready for another vain attempt at sleep. A few moments later her ears perked up. Apart from Spike's usual snoring she could hear hoofsteps from the stairs. She turned to look and saw Dinky standing at the top of them, looking at her.
“I can't sleep,” the filly said.
“What's the matter? Did you have a bad dream?” Twilight asked, getting out of bed. She trotted up to the filly, then knelt down to her level. Despite the low light she could see she had been crying, it was evident by the moist glimmer in her eyes.
“No...” the filly said, her voice shaking slightly. “I just keep thinking about... stuff.” She wasn't saying it, but her anguish was still all too clear.
Twilight sighed. “Me too,” she mumbled under her breath.
“Oh nothing, nothing at all.” She shook her head quickly. “What's on your mind?”
The filly looked down and scratched at the floor halfheartedly. For some reason the cracks between the floorboards suddenly seemed very interesting to her. She lifted her head up slowly. “Would it be alright if... um, if I, you know, slept here tonight?” She was quiet for a while, then added: “I know I said I wanted to be alone, but... I don't.”
Twilight blinked. The idea felt more than just a little weird to her, but she could see the filly needed the support. She had been through a lot, after all. Twilight gave her a warming smile and nodded.
“Of course it is alright. Come, hop on.”
Twilight tucked the filly into bed and was about to lie down next to her, when an idea suddenly came to her. “Wait just a second,” she said and walked up to a chest sitting against the far wall. After a brief moment of rummaging its contents she walked back to the bed and tucked a stuffed doll between the filly's forelegs. She got a puzzled look from Dinky.
“Her name is miss Smarty Pants,” Twilight explained. “She was my favorite toy when I was your age, and she always made me feel better when I was scared or feeling sad or lonely. I think she might help you too.”
There was a moment of silence while Dinky gave the doll a questioning look, before hugging the worn stuffed animal against her chest. “Thanks,” she said.
Twilight gave the filly a gentle nuzzle and when she pulled back she was greeted with a smile. It was subtle and only lasted for a brief moment, but it was the first one she had seen the filly give since hearing the news. Even more importantly, it seemed to be genuine, not forced.
Twilight felt her heart grow lighter again as she lied down on the bed. She turned the alarm clock off, figuring there was no reason to get up early in the morning. She lied awake for a while and when she heard Dinky begin to snore she allowed herself to drift off as well. Right before she fell asleep she felt the filly lean deeper against her side, sighing contently in her sleep.
“Do you think Derpy would like it if we brought her some flowers?” Twilight asked.
They were sitting at the breakfast table, but Dinky had barely touched her food. She had been quiet all morning, Twilight's usual “good mornings” and “did you sleep wells” being met with mostly monosyllabic responses. Twilight wasn't quite sure if it was because she was embarrassed from the previous night, or if she had gone back to her worrying. The filly didn't let on much, but it was probably a little of both. She seemed to perk up a little at the question, however.
“What kind of flowers does she like?”, Twilight asked, pushing her empty bowl aside.
“Mom likes dandelions,” the filly said. Twilight raised an eyebrow and Dinky took note of this. “She likes the way they turn into cotton when they get old, she thinks they look funny,” she went on to clarify. She turned back to her breakfast, giving her bowl of cereal a tentative prod.
Twilight smiled. “Alright, dandelions it is then. I know Rose sells all kinds of flowers, I'm sure she will have some. Finish up your breakfast and we'll go pick up a big bouquet of them.”
Rose had been a little surprised to hear the flowers would be a gift, as they usually found their use as an ingredient in cooking, mostly in salads, but she hadn't asked more about it. She didn't know the mailmare that well, but knew that she could be a little eccentric at times. She had insisted on giving them free of charge, saying that she wanted to give a gift as well.
After that they had headed for the hospital, arriving right at the beginning of visiting hours. They had stayed there for well over an hour. It had probably been the hardest and most awkward hour in Twilight's life. At times Dinky would break out in tears, other times she would just lie flat against the side of her mother's bed, but for the whole time she hadn't said a word. Twilight had done her best to comfort the filly, but it had been a losing battle.
After they had left, Twilight asked Dinky if she would like to stop somewhere to have something to eat, but the filly had just wanted to go back to the library. There she had lied down on the couch, not moving, or talking since. Every once in a while she would let out a deep sigh, but other than that she was quiet and wore a blank expression on her face. Twilight sat down next to her.
“Would you like to talk?” she asked.
The filly sighed and turned away slightly. “Not really,” she said, from under her breath.
“Are you sure?” Twilight asked, scooting a little closer. “You look like there's something bothering you.”
“I'm just tired,” Dinky said, sighing again.
It was only afternoon, but Dinky did look quite drained. Twilight laid a hoof on her shoulder, giving her a gentle nudge. “Would you like to take a nap? It might make you feel better.”
“I dunno,” Dinky said, shifting slightly. “I don't want to go to bed.”
“You don't have to, you can stay right here. I'll go get you a pillow and a blanket for you.”
Twilight trotted off before the filly could protest and returned shortly with the blanket and pillow in tow. Dinky curled up to a ball under the soft cover, not really looking any happier at all. Twilight realized something was missing and quickly retrieved her Smarty Pants doll from where it had been left on her bed. She didn't say anything as she tucked the doll next to Dinky. She got a happy little sigh in return.
Dinky didn't say anything. Instead she leaned in to give Twilight a hug, before cuddling up to her toy and closing her eyes. After a few minutes she began to snore quietly.
The young unicorn woke up a little over an hour later. As she opened her eyes she found Twilight sitting on the other side of the couch, immersed in a book. She rolled over to her other side, letting out a deliberate yawn. The book shut with a quiet pop and landed on the table with a gentle thump. Twilight turned to the filly.
“Hey there,” she said. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah,” Dinky said, rubbing her eyes. “I guess. I had a dream about mom.”
“Oh,” Twilight said, not completely sure how to react. “Was it... nice?”
“It was. I kinda wish it hadn't been just a dream though.” The filly finished with a wistful sigh, staring off into the distance. An awkward silence ensued.
“I'm sure she is dreaming about you too,” Twilight said. She laid a hoof on her shoulder and gave the filly a gentle pat. Dinky seemed to cheer up some at those words. She rolled onto her back and propped herself up a little.
“You really think so?”
Twilight nodded and gave a faint smile. “I'm sure she is. You're the most important thing to her, you know. I can't imagine what else she would be dreaming about.”
A weight lifted off her chest as she saw Dinky return the smile. “Whew, nice save there,” she thought.
“You look hungry,” Twilight continued, changing the subject. “What would you like for dinner?”
Dinky stood up and stretched her legs a little. She shrugged. “I dunno. Anything is fine.”
“Well, in that case,” Twilight said, getting up as she spoke, “I'll make some carrot soup. Would that be okay?”
“Yeah, anything is fine... Funny, I though Spike did all the cooking here.”
“That wouldn't be fair, now would it. We usually do it together or take turns,” Twilight said. She leaned closer and lowered her voice to a whisper as she added: ”He's the better cook, but don't let him know I said that. That kind of thing tends to go to his head.”
The filly giggled a little at the last part. Twilight was glad that she seemed to be in at least somewhat better spirits.
The soup they had for dinner was a simple dish, made mostly of carrots, with the odd piece of celery thrown in for a good measure. Still, it was warm, filling and oddly comforting. The mood seemed to lighten considerably as they ate, with even a couple of laughs being shared over the table. The evening was much more enjoyable than the previous night, and as such the time seemed to pass much more quickly.
Before they knew it, it was night again and the time for Dinky to go to bed. After she was tucked in the filly wrapped her front legs around Twilight's neck, giving her a hug. The purple mare was more than happy to return the gesture. However, as the embrace dragged on she felt it start to shift from a simple hug to something else. The first sniffle turned into a sob, then another, at first quiet, then louder. Dinky began to cry and soon she was outright bawling like only a little filly could. Twilight held her closer.
“Hey, what's the matter?” she asked, surprised at the sudden outburst. She got no answer from Dinky, apart from her grip tightening.
“Is something wrong?” she continued, stroking the filly's back.
Dinky buried her head deeper against her neck, still not saying anything.
“You're scared, aren't you?”
There was still no response.
“It's alright to be scared, it just means you love her,” Twilight said, pulling the filly tighter against her chest. “I'm scared too, but you have to believe everything is going to be alright. And you're not alone, I'm here for you.” Having said that Twilight fell silent, realizing it really wasn't a time for words.
“Please don't let go.” The filly's words came out with a ragged gasp for air. She clung herself against Twilight like a damp dishrag.
“Don't worry, I won't.”
The filly kept crying for almost twenty minutes, letting all her hurt and worry drain out. As bad as it felt, every passing teardrop made her chest lighten, until there was nothing left. Slowly she began to calm back down again, until there was nothing more but the occasional sniffle. Her grip weakened and soon she was just hanging on limply, trying to catch her breath again.
“Do you feel better now?” Twilight asked. She felt the filly pull back slightly.
Dinky looked at her with her puffy eyes and nodded. “Yeah, kinda,” She said, nuzzling back up to Twilight and pressing her cheek against the purple mare's neck. The fur there was soaking wet, but neither seemed to mind.
“I'm glad. I just want to know that you're alright.” Twilight paused to return the nuzzle. She noticed her vision had gone a little blurry, the result of having shed a few tears of her own, and wiped her eyes dry before continuing:
“Are you sure you want to sleep alone? You can stay next to me again tonight if you want to. It's not a problem.”
“Thanks, but I think I'll be fine,” Dinky said, still a little shaky. “I'll have Miss Smarty Pants with me, right,” she added, forcing a giggle. “She'll keep me company.”
“Of course,” Twilight said, tucking the filly back into her bed. A faint purple aura appeared around her horn and soon the doll flew in through the doorway, landing softly beside the filly on the bed. “She will take care of you if you take care of her. She's a very special doll like that.”
Dinky pulled the ragged old doll against her chest and a small smile crept up on her face. “You know, some other filly might think that she looks silly, but I think she's pretty in her own way. She might be a little worn, but I still really like her.” She curled herself up a little under the covers and let out a relaxed yawn. Her fears were fading fast and with every passing second her breathing became calmer and calmer.
“Good night, Dinky,” Twilight said. She got no answer, as the filly was already drifting off to sleep, almost as if nothing at all had happened.
Twilight just sat there quietly for a while, looking over the sleeping filly. She found her mind wandering back to when she had been a little filly herself, more specifically to the time she had been accepted to Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. It had been one of the happiest moments of her young life, yet it had also been scary for her, since it had meant she had to leave her parents. She remembered the many nights she had spent awake in her bed, unable to sleep, feeling alone. Sometimes she had cried too, when there was nopony around to hear her.
Miss Smarty Pants had been a gift from the Princess herself, a present she had given a short time after Twilight had become her personal student. The stuffed animal had quickly become her favorite toy. There was something about the simple doll that had always made her feel a little better, no matter how worried or sad she had felt. The effect had always been there, even to this day, although it had seemed to have lost most of its power now as her worries had turned to more adult ones. It had been a long time since she had last taken the doll out, but she was happy to see that it still seemed to have the same effect on Dinky as it had on her back then. Suddenly a weird thought crossed her mind.
“I wonder...” A crooked smile crept on her face.
Twilight made a mental note to ask Celestia about the toy and it's origins sometime, although she was almost certain she wouldn't get a straight answer. However, the more she thought about it, the more it felt like just the kind of thing the alicorn would do. Perhaps there really was more to the simple doll than just some fabric and stuffing.
“I have some errands to run,” Twilight said. “Do you want to stay here with Spike? You can come with me if you want to.”
“I think I'll stay here,” Dinky said, digging her hoof at the floor.
“Alright, Spike will keep you company. I'll only be a while.”
As she shut the door, she could hear Spike speak up.
“What do you want to do? I have some boardgames we could play. I never get a chance to play those, Twilight never has the time. Or that's what she says anyway. I just think she doesn't like to play because she keeps losing.” The dragon had raised his voice slightly at that last part, as if he hadn't been talking to Dinky, but somepony else.
“Okay,” she could hear Dinky reply.
The inside of Sugarcube Corner was quiet this time of the day. The bakery was open every day of the week, although on weekends the business hours were shorter. On Sundays the shop didn't see much business anyway, and it was usually the time to rest and prepare for the coming week. Still, the smell of freshly baked goods wafted through the air just the same as on any other day. The floors had been cleaned recently, and were still a little damp from the mopping. There was nary a trace of the usual fine coating of flour on every surface.
Pinkie was leaning against the counter, absentmindedly flipping through a magazine. It was some kind of cheap gossip rag, the article she was reading was 'Top Ten Party Tips from the Equestrian Elite'. The bored expression on her face betrayed the fact that the magazine contained nothing she hadn't seen already. When she heard the bell on the door ring her eyes shot up and met Twilight's.
“Hey Twilight!” She said in her usual upbeat manner, bouncing up and tossing the magazine over her back. “I was going to come and visit, but then Rarity said that you probably needed some peace and quiet.” She walked up from behind the counter and sat down next to Twilight, tilting her head to the side. “How are things going with Dinky?”
“She's still a little shook up, but she's doing alright I suppose. Could be better, though. She was really silent yesterday and then we actually had a bit of a cry last night. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing.”
Pinkie was giving Twilight a quizzical look, the meaning of which seemed to escape the purple mare.
“Well duh, of course it's a good thing,” Pinkie said, waving a hoof. “Why wouldn't it be? I bet she's feeling much better now.”
Twilight was baffled. “Well, I guess she is. I just wish she would talk more. I try to ask her how she's feeling and all I get is nothing.”
Pinkie gave her another curious look, then rolled her eyes at her. “She's just a little filly, you know,” she started, taking a deep breath before going on, “And all this has to be really hard for her, maybe she just isn't ready to talk. If I was her I would just cry too, it's still better than just keeping it all bottled up if you can't do anything else about it. Trust me, I know.”
The sudden, and somewhat obvious, revelation gave Twilight pause. “That's actually...” she stammered, “...really insightful. I hadn't thought about it that way. Thanks, Pinkie.”
“No problem. And don't worry about it too much. If she could cry with you then it means she trusts you. She'll talk when she's ready to talk, just give her time.”
The librarian hadn't actually come to the bakery seeking advice, at least not knowingly. Still, the words of her pink friend had helped to take some of the weight off her shoulders and she found a smile starting to creep on her face.
“Hah, I was actually half expecting that you would suggest throwing a party to cheer her up or something like that. Silly me...” Twilight noticed the blank look Pinkie was giving her. “You weren't planning a party, were you?”
“Maybe juuuust a little one.” Pinkie blinked a couple of times and gave a nervous laugh. “How did you guess?”
Twilight rolled her eyes at her. “I had a hunch.”
“Couldn't help myself, I got some really cool ideas... but I'll save it for when Derpy is all better and things are back to normal.”
“That would probably be for the best.” Twilight said and couldn't help but giggle a little. “I'm sure it will be as wonderful as always. But there is actually something I could use a little help with right now. That is actually why I came here.”
Pinkie perked up. “Anything.”
“I was just wondering what kind of treats Dinky might like, I though she might like a little surprise like that. I was thinking of baking her something, but I don't really know what she likes. And besides, I'm not much of a cook anyway. But I figured you might know what she likes.”
Pinkie rubbed her chin for a while. “Well, Derpy usually just gets a batch of muffins, blueberry or lemon flavor. But sometimes she buys a couple of cupcakes too. I know she doesn't like them herself, so I guess those must be for Dinky.”
“That sounds great! What kind does she usually get?”
“Strawberry, with white glazing and extra sprinkles on top. Preferably pink and yellow ones,” Pinkie answered from the top of her head.
“Haha, that's great! You remember what everypony likes, don't you?”
“Pinkie Pie knows eeeeverything,” Pinkie said, giving Twilight one of her creepier stares. The purple mare wasn't quite certain whether it was intentional or not.
“I'm sure you do,” she said, deciding to err on the side of caution. “Do you happen to have any of those on the shelf?”
“Yes, but those won't do. Wrong color and they'd probably be stale anyway. I'll make some fresh ones, just for her. Can you wait twenty minutes?”
“I've got some other errands to run, but I'll be back,” Twilight said, making her way back to the door. “Thanks, this really means a lot.” She turned to look, but Pinkie had already disappeared somewhere deeper into the bakery. The faint sounds from the kitchen indicated that she was already hard at work.
Twilight came back a little over an half an hour later. A white box tied up with red decorative string was waiting for her on the counter. Pinkie was there too, leaning against the counter and absentmindedly flicking through her magazine again. Twilight was amazed at how she had managed to not only whip up the pastries but also to find the time to get bored in such a short while. She chalked it up to her just being Pinkie. When Pinkie noticed Twilight had returned, she trotted up the her, the box in her teeth.
“Hehre yhou gho!” She mumbled.
“Thank you”, Twilight said, levitating the box away from Pinkie. “Ugh, the post office was a mess. I guess Derpy does a lot more there than just deliver the mail after all.”
“Yeah, I've heard her complain about it a couple of times. Well, not really complain, I don't think that's in her nature, but anyway... Is there anything else you need? I don't want to keep you from Dinky.”
“No, this should do it,” Twilight said, digging at her saddlebags. “How much?”
Pinkie smiled and waved her hoof. “I put it in a gift wrap for a reason. Just say hello to Dinky for me.”
“Alright then, thanks. I'll be sure to.” Just as she was about to leave, she was stopped by Pinkie calling her.
“Oh wait, one more thing I forgot,” the pink pony said as she trotted back up to Twilight. “I was so caught up in how Dinky was doing I forgot to ask about you. About how you are doing, that is.”
“Me?” Twilight asked, baffled again. “I... am fine, I suppose? Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Pinkie said in her usual bubbly manner. “I just figured this must be really stressful for you. And you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anypony else, that's all. I'm sure you can handle it, but don't be afraid to ask for help if you think you need it. If you need some time to yourself just ask, I can cover for you.”
“Okay, I'll remember that. Thanks again Pinkie.”
“No problem. What are friends for?”
Twilight and Dinky had just finished having dinner. Dinky had been quiet again, but she had finished what was on her plate this time, much to Twilight's relief. Not eating enough had left the filly short on energy, but now she seemed to be in somewhat better spirits.
“Tomorrow is Monday... I- I don't think I want to go to school. Do I have to?” Dinky asked.
“Of course not, if you are not feeling up to it. Nopony expects you to go after all that has happened. Cheerilee understands and she will send somepony to bring you your homework. She might even stop by herself, if she has the time. She's just really busy with her work, as always.”
“But she said there was going to be a test tomorrow...”, Dinky said, shrinking back.
“Don't worry, you can take it later when things get back to normal. Besides, you're a bright filly, I'm sure a few missed days won't do you any harm.”
“I guess,” Dinky said, relaxing a little. “Mom just always says that I have to take school seriously.”
“And you should, but there's no point in getting stressed over it right now... say, is there any subject you need help with? I could help you with your homework.”
“No, I'm fine, but thanks anyway. I'll ask if there's anything.”
Twilight couldn't help but smile as she patted the filly on the back. Dinky reminded her so much of herself when she was her age. She noticed the filly seemed to be thinking of something.
“Well, actually...” she started, uncertain, “there is something I could use a little help with. If it's not too much trouble, that is.”
“I'll be happy to help. What is it?”
“Well, it's kind of embarrassing really... I, uh... I can't write very well.” Dinky saw Twilight raise an eyebrow and went onto clarify: ”I mean, I know how to write, but it's hard because I can't use magic. Like, at all. I just make a mess.”
Dinky hopped onto the couch and leaned back as she continued:
“Most of the other unicorns at school already know at least some magic. It's a little embarrassing to still be using my mouth to write. Mom says it's nothing to be ashamed of because that's what earth ponies and pegasi do all the time. But sometimes the others tease me about that... too.”
Twilight had never had much of a problem with magic herself, but then again it was her element. As such what Dinky had said had come as a slight surprise to her, but the more she thought of it, the more it made sense. Derpy was a pegasus, after all. Ponyville was a small town and didn't have much to offer in the way of private magic tutoring, and even if it did Twilight wasn't sure Derpy could afford it, as those classes tended to be on the expensive side. What Dinky needed was an older unicorn to teach her. She gave the filly a gentle smile.
“That's a silly thing to tease somepony about, don't listen to them. And soon they won't have any reason to anyway, I can teach you. Our first lesson could be today. Would you like that?”
“Really?” Dinky said, perking up a little.
“Of course. I'll just get a quill and some paper. This is going to be fun!”
Twilight trotted back a moment later, a few quills and a stack of blank paper in tow.
“Okay. First, show me what you can do.”
A few seconds passed and a faint glow appeared around Dinky's horn. Soon the same glow enveloped the quill resting on the table. The filly brought the quill up a little shakily, then pressed it tentatively against the sheet. She stopped and gave Twilight a blank stare.
“What should I write?”
“That doesn't matter. Just write what ever comes to your head. Or just do letters, it doesn't matter. I just want to see what you can do.”
Dinky closed her eyes and took a deep breath in a vain attempt at calming her heartbeat. After a moment the quill began to move, drawing shaky black lines on the paper. She got a few letters down, but then the quill shot across the page, tearing a few sheets deep into the stack. Twilight managed to stop the quill before it could scratch into the table.
“Sorry,” Dinky said, shrinking back. “I said I'd make a mess.”
Twilight patted her on the back. “It's alright. That's not bad for a first try, really,” she said, encouragingly enough, but holding back a cringe. She put the ruined sheets of paper aside. “Try again.”
Dinky tried again, with similar results, this time breaking the quill in the process. A puddle of black ink spilled onto the page.
“Sorry about your quill,” she said, in a defeated tone. “Maybe this wasn't a good idea...”
“Don't worry about it, I have plenty more. I got so tired of how I could never find one when needed that I bought a whole box of them. Besides, I think I now know where the problem is.”
“You do?” Dinky asked, giving a surprised look.
“Yes, I think I had the same problem when I was about your age, actually. You are thinking too hard about what you are doing. Then when your mind wanders briefly, uh, this happens,” Twilight said, pointing to the ruined papers. “Don't worry, it's really not that uncommon.”
“I though I was supposed to think about what I was doing...” Dinky said quietly. She gave Twilight a confused look.
“Well, you need to, just not too hard. Just pick up the quill and let it land on the paper. Then just write. It's just like...” Twilight trailed off, trying to find a suitable metaphor. When after a few seconds she couldn't think of one, she gave a mental shrug and finished: “It's a subconscious thing, you don't need to think about holding it anymore.”
Dinky took a deep breath and tried again, bringing the new quill down on the paper once more. After a few words it shot into the air, but there was no damage done this time. Twilight had to suppress a giggle, the filly's magical mishaps really were pretty funny to look at. She gave the filly an encouraging pat on the back.
“See, that's progress. Let's try doing this the same way my parents taught me. I'll just hold that quill for you, so if you slip up you won't have to start over again.”
Twilight quickly noticed just how unwieldy Dinky's magic was. The filly had surprisingly plenty in the way of raw potential, but she had a hard time controlling it and finding her balance. The slightest of distractions would either cause a wild surge in power, or make her magic fizzle out completely. Twilight had thought that teaching Dinky would be easy, but she found herself struggling just to keep the quill in check and often failed to do so. However she could still see the little unicorn improve at every attempt and a few hours, many torn pages and broken quills later Dinky had finally finished a couple of pages without slipping. The text was mostly nonsense and the lettering was a little shaky, but a full page was a full page none the less. Dinky leaned back, looking over her work in awe, clearly proud of herself.
“Wow. I wish some day I could do that without help.”
Twilight gave her a knowing smile. “You just did. I wasn't doing anything for that last page.”
Dinky's jaw dropped. “Really?”, she said, glancing at the paper, then back at Twilight in disbelief.
“See, it's not that hard once you get the hang of it. You just needed a little help, that's all. If you keep practicing I'm sure you'll be one of the best writers in your class in no time.” Twilight paused briefly to look at Dinky, who was still trying to get her jaw back up.
“We'll have to do this again some time, I'm sure I could teach you a lot more. But right now I think this deserves a little celebration. Which reminds me, I got you a little something when I was out. Hold on a second.”
She trotted back to the kitchen and returned with the box of cupcakes in tow. She opened the box and couldn't help but smile when she saw Dinky's expression.
“Cupcakes! And my favorite kind, too! How did you know?”
Twilight let out a chuckle. “A little bird told me.”
“Who? Owlicious?” Dinky asked, surprised. She took a quick glance at the owl sleeping on its perch. She wasn't certain if she had seen the bird move all weekend.
“No, silly, it's just a figure of speech. Really, I just asked Pinkie... So, do you like them?”
“Yes!” Dinky said happily. “Thank you. Mom usually buys me these when I'm feeling down or when it's a special day. She says that they aren't really healthy and I shouldn't eat them too often, so she only buys them every once in a while.”
“And she's right, again,” Twilight started, sitting back down. “Too much of a good thing and all that. But it's alright to have something sweet every once in a while.” Twilight looked as Dinky started to nibble on her favorite treat. The purple unicorn felt her own mouth start to water.
“Could I have a little taste too? Those look really good.”
Dinky broke off a small piece of the cake and handed it over to Twilight. As she popped it in her mouth she couldn't help but wonder what the recipe called for, but she could tell that sugar was definitely very prominent on the list. The pastry was just full of the stuff, almost to the point of being sickly sweet. Derpy was right for not letting her daughter eat them daily. At the same time she couldn't help but wonder what kind of metabolism Pinkie had to have, as she consumed such sweets almost constantly with no apparent ill effects.
Twilight and Dinky were sitting side by side on the couch, quietly enjoying their cocoa that Spike had made them, as well as the left over cupcakes. The mood was light enough, giving no indication as to what was coming next.
“She's not my real mom, you know,” Dinky said suddenly, causing Twilight to almost take a lungful of hot chocolate.
“What,” she started flatly, stopping to cough, “what makes you say that?”
“Or, I mean, of course she is my mom, but it's not a secret my parents... went away. I was so little I really don't even remember them, but I still sometimes wonder what they were like. I wonder how things could be different.”
Twilight didn't say anything right away, partly because she was still trying to suppress a cough. The foremost reason, however, was that she didn't really know how to react.
“I know it has to be hard sometimes... and those are some very difficult thoughts to have,” Twilight said, having caught her breath again. “Sometimes bad things just happen and it's unfair, it really is. But even when life takes something away from you, it often gives something of equal value in return. For you it gave Derpy. Family is not about whose blood you have, it's more about who loves you and takes care of you, and who you love back in return. In the end everything else is just little things, and matter very little, or not at all... But I think you knew that already.”
“I guess that's true,” the filly sighed and gave a slight smile. “And she is the best mom in the world.” Having said that she slumped against Twilight's side. “I'm scared she's going to go away too. I don't want her to go away.”
Twilight lied a hoof on the filly's shoulder, pulling her a little closer. “It's alright to be scared. Like I said, it just means you love her... she is going to be alright. It's just, sometimes when somepony is hurt, like Derpy is now, they need to, well, sleep for some time so they can get better.” Twilight gave a brief pause to ruffle the filly's mane. “And she is going to get better soon, I'm sure of it, so don't you worry.”
The filly fell silent for a long while. She leaned against Twilight, her eyes fixed on the floor below. “But what if you are wrong?” She said finally, with a heavy sigh. “What if she doesn't get better? What if she never wakes up?”
Twilight knew this was what she had been waiting and preparing for for the past few days. The filly was finally opening up about her worries, just like Pinkie had said. Now that the moment had come, however, she wasn't sure what she was supposed to say. All words escaped her. Dinky was still waiting for her answer and Twilight knew she couldn't sugarcoat it any longer.
“There is always a chance...” she started hesitantly, pausing to reconsider her words before continuing, “...a small chance when somepony has been hurt badly that they might not get better. I'm sorry I have to say this, but I don't know what will happen, not for certain. Nopony does.” Saying the words was difficult, but she knew that ultimately it was the truth that the filly wanted, and needed, to hear.
Dinky shrunk against her side, letting out a snort composed of equal parts sourness and apathy. “So she is going to leave too. Figures.”
“I didn't say that,” Twilight said quickly and gave the filly a gentle tug on the shoulder. “Look... I wish I could tell you what you want to hear, but it's not in our hooves. But I know one thing: she's never going to leave you, no matter what.”
Twilight got a bemused look from Dinky, to which she answered with a gentle smile before continuing: “When somepony loves somepony else as much as your mother does you, they give away a little part of themselves.” She touched her hoof to the filly's chest. “And that part is always right here. Even magic has its limits, sometimes it fails and fades away, but what I'm talking about is something else. That kind of love is unbreakable and will never go away.”
The room fell silent for a while. Slowly a small grin started to form on Dinky's face. “That's a little cheesy, isn't it?” She said with a somewhat hollow snicker.
Twilight couldn't help but giggle a little herself. “Yeah, I guess it is. But it's still all true.”
Dinky bit her lip, immersed in thought. “Mom does have a really big heart,” she began, “...and she gives it all to me. I guess I'm really lucky then, huh?”
“Look who's being cheesy now?” Twilight gave Dinky a little nudge and got a small giggle in return. “But like I said, it's true.”
She gave a brief pause and turned, picking the filly up to hold her against her chest before continuing:
“Try not to worry too much. The doctors have been very optimistic, remember how Silvertail said that Derpy is doing much better now? And no matter what happens, you need to know that you will always have somepony to take care of you, and to love you. I'm telling you this because Derpy made me promise that I'd look after you, and I'm going to keep that promise... You know, that was the last thing she said before she... fell asleep. She wasn't afraid for herself, the only thing she cared about was you.”
“I know she loves me, she says it every day,” Dinky said, mumbling her words ínto Twilight's mane. “She even writes me a note every time when she has to go to work before I wake up...” The filly went silent for a while, then returned the older mare's embrace, wrapping her forelegs around her back. “Thanks for taking care of me, Twilight. I'm sorry I haven't been very good company.”
“It's alright, I understand. I know this is hard, but you've been really brave.”
They stayed that way, holding each other for a few long minutes, completely silent. There really was nothing more to say. Twilight felt the filly's heartbeat against her chest and just by that rhythm she could tell Dinky was going to be alright.
“Are you feeling better now?” Twilight asked, slowly letting go of the filly.
Dinky sat back down and nodded, with a small smile lingering on her face. “Yeah. But there's something else... can I tell you something, Twilight? You have to promise to keep it a secret. I don't want anypony to know I said this.”
“Of course. Is something bothering you?” Twilight asked, suddenly worried again.
The filly shifted, uncertain how to begin. “No...” she said. “Or yes, a little. I dunno. It's about mom. Sometimes I get a little worried, you know, for her.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“Not really. Or I don't know... I'm worried because I don't think she has that many friends.”
Twilight looked more than a little surprised and the filly continued:
“Or I mean, mom knows a lot of ponies, from her work and all, and she likes talking to others... but she doesn't get visitors that often and doesn't really visit others outside work. I think she's a little shy like that, or something. She always says that she's happy and that I'm all she needs. And I know she's happy when she plays with me or tells me a story... but I think she gets really lonely sometimes and that makes me sad. And I'm worried it's because of me, like, she doesn't want to leave me alone, or something.”
Dinky fell quiet. Twilight nodded, urging her to continue.
”I know there are things, you know, grownup things, that she won't talk to me about, but I can see that she is really worried sometimes. She always says everything is fine, but I know when she is worrying about something. It's really not that hard to notice, her eyes go straight when she does that, it actually looks kind of funny... I know she doesn't tell me because she doesn't want me to worry too, but I still do. I think she needs to talk to somepony...”
Dinky paused, biting her lip briefly and looking up to Twilight. “And I was thinking, well,” she continued, hesitantly, ”since you've been so nice to me and all, could you, maybe, talk to her? So she won't be so lonely anymore.”
Twilight was surprised and more than a little shocked to hear what Dinky had to say. This was a completely new side to Derpy, and Twilight couldn't help but feel an odd pang of guilt. Apart from Pinkie, Derpy was probably the only other pony to know everypony else in town. The thought that she could have been left alone with her worries was something the purple mare couldn't have ever imagined.
“Of course, if she wants to talk, I'll listen. I'll be her friend,” she said, giving the filly a gentle nuzzle.
Dinky smiled. “That would be really nice.” Her words faded into a yawn.
“It's getting pretty late. Would you like to go to bed now?”
Dinky just nodded in response and hopped to the floor.
Having tucked the filly in for the night Twilight was ready to leave when Dinky suddenly spoke up: “Could you tell me a story?” she asked.
Twilight felt a smile creep on her face. She levitated a couple of books from the nearby bookshelf, hovering them so Dinky could see them. “Of course. What kind of a story do you want to hear? 'The Carrot Garden of Mr. Sprinkles' is one of my favorites. Or maybe you'd like something more along the lines of 'The Princess' New Dress'?”
Dinky shook her head slightly.
“Okay, did you already have something in mind? I'm sure I can find pretty much anything here if I look.”
“Could you tell me about how you defeated Nightmare Moon and rescued princess Luna?” Dinky asked, excited.
Twilight felt herself blush a little at the attention. She bit her lip. “I don't know, it's a pretty long story and it's getting late...”
“Now just how am I supposed to say no to that?”, Twilight thought and smiled. “Alright then, just this once,” she said and pulled a chair next to the bed.
“It was the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration...” she began.
The light pitter-patter of rain filled the night, the cold droplets drumming against the rooftops and streets below. A lonely streetlight shone into the otherwise dark room, projecting a fuzzy image of the streaks of water on the glass to the ceiling. The sole occupant of the room shifted slightly, then rolled onto her side giving a lengthy sigh before falling back asleep.
A few moments passed until Derpy shifted under her covers again, then brought a hoof to her head. She felt the bandage on her temple and the bump underneath. It felt sore, but it was a dull pain. Other than that she could feel bruises on her legs and along her side, but they didn't hurt that much. For whatever reason she felt almost hung over, which surprised her, as she rarely drank and certainly never enough to warrant a hangover. When she moved her left foreleg she could feel a line attached to the limb drag, giving her a slight pinch. Opening her eyes she could see the room was dark, save for the small amount of light coming in from the window and beneath the door. She wasn't completely certain where she was or why, but at the moment it didn't matter. In any case her head felt too fuzzy to think about it. The bed she was lying in felt warm and comfortable enough, inviting her to slide a little deeper under the covers. It felt nice and safe.
A few minutes later she could hear hoofsteps from the corridor, stirring her back awake, a little more alert this time. She tried to speak, but her throat was dry and she broke out in a fit of coughing. The sound of steps stopped and the door opened with a quiet creak, allowing a beam of harsh artificial light to enter the room. Derpy squinted her eyes and brought a hoof to her face to block out some of the offending light.
“Oh good. You're awake,” the pony from the corridor said as she looked inside and entered the room.
The pegasus tried to speak again, but her throat was too dry. She tried to sit up, but only got her head a few inches off the pillow before she had to lie down again. For some reason the room had started to spin. She could feel her heart beat harder and small beads of sweat started forming on her forehead.
“It's alright, stay calm,” the other pony said as she noticed Derpy struggle. She trotted up to her, offering a juice box. After Derpy had finished the pony spoke up again:
“I'm going to turn a light on now, is that alright?”
Derpy nodded and one of the ceiling lights turned on, making her reflexively shield her eyes again. Thankfully the light wasn't too bright, and had a much softer glow to it. After a moment she lowered the hoof from her face and took a look at her surroundings. The pieces of the puzzle started falling into place as she glanced around the room, first at the soothingly colored pastel walls, then down at her generic bedsheets and finally at the white mare standing beside her.
“Now, do you know where you are?” the nurse asked.
Derpy looked around for a brief moment, then spoke: ”Am I... this is the hospital, isn't it?”
The nurse nodded in response, but before she had the chance to say anything Derpy suddenly panicked, her eyes going wide in alarm:
“Oh no, what time is it? I have to get home!”
The nurse lied a hoof against the mailmare's chest before she could try getting back up again. She smiled at her reassuringly. “Take it easy. You don't have to worry, your daughter is fine. Your friend Miss Sparkle has been taking care of Dinky for you while you have been here. I'm not sure if you remember any of this, but you were in an accident and hit your head pretty badly. You have been unconscious for three days.”
“An accident? I think I remember... something.” Derpy looked up in disbelief. “Three days? Really?”
“Yes. You are lucky miss Sparkle found you when she did, you were in pretty bad shape when you were brought here. It could have been much worse.”
Derpy stopped to wonder for a while, but the thoughts of what had happened were shrugged off quickly. There was something much more important on her mind. There always was.
“Can you send somepony go tell poor Dinky that I'm alright? She must be worried sick.”
“It's the middle of the night right now,” the nurse said, pointing to the clock on the wall, “but we'll send someone to tell them first thing in the morning. I know they will be relieved to know you are back awake.”
Derpy leaned back on her pillow, visibly calmer now.
“Now, how are you feeling?” The nurse asked, leaning closer. She felt Derpy's forehead and nodded approvingly. “Your fever seems to have gone away and the swelling has gone down, at least. You look much better.”
“I'm alright. A little sore, I guess, but I feel fine. I, uh...” She tried flexing her wings and gave a little wince. At the second try a somewhat panicked look came over her face. “My wing is stiff.”
The nurse gave her a reassuring smile. “Don't worry. You landed on it and as a result it got dislocated, but nothing is broken. There is some bruising and you lost a couple of feathers, but there shouldn't be any lasting damage. It will probably be a little stiff at first, but give it some time and it will be as good as new.”
“Thank goodness,” Derpy said, leaning back and sighing in relief. “I'd lose my job if I couldn't fly anymore. I don't know what I'd do then.”
“Don't worry about things like that right now. You need to get better first before you can even think about going back to work.” The nurse paused briefly, noticing the look on Derpy's face. “But it's good to hear that you're feeling better. Actually, you seem to be doing remarkably well, all things considered,” she continued. She noticed Derpy was trying to scratch at her temple, and pulled her hoof away gently.
“It would be best if you left it alone. That was a rather bad cut and required several stitches. It will heal better if you don't scratch it. It will probably leave a scar, but it shouldn't be visible once the fur grows back. Apart from that there is no major damage, but you will probably be sore for a while. We are going to have to keep you here in observation for a couple of days, though.”
Derpy lied her hoof back down. The nurse circled around the bed and leaned closer.
“This line can come out now. This may pinch a little.”
The pegasus averted her eyes, the very thought of the needle in her skin making her feel a little nauseous. Instead she turned to look at the bedside table. A smile spread on her face as she noticed the dandelions. They had gone more than a little droopy, but she didn't care about that.
“From Dinky?” she asked.
“Yes. She and miss Sparkle have been here to visit every day.”
Derpy couldn't help but smile a little wider. Next her attention turned to a stack of cards next to the flowers. At a quick glance there were almost two dozen of them.
“Are these all... for me?” She asked, surprised.
“Of course they are,” the nurse said, picking up the stack and handing them to the pegasus. “I think everypony in town knows you. These have been coming in steadily since the word of your accident started to spread.” The nurse paused for a moment when she noticed the look on Derpy's face.
“You look surprised. But why? Ponies know you and like you. It's hardly a surprise, given your profession, you know. I know some might make the odd joke about you every once in a while, but deep down I don't think there's anypony in Ponyville who doesn't like you.”
Derpy shuffled through the stack, giving the cards a quick count. There were twenty one of them. “I guess I should take a look, then,” she said.
“Alright, but try to get some rest as well. I'll leave you now. Before I go, is there anything else you need?”
“No, I'm alright,” Derpy said, lifting her eyes from the cards. “Thanks.”
“OK, then. If there is anything you need, just give me a shout. Oh and, you probably don't feel hungry right now, but I'm sure that in a while you will. I'll come back to bring you some breakfast soon.”
The grey mare nodded and focused on the cards again. As the door creaked shut she began flipping through them, wondering how and why so many had bothered.
“Here's one from Lyra and Bon Bon... and one from Pinkie Pie... how did she get that muffin scent on here? Do I really even want to know? One from work... wow, this is an expensive one... leaf gold? How did the cheapskate bring himself to send this? And this one has to be from Rainbow Dash. Still can't read her scribbles... the thought that counts... Hah, Fluttershy. Even her hoofwriting is timid... Applejack's cursive is really pretty. Somehow I always suspected that... A few from Dinky's friends... from Cheerilee...”
After she had read all of the well wishes, she laid the cards back down onto a neat pile. As she turned to her side and closed her eyes she couldn't help but smile a little wider. It felt good to know so many cared so much about her.
It was a new feeling, one she liked.
Despite what the nurse had told her, Derpy didn't get much sleep. She had woken up again long before the sunrise, the years of early mornings being something impossible to shake away. She had eaten breakfast quickly, a few pieces of toast and a bowl of stale oatmeal that had gone cold by the time she had woken up again. The next few hours had been spent counting the lavender stripes on the mint green and white wallpapers, starting over again every time she lost her count.
She was finally interrupted by an excited knock on her door. There really wasn't any time to react as the door opened, just enough to let a small unicorn filly in the room. Twilight followed her a few seconds later. Dinky jumped up to give her mother a hug and impacted with quite a bit of force. Derpy flinched and the little unicorn immediately shrunk back.
“Did I hurt you? Sorry,” Dinky said.
The grey mare just smiled and reached a hoof to pull her back. “You could never hurt me. I already feel ten times better now that you are here. I've missed you so much.”
Derpy motioned for the filly to hop onto the bed, an order she was more than happy to oblige. The gray mare pulled her daughter under the covers and held her tight against her chest.
“Mom! You're squishing me!” Dinky yelped, but her giggle betrayed the fact that she didn't mind.
“That was the plan, sweetie,” Derpy giggled back. She extended her good wing and wrapped it around Dinky like an extra, feathery, blanket, her smile mirroring that of her daughter's. The warmth radiating from the embrace could be felt from halfway across the room, all the way to where Twilight stood.
“Besides, I'm the one who should be sorry,” Derpy continued. “I wasn't feeling well that day and I shouldn't have been working, it's my own fault that I got hurt. I'm sorry for making you worry.”
“It's okay. I was pretty scared, but Twilight was really nice and took good care of me...” Dinky stopped and nuzzled up under her mother's chin. “And besides, you're all better now, right? Can we go home now, mommy?”
“Not yet, dear,” Derpy said, running a hoof through her daughter's mane, “The doctor said I have to stay here for a few more days. They said that I'm going to have to take it easy for a while, so we'll have plenty of time together once I get home.” She turned to look at Twilight, who gave her an approving nod. “Twilight will take care of you until then.”
Dinky didn't say anything, but it was clear she was alright with spending a few more nights at the library. For the longest while the two just lay there, holding each other. Then Derpy turned to look at Twilight, still holding her daughter tight and smiling wide.
“Thank you so much for taking care of her for me, I don't think I can ever repay you.”
Twilight dug a hoof at the floor, blushing a little. “It's alright. It's my pleasure, really. Dinky is such a good filly. And I had a promise to keep, after all.”
Derpy sighed happily and turned to give her daughter a loving look.
“You know, a little over six years ago I started feeling like I... needed something more in my life. I would be lying if I said I didn't have my doubts, though. I wasn't completely certain if it was what I really wanted, or if I could handle it, and I didn't know if I was doing the right thing when I walked in those doors...” She paused and nuzzled her daughter under her chin.
“But I didn't have to be sure, because Dinky chose me. I remember it like it was just yesterday: She was sitting alone in the corner, but when she saw me she ran straight up to me. She didn't say anything, but she was looking at me, with those big, bright, beautiful eyes of hers. Then she wrapped herself around my leg and just wouldn't let go, not that I would have wanted her to. At that moment I knew that she was mine... and a week later we went home together. I've never regretted or doubted that decision. Not even once, not even when things have been hard. She's my daughter, there is no question about that, and I love her more than anything else in this world. I couldn't live with myself if she was left all alone just because I was stupid and got myself hurt. You taking care of her means more to me than you can ever imagine.”
She gave her daughter another nuzzle. “Mommy loves you so much, my little muffin,” she whispered, pulling back slightly and giving a brief pause before she continued: “Dinky, mommy needs to talk to Twilight alone for a moment. Could you be a good filly and go wait outside for a while? It will only take a few minutes.”
The little unicorn wouldn't have wanted to leave, but she didn't complain. She hugged her mother tightly. Derpy tussled her mane and gave her a kiss on the cheek before letting her go. Then the filly left, leaving the two mares alone in the room. As the door creaked shut Twilight was surprised to see Derpy's expression darken. The pegasus slumped deeper into her bed and seemed to tense up. The change was slight, but noticeable.
“I really don't know how I can pay you for all this. Money has been a little tight, but I'll think of something, really.”
“Nonsense. I already said it's alright. I'm just happy I could help.”
“Well, alright then, if you really mean it. Thank you...” Derpy said, somewhat hesitantly. After that she fell quiet, turning her head slightly to avert Twilight's gaze.
“Is something troubling you?” Twilight asked. “You look like you're worrying about something.” The room fell silent for a while.
Derpy sighed and fidgeted under her covers. It seemed almost as if she was gathering courage to speak. Finally she lifted her head and her eyes met Twilight's. The purple mare took note of how they seemed to be unusually level.
“Yeah, I guess there is... something.” Derpy scratched the back of her neck awkwardly. “There is something that has been giving me some worry. I guess you should know too, I owe you that much after all that you have done for me.”
“You don't owe me anything, really. But if there is something you want to tell me, please do,” Twilight said, remembering what Dinky had told her the night before. Something wasn't right, she could see that much and began to worry a little herself, but did her best to keep it from showing.
“I'm just not really sure if I can... ugh, it's nothing, really. Forget I said anything,” Derpy said, waving a hoof. She had already gotten Twilight's attention, however, and the purple mare wasn't going to let the matter drop.
“Something is bothering you. Please, just tell me,” Twilight said, taking a step forward.
The pegasus took a deep breath and fixed her position a little.
“Alright. But if I do tell you, you have to promise me that you will keep it to yourself. Nopony else knows about this and... well, you know how it's impossible to keep anything secret in this town. I don't want Dinky to hear anything... I don't want her to worry over nothing. Can you promise me that?”
“Of course I promise. Nothing you tell me will leave this room unless you want to.”
Derpy sighed and nodded her head. “Alright then... uh...” She fell silent for a while.
“It's about my father,” she began, blurting the words out, but then stopped just as rapidly. She seemed to hesitate and paused to look at Twilight, who gave her an encouraging nod. She sighed and continued, quite a bit calmer: “I inherited a lot from him. My mane, my coat... even my wonky old eyes. Really the only thing got from my mother was my hair type, father's was much coarser than mine, almost like dry hay.” She gave a slight laugh, but the previous warmth in her voice was fading. She swallowed hard before continuing.
“Ever since I can remember he... he wasn't well. Sometimes he would trail off mid sentence and stare at nothing for a few seconds, before continuing like nothing had happened. He was clumsy, even more than I am, and sometimes it was hard for him to even walk straight. He would get really bad headaches... I even remember him blacking out a few times. Just like that, from standing to lying on the floor... He tried to hide it and I don't think many other ponies knew, but I know I did. My parents never really told me what it was about, though. I didn't know what it meant.”
Derpy paused for a moment and closed her eyes. When she opened them again they had gotten a moist glimmer. Twilight could see something very painful was welling up inside the pegasus, ready to surface. She pulled herself closer and held Derpy's hoof in hers. The mailmare gave her a slight smile, though it withered away quickly as she continued:
“For the most part everything was normal, but it was slowly getting worse. I was only little, but I could still see it. And I think some of the other ponies started noticing it too, they started acting, well, different, around him and us. Of course he still wouldn't say anything. Then one day he came back from work, complaining that he had a headache again. He went to bed early that night and-”
Derpy choked up.
“He never woke up. I was only little when he... when he- I'm sorry, I-”
The painful memory made the pegasus whimper. She scrunched her eyes shut just as the first tears began falling down onto the sheet. Twilight held her hoof tighter. It took Derpy a full minute to gather herself up again. She looked Twilight straight in the eyes as she continued:
“I'm sorry, it was so long ago, I though I wasn't going to... anyway... The doctors said that me having dad's eyes didn't necessarily have to mean anything, that it wasn't necessarily... hereditary. But I still fear, sometimes. Not for myself, but for Dinky. At least when my father... was gone... I still had my mother, but I'm a single parent, and I'm afraid what would happen to Dinky if I- if something happened to me too.”
Twilight had no words. Derpy fell silent, biting her lip and looking down to the foot of the bed. After a few seconds had passed she looked up again.
“I have been healthy most all of my life and for that I am truly grateful, but there have been a few times when things have gone a little... fuzzy. Hard to stand up, to walk, to fly. The world going black and feeling sick, almost fainting... I know what that headache feels like.” Derpy fell silent for a moment, then added quickly: ”It has only happened a few times in the last couple of years, and I had never actually fainted before. Maybe this time it was just from working too hard, or from being sick, or maybe it was something else. I really don't even want to know. But it's still something I worry about.” She fell silent again.
“If...” Derpy started, but stopped, trying to find the words to skirt around the issue, even if only just a little. “If I have the same thing my father had, it won't come as a surprise. He was so sick and I could see him getting worse. But I'm still healthy. If it's going to happen to me, I'll see it coming. There will be time... it won't be a surprise.”
She held Twilight's hoof tighter, shaking from the effort as she finished:
“But when I made you promise to make sure that Dinky would be alright, I meant it. I have never been more scared than I was right then. I really thought that it was it, that I was going to... well, die. But what scared me more was the thought that Dinky was going to be left alone.”
Derpy released her grip and wiped a tear from her eye, only for it to be replaced by another. She was sniffling and looked absolutely miserable. Twilight did the only thing she could think of and offered her a hug. The pegasus was quick to accept the offer and soon Twilight could hear and feel the pegasus sob quietly into her mane, the hair becoming drenched with tears, her agitated heart beating hard against her chest. Derpy was pulling herself so tight against the unicorn that her legs shook from the effort, as did her entire body after having finally let out years worth of pent up worry.
“I- I'm sorry,” Derpy said, amidst her sniffling. Her quiet words were almost completely muffled into the purple mare's mane. “I wasn't going to cry... I'm pah- pathetic.”
“Shh... It's alright. Nopony should have to deal with those kind of worries alone... I can't imagine what you must have been feeling like, all this time. I'm glad you could tell me,” Twilight said, running a gentle hoof up and down her back. “And you're not pathetic. You're a wonderful mare, and even more than that you're a wonderful mother, no doubt about it. But you need to take care of yourself too, you know.”
As terrible as she felt, the warmth of the embrace and Twilight's words were slowly sinking in. She had often comforted Dinky when the filly had been feeling down, but Derpy couldn't remember when was the last time somepony had done the same for her. Just being held felt good, even if Twilight was little more than just another stranger to her. For whatever reason she found the comfort she hadn't even known she had been needing in that purple mare. The dark dread that had been clouding her thoughts ever since she had woken up was now dissipating with every passing moment.
When they broke the embrace a moment later, Twilight was surprised to see Derpy smile again. It was a weak smile that only lasted for a moment, but it was a smile none the less.
“Thank you for listening, Twilight.”
“What are friends for?” Twilight paused to think for a moment. “You know what? When you get released from here, I'll come visit every day and help around the house until you are feeling better. And if you feel like you want to talk some more, I'll listen.”
Derpy wiped the last of her tears away and sighed, happily this time.
“I- I think I'd like that, if you really have the time. I don't want to be a bother, but it would be nice to have some help for a while. I'm already feeling much better, though. Nothing is broken so it shouldn't be more than a couple of days until I can get back to work.”
“Wait wait wait... a couple of days?” Twilight was baffled. “I'm glad that you're feeling better and all, but didn't they say that you needed at least a few weeks off?”
“Well, they did. But I can't really afford to miss work for that long. Like I said, money has been a little tight... well, more than just a little really. I think I can take this week off without it being too much of a problem, but then I'll have to go back. Don't worry, I'll manage somehow.”
Twilight didn't like what she was hearing. She wasn't quite sure how to say what she was going to say, but decided to go on with it anyway.
“I'm sorry if I'm being blunt here, but isn't that kind of how you ended up in this mess in the first place? If you've been overworking yourself like that then it's no wonder your health gave out the way it did.”
Derpy didn't say anything, but instead gave Twilight a hard glare in response, her words having struck a nerve, or at least near one. The unicorn wasn't going to let the matter drop, however.
“When was the last time you took some time off? You know, had a break, went on a vacation?”
“Vacation? I'm not sure what you mean by that.” Derpy made a small swooping motion with her hoof and feigned a chuckle. “Well, last fall we went to visit some relatives over the weekend, I had to take a few days off for that... and two years ago, I think, I chipped a tooth and had to take the day off to go to the dentist... before that there was that one time when... no that wasn't it...” There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice, but it seemed to fade away the further back she thought.
“So in other words you haven't?” Twilight interrupted her when she noticed the pegasus had started to trail off. “Why don't you think of this as a little vacation then? Please, take a couple of weeks off and rest. Spend some time at home and just relax. You more than deserve it.”
A smile had made it's way on the mailmare's face again. “That would be nice, really. I've always wanted to walk Dinky to school in the morning...” her smile withered away as she finished, “...but I really can't afford the time off. I've got bills to pay, you know.”
Twilight seemed to think about something for a while, then pointed to the stack of cards she had received over the past few days.
“Just look at how many care about you. And I'm sure there's plenty more still on their way, it's just been a little hectic at the office since you've been gone. I'm sure everypony who wrote would be more than happy to pitch in a few bits each to hold you over until you're well again.”
Derpy seemed to be upset by the comment, her lips twisting to a frown and her brow furrowing. “Don't be too quick about putting two and two together and getting five now, we will manage.” By this point a hint of hurt pride and a tinge of bitterness had crept into her tone. “I'm not a charity case, you know.”
“I know you're not, and there's nothing wrong with being proud about providing for yourself. But there's no shame in asking for help when you need it, either.”
She paused to give a meaningful look to Derpy, who was still pouting, and continued with a empathetic sigh:
“Listen, I'm not saying that I think that you can't manage on your own, because I know you can. But what I am saying is that you don't have to.”
The pegasus slumped deeper into her pillow, bringing a hoof to her face and rubbing the side of her muzzle. “I don't want to be a bother.”
“And you won't be.” Twilight stopped to give her a worried smile. “Friends look after one another, it's what they do. I want to help you, if you'll only let me.” She got a bemused look from Derpy, and continued:
“Look... I won't do anything if you don't want me to, but I could talk to a few ponies and get a little collection going. What you're talking about isn't right, you should be allowed to rest until you're well again. And after what you've been through that will take some time, everypony understands that. I'm worried for you, and so has been everypony else I've talked to in these past couple of days. They do care, you know.”
“You... you really mean that, don't you? Thank you... How about I sleep on it and I'll let you know tomorrow?”
“That's all I'm asking,” Twilight said, letting out a sigh of relief. “Just think about it.”
Derpy shifted a little and dried her eyes onto the edge of her blanket. She tried to brush her mane back into order, but it still remained bit of an unruly mess when she was done. Satisfied that she looked at least somewhat presentable, she spoke up again:
“Could you go tell Dinky to come back in? This has all been a little too much. I think I need to hold her right now.”
Dinky climbed into the bed and Derpy wrapped her back under her wing. There were no words needed as the two held each other close and warm in a sleepy embrace. The nightmare had come to an end and Dinky was already drifting off to sleep, her mother not too far behind. As Twilight watched this display of purest, strongest love, she felt a her own eyes start to water a little and a great warmth begin to spread in her chest.
Fear, pain, sadness, those were all lesser emotions, and as such could not hold a candle to what these two shared. It was something much stronger indeed, something unbreakable. Twilight gave one last glance at the mailmare and her daughter and couldn't help but smile.
She left the room content in the knowledge that, at least for that moment, everything was right in the world.
I was going to go fix a car or have a beer or something,
but then I decided to do something manly instead.
So I wrote this.
Thank you for reading, whoever you may be.
Yours in love and tolerance,
Disclaimer: Rainbow Dash Derpy is best pony. (Sorry Dashie)