At the entrance to the Recovery Room, the head nurse was apologetic but firm: “I’m sorry, Miss Sparkle, but there’s a strict limit of two visitors at a time.”
“Who could possibly be visiting?” Twilight wondered.
On the other side of the big double doors, Desert Brush was a little more than half-awake, but only a little. Still, he was alert enough not to panic at the sight of a pair of unfamiliar unicorns at bedside, one of whom was sporting a Twi-like pagecolt cut.
“Mister Brush?” said the stallion.
Brush blinked. “Have we, uh, met?”
“We have not,” the stallion replied, “but I thought perhaps we should. My name is Night Light, and this is my wife Twilight Velvet.”
Recognition came, not quite in a flash of light, but quickly enough, all things considered. “Oh, my. Twilight Sparkle’s parents.” Brush smiled. “Pardon me for not getting up.”
“It’s quite all right,” said Night Light. “You’ve been through a lot in the last couple of days, we are told.”
“When we’re told anything at all,” added Twilight Velvet.
“I’m sorry about that. I tried to guilt her into telling you.” Brush tried to remember how to shrug. “I guess it didn’t work.”
“Our daughter is — reserved sometimes,” Night Light said. “Fortunately, our son is less so.”
“I’d like to meet him some day.”
“You almost got a chance to, last night,” said Night Light. “He was ready to barge in here and see what kind of lowlife pony, as he said, was after his sister.”
Brush grinned. “I hope you can assure him that I’m at least a moderate-life pony.”
Twilight Velvet smiled at that. “He’s very protective of his sister.”
“As he should be,” said Brush. “I had a younger sister and I was suspicious of just about every one of her dates.” He coughed once. “Eventually, she married. He was poor, but he was honest.”
“Not unlike yourself?” Night Light quipped.
Brush considered. “I’m not all that poor, but I do strive to be honest. Mostly. I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.”
“How did you two meet, anyway?” asked Twilight Velvet.
“Pure fluke,” said Brush. “Last summer she found a hole in space-time, got curious as to what was on the other side, and passed through it.”
“And what did she find?”
“Well, uh, me. I hasten to add that she wasn’t looking for me at the time, but I happened to be there when she arrived.”
“You must have impressed her,” said Night Light.
“Enough to get her to come back a few times. Unfortunately, the hole didn’t work equally well both ways, and it was several months before I could come here myself. I’ve still never seen Ponyville.”
“You’re not missing much,” Twilight Velvet said. “It’s a disorganized, messy sort of place.”
“Sounds perfect for me,” Brush drawled.
“I’m surprised our Twilight didn’t come up to see you this morning,” Night Light observed.
“I was hoping she would, but she always seems to have thousands of things to do in Canterlot.”
“Everything but visit her family,” Twilight Velvet grumbled.
The public-address system, for some reason, chose that moment to blare an announcement: “Miss Twilight Sparkle, please come to Administration. Miss Twilight Sparkle, please come to Administration.”
“She’s in the building, anyway,” said Night Light. “Or at least they think she is.” He looked at Brush again. “When do you think you’ll be out of here?”
“Twi says it’s got to be by tomorrow at the latest, so we can go to some convention out on the west coast. So far, nopony has given me any information about how I’m doing, other than the fact that I’m apparently not dead, and I think I could have figured that out myself.”
“Hospitals. Even the best of them can be a pain sometimes.”
A white unicorn in a nurse’s cap came through the doors. “Mister Brush? We’re going to do a little physical therapy this morning.”
“Oh, joy,” Brush said. “Then again, there’s a lot to be said for getting out of bed.” He pushed the lever to drop the side rail, rolled to the edge, and promptly fell on the floor. “Perhaps I spoke too soon,” he groaned.
“Your equilibrium is going to be off for a little while yet.” The nurse helped him to his hooves. “We’ll be gone for about an hour,” she said to the visitors.
“We were just leaving,” said Night Light. “Glad to meet you. You go by your first name or your last?”
“Call me Brush. It’s shorter,” said Brush.
“Take care,” Twilight Velvet said.
He made it to the courtyard without incident, though he did occasionally put the wrong hoof forward. “You were a biped,” the nurse said, “so you can expect some temporary confusion until you get used to going about on four legs. It’s not difficult, but it’s not going to be automatic for some time. Turn around.”
He did so.
“For a few minutes, we’re just going to march in place. Do what you see me do.” She took some moderately high steps, which he did his best to match; he didn’t quite get high enough, but he didn’t fall down either, and he stayed mostly in sync.
“Not bad,” said the nurse. “One problem you’re going to have is that you don’t have a true instinct for this, the way a foal would; you’re having to override the instinct you do have, which puts the back legs in control at all times. This is a good way to fall on your face.”
“I’ve seen better ones,” Brush replied. “I have ways of falling you would not believe.”
“Well, don’t do it now,” said the nurse. “We’re still a week shy of Winter Wrap-Up, and the ground is very, very cold. Next, we’re just going to trot two laps around the courtyard. Don’t watch me this time. Just keep your eyes forward. Don’t look down, or you’ll get yourself out of sync.”
He made it about halfway through the first lap before he tripped over himself and faceplanted.
They found Twilight Sparkle leaving the administrative office. “So there you are,” said her father, and there were hugs all around.
“What brings you here?” she asked. “Is everypony okay?”
“We’re fine,” said her mother. “We thought we’d pay a visit to your coltfriend.”
Twilight blanched. “You what?”
“We knew he was here,” Night Light said, “and there was no telling when you were going to get around to bringing him home for us to meet. So we took a little initiative.”
“He seems very nice,” Twilight Velvet added. “Though I never imagined you had an eye for those rough-hewn earth ponies.”
“Didn’t we have this discussion when I was twelve? There is nothing wrong with earth ponies. Some of my best friends are earth ponies.”
“But most of them,” said Night Light, “were born that way.”
Silence. And then, finally: “H-how did you know?”
“It’s a mother’s job to know these things,” explained Twilight Velvet. “And besides, his chart was hanging on the door.”
“At least we know he’s serious about you,” Night Light said. “One-night stands do not go to that much trouble.”
Dinnertime in the Recovery Room, and daisy sandwiches for two. “This is my absolute favorite,” said Twilight Sparkle. “It’s better on freshly-baked bread, but this will do for now.”
Brush managed to get a grip on the sides of a sandwich with his hooves, and dropped less than ten percent of the contents. “Can I claim that as a moral victory?” he asked.
“You’ll be all right. Like everything else, it takes practice.” She looked up at the wall clock. “I thought maybe they’d have moved you to a regular room by now.”
“I have never understood hospitals. All you can do is lie there and hope nothing worse happens.” He grinned. “I admit, I wasn’t expecting to see your folks this morning. Eventually, sure; but not this morning.”
“That was my fault,” Twilight admitted. “I stirred up a hornet’s nest yesterday.”
“I blew up at my brother for making fun of me, and then Cadance chewed my flank off. Which I totally deserved.”
“Made fun of you? Isn’t that, like, a fairly regular brother-sister thing?”
“Of course it is. But I was stressed out by everything, and I just snapped.” She grimaced. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s a lot easier to deal with a fantasy coltfriend than it is a real one.”
“Love is a mixture of the magical and the mundane. Always has been. We’re going to get on each other’s nerves now and then. No way around it.”
“And it wasn’t even your fault,” said Twilight. “It was just me wanting everything to be perfect again.”
“Always the perfectionist,” Brush said laconically.
“I can’t help it. It’s what I am.”
“And I’m glad you are what you are. But sometimes, I’m glad I’m just a plain, ordinary earth pony.”
Twilight broke into a smile — and then into giggles. Then laughter. Gales of laughter. Outright guffaws, even.
Brush looked puzzled. “Must have been the way I said it.”
“It’s just … that sounded so pretentious. Especially considering you weren’t any kind of pony two days ago.”
“I learn quickly,” he said. “Walking excepted.”
“How did it go?”
“Not too badly. I’m probably better than a week-old foal, but not enough to brag about.” He shook his head. “At least nopony is asking me to keep up with Secretariat.”
“Is this Secretariat somepony you know?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said Brush. “One of the equines bred specifically for racing. He was incredibly fast. I got to see him once, the year I turned twenty. He was sick that day and couldn’t race, but he did come out and do a lap around the track for the audience.” Brush sighed. “One of our greatest athletes ever. They put his picture on a postage stamp after he died.”
“How old was he?” Twilight asked.
“When he won all those big races, three. When he died, about nineteen.”
“They race at three?”
“They start before that. I spent rather a lot of money that year on two-year-old fillies.”
Twilight stared. “Buying them?”
“Oh, good gracious, no. Betting on them. There were days when I couldn’t pick a winner to save my life.”
“We don’t have a lot of gambling here. Well, we do here, but not in Ponyville. Maybe the occasional poker game.”
Brush smiled. “Now that’s a vision I never anticipated: ponies playing poker.”
“You have so much to learn,” said Twilight.
“It will be nice to see something other than the inside of a room. The remedial walking instruction was kind of a pain, but it was outside, and it was sweet. A little chilly, but sweet.”
“Spring will be here soon. Don’t worry.”
“I have faith in the Equestrian weather system,” Brush said. “I suspect it’s a lot saner than what I’m used to.”
“You’re going to love it here,” Twilight said firmly. “If I have to micromanage every last aspect of it myself.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” he laughed.
“I’m a perfectionist, remember? Of course it will be necessary.”
“Well, I hope you like the sculpting job they did on me. I didn’t really give them any instructions.”
She brightened. “I did.”
“You did? When?”
“When I had to meet with the doctor. I gave him a sketch and a color scheme.”
“And, it appears, a cutie mark. An actual freaking abacus. I couldn’t believe it.”
“I was hoping you’d like it,” she said.
“Oh, I thought it was hilarious. Then again, I’m not the pony walking behind it.”
“Can you stand up? I want to get a good look.”
He rolled out of the bed, did not fall down this time, and stood for inspection. After about two minutes of scrutiny and several instances of hooves-on verification, or something, Twilight pronounced him fine as pegasus feathers.
“Although I think I’d have preferred a slightly shorter tail. But this is an excellent job. Makes you look about thirty-five or forty.”
“I didn’t look so hot when I was thirty-five or forty,” he said.
“My mother said you looked rough-hewn.”
“This town is mostly unicorns, isn’t it? How many earth ponies does she ever get to see?”
“All ponies are equal under the law,” Twilight said. “But you can’t force them to think that way.”
“Meaning your mom looks down her nose, or her horn, or whatever, at us lowly earth ponies?”
“She used to, when I was a filly,” Twilight admitted. “So did my dad. I think they got over most of that the first time they came to see me in Ponyville.”
“I’d hate to see what they’d think of me in Cloudsdale,” Brush said.
“You’d never be able to set hoof in the place. You can’t walk on clouds. Neither can I, unless I use a spell.”
Brush facehoofed, nearly falling down in the process. “So what did the parental units think of your clumsy beau?”
“I think,” said Twilight, “that they came in, prepared to dislike you, and discovered to their surprise that they didn’t.”
“Good manners and a dazzling smile. Works every time.”
“What moved them the most was the fact that you’d gone through the process. It told them that you were serious.”
“How would they have known?” Brush asked. “Is it tattooed on the back of my neck or something?”
“It was on your chart, and your chart was hanging on the door, and Mom’s done volunteer work at Canterlot General, so she knows how to read medical codes.”
“Wonderful security you have around here,” Brush snorted.
“It’s all right. They won’t talk. Shining Armor certainly won’t talk. And I told Cadance already.”
“Which leaves … oh, the entire population of Equestria.”
“It’s not a big deal to anypony that you had the surgery. It’s finding out what you used to be that might cause problems, and that wasn’t on the chart.” Twilight gave him a So Serious look. “Celestia isn’t ready to reveal that the humans still exist, let alone that one actually made it here.”
“At least I’ll be nice and inconspicuous as an earth pony, once I get out of here.”
“Don’t be too sure about that,” Twilight warned.
“You’d better sit down for this,” she said. He clambered back into the bed.
“We are, for better or for worse, each other’s Very Special Somepony.”
“I like the sound of that,” Brush chirped.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that someday we’ll be wed.”
“No problem so far.”
“Now as the sister-in-law of a Princess, I have social standing only slightly below the Royals themselves. What do you think is going to happen to you if you marry me?”
“If?” Brush asked.
Twilight smiled. “No earth pony before has ever achieved such heights. If you were planning on being inconspicuous, forget about it.”
“I wanna go home,” Brush whined.
“Too late now,” Twilight said. “We’re stuck with each other.”
“So what happens next?”
“Well, you’re obviously not going to be discharged tonight, so I presume they’re going to run some more tests on you. Tomorrow we board the train to Vanhoover, so we can attend the Equestrian Library Federation convention.” She smiled. “Can you stand a three-day train ride?”
“I’m going with you,” he said. “Consider it stood.”
“After that, we come home to Ponyville, and whatever may be waiting for us.”
“Only the rest of our lives.”
Twilight kissed him. “Did I mention that I love you?”
He stretched out his forelegs and pulled her on top of him. “You can mention that just as often as you like.”