Rainbow Dash swooped down from upstairs — she’d apparently not crashed into anything in the bedroom — and greeted the stallion. “Hiya, Brush. Your egghead marefriend around this morning?”
“Not at the moment,” said Desert Brush. “Spa day. Rarity and Fluttershy came to pick her up about an hour ago. Something I can do for you?”
“Nah. Just wanted to see if that new Daring Do book had come in yet.”
“I’ll be happy to check that for you,” Spike said from behind a stack of books.
“Thanks, Spike.” She looked at Brush for a moment. “So, are things different?”
“In what way?” Brush asked, as innocently as possible.
“You know. The wings, the swelled head, all that new princess-y stuff. Is it getting to you yet?”
“To tell you the truth, Miss Dash, I’ve barely noticed,” he replied. “Well, I guess I have noticed the wings. She’s not at all used to them.” He grinned. “And they have their way of making their presence known at, uh, inconvenient moments.”
Rainbow Dash laughed. “You’ve just told me a whole lot more than you think you did.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said Brush.
“Probably what she’s having done at the spa right this minute, I’d bet. Getting those wings preened professionally.”
“Is that what you do?”
“Never,” Dash said flatly. “I can always find somepony to do it for me.” She looked up and down at Brush. “You know, if you’re going to live with a pony with wings, you need to learn how to do that for her.”
“I’m sure there’s a book about it somewhere in here,” Brush said.
“This isn’t the kind of thing you can learn from a book,” the pegasus replied. “It takes lots of practice.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Dash stuck her tongue out at him. “I can show you the basics in ten minutes flat.”
He laughed. “Hooves-on training? I’m in. What do I need to do?”
“Stand over here,” she said, partially unfurling her wings. “You start at the outside primaries and work your way in.”
In a matter of minutes, with a combination of muzzle and hoof work, he’d managed to render Rainbow Dash approximately 20 percent less scruffy. “Now maintain that same pressure and slide … slide … slowly… slowly …”
One of the outside primaries hit him in the head. “Whoops! Sorry about that. It wasn’t supposed to happen quite that way.”
“I’ll say it wasn’t,” said a voice from the doorway.
“Twilight! You’re back!” shouted Spike.
“This cannot possibly look good,” moaned Desert Brush.
It had been late in the winter when he had come to Equestria to stay, full of hope and fear and misinformation. If the fear hadn’t entirely subsided, the pony he loved was doing her level best to reorient him, to get him used to a new world so unlike his old one. And gradually, he’d adjusted to his role as a minor official in the Equestrian government. Once a week he took the train to Canterlot and spent the next two days in the nascent Royal Office of New Technology; it would be at least six months, Princess Celestia had told him, before they could hire a full-time staff, what with budget limitations and all, and even then he’d be expected to come in once in a while and fill out the paperwork and whatnot. He said that he was fine with that; what he didn’t say was that deep down inside, he worried that Twilight would eventually get sick of him always being around, and maybe the occasional break would do them both some good. The first official expenditure, therefore, was for a rollaway bed. (The second was for an alarm clock, since his tendency to oversleep exceeded even Spike’s.)
Although he was awake, up and about, sort of, that afternoon Shining Armor came knocking at the door.
“Something I can do for you, Captain?”
The Captain of the Royal Guard shook his head. “Can’t talk now. Just thought you should know, Celestia’s on her way to Ponyville. Some kind of emergency.”
Brush gathered up his personal belongings. “On my way.”
“You can’t, unless you’re going to walk. Celestia has ordered the transportation routes closed.”
“What should I do?”
Shining Armor managed a grin. “Stay put and think good thoughts. I’m sure everything will be under control shortly.” He left in what seemed to be a big hurry, and Brush considered the matter. What sort of catastrophe could be going on that would require Celestia’s immediate attention?
Then it dawned on him. He bent his head forward and spoke softly into the magical stone she’d hung around his neck:
“Twi, whatever it is, I’ll be there for you, though it may take a while. I love you.”
He grabbed his traveling bag, exited the office, and started walking.
By the time he’d cleared Canterlot Mountain, he was in full gallop. He wasn’t sure if he could sustain this sort of pace all the way to Ponyville, normally a half-day journey by train, and he wasn’t as fast as the train; but there wasn’t time to think about that just then. He was a pony on a mission, and the details could be worked out later. And the clouds were clearing, which had to be good news, right?
About fifteen minutes later, he found out: no, he couldn’t sustain this sort of pace all the way to Ponyville. He dropped to the ground to rest, and whispered, “Please, please be all right.”
“I’m fine,” said the voice beside him.
Never was a pony so happy. “Twi!”
She beamed at him. “Uh, you’re going the wrong way. We need to be heading to Canterlot.”
“With pleasure,” Brush said. “Mind telling me what this is all about?”
And so she told him of the assignment, in which Celestia had asked her to try to make some sense out of one of Star Swirl the Bearded’s last spells; how she’d inadvertently cast that spell and screwed up all her friends’ Cutie Marks; how she’d managed to fix the problem with the help of the Elements themselves; and how in so doing, she realized the problem with Star Swirl’s spell and brought it to its proper conclusion. “He had the right recipe,” Twilight Sparkle said, “but he lacked one of the most important ingredients.”
“Been there, done some of that,” said Brush. “Oh, your brother came by to tell me something was up and that Celestia was on the way to take care of it, but that’s all I got out of him.”
Twilight smiled. “And you rushed right down to see what you could do to help.”
“Residual instinct from when I was younger. You never, ever leave your ladylove to fight alone.”
“Even if she can take care of herself?”
“Better to be there and not be needed, than to be needed and not be there.”
“I like that, I think,” Twilight said. “And I wish you could have been there when it started. I was scared out of my mind.”
“I’m pretty good at that moral-support thing, but magic isn’t my strong suit.”
“Don’t feel bad. I’m still learning to fly.” She spread her wings, and then realized that Brush had never seen them before.
Of course, he reacted. “You … you can fly now?”
“Not very well yet,” she said. “Like anything else, it takes practice. But flying will be easy. It’s living up to the title that’s going to be hard.”
“The title?” Brush blanked for a second, then stared. “Oh… Shouldn’t I be, uh, groveling or something?”
Twilight giggled. “You think my brother grovels in front of Cadance?”
“Hold still. I’m going to see if I have enough power now to teleport both of us up to Canterlot. We have a coronation to attend tomorrow, and I need to teach you the protocols.” She frowned for a second. “You do have a suit with you somewhere, don’t you?”
“Hanging in the office,” he said.
“I bet it’s the gray one. I hate that color.”
“Sorry. When I’m working, I’m a gray kind of guy. And nopony’s going to be looking at me anyway.” He grinned. “Go ahead, tell me you’ve got a Quickie Dye Job spell. I can take it.”
“For that,” she said teasingly, “I ought to make you walk.”
“Your wish is my command, my Princess.” He bowed just as stiffly as he possibly could. “Exit, stage left.”
“Stage this,” said Twilight, and an empty space suddenly appeared where the two ponies had stood.
Near the very top of the tree that houses the Golden Oaks Library is Twilight Sparkle’s observatory, perhaps not the highest point in Ponyville, but close enough. It’s a simple place: a wooden platform, a telescope, a small box of astronomy books, and now and again, a young mare’s dreams.
Desert Brush made it to the top of the stairs. “Sheesh. You might as well just hang this thing off the edge of the moon.”
“Stairs are good for you,” Twilight said.
“I’ll tell King Sombra next time he comes by,” Brush snorted. “I hear he’s really into stairs.”
She giggled. “So what brings you up here to the top of the tree? You’re usually fast asleep by now.”
He glanced at one of the books, opened to a star chart. “I don’t get it. If Princess Luna is constantly tinkering with the positions of the stars, what good is a star chart?”
“The chart is enchanted,” said Twilight patiently, as though she were addressing a confused foal. “If Luna moves something in the sky, the chart position moves with it. It’s always up to date.”
“Unlike me,” Brush said, shaking his head. “I’ll never get used to all this magic stuff.”
“Sure you will. It’s no more amazing than the technology you grew up with back home.”
“Home,” he repeated. “Something else I have to get used to.” He pointed a hoof at the star chart. “It’s not even on there, is it? Pretty bad when an earth pony can’t even find earth.”
“Right down there.” She pointed toward the ground.
“No, seriously. Does my old home world even exist in this space?”
“I’m not really sure,” Twilight admitted. “It took a trans-dimensional portal to get you here. If I had to guess, I’d say that this world and that one exist in the same space, but not at the same time; your four dimensions are not the same as our four dimensions, and there are very few points of intersection.”
It took a moment for all this to sink in. “Parallel universes?”
“Not if they intersect,” said Twilight. “Truly parallel universes are entirely separate from one another.”
“But it’s possible to go from one to the other —”
“If there’s an access point that reaches both, yes.”
Brush nodded as though he understood. “What I want to know, I guess, is whether this universe and my old one are parallel.”
“I can’t answer that,” Twilight said. “To prove that they are parallel, you would have to show that there is no point of connection anywhere, and that’s hard to prove.” She looked at him. “Were you planning a trip or something?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Brush answered, flustered. “I have no reason to want to leave. I’m just wondering if…”
“Never mind. It’s not that important.”
“If it matters to you,” said Twilight, “it matters to me.” She peered into his eyes, and saw what she thought was the beginning of a tear. “You miss them?”
He nodded. “Wouldn’t you?”
“I’m sure I would. Do you think your family would accept you now? I mean, you’ve changed quite a bit.”
Brush flicked his tail and laughed. “I suppose I have. And I’m not about to ask them to do the same.” His voice grew wistful. “But it would be nice to see the young’uns again.”
“Maybe someday,” Twilight said. “We’d need a reliable passage before Celestia would even think about allowing visitors, and we don’t have that yet.” She smiled at him. “Some day we will.”
“Yeah. If they can’t see me, at least they can see where I’m buried.”
“Please don’t talk like that. It’s so … morbid.”
“Sorry. It’s just something you think about when you get to be my age.” He looked up toward the moon for a moment. “Or do you not have to think about that anymore?”
She stared at him. “I am not immortal in any sense of the word. Someday I will die, just like everypony else. But I’m not going to spend any time worrying about it.”
“Everypony else? You mean that —”
“Ask them yourself,” Twilight said curtly. “Nothing, and nopony, can last forever. Entropy wins in the end.”
“Entropy,” Brush repeated. “Chaos. Good old Discord. And all he’s got to do is outlast us.” He grinned. “Provided he doesn’t cheese off Celestia.”
“Or Fluttershy,” said Twilight. “I think he’s more afraid of her than he is of Celestia.”
“And thus balance is restored to the universe,” Brush said solemnly. “What am I doing here, anyway?”
“You tell me.”
He whistled. “Tough crowd.”
“The toughest. Ask anypony.”
“Well, there are times when I just have to look at the sky. I figure I owe Luna that much, and besides, she does such a splendid job with it.”
“And somewhere between downstairs and the sky, there’s the mare of my dreams, whose work I am once again interfering with.” He nuzzled the back of her neck.
“You always think I’m working,” she said.
“Well, kind of. Sometimes, if I can’t figure out something on my own, and I can’t find the answer in a book, I come up here.”
“I thought everything anypony could ever want to know was in a book,” Brush said teasingly.
“Ten years ago, I probably would have agreed with you. But I was still a filly back then, and you were — what were you, anyway?”
He smiled. “A silly old humanoid who had no idea that his life was going to be changing.”
“For the better, I hope,” Twilight said.
“Easily,” Brush replied. “One of the great human philosophers once complained that you live eighty years, in all that time you get maybe six minutes of pure magic, and then you die. Most days I can beat that before breakfast.”
“This philosopher must have had a sad life.”
“Not really. It turned out that what he did best was complain about things, and he got paid very well for complaining about things. If humans had cutie marks, he’d probably have a cuss word for his.”
Twilight laughed, and Brush started counting.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re laughing,” he said. “I get to count that toward my six minutes.” He rose, gave her a quick kiss on the nose, and headed for the stairs. “But I’m surely keeping you from something important.”
“I’m not —”
But he was already out of earshot.
Twilight beat her forehooves against the floor. “Why does he do this to me?”
Owlowiscious, watching from a branch, duly asked “Who?”
“I wonder sometimes,” she said.
Came the sunrise. Once again, he slept in, and so he wasn’t at all aware that Twilight wasn’t speaking to him. And by the time he’d dragged himself to his hooves, she was gone; she’d left a note that said, curtly, “BACK SOON.”
“Spike! Did Twi tell you where she was going?”
The dragon emerged from the kitchen. “Yes, she did,” he said.
Brush thought he’d heard a note of hostility. “And you’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
Okay, more than just a note. “Not a problem. If anypony needs me, I’ll be at Town Hall. Permits out the wazoo again.”
Spike wanted to ask him “What’s a wazoo?” but thought better of it.
A few blocks away at the Carousel Boutique, Rarity was all smiles. “You’re finally going to order that wedding dress! Oh, it will be an absolute wonder, the envy of every mare from sixteen to sixty.”
Twilight was not smiling.
“Oh, dear. Something has gone awry in the love nest. Tell me, is there anything I can do to help?”
“I don’t know! I’m just so … so frustrated with him sometimes.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Rarity. “You are a rational and sensible mare. And believe me, stallions are seldom rational and hardly ever sensible.” One particular example popped into her head; she dismissed the thought with a toss of her mane. “Sooner or later, they will always let you down.”
“Well, that’s cynical,” Twilight grumbled.
“If I seem cynical, it is because I have earned it. Even unpleasant experiences have valuable lessons to teach us, if we pay proper attention. Now what sort of unpleasant experience have you just had?”
Twilight shook her head. “I’m not sure I can talk about it.”
“Of course you can, darling. It’s just a matter of finding the right words.” Rarity dropped her voice about half an octave. “Is it something … sexual?”
“I can’t believe you actually asked me that!” Twilight wailed.
“We must attack this problem methodically,” said Rarity. “Seriously, how is your lovemaking? Does it go well?”
“It’s … okay.”
“Just okay? Nothing special, not a dream come true or anything like that?”
“How is it supposed to go? I don’t know anything about it except what I’ve read!”
“Oh, my.” Rarity’s eyes opened wide. “You didn’t tell me that he was your first.”
“Well, he wasn’t my first,” Twilight answered. “At least, not technically.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“I mean,” said Twilight, “that he was the first one I actually wanted, and who really wanted me instead of just wanting to use me. But I’m obviously his first pony, and … well, sometimes it’s awkward.”
Rarity leaned forward. “Is it that bipeds do it differently?”
“He’s not a biped anymore. He’s an earth pony. He’s just not all that, I don’t know, earthy.”
“So basically, you want to be swept off your hooves like all the mares in all those trashy romance novels?”
“They are not trashy!” said Twilight. “They’re an important window into a part of life too often neglected.”
Rarity laughed. “And what book jacket did you learn that from?”
Twilight slumped to the floor. “All right, maybe I’ve read a few of them. But can you blame me for wanting something … somepony like that?”
“Loincloths, even the good ones, are relatively inexpensive, though a good spear from the mill in Fillydelphia will run you sixty or seventy bits. Plus shipping.”
“Now you’re making fun of me,” Twilight pouted.
“I’m sorry. Really, I am. But I can’t help you unless you tell me everything that’s going on between you and that stallion.” Rarity dropped her voice, as though she thought somepony else might be eavesdropping. “Seriously, how do the two of you fare in the sack?”
Twilight’s expression was somewhere between blank and daft. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, does he at least perform the basics? Can he go the distance?”
“Oh. I thought you were asking if there was a physical problem with me.”
“I can ask that if I have to.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Twilight snapped. “And I don’t think there’s anything physically wrong with him.”
“He has no problem performing, then?”
“He’s very attentive. Spends time on foreplay. Does his best to wait until I’m done. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.”
“How often do you get together?”
“Not enough,” Twilight said. “Maybe twice a week.”
“I assume that he measures up to the task?”
Twilight blinked. “Huh?”
“Equipment, my dear. All stallions have it. However, we can safely say that it’s not evenly distributed, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh. That. Fifty-fifth percentile.”
Rarity laughed. “And you know this how, precisely?”
“He wasn’t always a pony,” said Twilight. “And when they made him into one, they followed my list of specifications.”
“Some mares have all the luck,” Rarity muttered, not quite under her breath.
“What can I say?”
“You chose well. Fifty-five is good. Better than average, but not so much that he’d think he’s better than average.”
“I can’t imagine Brush thinking he’s better than average at anything. I can take only so much of his Ordinary Earth Pony routine.”
“If that’s the only problem,” Rarity said, “you should be able to hoof-wave it away and ignore it from that point forward.”
“It’s not the only problem.” Twilight shook her head. “Maybe I did read too many of those silly stories.”
“Then answer me this: What do those fictional stallions have that Brush doesn’t?”
“It’s not what they have,” said Twilight. “It’s what they do, and when they do it. They take the initiative. They nod in your direction, they say Now, and you can’t help but follow.”
“And he doesn’t do that?”
Twilight sighed. “I’ll be working late on something, and I’ll be bored out of my mind, and he’ll come up behind me. But he won’t really approach. And if I turn around, he’ll look away and then leave the room. Just once I’d like him to tell me to put down that bucking book and come to bed already.”
Rarity’s face lit up. “Oh, you do have the proper instincts after all!”
“Of course you do. You shouldn’t have to do all the work. If he wants you, he should have to put some effort into getting you.”
Twilight frowned. “Last night, I thought he was really going to. He climbed up to the observatory. He never climbs up to the observatory. We talked, he was very sweet, and then suddenly he was gone.”
“Did you give him any indication that you were in the mood?”
“Dammit, I was in heat!” Twilight yelled. “How much indication does he need?”
“Oh, my,” said Rarity. “Then again, you are his first pony. He may not have learned all the subtle signals of estrus.”
“Believe me,” Twilight snickered, “they’re not all that subtle. Mine aren’t, anyway.”
And Rarity laughed. Guffawed, even.
“That was amusing somehow?” Twilight sputtered.
“I’m sorry. It’s just so … unusual to hear you, of all ponies, talking this way about such things.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“To be perfectly frank, darling, we had always assumed that you would be the first pony ever to go through life with no bodily functions whatsoever.” Rarity winked. “I was so jealous.”
Twilight bowed her head. “I … I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’m supposed to be better than this.”
“Frustration,” said Rarity, “afflicts us all. The question is whether we can deal with it, or it ends up dealing with us.”
“What can I do?” Twilight asked. “I don’t want to break up with him. He gave up his entire life just for me. I can’t throw that away.”
“Perhaps,” Rarity said, “I should have a talk with this stallion. He should be due for a new suit just about now, so I already have my opening gambit.”
“Oh, would you please? I wouldn’t know what to say to him.”
“When in doubt, start with ‘I love you.’ You might be surprised how well it works.”