"Right now, we think he's going to make a full recovery, ma'am, but it'll take some time. He's got a lot of internal bleeding, a slight fracture in his left foreleg, a severe concussion, and we're concerned that there may be some brain damage as a result. We've stabilized him, but... frankly, I've never seen a pony take a worse beating."
Cheerilee nodded numbly. Beside her, she could feel the anger rising off of Macintosh. He hadn't said a word since he'd arrived at the hospital, hadn't even outwardly shown his emotions, but the minute he'd seen his friend lying on that cot, bandaged nearly hoof-to-snout and breathing raggedly... She'd never seen her coltfriend so furious. Truth be told, it was a relief. His anger let her keep a handle on her own emotions. He was literally pissed enough for the both of them.
"Thank you, doctor. Can we go in?"
"He's still in critical condition, miss. Family only."
Cheerilee gave him a level look. He nodded and stepped out of her way.
Blueblood was in terrible shape. Large swaths of his alabaster coat were stained a deep red. Both of his eyes were heavily swollen, his jaw had been wrapped tightly shut to reduce swelling, and a fresh ice pack had been taped to his forehead. A cast had been plastered into place around his injured leg, and the bandages over the dozen or so cuts that had been sewn shut were soaked with bright streams of blood. His breath came in shallow gasps, as if the simple act of taking in air was an immense effort.
Cheerilee ran a hoof through the bit of mane the prince still had exposed. "Oh, Blue... "
She and Macintosh stood by his bed for awhile, looking down at their injured friend with a mixture of silent sympathy and quiet rage. Finally, Mac let out a breath that flared his nostrils and walked out of the room. Cheerilee watched him with concern.
"What happened, Blue?" she asked quietly, stroking his hoof with her own. "Why did they do this to you?"
That was a stupid question, though. She knew why. It had really only been a matter of time.
Honestly, when Blue had first arrived at her door, she'd been tempted to slam it in his face. Since returning to Ponyville, she'd seen nothing but devastation. Lives had been shattered. Ponies she'd known for years had been cut down. Several students in her classroom had lost older brothers or sisters, or were desperately awaiting word about them. And everypony knew who was responsible: the wicked prince, jealous of his sister Cadance, who had sought to overthrow Celestia and who had, somehow, escaped punishment for his crimes.
She'd known better, logically. She'd been among those who'd been freed in exchange for Blueblood's cooperation with the undead army's dark master. But seeing all the pain and suffering that had come from the prince's actions... it was hard not to hate him.
But she'd seen the sorrow in his eyes. The hurt. She'd seen how desperate he was for just a simple act of kindness and generosity. And so she'd invited him in, let him sleep on her couch... And as she'd gotten to know him, with his dry sense of humor and his eagerness to repay her hospitality however he could, she'd even started to enjoy his company. In a way, he was like one of her students: naive, helpless, and in need of her guidance and protection. The teacher in her wanted to help him him grow and bloom into the pony she knew he could be.
But in the back of her mind, she'd known this was inevitable.
Outside, she heard the low rumble of Macintosh's voice. Curious, she walked to the doorway and peeked out. The red stallion was speaking with quiet urgency to a familiar, purple-hued unicorn. "Twilight?"
She glanced at Cheerilee and offered a weak smile. "You look like hay."
Cheerilee grinned. "So do you."
The unicorn glanced up at her unruly mane and blew an annoyed breath at it. "Big Mac was just telling me what happened. I came as soon as I heard... "
Twilight blinked. "Well, you know, an assault on royalty in the middle of Ponyville is kind of something I should be looking into."
Cheerilee gave her a skeptical look. Twilight flushed a little and scraped a hoof across the floor. "Okay, fine. He was on his way back from the library when he was attacked, okay? If I hadn't dragged him there for Princess Celestia's interview, he wouldn't have been walking around town at night and maybe this wouldn't have happened. I felt bad."
The teacher's expression didn't waver, and Twilight's cheeks began to turn a deep shade of magenta. She ducked her head and tried to find something interesting to look at. Cheerilee finally relented with a grin. "I'm sure he'll appreciate the concern."
Macintosh looked between the girls. He didn't seem to be sharing in the humor. "I'm goin' out."
"For what?" asked Cheerilee.
"Jus' goin' out," he repeated. "I'll be back."
He marched out the hospital doors without another word. Cheerilee and Twilight watched him with concern. "Is he okay?" the unicorn asked.
"He doesn't like seeing ponies he cares about getting hurt. I just hope he doesn't get into trouble."
Twilight's eyebrow arched quizzically. "He and Blueblood are friends?"
Cheerilee nodded. "Macintosh says he thought he was a good pony from the first time they met. And then when we were captured by those skeletons... "
"Yeah, Blueblood told me about that."
She sounded thoughtful, and Cheerilee gave her a considering look. "He's really a sweetheart, you know. Just a big softy. Very bright, too, and well-read. I'm pretty sure I even heard him quoting Wiggle Spear in the shower one morning."
Twilight listened quietly for a moment, and then her eyes widened. "Are you trying to set me up with him?!"
Her friend just grinned mischievously. "Just making conversation, Twi."
The unicorn's cheeks turned an even darker shade of purple. "Cheeri, it's not that he's not, um, attractive, in a way, but, you know, he's not really my type, and my brother really hates him, and Rarity would never forgive me for dating him, and I don't really know him that well and what if he wants to move back to Canterlot some day and he called Pinkie Pie an 'annoying twit,' which, well, I guess she kinda is sometimes but that was still really mean and... "
Cheerilee's grin widened. "Sounds like you've put some thought into this."
"J-just shut up!"
The teacher put a hoof on her friend's shoulder. "I'm just teasing you, Twilight. I know you two wouldn't be a good match. I mean, why would you ever want to be with an intelligent, sensitive stallion with a similar sense of humor and a shared love of literature? That's ridiculous."
Twilight sighed, cheeks still burning. "I'm going home now."
"I'll be sure to tell Blue you stopped by."
"You are worse than Princess Celestia sometimes."
Cheerilee laughed as Twilight hustled out of the hospital. She was still smiling as she walked back into Blueblood's room, and found the prince staring groggily forward. His eyes snapped to her as she approached. "Cheerilee?"
He was barely able to move his mouth with the bandages, but she recognized her name. She put a hoof on his. "Hi, Blue. How do you feel?"
He mumbled something incoherent. The last bit seemed to be a question, though.
"You... were attacked, Blue. We don't know who did it, or how many there were." She sighed. "You're hurt very badly."
He fell silent. Cheerilee looked at him and saw that his eyes were still open, but unfocused and staring at the corner of the bed.
"I'm so sorry, Blue. Maybe you shouldn't have come to Ponyville. After everything that happened, there's... just a lot of hostility."
He looked back at her, and she was surprised to see steel in his gaze. He shook his head slightly, wincing at the pain it caused.
He said something, but it was muddled and indistinct. She frowned and leaned forward, and he repeated the word.
Applejack stopped by the next morning. She made small talk about the coming harvest, the ongoing repairs in town, the cows and their demands for a raise (this was punctuated by an impressive array of applications for the word "buck"), and the weather for the coming week. She assured him that he'd be welcome back at the farm as soon as he was able, and that Granny Smith had even ordered some broccoli for him. (He groaned.)
Cloud Kicker and Blossomforth were his next visitors. They'd brought him a cupcake, apparently not realizing that he couldn't eat anything that couldn't be sucked through a straw, and Blossom had brought a bouquet of flowers as well. In the most words he'd ever heard the white pegasus speak at one time, she explained that she'd grown them herself, that they represented a wish for him to get well soon, that their aroma would help him heal faster, and that he shouldn't eat them because they tasted pretty terrible. Cloud Kicker followed this up with a suggestion that they all bang, which sent Blossom scurrying out of the room with scarlet cheeks.
Later in the afternoon, the Cutie Mark Crusaders arrived with a bouquet of their own, although this one seemed to mostly consist of any pretty flowers or weeds they'd spotted on the way there. They had regaled him with their recent activities as Cutie Mark Crusader Crime Scene Investigators, saying that they had definitely determined that Blueblood was attacked by more than one pony and that a two-by-four had been used in the assault. (They had the broken remains to prove it.)
They were finally shooed away when Cheerilee and Big Mac arrived, bearing gifts of their own. Cheerilee was carrying a slightly dented alarm clock, while Macintosh was shouldering a small keg of hard cider. He'd tapped it and passed out drinks–Cheerilee had given him a somewhat put-off look–and the prince enjoyed the twin sensations of drinking liquor through a straw and mixing alcohol and painkillers. He drifted off to sleep soon after.
He awoke, to his surprise, to a pair of deep blue eyes framed by an indigo mane. He blinked in confusion and opened his mouth, dimly realizing that the bandages around his jaw must have been removed in the night. "Rarity?"
She frowned at him. "Ah, awake at last."
He grunted and tried to push himself into a more respectable sitting position. "What brings you here?"
"Merely assessing the damage. I've been told you'll recover fully."
He looked at her skeptically. She stared back at him with a neutral expression. "Yes, well, I should be going... "
"I'm sorry about your boutique."
She stopped and looked back at him. "What?"
"I'm sorry about your boutique," he repeated. "I'm sorry about everything that happened because of my stupidity, but I'm particularly sorry about what I did to you. First the gala, then... this. I'm not the least bit surprised that you hate me."
She paused. "I don't hate you."
She shook her head. "I think you're a self-absorbed, shallow, snobbish imbecile, but I don't hate you."
Blueblood let out a genuine laugh. "Well, that's settled, then."
Despite herself, Rarity grinned. "I should think so."
"You know, for what it's worth, I think you're an appearance-obsessed vanity queen who only aspires to beauty so that she can marry rich and spend the rest of her life stuffing her face with cake and donuts."
Rarity froze. "What."
"Erm..." He tugged at the collar of his hospital gown. "But I don't... hate... you... ?"
She stared at him. He offered her a feeble smile. And then, to his immense relief, her stony expression began to crack; she started snickering quietly at first, and then had to cover her mouth to contain the rather unladylike chortles that threatened to escape. "You truly are an idiot," she finally managed.
He shrugged. "I've come to accept that."
She smiled and walked to the door. "Get well soon, Your Highness."
Blueblood lay back against the bed, chuckling to himself. He remained that way for the next several hours, dozing lightly through the rest of the morning, until lunch arrived along with his next visitor.
"Miss Sparkle!" he called. "A pleasure to see you."
Twilight smiled awkwardly at him. He noticed that her horn was glowing, and a moment later, a stack of old tomes floated into the room behind her. "Um, hello, Prince Blueblood. I hope you don't mind, but I had some questions after our interview and I was hoping you could help me answer them."
"Of course. How can I help you?"
Four leather-bound books with ancient, crumbling pages floated over to him. "Well, I've been trying to learn more about Azure Throne and Tyranny. Pre-Equestrian records are pretty spotty, and the only thing I could really find about unicorn kingdoms in the Greatspire Mountains is that one existed."
"I don't know how much help I can be; I never really sat down for a heart-to-heart with Azure. Or what I thought was Azure."
She nodded. "I know, but I was hoping that maybe a second pair of eyes might, um, maybe find something I missed?"
Blueblood looked as her quizzically. Was she... blushing? "Uh, Miss Sparkle, are you okay?"
"Yes!" she shouted. "Totally fine. All I am doing is indulging in intellectual curiosity and scholarly research."
"Yes. Um. Anyway, these are the only books I could find with any mention of the Greatspire Mountains. But I did have another idea, so I went ahead and visited the Canterlot Archives for a spell I saw there once in the Starswirl the Bearded Wing."
"It's sort of a time travel spell, but not really. Basically, if you cast it on a pony, you can go back and watch events in his ancestors' lives all the way back to the beginning of ponykind! It's how Starswirl became such a famous sage and historian; he could see pretty much the whole history of the world, once he mastered it."
Blueblood frowned. "I see what you're proposing. There's one problem, though, Miss Sparkle. I'm not sure I'm actually related to Azure."
She nodded. "I know, but you're still descended from some kind of unicorn royalty, right? So even if we don't learn about him, maybe we can find something else interesting."
"I suppose. But are you sure you could even cast the spell?"
"Starswirl wrote that it was one of the most difficult and taxing spells he ever learned, so it'll definitely take some practice... but I think I can do it."
He rubbed a hoof under his chin, wincing at bit a the pain it caused. "Why are you so interested in this, Miss Sparkle?"
Her blush returned, though she was obviously trying to ignore it. "I'm just... I'm worried that there's a lot of stuff about the world that we don't know about. I mean, nopony had even heard of Tyranny before. Who knows what other ancient, evil bad guys might be out there, right? Besides, I want to know why Princess Celestia and Princess Luna decided to bind Tyranny to Arctus Castle. There had be a reason."
He shrugged. "I just assumed that it was isolated enough that nopony would remember it."
"Maybe, but I think there's more to it than that. So, will you help me?"
"Certainly, though we should probably wait until I'm out of the hospital... "
She blinked and seemed to notice for the first time that Blueblood was hooked up to a variety of medical equipment. "Oh, right, I guess that would be a good idea. Okay, then."
She moved towards the door, but stopped, her cheeks darkening again. "Um, I heard that you like to read, so I also brought you this."
A book floated over to him. Blueblood took it gingerly and inspected the cover. "Equestrinox? I've heard of this. The children's fantasy series?"
Twilight's eye twitched. "It's... not really a children's series."
"But look at the cover: 'Winner of the Foals' Choice Award.' 'Recommended for Beginning to Intermediate Readers.'"
Her eye twitched again. "Well, don't let that fool you, it's actually really good. I read those books all the time as a foal."
"Well, yes, I rather think that's the point."
He glanced up at Twilight and saw that her face had twisted into an expression of barely-constrained fury. "I... guess I'll just take that back, then!"
Blueblood gulped and reflexively hugged the book to him as she began trying to levitate it out of his grasp. "I apologize, I didn't mean to offend you... "
"Offend?" she asked, a wild reasonableness to her voice. "Why, I'm not offended. I just don't want to bore you with a little foal's book, Your Highness."
The prince held onto the book for dear life as he began to rise into the air. "No, look, I'll read it! I'm sure it's excellent! Fun for children, fun for adults, right?"
"Oh, no, I'm sure you'd much rather read something more mature! Maybe I should bring you a copy of War and Leaves? Ooh, how about Ponies and Prejudice?"
"No, no, I'm quite alright-"
"Let go of that book!" she snarled, nearly pulling Blueblood off of his bed.
"I want to read it!"
"Give it back!"
"You let me borrow it!"
"You don't want it, so give it back!"
"I do want it! This is my book now, and I am going to read it!"
Somepony cleared her throat. They turned to find a plump nurse with a candy-striped mane, a cup of pills carried in her mouth. She glared at them and tapped her hoof. Twilight laughed weakly and lowered the book (and the prince attached to it) back to the cot. She gave the nurse a nervous smile, looked over her shoulder at Blueblood, and then bolted for the exit without another word.
The prince watched her go, not quite sure what to make of the incident. As the nurse went about preparing his medicine, he shrugged, opened the book, and began reading.
This actually isn't bad, he thought an hour or so later.