The playground was completely empty, which was not surprising considering how late it was. The sun was barely visible on the sky, only showing a few dim rays of light that cast a dark pink shadow on the horizon. Even a few stars had become visible in different spots on the twilight sky.
The excited filly moved her head from side to side, checking out the different instruments of fun that she could use. The swings were seductive, but the ticklish feeling she got from the carrousel was always a winner, even though it often made her nauseous. She looked over her shoulder as much as possible without breaking her neck, maintaining the silly grin for her mother to see and snigger at.
"Wow, Scoot," the brown mare said with a hint of happy surprise in her voice. "You're really excited about this, aren't you? You know, it's not an amusement park. It's just the plain old playground. Don't you come here almost every day to train on the scooter?"
Scootaloo nodded hastily and did a 180 degree turn to properly face the brown pegasus. "Yeah, I do," she happily replied. "But I rarely get to go here with you. I'm just so happy that we can play together for once."
Copperbolt gave the filly a silly smile while nuzzling her mane with a hoof, messing up the already messy hairstyle. "Well, sorry for being bedridden all the time," she joked. She took a break from stroking the filly's mane and looked around the playground in a way similar to how Scootaloo had done it, though not with as much fillyish excitement. "So, what do you wanna do first?"
Scootaloo started skipping in place. "Oh, can we go to the swings?" she said loudly, almost shouting with pure anticipation. "You can push me while I'm on it! Please, please, please?"
"Sure," Copperbolt sniggered. "Let's do that. Though really, can't you just use your wings to give yourself a boost?"
"It's not the same!"
"I know, I know," the brown mare said. She inhaled deeply and let it out quickly, nodding in acceptance at the filly's request. "Let's go get you in the air then, ok?"
They walked towards the chained leather seats that were the swings, meaning Copperbolt walked towards it; Scootaloo was running with all her might, eager to finally be able to get that little push to the sky that she had seen the other foals get from their parents. She did a quick jump and landed her flank perfectly in the seat, giving herself a boost that she stopped immediately so Copperbolt could be the one to truly start the fun.
"You ready?" Copperbolt asked, to which Scootaloo did a few quick nods in response. The orange filly felt a couple of hooves being planted on her back and start pushing her forwards, bringing her gaze further upwards before they finally let go and let the swing fall back. She let out a happy giggle and excitedly commanded the one-winged pegasus to take her higher, an order that was heard and obeyed.
Every little push brought her higher and higher, and Scootaloo even reached the point where she instinctively started flapping her wings and stretched out one of her hooves to touch the slowly blackening sky. But as the chains of the swing were reaching their limit on the horizontal metal bar they hang from, she could feel every push become weaker. Her laughter became a snigger, her snigger became a smile, and even this tiny smile faded as her mother's panting became more audible. The hooves that were pushing her were trembling, clearly using all of their strength to keep her in the air. It did not take long for them to simply stop pushing.
"Just… give me a… a minute, Scoot," Copperbolt said breathlessly, looking at the lawn under her feet while speaking. "Just gotta… catch my breath. Then I can… I can go on."
"Mom, are you ok?" Scootaloo asked as she jumped down from the swing. "You wanna lie down?"
"Isn't that what mommies are supposed to ask their kids?" the brown mare laughed, still fighting to breathe normally, though Scootaloo did not join in on this, instead looking at her with a serious expression and a raised eyebrow. Seeing this, Copperbolt smiled weakly and nodded at the filly's proposal. "Yeah, maybe I should lie down a bit."
She dragged her body to a nearby bench, supported at the side by the worried filly. Scootaloo kept giving her a smile whenever she looked at her, but these smiles did not seem to lift the brown mare's spirit. In fact they seemed to hurt her, like a knife cutting through her skin. She took care when positioning herself on the bench, letting her chest cover her hooves as the bench was too short for her to stretch them forwards.
"Sorry about this," she wearily said to the filly beside her. "Seems like I'm out for the next few minutes."
Yet again, Scootaloo forced a smile to tell the one-winged pegasus that it was not her fault. "Don't worry, mom. You just take your time, ok? Then maybe we can give it a go in a few minutes, all right?"
"Yeah," Copperbolt responded with a weak grin. "Maybe we can."
They sat still for a few minutes, Scootaloo watching the brown mare catching her breath. She still tried to cheer her up by acting as cheerful as possible, but nothing seemed to lighten up the mood. Copperbolt was really down, in a way she had not been for a long time. The usually cheerful eyes were trying to avoid eye contact, making Scootaloo feel all the more worried.
"I'm sorry, Scootaloo," she suddenly whispered, still not making eye contact.
"Why are you sorry?" Scootaloo asked, a little worried about her tone and the fact that she called her 'Scootaloo' instead of 'Scoot' or 'honey' or something like that.
"I'm really a pitiful mom, aren't I?" she suddenly started, to which Scootaloo shook her head in response. Still, she continued: "Yes I am. I haven't been able to take care of you the way everypony else takes care of their own children. I've just been… a burden. Having you take care of me every day… hay, I can't even teach you to fly like a proper pegasus would."
"Please stop, mom," Scootaloo pleaded quietly. She felt a lump in her throat grow larger and more water gather in her eyes with every word the brown mare said.
Copperbolt looked at her for a few seconds with the same sad expression, yet she forced herself to smile again and nuzzled the filly's mane with a shaky hoof. "Sorry," she said gently, sweeping the other hoof over her eyes to dry them. "I guess I lost myself a bit there."
There were a lot of things Scootaloo would tell her right now: How amazing she was, how much she loved her, and most of all how wrong she was, saying all these things. But the words would not leave her mouth no matter how much she tried. She simply moved closer to the one-winged mare and nuzzled her cheek against her soft coat.
"What did I do to get such a cute daughter?" the brown mare lightly jested to lighten up the mood, and she did succeed in making the filly smile lightly, even if only for a little bit. "I must be the best pony in the world for Celestia to let me have you, Scoot."
"I had a feeling I would find you two out here," a familiar voice quietly called out to them from behind. Scootaloo was the only one to move her gaze in the direction of the voice, and she greeted Dr. Heartfeld with a single nod. "Is everything ok?" he asked them with a caring tone.
"Yes, yes," Copperbolt wearily replied without looking directly at him, instead giving Scootaloo a vague, yet comforting smile. "We're just a little tired from a long day."
"I'd say," the doctor said as he looked at the now completely black night sky. "Regular ponies don't have the energy to go out and play at this hour."
"Well, we're not regular ponies, are we, Candyfeld?" Copperbolt sniggered lightly, although this time it was a genuine snigger, so Scootaloo found the will to smile along. Heartfeld had pretty much nailed the issue and found exactly the right thing to say to dissipate the dark cloud hanging above their heads. He was like that: Always the observant and caring, yet at times strict and overly rational old pony.
"So it's Candyfeld even though I haven't got any candy, huh?" he said with a couple of smiling eyes, clearly glad that he had been able to lighten the mood.
"No candy?" Copperbolt carried on the joke. "Guess we gotta find him a new nickie, eh, Scoot?"
Scootaloo nodded with a small smile. "Yeah… how about Mustachefeld?"
The three ponies laughed together, sharing a lovely moment that almost completely removed all the sad feelings, at least for a moment. But the weakness remained, and while Copperbolt tried her best to lift her body, Scootaloo was reminded of how ill she was at this moment. She did not get to truly feel sad again, however, before her mane was nuzzled by the doctor pony, who did so just before he slowly walked over to the brown pegasus and picked her up the same way he had done so this morning.
"Guess we should get you guys home," he said, stretching his neck to smile at the brown mare on his back through his thick mustache. "Seems like I should start charging a transport fee with you, huh?"
Copperbolt giggled weakly. "You're just happy you get to touch a fine mare such as myself."
The old stallion laughed heartily at this joke. "How much of a dirty old pony do you think I am?" he said as he beckoned Scootaloo to walk beside them.
She gave a small smile and trotted over to Heartfeld's side, nodding at him to signal that she was ready to go. Although she was still feeling a little sad that her mother's condition had to make a return while they were having fun, or at all for that matter, she was happy that Heartfeld had showed up and helped them as he did. One thing Scootaloo was certain of was that she could always trust that old pony to help them when they needed it. He was dependable and kind, and in many ways the only pony other than Copperbolt she truly felt safe around.