Actually, I lied. There was no plan...unless "winging it" counts as a plan...
I tried to think of one...I really did. It's just that whenever I tried...my mind started wandering into bad places as soon as contemplated what came after I got Joy into bed. I wanted to be a good pony, but there were just so many ways the situation could (and likely would) spiral out of control.
It's okay...it's not like there is any sort of correlation between planning and success, anyways.
Yep, I'm doomed.
Immediately after we walked in the door, Joy and I split and went our separate ways; she went to the shower upstairs, and I made my way to the guest shower. Unbuckling the saddlebags and sliding them to the ground, I could feel the deep ache of the days’ exertion slowly taking hold. In an effort to save myself some soreness in the morning, I turned the water up as high as I was comfortable with. While I showered, I stretched my sore limbs, ignoring their protests.
Oh, you don't like to be stretched right now? Take that, you miserable traitors. I must say, it was very nice to be able to punish these traitorous limbs, even a little bit. Once I had scrubbed the grime, sweat, and dirt from my coat I felt like a new pegasus.
Mentally bracing myself for the pain that would inevitably follow, I decided to try and extend my wings. Since I had arrived, they had been bound to my sides at all times, and it occurred to me that I had never actually seen them extended. Taking a deep breath, I slowly eased them out from my side. It hurt, there was no denying that...but it wasn't the same pain I was used to. Instead of the sharp, stabbing sensation that permeated my chest, it was more of a deep tightness across my chest and back.
In spite of the resistance, I gently coaxed them farther and farther open. The deep ache across the flight muscles melted into a warm bliss. I have to say, it was simply amazing. The warm water of the shower was hitting places that had previously been hidden behind my wings, and it was sublime.
And then the hot water ran out.
Sighing, I turned off the tap and coaxed my wings back into their position by my side. It had already been nearly a week since I'd made my entrance, and I figured they were healed enough to be unbound for a bit. Toweling off, I headed back out to the living room. Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised me that Joy was already done with her shower and was patiently waiting in the living room. But it did.
Joy was lying on the couch-bed, her mane still wrapped up in a towel, humming softly to herself. At the sound of my approach, she looked at me briefly before averting her eyes with a slight blush.
...the hell?I thought she was done being the shy little pony that I had met at the hospital.
And yet, here she was. I quickly looked myself over to make sure I wasn't sporting any...potentially embarrassing manifestations of excitement. Nope, I was in the clear for that.
Then why was she acting so strange? The silence between us stretched on for a few seconds before she finally took a deep, resigned sigh and spoke up.
"Dave...I feel like a fool for asking, but could you do me a favor?"
"I'm terrible at baking and worse at math. As long as it doesn't involve either of those, I should be able to help."
And there goes the forehead-penis look again. She seemed caught off guard by my nonsense, and even cracked a bit of a smile. She was managing to hide behind her towel-mane in a manner that was so adorable I just wanted to hug her... I took a step forward to do just that when I was stopped dead by her next sentence.
"Could you...if you don't mind...I know it's an odd request...would you help me...brush my mane?"
Do the whatnow?
"I...I overexerted my magic today, and now my horn is sore. Otherwise, I'd just brush my own mane. But I can't right now...would you help me?"
All of my yes. ALL OF IT.
"Of course, I'll help you. After all, what are friends for?"
I was trying valiantly to hide my grin. Joy reached up with one hoof and undid the towel, letting her damp mane spill down around her neck and shoulders. Weighed down as it was by the additional mass of the water, her mane hung nearly straight down instead of its usually poofy appearance.I took a moment to revel in the sight. Wet mane is best mane.
In front of me, a brush levitated, surrounded by a wavering blue glow. I scooped it out of the air, the glow trailing it like a mist as it dissipated. I fastened the brush to my hoof and was about to start brushing when I was struck by an idea.
"Hold on a second, Joy. I'll be right back."
Before she had a chance to protest,and with the brush still on my hoof, I wobbled over to the record player and cranked it with my mouth. The record was still in place from the other day, so all I had to do once it was cranked was reposition the needle. This accomplished, a soft static permeated the room as I hobbled back to the couch-bed. Just as I got situated, the record began to play.
The joyous melody floated through the room, and I gently began to brush.
Well, I thought I was being gentle. Joy had a slightly different opinion.
"Ow...don't pull so hard."
"Gentle on the scalp, jeez...I have a sensitive head."
"That's what he said."
"Who said what now?"
"I'm so confused..."
"Shhh...don't worry about it. Just...relax."
Eventually I found my stride, and Joy seemed to be really enjoying herself. The track on the phonograph changed to a more somber tone, though it too was beautiful in its own right. I let myself be carried away by the music, floating along the imagery it conjured in my mind.
Vaguely, I became aware of a soft voice in front of me. Opening eyes I didn't recall closing, I zeroed in on the source.
At some point, Joy had lain down on the couch-bed, resting her head on her front hooves. I was lying next to her at a slight angle, so that my shoulders were closer than my haunches, allowing me better range of movement to reach her mane. An unknown period of time passed as I brushed her mane, and eventually it became so silky that it appeared to be borderline reflective.
As I discovered that it was Joy speaking, I tried very hard to discern what exactly it was that she was saying. Only by staring at her mouth and the way it was moving did I finally figure it out.
"Brushie... brushie... brushie..."
In time with each stroke of the brush, Joy repeated this one word. Brushie. I d'awww-ed so hard I squee'd.
But really though…this was too cute to be real.The best part is that I'm not even sure if she knew she was doing it. I was pretty much certain that she was either asleep or damned close to it, but I couldn't be certain. Dimly, I realized that the record had ended some time ago, and the only sound aside from that of the brush sliding through Joy's mane and the accompanying response from said mare, was the sound of the record's rhythmic popping as it skipped over the last track again and again.
As much as I wanted to stay here, just like this…alone with this mare…until the stars burnt out and the sun no longer rose to light the skies…I knew I'd have to get up and reset the record. If it had been mine, I wouldn't have cared; but seeing as how it belonged to somepony else, I was obligated not to damage it. With a resigned sigh, I ceased my stroking and climbed to my hooves as smoothly as I could, trying not to wake this sleeping mare.
I failed of course, but that should be expected by now.
As soon as I began shifting positions to get up, Joy seemed to rouse from her slumber.
"Dave? Where're you going?"
"I'm just turning off the record player so I don't break it."
"But…who told you to stop brushing?"
"Shhh…calm down. I'll continue in a second, I've just got to fix the record player real quick. I'll be back in just a second."
In just a moment's time, I had fixed the phonograph, and was returning to Joy's side. I figured that this was as good a time as any to ask my one burning question.
"So, Joy...when I was brushing your mane...you said something about...brushie brushie?
What's that about?"
Joy hid her face behind her now-silky mane, trying in vain to hide her blush. And here I had thought that shy-Joy had been replaced by troll-Joy. The only thing I'll ever know for certain about this mare is that I'll never know anything for certain. Wonderful.
Joy interrupted my mental meandering when she started to speak.
"This is so embarrassing...when I was younger, my mom used to brush my mane for me...it was part of our daily ritual. As she brushed, she would say brushie with each stroke. I guess I picked up on it without realizing it..."
Joy sighed nostalgically.
"That was back in the good ol' days when everything was still perfect in the world."
"This might seem naive of me, but isn't it?"
I had just regained my position by Joy, and was therefore in the perfect position to catch the full brunt of her expression. If I had to label this expression, I'd call it something like "oh, how little you know" or "what was it like, growing up without a brain?" Or something along those lines.At any rate, it was a clear indicator that all was not right in Ponyville.
Joy matched this expression with a pained sigh, and nothing else. Slipping the brush back onto my hoof, I began brushing again.
"Want to talk about it?"
"No not really. It's a long, sad story, and I wouldn't want to ruin the night with it."
"Another time, then?"
Well this conversation was over...that much was clear. Absently, I began to move from Joy's mane to her coat, starting with her neck and moving in long, slow strokes down to her flanks.I took great care not to brush her cutie mark, and to avoid going too far into questionable areas, attempting to save myself any unanticipated reactions. My strategy seemed to be working, and soon I detected the sound of Joy's soft snores, a telltale indicator that she was asleep. Even so, I continued brushing...I found it quite therapeutic.
Eventually, my arm grew tired and I stopped brushing; this elicited a disgruntled moan from Joy. Stifling a yawn, I checked my watch.
Damn...was it really 21:38? If I didn't get to sleep soon, my next shift was going to be rough. I cast a glance at the sleeping mare beside me, and I felt myself swelling with pride and affection, though it was severely tempered by an almost overpowering sense of guilty shame. I liked this mare a great deal, and I was proud that she shared the feelings. On the other hoof, I had betrayed everyone I'd ever known to come here, and I felt more than a little guilty that I was feeling these things for somepony else so soon after losing my wife. Oh, the joys of romance. I'd almost forgotten how confusing and complicated this was since I got married.
My inner turmoil did not change the fact that I was physically spent from the day's activities, and after I tucked Joy into bed (so...adorable...she snuggled into the blanket with a smile...I could swear I felt the diabeetus growing stronger) I pretty much immediately collapsed into bed beside her. As was becoming a delightful habit, I drifted off to sleep in close proximity to this azure mare.
I awoke in the mid-to-late morning, once again by the sound of Joy performing actions of a dubious nature in the kitchen. I say it this way because I wasn't sure if she was attempting to cook, or whether she was trying to defeat a killer robot using only a skillet. At this point, the noises could point either way. Although, this did explain the strange twist my dreams took just prior to my awakening. Something about a giant robotic octopus with numerous flailing metal appendages, who was somehow holding Joy hostage. I've dreamed enough hentai to see where this was going... thankfully,the dream was interrupted before something occurred that would leave me in need of a cold shower when I woke up.
The mental image, however, was hanging around at the edge of my consciousness like a landmine, waiting for my thoughts to stray into dangerous territory. If I wasn't careful, the day might get really awkward, really quickly. This thought process was counter productive though, and the harder I tried not to think about it, the more I did. Thankfully, this self perpetuating cycle of madness was knocked from the rails by a tremendous crash from the kitchen. Before I valiantly jumped to my hooves and strode to the kitchen to save Joy from the killer robot therein,
I took a moment to bargain with my legs.
Alright, you four; listen up. I don't like you, and you don't like me. It seems that we are stuck with each other for the foreseeable future, however, and things will go much smoother between us if you cooperate. So, I have a proposition for you. In exchange for your unconditional submission to my will at all hours of the day and night, I will continue to exercise regularly, so we don't get fat. You don't want to have to lug my fat ass around with another sixty pounds or so, do you? I thought not. So, do we have a deal?
Concluding my internal monologue and receiving no reply, I decided that there was only one way to test the new alliance; with action. With a bold leap, I soared gracefully through the air, landing majestically.
In reality, it was more of a flailing, catapulting motion, sending me careening off the edge of the bed. I landed on the carpet with all four hooves, a good start, all things considered. Even as I was marveling at my landing, I felt my hooves giving way. In the midst of formulating some form of incredulous rebuttal to the thrice damned limbs of mine, my buckling knees ceased to buckle. I was standing on my own hooves under my own power, and hot DAMN it felt good. Oh yes...things were looking up.
Stealthily, I crept towards the kitchen. I did so stealthily for two reasons: first, so that the killer robot wouldn't hear me coming. Second, because I fucking could, thanks to my newly cooperative limbs. Man, this was AWESOME. With a level of stealth that I wouldn't have dared to dream of, I crept to the kitchen and poked my head around the corner. What I saw was simply...beyond comprehension.
Now, I'd like to take a moment to state that I didn't REALLY think that there was a robot in the kitchen doing battle with a skillet-wielding Joy, but the mental image is both hilarious and motivational to one who is not yet fully awake.
Though I didn't expect a robot, what I actually saw seemed even more unlikely.
Rather, what I didn't see. Joy was standing alone in the middle of the kitchen, a pair of metal cooking implements in her magical grasp. Her ears were perked as if listening intently, though she faced away from me, in the direction of the stove. After holding this pose for a couple of seconds, she lowered her ears, and then did something incredible. She began to bash the pots together in a deafening clatter. Even as the peals reverberated through the house, she stopped to listen, as if waiting for something.
And then it dawned on me. She was trying to wake me up with the allure of food. That evil little...gah! Fine then...you want to play these games?
As silently as I had approached, I retreated, all the way back to the couch. With exaggerated noises of my own, I mimed rolling out of bed...complete with the thump of a body hitting the floor. The banging in the kitchen immediately ceased. With a loud groan, I announced my pilgrimage to the kitchen. My passage was punctuated by a sluggish, plodding beat of hooves on wood. I entered the dining facility with a genuine yawn, greeted by an entirely too perky mare.
"Morning, sleepyhead. About time you woke up."
"Morning, Joy. What's with all the noise? Making omelets again?"
"No omelets? Then what were you making that was so noisy?"
I was entirely unprepared for what came next.
"Alright, cere-...what?! How do you make that much noise making cereal?"
"I didn't. I was trying to smash a bug. Using pans."
The following is the monologue that went through my head after hearing this.
Alright, I quit.
Matters not what I quit. Just note that I have quit at yes, and move on from there.
If that didn't make your head hurt, I have bad news for you...anyways, back to the
kitchen we go.
"Joy...smash a bug...with pans? Pans? Why not just smash it with magic?"
"And feel it crunch? No way, Jose."
Facehoof.Looks like I was wrong again.
Damn… I had high hopes for my theory that time. Regardless, I shrugged off the perplexing notion and focused on what was really and truly important: breakfast.
“So, Joy. Cereal?”
“Uh huh. On the counter over there.”
Wordlessly, I strode to the counter to ponder the possible implications of an equine-themed marshmallow cereal. I wonder what a leprechaun-pony would look like…I imagined a miniscule pony sporting a green coat and a blazingly red mane, whose cutie mark was a shamrock or something…Dammit, Shamus! Get out of the turnips!
My daydream was interrupted by a sharp jab to my flank. I jumped about a mile, partly from shock at the contact, and partly because whatever had touched me was really damned cold. I might also have yelped like a frightened puppy, but there is no way to prove I did, so I’ll continue to deny it.
Once again, the sound of Joy’s snickering at my expense told me everything I needed to know about what had happened. Donning my best “I’m not angry, just disappointed” look, I turned to the azure mare who had rustled my jimmies.
“What? You zoned out again…I was just making sure you were still alive. I can’t have a patient dying in my home, now can I? Just think about what people would think of my medical abilities. Anyways, who’s Shamus, and what turnips?”
So, apparently I said that part out loud.
“Nothing important. Just day dreaming about a miniscule green menace to my non-existent veggie garden. You know, the usual.”
“You are without a doubt the strangest pony I’ve ever met. And I’ve met a whole mess of ponies, some of whom are residents in an asylum.”
“Are you saying I belong in a padded room? ‘Cause that would be AWESOME.”
“I was going to say ‘no, that was just to put it in perspective’, but now I’m not so sure anymore.”
At this, I bowed deeply.
“I try, M’lady.”
Joy responded with a deep exhalation, a shake of her head, and a slight smile before responding.
“Dave, I swear. What am I going to do with you?”
“Well, I am partial to anything involving explosions, but so long as there are no needles or…questionable activities, I’m pretty much down for anything.”
Now, it was Joy’s turn to facehoof, and facehoof she did.
“That looked like it hurt. Want me t-“
“Not again. You can’t fool me twice…I’m clever, like a fox.”
“Actually, I was going to offer you a bag of ice or something, but suit yourself."
Joy shot me her best attempt at a death-glare, which we have already established is entirely too cute to be effective. I couldn't help but crack a smile at her attempt though, and this is when she employed a more effective tactic. See, it matters not how adorable you look…a hoof hurts regardless, as I soon discovered.
Now we were both rubbing our heads. Grousing quietly to myself, I collected the supplies from the counter, noting that the cereal appeared to be nothing more than oats and some sort of granola. I ferried the dry goods to the table before heading to the fridge to collect the rest of the ingredients. If I had some of that cheating unicorn magic, or even opposable thumbs, I could have done it all in a single trip.
Damnable hooves and their utter lack of manual dexterity…
On a brighter note, I discovered that the fridge was resplendent with food from Joy's earlier trip to the market. I plucked a small container of berries from its niche and carried it back to the table, nestling it in the crook of one wing and the pitcher of milk in the other. I might not have magic or fingers, but I still had an additional set of appendages to my benefit. I felt a moment of pity for earth ponies.
Only a moment though, for I soon recalled that certain earth ponies are unusually talented at using their tails as a semi-prehensile fifth limb. I wondered if I could do that...as soon as I had set the milk and berries down at the table, I decided to give it a shot.
Mustering all of my considerable concentration powers (ha!), I did my best to bend the appendage to my will.
And it worked...sort of.
I was going for a motion similar to someone curling their arm to show off their biceps, but my tail performed some sort of spastic twitchy motion instead. The important thing was not that it failed to do as I commanded, rather that it had responded at all. I could work on the finer details later.
As was becoming irritatingly commonplace, I was jarred from my reverie by the sound of Joy's laughter.
"Dave...I have no idea what you were doing, but that was the funniest thing I've seen in ages. You were staring at your flank with the strangest look, then your tail had a seizure and you started grinning like a foal with a cupcake. Made my day."
"What about that?"
"’Twas a figure of speech, Joy."
"I don't get it."
"Never mind...just chalk it up to my inherent oddity and leave it at that."
"If you say so. Also, you'd better eat quickly. Seems you are on day shift meow."
The spoon stopped in mid air on its journey to my face.
"What was that last part?"
"I said you have been moved to day shift now, some sort of promotion or something. Meow, get back to eating so you aren't late to your first day."
"Did...did you say MEOW? And it's not my first day...more like my fourth or so."
"Meow? Do I look like a cat to you? And you are mistaken. This is your first day. So far, you have only worked at night. Therefore, this is your first DAY. Make sense?"
I walked right into that one. Yet again, Joy had outwitted me.
"Huh...no, I'd say you are a bit too tall to be a cat. Maybe I suffered some dain bramage in the fall..."
"Nope. You lacked any signs of cerebral trauma, and beyond that, I'm still not sure you have the equipment for tha-"
Joy fell silent in the midst of her sentence as what I had said finally sunk in. Silently, she mouthed the words "dain bramage" to herself with a puzzled look before regarding me with a skeptical gaze.
"Dave...you did that on purpose, didn't you."
It was not a question, but a statement. The ball was back in my court though, and I had the home field advantage. Pulling the metaphorical ace from my sleeve, I played dumb. Years of practice had honed my skills to a keen edge. Around a mouthful of cereal and whilst donning my best look of confusion, I answered Joy.
"Mixing up brain damage like that to mess with my head."
Swallowing the entire mouthful of cereal, I coughed momentarily before replying.
"Mixed it up? How did I mix it up?"
"You said dain bramage instead of brain damage."
"Why would I do that? Everypony knows how to say dain bramage."
"There! You did it again! It's brain damage, not dain bramage. Say it with me: brain damage."
Joy's eye began a'twitchin.
"Let's try that again. Brain damage."
That facehoof had to have hurt....
"Alright, I'll break it down for you. Brain."
"Now, put them together: brain damage."
Joy performed a flawless double-facehoof combo, transitioning seamlessly into a frustrated groan. Fillies and gentlecolts, this mare has style.
"I do my best."
Joy rolled her eyes so hard they spun in place for a moment, emitting an odd rattling sound. I would definitely be better off not contemplating how that was possible. I held a simple conversation with Joy as I scarfed down the remainder of my berry-granola cereal, and I eventually discovered what my report time was for work. I was to report at 12:30, the end of the lunch break for the sanitation ponies. Checking my watch, I nearly jumped from my skin.
It was almost noon, and I didn't think that showing up all sweaty and smelly from running would be a good first impression on my new boss. Quickly spewing a few parting remarks apologizing for the mess I had left on the table in my hurry, I bustled out the door in the direction of the clinic.
I made it nearly to the end of the block before I heard a voice behind me call out my name. Turning, I saw that Joy was the one who had addressed me. Even as I was debating whether or not I should turn back to see what she wanted or to wave and keep going, a luminous blue blur streaked towards me.
Not even going to lie, I flinched and might have squealed like a filly. Though, you can’t prove the second part...regardless, it was unnecessary. Exhibiting a level of finesse that I would never be capable of, Joy slowed the ballistic blue blur to a crawl just in time to spare me from a formidable impact. From where I was hiding behind my hooves, I could make out two distinct details: First was that the blue missile was in fact my saddlebags, which I had left at home in my haste. Second was that I could clearly see the amused look on Joy’s face, even from this distance and from behind my hooves.
I was pretty sure she couldn’t see me blush in shame at this distance, so at least I had that going for me. I hollered back an appreciative remark of some sort and tried to strap the bags on as I was cantering down the street.
Turns out, I’m even better at failing miserably at two things at once, something I discovered shortly after somehow winding up staring at the clouds overhead. Clambering to my hooves in a profoundly awkward manner that was accentuated by my repeated stumbling and entanglement in the loose straps of my bags, I decided it would behoove me to affix my cargo from a stationary position rather than attempt it while I was cantering again.
In record time, I had affixed the troublesome bindings and set off at a slightly more brisk pace to my place of duty. I arrived slightly ahead of schedule by risking an untested shortcut that proved to be viable. I walked through the front door of the clinic with a good six minutes to spare, giving me time to catch my breath before reporting. By the time I strolled into the maintenance vestibule, I had caught my breath and composed myself enough to make a good first impression on my new boss.
Turns out my new boss was a rather attractive mare who went by the moniker “Brass”. She was about the same height as Joy, though her build was a bit more slender; if I had to guess I would venture this was a result of a more strenuous day-job. Her coat was every bit as lustrous and gleaming as her namesake, shining like a factory mint cartridge. Her mane was a very faint, very light blue that clashed in a complimentary fashion with the rest of her. Though it barely made sense to me how such a thing was possible, the two colors somehow just seemed right together.
What was it about Equestria that spawned such striking irises? Perhaps it is a bit unusual, but everywhere I looked it seemed that there were a set of magnificent ocular orbs to catch my attention. The eyes in question were a riveting blue and silver color, flecked with golden specs. I must have missed about half of what she was saying to me as I became lost in the swirling, shifting patterns. A hoof waved back and forth in front of me as my attention was re-focused on the task at hand: paying attention.
It’s harder than it seems...
Despite the awkward start, the rest of the shift went pretty smoothly until around eighteen hundred. Up until this point, Brass had been leading the way, and I was able to follow her example without much trouble. Everything began to take a turn for the worse after that though, as Brass’ shift ended. About that time, I realized that I had no flippin’ clue what was going on...I had zoned out during that bit of instruction. Looking back, I couldn’t recall a single damned thing she had said to me, aside from her name.
I was SO boned.
Hampered as she had been by acting as my chaperone, Brass hadn’t been able to finish her cleaning duties. The hallway had been nearly complete when she had split, and I finished the job in a matter of minutes. Gathering up the cleaning supplies, I returned them to the supply closet and set off back towards the janitor’s cave. Wracking my brain proved to be a fruitless endeavour, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I was liable to have screwed up terribly on my first day shift.
Upon entering the office, whatever doubts I may have harbored instantly evaporated. Sitting behind the desk was Scruffy in all of his glory, and at that moment everything was right with the world. Glancing over the top of his paper, he favored me with a nod, which I returned.
Beside the desk was a chalk board that was used to track any and all problems and maintenance issued in the clinic, as well as leave notes for assorted purposes. Written in the bottom right corner of the board was a block of text that was ENTIRELY too neat to be Scruffy’s hoof-writing. Hoping against hope, I inspected it closer and saw that my prayers had been answered.
Brass had left explicitly detailed notes on what needed to be accomplished by the end of the shift, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had already accomplished a good ninety percent of everything on the list. Since I was on shift until 22:00, I decided that this was the perfect time to take a walk in the light of a setting sun.
Since the only thing left on my to-do list was taking out the trash, I figured it was as good a time as any to go for a stroll. Scruffy could handle whatever might pop up for a little while, and I would be back with copious time to complete the remainder of my duties and read some comics before my shift was over. I told Scruffy what I was planning, and he gave what I interpreted as an assenting grunt. That concluded, headed out into the setting sun.
I tried to, anyways...I missed the sunset by about half an hour. The sky still shone with the crimson and violet rays of the dying day, though the light was fading quickly. It’s just as well, I supposed. I was growing quite fond of the night as it was.
The night was supremely comfortable with the residual heat of the day being radiated by the streets and structures, and the soft whisper of a breeze slipped through the air. The horizon opposite the setting sun began to glow with an austere light, indicating the rise of the moon. Everything was peaceful and calm, as if Equestria itself was holding its breath.
It should be no surprise that such an immaculate atmosphere would be shattered most unceremoniously. The only prelude to the madness was a faint whoosh, barely audible over the whispering wind. What came next, however, was loud enough to rouse the dead.
A dark shape passed so close overhead that I swear it hit my ear, though my thought process was knocked from the rails by the deafening crash that followed.
In a shower of splinters and glass, the building beside me seemed to explode, shattering the silence of the night. In the wake of the destruction, everything seemed preternaturally quiet,the only sound was the soft tinkling of glass falling.
From within the building there appeared a yellow light, its meager illumination doing little to chase away the shadows. Despite its dismal illumination, the light revealed enough to stop be dead in my tracks.
Fuck...I know that pony.
Surrounded by broken glass and wood was an unresponsive grey pegasus, her golden eyes spinning about behind her lids in non-synchronous motions before they slid closed. The recognition hit me like a freight train, and as the extent of the injuries began to sink in, I was rooted to the spot by some unknowable dread. What was this weight compressing my lungs?
All conscious thought faded away as I reverted to my training. Ignoring the shouting that echoed from the depths of the building, I immediately began to assess the situation. The mare had an arterial bleed on her right inner thigh, likely caused by the chunk of window frame that still impaled it.
Additionally, it appeared that she had suffered a penetrating chest wound on her left side from a sliver of glass. She was covered from snout to tail in minor lacerations, but there were two major wounds that demanded my immediate attention.
Scrounging through my saddlebag in an adrenaline fueled frenzy,I pulled out a strip of heavy canvas. Though far from ideal, it would work for the task at hand. I grabbed a sturdy looking stick from the wreckage and quickly tied a square knot in the fabric, placing the loop of fabric as high on this mare’s thigh as I could. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it registered that if this mare was conscious and alert, she would be extremely uncomfortable with my proximity to her...private parts.
I wasn’t about to let something like decency or shame hold me back, though; I cinched the knot with my teeth and inserted the stick into the fabric loop and began to turn it. Having had a tourniquet applied to myself in the past, I can say with certainty that this had to hurt like hell. Again disregarding the comfort of this mare, I continued to crank on the stick until the bleeding in her thigh had slowed from a rhythmic gush to a slow dribble. Tearing another piece of canvas, I tied the stick in place to keep pressure on the injury.
My further ministrations were halted abruptly by a swift hoof upside my head, to which I paid little heed and responded angrily.
“Fuck off, I’m busy!”
“What did you do to her?!”
“Do to her? I’m trying to save her life, jackass. You aren’t helping.”
This last statement seemed to catch the stallion off guard, and I could almost hear the gears in his head spinning as he tried to process this. Satisfied with my tourniquet, I moved on to the chest wound. This was going to be tricky...I was struck by an idea.
“Hey! You want to help? Good, you just volunteered. Follow my directions exactly as I say and without hesitation. Got it?”
He must have been surprised by my tone or something, because he just nodded blankly. Frankly, I didn’t have time to be nice or worry about feelings, so I just rolled with this new development. Carefully, we moved the grey mare off of the debris to a flat area that was mostly devoid of debris. I took extreme care to stabilize her neck as we moved her to avoid causing further damage. Setting her down gently on the floor, I took a moment to re-assess the mare for new symptoms.
Even with a cursory once over, I could see that her trachea wasn’t sitting right in her throat; it was inclining to her left. This could mean only one thing: her left lung had collapsed. The shard of glass was the obvious culprit. Instructing my helper to roll her onto her side extremely carefully, I took a second to examine her back for additional penetrating chest wounds, of which there were none. Rolling Derpy back to a supine position, I contemplated the best way to stabilize this mare for medevac to the clinic. Before I could even register what was doing, let alone stop it, this unnamed stallion grasped the shard of glass in his teeth and yanked it out.
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
Why? Why would you do that?
The mare’s breathing immediately became more ragged, a very distinct rattle slowly growing more predominant. By removing the shard, this joker had unsealed the wound, which was now letting air seep into this mare’s chest cavity. I shot this idiot the most withering glare I could, and it must have been a sight. He shrunk away from me and turned quite pale, and he almost looked like he was going to be sick.
“If you’re going to be sick, do it over there. If you are going to be useful, I need a fourteen gauge hollow needle and an occlusive dressing. MOVE!”
He stood there in shock and confusion. Sonuva...
“Big hollow needle and airtight bandage.Get moving!”
And just like that, he was off. The leg was taken care of for the moment, so the biggest concern of mine was her rapidly deflating lung. I pushed a constant pressure on the wound, trying to keep it closed as best I could. Despite my efforts, the additional air that had gotten into Derpy's lungs had caused her lung to partially collapse, something known as a tension pneumothorax, or air in the chest.
Taking a moment to survey the surroundings as I waited for what's-his-face to come back, I damn near chuckled at the providence of the collision. Of all the places this mare could have landed, she landed in a place that sold quills and sofas, the latter of which had broken her fall, and the former of the two was being grasped by what's his face as he returned.
Well...this would be interesting. The quill he had brought appeared to be silver, a small blessing in and of itself. Moreover, it was finely pointed and sufficiently narrow. I measured out the proper place to insert the needle by counting her ribs, and taking a quick breath to steady myself, I plunged the needle into her chest.
Man, it's a good thing she was unconscious for this...
The quill struck its mark and there was a soft hissing gurgle, like someone trying to get the last of their soda out using a straw. Nearly immediately, her breathing became much less strained, and her chest was once again inflating properly. Good ole’ what's his face furnished me with a large sheet of plastic and some packing tape, just what I needed. Tearing the plastic open so I had a piece that went about two inches out from each side of the injury, I waited until Derpy had breathed out before applying the seal. Satisfied that she was stable enough to be moved, I looked up at what's-his-face.
"Alright, she's stable for now, but we need to get her to the hospital right now. Do you have a cart to load her on?"
"Dave. You can call me Dave, it's short for Davenport. And I do have a cart; I'll go get it."
"My name's Dave too. I'll look over her till you get back, but please hurry."
He set off with a nod, and I turned once more to the mare in question. She was much better off now than she had been a few minutes ago, but she was far from out of the woods. Derpy was bleeding from dozens of small cuts from the window, though none appeared life threatening. Her breathing was rapid, but mostly un-strained, and her leg had stopped bleeding nearly completely.
I checked my watch, and wrote the approximate time I applied the tourniquet on her forehead in her own blood, prefaced with the letter “T”. A bit morbid, I suppose, what with the hoof painting in blood and all, but at least it would give the surgeons a point of reference on the tourniquet. Right on cue, Other Dave came back with the cart. We loaded the patient up as carefully as we could, a process that was complicated somewhat by the fact that she had begun to regain consciousness in the middle of it. I tried to reassure her as best I could, though it was marginally effective at best.
Several times over the course of the trip to the hospital, I ended up swatting her hoof away from the tourniquet. Each time, she would beg me to take it off, telling me how badly it hurt. As calmly and patiently as I could, I kept explaining to her that it was for her own good, that it was keeping her alive.
Seeing this helpless mare in such pain and being unable to do anything was gut wrenching. Oh, what I wouldn't have given for Joy's "kiss it and make it better" spell right then...thankfully, we were just coming around the corner to the hospital. Bursting through the doors and frightening everypony in the lobby, I yelled out "MEDIC!" at the top of my lungs. What happened next was a flurry of activity that was quite reminiscent of my first moments in town...the mare was loaded onto a stretcher as the nurses bombarded me with questions, like that the hay a quill was doing sticking from the mare's chest, what possessed me to write numbers on the patient's forehead in her own blood, et cetera.
I had unconsciously been following the nurses and the gurney, led along as I was by the questions. No sooner had I finished answering the nurse's questions that I was stopped dead in my tracks by a stallion in scrubs, who kindly informed me that I couldn't go into the operating room. Numbly, I nodded and slowly began to trot away when the enormity of the situation hit me.
Tonight, I had held another pony's life in my hooves, and whether she lived or died was a direct result of my actions. She would likely have died anyway, but the moment I looked in her eyes, it became personal to me, her fate was mine to decide. Now, it was all I could do to hope that I had done everything in my power to live up to that burden.
I wandered absently through a maze of hallways before the burden of what had just occurred finally drove me to my knees, as I shook violently. I have no idea how long I sat like that, but I was driven from my funk by exactly what I needed to hear.
"Dave? Are you okay?"
"I...I'm not sure. Is she okay?"
"We won't know for a few hours yet, she's still in surgery. They told me what you did, Dave...you're a hero. You saved her life, without a doubt."
"Is she going to make it? Can you say for certain that she will? If not, then I have saved nothing, I've just prolonged her suffering. I didn't even do anything special...I feel there was something more I should have done."
"Oh, come off it. You did something heroic tonight, Dave, even if you don't want to admit it. Yes, there is still a chance that she could die...it's still touch and go. But you know what? You gave her a chance to fight for her life. You gave her the time she needed to get here to be treated. While she might die even after everything everypony has done, you gave her a chance she wouldn't have had. Those numbers on her forehead, those wouldn't happen to be the time you put the tourniquet on, would it?"
I nodded dumbly.
"Based just on that, I can tell you that if you hadn't been there to put that tourniquet on, she wouldn't have made it here.It was twenty minutes after that time stamp that you rolled her through the doors. She would have bled out in three to five, tops."
So much blood...it was everywhere...gazing down at my hooves, I could see the blood drying on them, though it was still a bit moist. I was wracked by a violent shudder.
"Come on Dave...let’s get you cleaned up, then we'll go get a smoothie to calm us down, m'kay?"
I could hear the almost patronizing sweetness in her voice, one that I'm sure she used on her patients to comfort them. As much as I wanted to be angry or indignant at what was akin to baby talk, I was too drained to feel such emotions. I allowed myself to be led away by my shoulder, winding up at a sink n the blink of an eye.
Joy left me alone to scrub up while she went to check on Derpy. I turned the water on as hot as it would go and began to scrub away the grime in my coat. Even after the last traces of the blood was gone, the feeling of grime remained. I scrubbed and scrubbed, harder and harder, but it wouldn't come clean, couldn't...
The water was suddenly cut off, and my hooves were grabbed by a dainty azure pair. As they were removed from the sink and their repetitive motions there, my eyes caught sight of a very concerned looking Joy. She was alternating between glaring at my hooves and at my face, with expressions ranging from annoyed to concerned. Simply sighing, she wrapped my fetlocks in a gauze that tingled a bit on contact with my raw skin.
"I'm sorry, Dave. I should have known better than to leave you alone like this. What do you say to the smoothie?"
"Let's take Derpy out for a smoothie. I'm sure she'll like it, and she could use a bit of good news."
"But Dave...she'll be in surgery for another two hours at least, and then beyond that, assuming there's nothing else majorly wrong, at least another eight before she's discharged."
"That's okay...I'll wait."
Perhaps it was the way I sounded, or maybe she didn't think it was a good idea to argue with a pony in my current mental condition, but Joy didn't fight the notion at all; instead, she joined me in the waiting room.
We sat like that for some unknown length of time. Joy drifted off to sleep leaning against my shoulder, and I wound up staring into the distance as my mind replayed the incident over and over, looking for something I could have done better. My thoughts were disrupted by the sound of the operating room door opening. Joy lifted her head from my shoulder, giving me the opening to jump to my hooves and approach the surgeon. At my sudden movement, the surgeon appeared initially frightened by the movement. I skid to a halt in front of him, my expression asking the question my mouth could not. With a deep sigh, he took his mask off and regarded me for a moment before finally speaking.
"I assume you are the one who provided first aid to miss Hooves?"
"Roger. How's she doing?"
I deliberately avoided asking the obvious question, lest I even acknowledge the possibility that something happened.
"My name's Stitch, not Roger. But she is going to make it, and she has you to thank for it. If not for your actions, this would have been a tragic night indeed."
"Please, stop telling me I'm a hero...I do not deserve the title. I did what anypony would have done in my position. But is Derpy okay? She'll be fine, right?"
"Perhaps anypony would have stopped to help...but how many ponies would know how to do a needle chest decompression, or properly apply a tourniquet? Like it or not, son, you are a hero for what you've done. For your other inquiry, she should be released by dawn and good to go."
The weight of dread and worry that had rested on my shoulders seemed to melt away. Without the current of anxiety to keep me aloft anymore, I slumped to the ground in relief. She was going to be okay.
"Is she awake? Can she have visitors?"
"No, and no. She is still anesthetized, and the healing potions won't cure an infection. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait till she gets discharged, since visiting hours don't open until after that time, and she likely won't stick around till they do."
"What time is she scheduled to be discharged?"
"She should be out the doors just after zero six."
"Alright, doc. I'll be back then."
Our farewells concluded with a nod, and Doc Stitch took off towards his next destination, whatever that might be. I was in the midst of turning towards Joy when she just about tackled me with a hug. Busy as I was fighting for breath, I almost missed what she said.
"You can say whatever you want, and avoid praise all you want, Dave...to me, you are a hero. You saved the life of a wonderful mare, and I'm sure Derpy would think you're a hero. Quit whining and own it, okay?"
Joy seemed to remember that most ponies need annoying things like oxygen to function, and so released me so I could pant on the floor for a moment. This mare was borderline freakishly strong. As I caught my breath, I nodded vaguely. A static filled buzz emanated from somewhere overhead, causing me to start pretty violently. The static spit forth something that sounded like an angry teacher from the peanuts series before dying with a click. Joy turned to me excitedly.
"Dave, did you hear that? You got the rest of the night off!"
I looked at my watch. 23:08.
"Joy? My shift ended an hour ago."
"I know that, silly. I read the board. But what it means is that you are excused from any duties you didn't finish before the rescue. And also, I get to go home with you too!"
"Not that I'm not excited, but how do you figure?"
"The same reason that I was able to stop what I was doing and go look for you. In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, ponies should be monitored for signs of residual stress that could cause future problems. Therefore, I get to follow you around for the rest of the night."
"Makes sense...but I'm actually pretty beat. Can we just go home and take a nap?"
"No problem. You've earned it."
As we walked through the lobby to go home, the nurses there sent up a thunderous applause of clops, each beating their front hooves against the floor in celebration. It would seem that word of my exploits had spread like wildfire, but this was nothing compared to what was to come. In the meantime though, we headed home and slipped into bed on the couch. Joy and I lay side by side, an arrangement that was becoming more and more frequent, not that either of us minded.
My alarm sounded at quarter to five, and the two of us set off in separate directions to get ready for the day. We met at the breakfast table for a delicious yogurt and granola concoction before setting off towards the clinic. For once, everything went according to plan and we arrived just before zero six. Referencing the mystical "Board" to find out what room Derpy had been put in, we set out to the second floor. Once we arrived, we could tell pretty easily that there would be no way to get into the room, surrounded as it was by guards. Guards? Ohh...that explains the large number of ponies in the lobby. Paparazzi. Some things are universal...
After a few more minutes of various nurses coming and going, I caught sight of one who was quite familiar: Nurse Redheart. Favoring me with a quick wave before she disappeared into the room, she reemerged a moment later with a smile and beckoned me into the room. This would be the moment of truth, of some sort...one way or another, it felt really important. Out of nowhere, a pasty little pegasus colt sporting a camera popped up and began taking pictures of me. The flash was so frequent it was almost strobing. One of the guards cleared his throat loudly and shot the spindly photographer a withering look, after which the flashing subsided, leaving me with a false sky of stars in my vision. The colt fiddled with the camera for a moment until it made an audible click.
He once again began to snap rapid fire photographs, though this time sans-flash. Once the spots faded a bit from my vision, I stepped past the threshold and into the room. After that, everything got a little fuzzy as I was struck by a grey missile. I found myself once again in a crushing embrace, though this one felt slightly awkward compared to the usual. There was another difference too; the tears.
As she embraced me, Derpy was weeping openly, her body heaving with wracking sobs. I was...dumbstruck, to say the least. Our embrace seemed to be a cue for the rest of the world to d'aww at once. Behind all of this, there was the staccato clicking of a camera furiously taking pictures. I became cognizant of another, much more emotional sound directly in front of me. Between sobs, Derpy repeated one phrase again and again...
Today was a day for revelations, and the last one was a doozy. I realized how selfish I had been each time I said "it was nothing" when somepony praised me. Sure, to me it might have been nothing. But to the mare in front of me, it was everything. I had given her another chance at life. I was both humbled and incredibly proud at the same time.
Then, Derpy took my face in her hooves and gave me a big, wet kiss on the lips before returning to the crushing embrace.
I’m not sure whose eyes were wider...mine, or Joy’s. It’s a good thing she was standing behind the photographer, for I’m not sure her jealous glare would look good on the front page. After a moment Joy got her features back under control, and not a moment too soon. Derpy’s embrace melted away and she sunk to her haunches with her head hung, an expression I remembered to be one of shame. As if to confirm this, her blush slowly made itself visible.
What is it with mares and blushing?
Regardless, Joy took note of the change in the mood of the room, and quickly ushered everypony out so we could have a moment to ourselves. Once the room was empty, it almost seemed lifeless in the wake of the bustle. I reached a hoof down and raised Derpy’s face to look at me. Her blush burned more vibrantly, and she shook herself free of my hoof and returned her gaze to the floor, tears still flowing.
I sat on my haunches in front of her so that I wasn’t looking down on her...I got the feeling she had enough of that in her life already. I broke the silence.
“Hey...are you okay?”
“N...no. I’m sorry...I didn't mean to...do that. You probably hate me now...”
“What? Why would I hate you? You didn’t do anything wrong, let alone anything worthy of being hated...”
“B...but I kissed you. Most ponies don’t like me near them...they act polite but I n-know. They think I’m b-broken.”
“Miss...I’m not like most ponies. I’m also not from around here, so I don’t really know or care what most other ponies think. To me, you are just a sweet pegasus that had an accident, and I was fortunate enough to be there to help you when you needed it. Anything other than that, I’ll learn from you as we get to know each other better. I find that this is the only way to really get to know somepony. How’s that sound?”
The grey mare regarded me with a puzzled expression for a moment, trying to see if I was making fun of her. A few seconds later, and she broke into an enormous grin and shook my hoof so hard that my entire body shook.
“Th-that sounds amazing. My n-name is Derpy, and it’s nice to meet you.”
“Dave, and same here. How does a smoothie sound? Joy and I wanted to take you out for a treat.”
“S-sounds good. I’m off today anyways.”
As we gathered Joy from the hallway and posed for a few pictures, I couldn’t help but wonder about this mare. She seemed a bit shy, and she had a slight stutter, but on the whole she seemed a lot brighter than I'd seen her portrayed most times. Odd...
On our journey towards Berry’s smoothie joint, it seemed like we were stopped at least once per block by somepony who wanted to shake my hoof or ask how Derpy was doing. Damn, word spreads fast in small towns...
We arrived right about zero seven, only to be greeted by a still-locked door. Well, fuck...there goes THAT idea…I was about to turn around and head to Fleur de Lis when Joy used some of her cheating unicorn magic to plink a small stone against the upstairs window. After a couple more stones , the window flew open as a rather disheveled looking Berry Punch poked her head out of the window. Joy spoke to Berry for a minute, though what they might have said was lost to me as I wracked my brain for a suitable alternate to a smoothie at such an early hour…Turns out, this was unnecessary, as Joy had somehow convinced Berry to let us into her shop well outside of its normal hours of operation.
Berry met us at the door with a steaming cup of coffee, beckoning us to a carafe of the glorious liquid sitting on a nearby table. Making ourselves comfortable, Berry was mother and poured coffee for the rest of us. How the FUCK could she do that with hooves? I...gah. It is too early for this much thinking. As it turned out, thinking was pretty unnecessary at this point. As I was contemplating how exactly I was supposed to drink this without wearing it, I was idly turning the cup in my hooves. In place of a handle that was meant for slender, agile digits, these cups sported parallel shelves for lack of a better word. The shelves were about an inch square and half an inch thick, aligned parallel to the table, and spaced about a half inch to three quarters an inch apart.
You might wonder why I described it so thoroughly, and this is understandable. I do this to paint a picture of what I was facing. I pretended to brood in thought at something while I waited for somepony else to pick their cup up and drink from it. The wait was not long, and everything became clear to me. Aligning the side of her hoof with the gap between the two projections, a simple inclination of the hoof was all it took to secure the cup enough to afford Joy a sip of coffee. Following her lead, I gingerly fitted my hoof into the slot and raised it to my mouth. If there were two things that Berry Punch could do well, it was make coffee and make smoothies. By my best guess, we spent an hour and a half or so at Berry's, the four of us engaging in conversation made all the livelier by the addition of caffeine.
About half an hour into our conversation, we finally convinced Berry to set down her coffee long enough to whip up one of her trademark smoothies for Derpy. Through some unspoken method of communication, the three of us agreed not to warn the poor grey pegasus about the addictive nature of the smoothies...we were not about to deprive anypony of the iconic experience that came with the first sip. If it wasn’t for Derpy mentioning that she had never been here before, we might have somehow spoiled the experience for her. Providence smiled upon us this time though, and when the smoothie came to the table and she took her first sip, it was without pretense.
By Luna’s socks, was it EVER worth the suspense. If my reaction had been comical, this was hysterical. After the first dainty sip, Derpy began to outright chug the smoothie, polishing it off in mere seconds with a hearty belch. Even as she was starting to apologize for the incredible belch, she was struck mute as the freeze set in. Her eyes rolled around a few times before settling into a distant gaze, one that was all the more striking since her eyes were facing the SAME DIRECTION. I know, shocked me too. A moment after her eyes settled, a series of tremors sprouted up at the tip of her snout and began to make its way down the length of her body, much like a dog shaking off water. As the tremors passed her wings they spasmed violently, one of them striking me upside the noggin with a glancing blow.
Glancing though it might have been, the wing had struck with sufficient force to bring forth an artificial night sky filled with stars into my vision. The spasms subsided as Derpy’s eyes returned to their normal wall-eyed configuration. A moment of silence followed the strange happenings, a silence that was shattered by Berry.
“Aw, horseapples! I forgot to take the picture...”
Joy and I had a hearty laugh at that one, though we laughed alone; Derpy was still a bit sluggish from the freeze and Berry was too upset at having missed such an incredible photo opportunity. Instead of looking slightly embarrassed at her vigorous reaction to the freeze, Derpy looked notably melancholy, a sight that cut my laughter short.
“What’s up, D? You okay?”
“Y-yeah. Ha ha. Let’s laugh at Derpy, it’s okay...she’s used to it.”
“Is that th-the only reason you brought me h-here? To laugh at m-me?”
Aaaannd, fuck. It would seem that our lighthearted prank ran afoul of its intended reaction. Maybe we should have considered the history of ridicule that our subject had endured...Scrambling, I did my best to smooth over the misunderstanding.
“No, that’s not it at all, D. Come over here, I want to show you something.”
Despite her obvious reluctance, she got up and followed me as I trotted over to the wall of photographs behind the register. A moment of searching yielded the photo of my own reaction to Berry’s smoothie. Pointing it out with a hoof, I turned to Derpy.
“We aren’t making fun of you, D. It’s like a right of passage, having your first Berry’s smoothie. This whole wall is full of ponies’ reactions. Here’s mine.”
Upon seeing the photo of my features contorted by the agony of ice-demon-skull-possession, Derpy let out a sound that was half laugh, half sob. My initial fears that she was still upset were assuaged by the massive smile spreading on her face. It seemed she was finally beginning to realize that the there were some decent ponies still left in the world, and that she had met them. Berry had gotten up and was in the process of making more of her smoothies when Derpy and I returned to the table.
Berry returned with enough smoothies for the entire conglomerate of ponies, and over the next hour or so the four of us traded stories and experiences from our lives. Far and away, Derpy had the most interesting stories of us all. Turns out, being a mail-mare is a great way to meet creatures of all types, including those who are extraordinarily unusual.
By the time Berry kicked the rest of us out so she could open up shop properly, it was late morning, and the streets were packed with ponies bustling to and fro. Almost immediately after stepping out into the street, ponies began to swarm around us and besiege us with questions about the rescue of the previous evening. To be completely honest, it was terrifying. Never before in my life had I been at the center of such a ruckus, and the sheer number of pastel ponies that surrounded us was more than a little intimidating.
However disconcerted I was, Derpy was far worse off, not being used to this level of attention in any way. I had to get so close to her ear that I was damned near inhaling it in order to be heard over the crowd.
“Can you fly?”
Derpy looked confused, but nodded.
“Go ahead and take off. I’ll deal with these ponies. You know where I work, and I live with Joy. Don’t be a stranger, feel free to stop by sometime. In the meantime, go get some fresh air.”
Wordlessly, Derpy shot me grateful look and took to the skies in a rapidly ascending corkscrew motion. Whether this was intentional or not was irrelevant: it was rad regardless.
Once Derpy had made her spectacular exit, I turned to face the crowd in an attempt to answer what questions I could.
Oh, how woefully unprepared I was...
More to follow soon, I promise. Sorry for the delayed chapter as well...Life got a bit crazier than usual the last two weeks. If you like the story, and have Favorited it, do me a favor: RATE IT. If you like it so much, give it a thumbs up...Jeez. Hehehe...just joshing. Anyways, I want to give a shout out to my Editor in Master Chief, Pacific Penguin. I cannot properly express how fantastic it is to have someone else to bounce ideas off of while writing. I hope this chapter was worth the wait, and I promise things will pick up again soon. I even have a timeline established! But more on that later....