• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,242 Views, 765 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate - Sprocket Doggingsworth



A young filly in present day Ponyville is cursed with nightmares of post-apocalyptic Equestria. She finds herself influencing the course of future history in ways that she cannot understand.

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Hospital Promises

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT- HOSPITAL PROMISES
“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.” - J.M. Barrie


Losing someone close to you is awful - like getting one of your teeth ripped out. They leave you with a great big bleeding hole. And even after the wound heals up, your smile never looks quite the same again.

I had taken Twink’s passing hard. Really hard. But I got to say goodbye, and she got to say "see you later."

Bananas Foster was different altogether. She had never existed at all. I didn't have words for it at the time, but finding out that she was a changeling knocked a tooth out of me. ‘Cause I’d been lied to. ‘Cause the filly I’d trusted so deeply was gone - yanked away from me just as unexpectedly as Twink had been.

And when I looked through the dome, standing in Foster’s place was this stranger. Ashamed as I am to admit it now, I hated the changeling for it. Despised her, simply for not being Foster.

* * *

“Ahh!"

I scrambled backward. Hit the curtain behind me. Panicked. Flailed. Got caught in it. Panicked some more.

"Shhhh!" Said the changeling in its nasal, raspy, not-Bananas-Foster-y voice.

"You, you...You!" I stuttered as I scrambled to my hooves.

"I'm really, really, reaaaally sorry." The changeling said. "Please just let me explain."

"Oh, geez." I said to myself, ignoring her completely.

The gravity of who she was - of what she was - had started to dawn on me. Everything I'd ever seen Bananas Foster do flashed before my eyes. Every word I’d ever heard her say echoed in my brain. All of it was tied to this idea I’d had of who Foster was and where she’d come from. But none of it was true.

“Idiot!” I said to myself. “Idiot, idiot, idiot!”

I couldn't believe I had actually been dumb enough to open up to Foster. To trust her. To confide in her!

The shadows. The future. My hopes. My fears. The stranger behind the dome knew all of my secrets.

I felt exposed. Like really, really, really exposed.

Foster could’ve skinned my hide from off my bones, flopped my internal organs around, and pinned them to a clothesline for all to see, and I still wouldn't have felt more exposed than I had in that moment, standing there like a jackass.

"I wanted to tell you sooner." The changeling’s voice cracked. “I swear.”

“Great.” I said dryly.

“Listen.” She pleaded. “It's not what it seems.”

“Oh? So you haven't been lying to me since the moment I met you.”

“Ok,” Thirteen fidgeted with the holes in her legs, all nervous-like. “So it is what it seems. But I'm really, really, reeeeaaaally sorry.”

“Do you even need to be in the bubble?” I growled through my teeth.

I had to summon all of my will power just to keep from screaming at her.

“What?”

“Do. You. Need. To. Be. In. The bubble?” I repeated, tears streaming down my cheeks.

Thirteen looked at me, jaw agape, clutching her chest, fury in her eyes. “Is that all you care about?” She said.

"Answer the question." I stomped, ground my teeth together, and tried to stare her down as I stood there trembling.

But the Bug Who Had Betrayed Me didn’t answer. She just stared right back at me, all contemptuous like. As if I were the one who had betrayed her!

“Get bent.” She snarled, and stomped off to the corner.

With quaking hooves she slid the needle across the record. Zzzzurrp. It made an ugly sound.

And then the music was gone.

“Hey, I'm talking to you.” I said.

But she ignored me. Grabbed the disc with her mouth and dropped it into its sleeve. She kept her back to me the whole time.

“Hey!”

I bucked her dome with my hind legs. DONNNNgGGhhh.

“I'm talking to you.”

“Why do you wanna know?!" Thirteen finally spun around, tears running down her cheeks just like mine. “I just finished telling you that I’m Public Enemy Number One, and all you care about is whether or not I'm sick. Is that all Bananas Foster was to you? Inspiration porn? An object to be pitied?”

“What?” I said, taken aback.

“I'm sorry if being a changeling makes our friendship harder to romanticize.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I thought you were different, Rose.”

She shook her head in disgust.




Suddenly, everything made a whole heap of sense. Thirteen cared what I thought of Bananas Foster - was genuinely hurt by the thought that I might not respect her. That meant that Foster was more than just a mask the changeling wore - that the pony I’d made friends with was still a part of her on some weird level.

“Thirteen, uh, listen.” I said.

“I get it.” She snapped. “Now buzz off!

“Wait!” I pleaded.

But she threw herself in bed rather than listen to me. Buried herself under her covers like a foal in hiding.

"Thirteen, listen. I care about whether or not you're sick ‘cause, um, well,” I stammered nervously. “‘Cause I believed in Foster.”

Thirteen didn't reply. Just lay motionless under the sheets.

“Take the guy in the Foal Free Press.” I said. “The one that Namby Pamby wrote that article about. And the orchestra mare in the wheelchair! All that inspiration porn stuff. You opened my eyes about it. You made me give a hoof. You!”

I started sobbing. The dam just sorta broke. Out of the blue.

“Then, when I found out you were fake, I freaked out. And now, I don't know at all anymore.” I sniffled, wiped my eyes. “I dunno if you're really, actually my friend, or if Bananas Foster is gone ‘cause she turned into another missing tooth, and you're...like...some kinda weird dental implant or something that's gonna taste weird and hurt my gums and remind me of how much I miss her for the rest of my life.”

I graduated from sobbing to bawling. I couldn't help it. I just completely fell apart. I blubbered on, and on, and on about how sorry I was - how terrified I was. How confused.

When I finally looked up, there was the changeling, sitting right in front of me on the other side of the dome. Her face crinkled with empathy – an expression I would not have thought possible for a bug had I not seen it with my own eyes. She put her hoof up against the inside of the dome, as if to reach out and touch me.

“I have no bucking idea what you just said." She remarked.

Snort. I busted out laughing. Tears and snot all over my face. She laughed too. We yuk’ed it up like a pair of morons. We laughed the kind of laughter that goes on for a while, where you try to speak, but then you can't ‘cause you're laughing so hard. And then, you laugh even harder, ‘cause, for some reason, the fact that you're dumbfounded with laughter is even funnier than whatever it was you were laughing at to begin with.

By the time we finally caught our breaths, the two of us were on the floor, looking at one another. Once I got over the initial shock, I found Thirteen fascinating. She was an insect, complete with exoskeleton, but her smile - it was a pony smile. The way her face bent around her cheeks - it mimicked flesh and fur. I wondered if there was some kind of smile magic that transcended the confines of the physical universe. Some weird mojo that could make a carapace glow with warmth.

“I meant every word, you know.” She said to me out of the blue.

"Huh?"

"When I was Bananas Foster. Everything I told you was real.”

“I know.” I replied.

"Really?"

"Yeah." I nodded. "I figure if you were gonna sugarcoat what you were up to, you probably wouldn't-a told me about your plan to friendship somepony to death.”

Thirteen chuckled. “I actually have a lot more to tell you,” she added. “Now that you know.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” She whispered. “For starters, to answer your question, I do actually need the bubble. I just need it slightly less when I'm myself.”

She pointed to her own changeling body.

“Hmm.” I replied.

“But that's not really important." She pressed herself against the bubble, eyeballs gleaming wide and bright with excitement. “What matters is that I finally get to tell you about my hive! About our ethos. About changeling friendship."

"Uh…” I said. “It has its own special kind?”

“Like nothing a pony could ever know."

She said with a euphoric sigh.

* * *

I didn't know how to react. But I never got the chance to. The door swung open, a bunch of nurses flooded into the room, and Thirteen jumped up into the air like a startled cat. She breathed all panicky. She darted to her bed. She hid. But, for some reason, didn't change.

“What are you doing?” I whisper-shouted.

The nurses called out to one another. Clanged around. They couldn't see us from their end of the curtain, but it still made me nervous to have a changeling right there where Foster was supposed to be!

Thirteen poked her head out from under the sheets and looked to me in horror.

“Are you nuts?” I snapped at her. “Just change already!”

She closed her eyes. Sucked in a deep breath. Counted to three like a filly working up the nerve to jump into a freezing lake.

“Come on, ready, set, go!” Two orderlies on the other side of the curtain grunted.

Thirteen lit up in a dim green flash, and fwoosh, was suddenly Bananas Foster again. Her yellow pony face winced in pain. Her yellow pony hoof trembled as it stretched out over the edge of her bed, and her yellow pony body tumbled helplessly to the floor like a sack of wet oatmeal.

Thunk.

“Foster!” I whisper-shouted, and pressed myself against her dome.

“I’m fine." She held up a hoof, even as she rolled around the ground like Berry Punch on a Friday night.

“You're not fine.” I pleaded.

I folded my legs under me and dropped down to my belly to look at her eye to eye.

“I'm fine.” She grunted angrily.




I didn't get to push the issue any further, even though I was worried sick about her. ‘Cause suddenly, something pushed up against my back from behind the curtain.

"Hey, Rose?" Came a gentle voice from behind me.

“Ahh!" I startled.

It was my sister. I instinctively grabbed the rustling cloth with my teeth, and looked to Foster for permission to drag the curtain open. But she shook her head at me all frantic-like. Shot me a don't you fucking dare look.

“Okay, okay, okay!” I whispered to Foster, and let go of the curtain.

“Just a se-cond!” I called to Roseluck over my shoulder.

“What's going on?” I whispered to Thirteen again. “Are you okay?”

Thirteen nodded.

“Yeah,” she said. “I just never was very good at…”

She furrowed her brow, and struggled through her stumbly haze to think of the right word to describe her transformation.

“Ponifying?” I whispered.

“Yeah, that." She smirked.

Steadily, she rose to her hooves. Rubbed her head a little.

“Rose Petal?” My sister said urgently. “Come o-on.”

I looked to Bananas Foster. She waved me off. Shooed me away. I nodded back, took my leave, and maneuvered my way to the other side of the curtain.

* * *

“How’d it go?" Roseluck whispered with a giant grin.

She shoved her face right up to mine the second I escaped the tangle of Foster’s dangly drapes.

“Uhhh...”

“On second thought, don't tell me now.” She said. “We've gotta clear out. They need the space.”

“What?”

The nurses on the other side of the room yammered a bunch of science stuff at one another as they fussed over the pony they'd just brought in. A colt, clutching his leg and moaning. He was still wearing his ski goggles.

“I signed all the papers, got my noggin examined.” Roseluck tapped her head excitedly. “You'll be all clear to get released too once the doctor has a final look at you, but they're moving you to another room first.”

“Uh…right now?”

I looked back at Bananas Foster’s curtain. Hoped she was alright back there. But I couldn't make a fuss. Or demand to stay. That’d draw attention to her.

So I gathered my things: the Hearth’s Warming doll from my mom that Rose had dug out of the attic; the giant oak tag get well card from my class with the weak paste that shed glitter everywhere as I gripped it in my mouth; the winter clothes that Cliff had apparently run home to fetch for me, Celestia only knows when.

When I ran out of stuff to pack, I fussed about all the corners of my bed. Found little reasons to stall, and keep throwing glances at Foster’s curtain, as if the cloth might say or do something on its own.




Roseluck tried to be patient, but I dragged it on, and on, and on. And on. And on and on, and on, and on, and on. The nurses were starting to look pitchforks at us.

“Rose Petal, come on.” She said through gritted teeth.

“I’m sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I answered.

And finally headed for the door, all dutiful-like, but I still kept my eyes on the curtain the whole time. Even craned my neck like an owl as I passed by.

It just didn't feel right. Leaving so suddenly. It felt like I was abandoning Thirteen. I knew she wouldn't see it that way, but I still hated it.

“Bye, Foster!” I called out to her.

To my surprise, the curtain rolled back a little bit. Just enough for me to get one last look at her as I stood in the doorway.

“Goodbye, Rose." She said with a faint little smile.

I waved meekly, and sighed in relief that she wasn't upset.

“We'll talk more later.” She added. “About that special kind of friendship I mentioned.”

“Okay.” I chuckled.

Then with a wink, and a tug of the curtain cord, Foster / Thirteen disappeared once again.

* * *

The next step was a little examination room that Roseluck and I had all to ourselves. The second that the nurses shut the door behind us, Roseluck threw herself right into the task of organizing our stuff - folding things, packing them all meticulous-like, turning our chaotic bundles of belongings into tidy little lumps that we would actually be able to hitch to our saddlebags and carry through the snow.
Me? I just stood there. Weirded out by the privacy. My sister and I hadn't been alone - truly alone - in over a week. Now we could say anything, and no one would hear! It seemed like such a luxury.

The sad thing is, I didn't have much to tell her. She was busy, and I was still running the whole Foster-changeling thing through my brain. I couldn’t stop worrying sick about Thirteen.

I wondered whether or not she would get along with her new roomie, whether she was exhausted from having exposed her secret to me, whether it bothered her that she would have to go right back to pretending again.
Most of all, I fretted that she wasn't really as safe as she thought she was.

Could the shadows descend on her any damn time they wanted? Could her classical records, and her mind tricks really hold back the evil? If so, for how long?




I was staring at the door, wool-gathering about the changeling when my sister suddenly spun around and started making chit-chat.

"Soooooooo," Roseluck bit her lip and made a coy little grin.

I glanced behind her. The pile of our stuff had been packed so prim-and-immaculate-ishly, that when I saw it, I practically heard harps and choirs singing its praises.

"Nice." I said.

But Roseluck wasn't fishing for compliments on her organizing job.

"Soooo," she said again.

She was so giddy that her whole damn face started shaking.

"So, umm...what?" I shook my head and shrugged. I didn't have a clue what Roseluck was so excited about.

"Special kind of friendship?" She winked at me.

"Arrr."

She still thought Foster and I were flirting!

I pressed my face against the wall and groaned.

"Oh, stop it." Roseluck nudged me playfully. "You can tell me."

I mashed my face harder against the wall and shook my head no.

"Come on. Please?" Her voice had an edge to it this time. She sounded strangely desperate.

But I still couldn't tell her the truth. Not when it came to Foster. And I didn't know how to lie about it either.

"I'm your sister." Pleaded Roseluck. "We should be able to talk about this stuff, you know?”

That hurt of hers was so palpable I felt like I was drowning in it. But again, I didn't answer. I couldn't.

“You're acting exactly like I did,” her voice fell suddenly into a whisper. "When Mom found out about my first crush.”

“Really?” I replied, so surprised that I forgot my dilemma for a minute.

Roseluck nodded.

“I always thought that, when the time came, we’d be able to talk about this. Sister to sister.”

I wanted so badly to turn around. To face her. To tell her that it was nothing personal. To assure her that I couldn't wait to have that talk. As sisters. But I was stuck. If I looked Roseluck in the eyes, she could look right back into mine. I was afraid of what they might give away, so I mumbled at her unconvincingly.

"Foster isn’t my special somepony." I said, face full of wall.

"Oh." Roseluck said softly.

Just oh.

* * *

The doctor came in and did her thing. Poked me. Put sticks in my mouth. Listened to my chest with her stethoscope. Before finally examining the hoof.

"Oh," she said in a creakitty old voice. "Yup. This hoof is still black."

The doctor double checked the chart in front of her.

"I know that." I said dryly.

But inside, my Rose Voices were all screaming, What if the doctor doesn't let me go?! I looked to my sister for help.

"We know," said Roseluck. "They told us there's nothing to be done for it."

"Well, be that as it may," the old doctor-mare spoke super slowly. "We still need to keep an eye on it."

"No!" I squeaked.

"Oh, relax," said the doctor. "As an outpatient."

My eyes darted to Roseluck yet again.

“That means we get to go home." She said.

I let out a sigh of relief. "When?"

"Well, you’ll be able to leave just...about..."

The old mare crept over to a drawer, mumbled to herself, and started rummaging around with her face.
Roseluck and I exchanged glances. By her confused expression, I gathered that she didn't know what was going on either.

"Um...doctor?"

"Here we go!" The old mare pulled out a rubber stamp. Tossed her clipboard onto the table. Stamped down on it.

"Now!” She turn to me and smiled. "Now you can go."

"That's it?"

"Thaaaat's it."

I looked to my sister again. She just shrugged.




It felt weird to be allowed to leave. I'd been stuck in the hospital for sooooooo long. Then just like that, I was free. All it took was a stupid rubber stamp.

"Oh. One more thing." Said the doc.

My heart skipped another beat.

"What?"

"I cannot in good conscience let you go until you accept this."

She plunged her face into the pocket of her lab coat, and produced a lollipop.

“Thanks.” I said out of politeness, though I couldn't help but feel condescended to.

She set it down in my lap, smiled at me, and left.




Roseluck wasted no time. She immediately started getting dressed, putting on her coat, hitching up her saddle bag, and all of our bundles with it. But I wasn't ready to leave yet, as much as I wanted to. Something felt wrong. Something needed doing. I stared into space and thought really, really, really, reeeeeally hard. I had already said goodbye to Thirteen. So that wasn't it. And we hadn't left any of our stuff behind. Roseluck’d packed absolutely everything except what little I had on me.

That Pink pocket watch: check.

Misty Mountain’s tail hair tied to it: check.

That piece of bark from Twink’s candle back in No Mare’s Land: check.

I thought, and thought, and thought, and thought, and thought. ‘Till Blammo! It hit me out of nowhere.

"Wait!" I shouted as I ran out the door, and chased the doctor down the hall.

"I made a friend here." I told the doc once I caught up to her. "I need to say goodbye. Her name is Screw Loose, and she lives, um... she lives, I don't know...wherever it is they keep all the crazy ponies."

The smile faded from the doctor's face.

"It's not nice to poke fun."

"I'm not." I squeaked. "I care about her. She’s my friend!”

The old mare looked me up and down careful-like. Scratched her chin. There was a shrewdness in her eyes that I hadn't noticed before.

"I believe you." She said. "But the mental ward isn't taking visitors today. We're too short staffed, and since special patients like Ms. Loose need supervision, visitations with her are going to have to be by appointment, sweetie."

"Appointment?"

"Yes." Said the doctor. "So we're ready if she, you know…"

The doctor made a zip, zoom gesture with her forehoof. She meant that Screw Loose was gonna make a run for it.

"But she won't run." I said. "I promise. And I can make an appointment next time, but I have to see her now. If she gets out again, and finds me gone, she might get scared, or think I abandoned her or, or, or…"

I felt a hoof drop on my shoulder from behind. It was Nurse Redheart. She looked unusually stern and serious.

"I'll keep an eye on them." She said.

The doctor squinted and grinned.

"Excellent." She turned to me with a grin. "All's well that ends well."

* * *

Nurse Redheart escorted me to the mental ward. My sister had to stay behind.

"Only one visitor at a time," the nurse had said.

You should’ve seen Roseluck's face. She'd gotten her coat on, and her scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, and she'd hitched all her belongings to her back. Only to have to take it all off again to go wait in the lobby.

Redheart lead me down hallway after hallway. Hospitals are really confusing that way - they wind around on the inside like labyrinths. The nurse kept her eyes forward for a good long while. Didn't look at me much. Just got all contemplative. I found it odd.

"You're a troublemaker." She said once we'd passed through the second set of double doors and moved on to the gazillionth hallway.

"So I've been told." I said.

Redheart snorted. Let a faint little smile crack it's way across her lips.

"Your mother was a troublemaker, you know.”

I looked to her in amazement, desperate to hear something new about my mom. Anything.

"What did she do?"

A blue pegasus nurse approached from the other end of the hallway, and Redheart fell silent. Went back to looking straight ahead like we weren't having a conversation at all. Then, when the other nurse had passed, and we rounded our next corner, she continued.

"Refused treatment mostly. Lashed out at us verbally."

“What?”

I had never heard anypony say anything about my mom to indicate that she could have a mean bone in her body.

"And she was a good mare, your mother." Redheart was quick to add. "It is not my intention to imply otherwise.”

I nodded solemnly.

“You should be proud to have her fire in your belly.” Redheart added. “I know she would be.”

That got a smile out of me. But it didn't last long. Nurse Redheart went back to walking stiffly, and being silent. There was something else on her mind.

“Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yes, dear." She said. "It's just that…”

Redheart stopped in the middle of the hallway. I stopped too. She turned and knelt by my side. Looked at me with giant, warm, compassionate eyes.

"What I'm trying to say is that, well, I know you're going through a hard time, Rose Petal. I don't know what it is, and I don't necessarily have to know. but if you ever need anything – someone to talk to - I'm here."

“Okay,” I said somewhat taken aback by the intensity of her promise. “Thank you.”

“It’s always better than eating tea.” She added.

I blushed, and looked away. There was no way to make her or anypony else understand that, when I swallowed all that sleepy tea, I had just been trying to fall asleep again to travel through time, so I could hold Twinkle Eyes’ head, and give her comfort as she passed.

* * *

The mental ward is very different from the rest of the hospital. To get into that wing at all, Nurse Redheart had to produce a key for several doors, then sign me in at a desk full of serious-looking ponies in white. Once we got past them, we went down a corridor full of doors, bolted shut, unlike mine and Foster's had been.

The staff had done their best to pretty it all up - make everything nice and cozy and festive. There was wallpaper with flowers on it, and soothing colors everywhere. Hearth's Warming decorations hung with care from two days before. But it was still the closest thing to a prison I had ever seen in Ponyville.

It made me wonder how the hell Screw Loose managed to escape so often. Then again, this was the same mare who could evade Princess Luna in the dream realm.




Nurse Redheart stopped at a door. Flipped open a flap in the window, and gestured at it with her face, as if to tell me, 'go ahead.'

"Can I actually go inside?"

The nurse bit her lip. That was a definite no.

"Come on," I pleaded. "She's not gonna run away. Not with me there. I'm the one she wants to see."

“I'm sorry,” she said. “I'm bending the rules enough by taking you here at all.”

She grabbed a stool from a closet, and nudged it up to the door. Then, with a flick of her teeth, a bigger window swung open. Big enough to fit a grown pony's head through, and not much else. I stepped up, climbed the stool, and peaked my head up to the window.

The room was white. The walls looked like they were made out of mattresses. It was clean, and warm, and well lit, but it was depressingly empty.

“Does she spend all day in here?" I asked the nurse.

“Not all day. There's therapy, and exercise, and some group activities.”

“But this is her room?" I asked. "This is where she lives?”

Redheart nodded firmly.

I looked through the window again. I couldn't get over how empty her room was. I couldn't even see Screw Loose. Had she escaped again?!

I stood up on my tippy hooves, and stuck my head inside. I half expected to see her crouching there, beneath the window, ready to pounce. But she wasn't.

‘Cause she was running down the hallway straight for me.

“Look out!” Was the last thing I heard before she lunged at me from the side.

“Oomph!”

She tackled me, and we both went tumbling, but even as we spun around, she sort of curled around me to make sure I wouldn't get hurt. The second the two of us stopped rolling around, she licked my face.

Slurp, slurp, slurp, slurp, slurrrrp.
I heard frantic yelling. Galloping. So I rolled out from under her, leapt up, threw my hooves open wide, and yelled, “Waiit!” to the big burly orderlies who were running towards us with a net. They skidded to a halt.

“Out of the way, kid.”

“No.” I said.

“Kid, this isn't a--;”

“Grrrrrrr.” Screw Loose rose up, big and tall behind me, and growled at the orderlies.

Their eyes went wide. “Get away from her!” They advanced with the net.

The situation was getting real stupid, real fast.

“Stop that,” I spun around and chided the dogmare. “Sit!”

She did.

“Now, play dead!”

Screw Loose rolled over to her side and went belly up. The others watched in amazement.

“Now you,” I spun, and pointed at one of the orderlies. “Drop the net, or you'll scare her.”

The orderlies obeyed almost as quickly and instinctively as Screw Loose.

“How'd you do that?” One of them said as he lowered his net to the ground.

“Hey, let me try.” Said the other. “Speak!”

Screw Loose shot them both a haughty look. Like a dignified queen looking down her nose at a pile of compost.

“Okay, um,” I laughed nervously. “What is it that you need, exactly? You need her to go back to her room?”

“Yes, please.” Nurse Redheart said all diplomatical-like.

I nodded.

“Screw Loose, uh…” I scratched my mane, and struggled to remember the command word for follow me. I had never had a dog before. “Uh, um...um...this way.”

I lead her into her room, and she followed me without much trouble. But the second we were both inside, what seemed like the whole damn hospital staff gathered at the door, and beckoned to me to make a break for it. Like I was stuck in there with a mad gorilla that was gonna tear my legs off or something.

I shook my head no.

“Listen,” I turned to Screw Loose. “I'm going away. I'll visit you whenever I can, but I'm not gonna be living at the hospital anymore, you understand? If you go looking for me in the middle of the night, I'm not gonna be there. And I need you not to be scared." I said. “I need you to, um...be a good dog.”

The dogmare looked at me blankly.
“Do you understand?” I said. “I will be coming back to visit, but you won't fi--;”

She ignored my pleas, wandered over to the far corner of the room, and picked something up with her mouth.

“Are you listening?" I asked. "Please, try to understand."

Screw Loose ambled over and dropped the thing right in front of me. It was a sock. A soggy, messed up sock that she had been chewing on. She sat on her hind quarters, and looked to me expectantly with her gigantic, hopeful eyes.
Her tail even wagged. I don't know how she did it. Pony tails tend to swish more than they wag. But Screw Loose managed to wag hers somehow, and she wagged it with vigor.

I brushed the sock away.

“Look, I’m trying to tell you somethi--;.”

I stopped. Screw Loose wasn't listening at all. Instead, she retrieved the sock with her mouth, dropped it directly in my lap, and wagged her tail at me all over again.

"Screw Loose." I groaned in frustration. "Please. I'm leaving. I need you to know that I. Will. Come. Back. But you’ll have to be patient, and…"

Screw Loose picked up the sock again - that soggy nasty thing - and this time, pressed her forehoof up against me, pinning it to my chest.

Her big gray eyes lit up. That innocence of hers seemed miles away now. The Wanderer was in them. Intense. Insistent. Aware. Her hoof pressed the sock against my chest, just a little harder.

She didn't say a word, but her intent was clear. Take this, she seemed to say. You'll need it.

Stunned, I nodded back to her, and draped the sock from the chain where my pocket watch hung.

“Thank you.” I said.

Then I gave her a final hug. “I'll be back,” I whispered in her ear.

She didn't try to stop me when I turned and went for the door. She just sat there. Like a good dog. Tears streaming silently down her cheeks.

* * *

Once the door was closed and locked, and we were well on our way back to the lobby, Nurse Redheart whispered. “That's a very special friendship you have.”

“I know,” I said solemnly.

“Ordinarily, she won't part with that sock for anything.” She added, still more than a little bit flabbergasted at all that she'd seen.

I clutched the floppy, threadbare thing dangling from my chain. Wondered why it was so special to her. Why she seemed to think it so important that I have it.

“Why does she love it so much?” I said to Redheart.

“I don't know,” she replied. “She does because she does.”

I nodded. The two of us walked the rest of the way through that labyrinth-y hospital in thinkitty silence

* * *

Roseluck was asleep in the lobby by the time I got to her, buried under a pile of all our stuff. I had to shake her awake.
She mumbled and she groaned, but even through her groggy haze, the very first thing she did upon waking was to ask the obvious question.

"Why do you have a dirty sock on your neck?”

Screw Loose's gift hung right next to the spot where Misty’s tail hair secured a piece of bark from Twink’s stick “candle.” It was starting to get a little crowded down there.

“It was a present.” I said.

“Who gave you a sock for Hearth’s Warming?”

“A crazy pony from the mental ward," I said. “You don't know her.”

* * *

We hitched up our stuff, and finally made our escape. The double doors swung open, and it was like a whole other ducky verse out there. A gust of cold air hit my face, and I just stood there, stunned.

The sunlight was so bright! The air, so cold! It seemed to bite me right in the nose. And the quiet! Everything was so very quiet. Stepping through that doorway was like getting hit in the face with a wrecking ball made out of silence. The crunching ice beneath my boots seemed almost deafening by comparison. I had only made it three steps out the door when I felt compelled to stop, and just listen.

...

...

...

There was no beeping, no humming of hospital machinery, or of Foster's special immunofiltration-a-majig. There was no more rustling, or moving about, no nurses’ hoofsteps going back-and-forth outside my door. Even in the middle of the night, when the hospital was at its quietest, there had always been some movement. Some sound.

But outside, there was nothing but wind and stuff. The smell of stale hospital air, and cleaning fluid was replaced by that super nice aroma you get when you catch a whiff of other ponies’ fireplaces burning wood and roasting nuts somewhere far, far away.

* * *

Once we actually got moving, we followed a path that had been plowed to allow access from the road to the hospital. It was like one of those giant mazes made out of hedges and bushes and stuff, only the walls were made out of snow.

“Wow,” I whispered.

“Good to get out in the open, isn't it?” Said Roseluck.

“Doesn't look very open to me." I replied.

I was too short to see over the walls of snow.

Roseluck laughed at me. I ignored her. Closed my eyes. The cold breeze stung my cheeks pretty hard, even down below the snow trenches, where I was. But I didn't bother to wrap my scarf around my face. The burn was invigorating. It reminded me that I was alive!

But then I heard the sound of other fillies laughing and playing. And I thought of Foster and Screw Loose. They would never get to run around and throw snowballs or whatever. They'd never get to ride a sled. They wouldn't even get to smell burning firewood.

It occurred to me just how easy it would be to forget my friends on the inside. To get caught up in all the distractions of the world, and simply drift apart. The idea haunted me. 'Cause the hospital is a sorta bubble in and of itself. And nopony on the outside would judge me even a little bit if I failed to keep my hospital promises.

But they meant something to me.

As the road wound, I stopped periodically to look back over my shoulder at Ponyville General Hospital - the place where I had spent what felt like years of my life. I couldn't see very well over the walls of snow, but I kept peeking anyway. And just before it finally disappeared completely from my sight, I clutched at the pocket watch and the sock underneath my jacket.

“I'll be back." I whispered. "Real soon. I promise."

Author's Note:

SPECIAL THANKS: First of all, I would like to thank Seraphem as always for his tireless assistance providing feedback during the editing process, and Kkat for writing the original Fallout: Equestria story that inspired me to write Hooves of Fate in the first place.

SUPPORT: Hooves of Fate is a labor of love. However, I also have mouths to feed. If this story, or my Heart Full of Pony essays have touched you in any way, and you can manage to spare a few bits, I'd very much appreciate your support on Patreon.
If you can't, no pressure. For those of you who already are pledging, seriously, and for real, thank you. Your support makes a difference, and it means a great deal to me. /]*[\

A LITTLE REFLECTION: For Rose Petal, it's only been a couple of days, ( a little over a week if you count the time she spent unconscious), but for me, she's been in the hospital for over three years. A great deal of that time was spent writing the No Mare's Land adventure, but she's still technically been in the hospital this whole time, or at least her corporeal form has. It's exciting to set her loose on the world and see what happens. I can't wait! In fact, I'm more than halfway done with the next chapter already!
Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading, and supporting Hooves of Fate, and share in the excitement a little bit.

Rose Petal is finally going home.