“Something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Twilight said after dinner.
He nodded. “Ask away.”
“This is going to be the standard palace wedding, with all the usual rituals.”
“That’s to be expected.”
“But it occurred to me, and I asked Cadance and she agrees with me, that there ought to be something from your old world, something familiar to you. You deserve the same honors as I do.”
“Isn’t it kind of late for that?” Brush grumbled. “The wedding’s next week.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I should have been thinking about this earlier.”
“Well, if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with Equestrian pomp and circumstance. I don’t have a problem with the standard palace wedding.”
Twilight frowned. “You’re sure?”
He thought for a moment. “Actually, there’s one human ritual I think I should observe, but it wouldn’t take place at the actual ceremony.”
“Oh, good. What do I have to do?”
“Nothing but sit here,” said Brush. “An old tradition holds that it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony. I assume Rarity will be doing the final adjustments?”
“She wouldn’t allow anypony else to get near it,” Twilight chuckled. “She’ll probably be on the train to Canterlot with us.”
“With you, anyway,” he said. “I’m going the day before and putting in my time at the office, the way I always do.”
Twilight’s eyes grew wide. “You’re serious? You actually believe in bad luck?”
“No,” he admitted. “I believe in random events, and I believe that they aren’t necessarily evenly distributed. But bad luck itself? Never heard of it.” He took a sip of water. “I figure, though, that I’m long overdue for a weapons-grade panic attack, and the most likely time for it to happen is the night before the second most important event in my life.”
She stared at him. “Should I ask about the first?”
He flicked his tail at her. “Take a guess.”
“You were fine before the operation. In fact, you spent a lot of time sleeping it off.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand this.”
“It did happen,” he said, “but not here.”
“It was the week before you came to fetch me. I’d spent the whole day with the legal beagles, arranging to dispose of my worldly goods.”
“You have canine lawyers?”
“Figure of speech, sweetheart. Figure of speech.” He grinned. “Anyway, we’d gotten all the papers drafted, and they told me to come back in 48 hours and sign everything.” The grin abruptly disappeared. “And then I got home, and I went completely to pieces.”
“What happened?” Twilight asked.
“Something I should have expected. Things were going too well. I never expect things to go too well; I start looking around for reasons why they’re not going to last. I’ve pretty much always been this way.”
“What sort of reasons?”
“You don’t want to know,” Brush said.
“If I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t have asked.”
He nodded. “Fair enough. Things went downhill fast. It started out with What would a perfectly wonderful mare like Twilight Sparkle want with the likes of me? and ended up with the mother of all conspiracy theories, in which I’d been forced to imagine the whole thing, remotely transmitted brain waves or something, and was now going to surrender my soul to whoever’s in charge of Tartarus these days.”
To his surprise, Twilight smiled. “Poor you. It never occurred to you that maybe you’re supposed to be happy now and then?”
“I guess I’m not familiar enough with the concept or something. I see a silver lining, I assume there’s a dark cloud in the vicinity.”
“You haven’t been like that since you’ve been here,” said Twilight. “At least, not that I can remember.”
“And I’d like to keep it that way, or at least keep it from showing up in front of you. You definitely wouldn’t want to be around me at times like that.”
“How long do these times last? An hour, a day, a week?”
“That one ran all night, until I fell asleep, exhausted. Woke up about noon.”
“Then I went to sign all that paperwork, and that was the last I’d thought about it, until now.”
Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. “So it’s really not a case of cold hooves?”
Brush forced a smile. “I don’t mind telling you, I’m a nervous wreck. But I’d rather my nerves act up before the ceremony, so nopony has to see me go to pieces. Especially you.”
“But if these things happen to you on a regular basis, won’t I end up seeing one eventually?”
“Eventually sounds a whole lot better than In front of the whole of Canterlot assembled next week, don’t you think?”
She looked at him sideways. “There’s no chance you’ll actually miss the ceremony, is there?”
“If I haven’t shown up by the beginning of the processional,” he said, “feel free to send your choice of Royal Guards to drag my unworthy plot to the castle. But I promise you, it’s not going to be a problem.”
“I’ll have to study this matter,” said Twilight doubtfully. “It went away, just like that?” She shook her head. “Something about this doesn’t add up.”
“I don’t understand it either. But I admit, I’m a little bit scared. And when you’re scared, you sometimes do things that don’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“Give me a few minutes to think about this.” She turned, headed for the stairs, and disappeared into the laboratory.
It looks darker than usual down there, he thought.
They met halfway up — or halfway down — the stairs.
His face fell. “You’ve been crying.”
“What did you expect?” Twilight said indignantly. “It’s not every day somepony I believe in tries his very hardest to undo that belief.”
He made no reply for a moment, then backed away. “Perhaps I should go.”
“No. You should not go. You should stand here and tell me that once you get this … this madness out of your system, everything is going to be all right.”
“And will you believe me when I tell you that?”
She glared at him. “What choice do I have?”
“Nopony says you have to go through with any of this,” Brush said. “You can put it off for a few days, or a few years; you can have the Crown issue an order for my banishment; you can drag me to the very edge of the world and give me a shove.”
“And if I did those things?”
He blinked. “It will not matter, in the long run. Your life will continue. So will mine, for a while; then it will end, and I will be properly forgotten. I ask only a fleeting thought once in a while, a brief remembrance, perhaps even a kind word or two, for a pony who apparently loved neither wisely nor too well.”
He turned away.
“You don’t fight fair,” said Twilight.
“I work with the weapons I have.”
“A stubborn streak any mule would envy, and something I thought might have been the key to your heart. Though I could have been wrong.”
“No,” she said. “You were not wrong. I just thought things would be … easier.”
“They’re supposed to get easier with time. That’s what I was always told, anyway.” He pondered for a moment. “Think about Night Mare Moon. For a thousand years, she was the stuff of legend: Celestia knew the whole story, but she wasn’t telling, and it wasn’t until you and the other Elements separated Luna and the spirit that had possessed her that everypony knew the truth of the matter.”
“Are you saying that you’re possessed?”
He shook his head. “In my old world, we had, or are supposed to have had anyway, a similar spirit. The version of the story I learned said that he’d managed to get inside the heads of the very first couple — not in quite so dramatic a fashion, but enough to get them to question everything they’d been taught. So they rebelled, and were promptly banished. The spirit, however, left a permanent back door for himself into their hearts and minds, and it was passed down to all their descendants.”
“That makes no sense,” Twilight said. “How could this … this whatever it was, follow you here? Unless you brought it here with you.”
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought it would have any kind of power here. But maybe I still have that back door. My body has changed, but has my soul?”
“Perhaps we can find out. Would you object if I took a look inside you?”
“There’s not much to see, I suspect,” he said.
“No, seriously. I want to run a magical scan. But I can’t do that, legally or ethically, without your permission.”
Finally he smiled. “I guess it’s faster than therapy.”
“Don’t count on it,” said Twilight. “I don’t have a lot of experience with these just yet.” She pointed one hoof toward the sofa. “Lie down and close your eyes. You’ll think you see a light, but it really isn’t.”
Then what is it? he wondered as the room, the town, the world dissolved into brightness, a brightness utterly without warmth. He shivered. Hundreds of thousands of memories from twenty thousand days, some he cherished, some he’d hoped to have buried, seemed to dance through the inside of his head.
Abruptly the parade came to a halt, and the brightness subsided, as though the day had finally ended. He steeled himself for the darkness, which came slowly, inexorably. The background noise — could those be birds? — receded further, then vanished altogether.
Then there she was, the way he’d seen her for the very first time on that hot afternoon in the middle of nowhere, this time with a soft blue glow surrounding her, separating her from the darkness. Blue? he thought. That color belongs to Luna. I must be dreaming.
And so he allowed himself to dream, to gaze upon the beauty that was hers, to give thanks to the world where she was born, the world where he was reborn. The darkness began to melt away.
The Day. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and almost-Prince Consort Desert Brush were hiding out in an anteroom, trying to stay out of the way. Cadance was making minor adjustments to her gown — not, Brush noticed, a Rarity special — while Brush paced enough to wear a slight but noticeable groove into the old wooden floor.
All three Canterlot newspapers had had Royal Wedding stories on the front page, on page two, and in the case of the Express, all the way through page five. “Are they always like this?” Brush grumbled.
“Usually worse,” Cadance said. “When I got pregnant it was front-page news for three days, and the Review sent a reporter to hang around the doctor’s office while I was having the ultrasound. Shining had to threaten to throw him out of a tower to get him to back off.”
“I’d have paid plenty of bits to have seen that.”
“Shining’s normally pretty placid, but if he thinks there’s a threat, he will show no mercy.” She smiled. “Right now he’s probably warning the foalsitter of dire consequences should anything happen to Skyla.”
“I’m kind of surprised you didn’t bring her along. It would be a first to have five Princesses together at the same event.”
“She’s too young,” Cadance said flatly. “Something this big, this noisy, would just upset her, and that would upset Shining, and you don’t want to imagine the rest of it.”
“I suppose I don’t,” said Brush. “And maybe this would go on past her bedtime anyway.”
“This is going past Celestia’s bedtime, and she gets cranky if she hasn’t had her nap.”
Brush laughed. “Must be an alicorn thing.”
“Might be,” Cadance chuckled. “Twilight was the same way. I don’t want to take a nap! she’d whine. And by dinnertime, she’d be fidgety and she’d refuse to eat. Once I was coming through the door and she threw a biscuit at me.”
“And right then, Celestia knew she had a prodigy on her hooves.”
Cadance smiled. “Maybe so. I have no idea what I should expect from Skyla. She was premature to begin with.”
“I did not know that,” said Brush.
“It was scary for the first week or so,” Cadance admitted. “We had to keep her on a ventilator for the first few days, and then she started up with these random magic discharges.”
Brush looked genuinely frightened for a moment. “Did they find out what was causing them?”
“They thought it might have been a secondary resonance in her limbic system. But it went away before they worked up a treatment for it, and it hasn’t come back. And we’d have to bring her here for that kind of medical attention. The Crystal Empire doctors are good, but most of them aren’t trained in advanced unicorn medicine.”
“Why is that?” Brush wondered.
“Most of them are new, hired after King Sombra’s curse was broken. They’ve read the books on the basics, and they know crystal-pony medicine pretty well by now, but there are so few unicorns there that the Royal Medical Office hasn’t seen fit to send them here for additional training. Budgetary limitations, they say.”
“Those, I know about,” said Brush. “I’m still trying to get a staff together.”
“If Shining sprains a knee or something,” Cadance went on, “we’re fine. But anything much more complicated than that, we have to traipse all the way back here.”
“Do you think she’ll be all right?”
“I hope so. So much will be expected of her when she gets older. I just hope she’ll be ready.”
“If there’s anything at all we can do, you know where to find us,” Brush said.
Cadance smiled. “You can’t imagine how happy I am that you’re here.”
“You’re right,” he said. “I can’t.”
“I guess I can tell you this now,” said the Princess. “The second time Twilight came back from your world and came to the Castle to make her report, Celestia asked me to listen in, because I’m supposed to be the expert on emotions and everything.”
“Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”
“What?” asked a puzzled Cadance.
“A line from a play I once was in, many years ago. And it wasn’t even the character I was playing.”
“I gather that he was hearing something unexpected.”
“You gather correctly,” Brush said. “Please go on.”
“Anyway, Twilight was practically bouncing off the walls. She said that you’d bought her dinner and that you were just incredibly wonderful to her.”
He grinned. “I do try not to be rude. Sometimes I even succeed.”
“And afterward,” Cadance continued, “Celestia took me aside and asked me what I thought, and I said that I couldn’t say she was in love yet, but she was certainly impressed.”
“That seems fair.”
“Celestia looked me in the eye and said that you were going to be a problem, and that I shouldn’t say a word about this to anypony. She wouldn’t tell me why, either.”
“I can see her point of view, I think.” He looked around furtively, as if he suspected somepony else was listening. “And since we’re on the subject: when did you actually find out?”
“The night you went into the hospital,” said Cadance. “Twilight was going to pieces and I was trying to cheer her up. She told me everything, eventually, but I had to pry.”
“There are times,” he said, “when I wonder if maybe I haven’t been more trouble than I’m worth.”
Before he knew it, the Princess was up in his face. “Don’t you dare say that!”
He put up a hoof to put some distance between them, but she didn’t budge. “I’ve known Twilight all her life, and if she didn’t think you were worth the bother, you’d still be sitting on your blank flank on some barren plain where there’s no magic and no harmony and no ponies! Do I make myself clear?”
He nodded. “Consider me told off.”
A member of the Guard entered. “Mr. Brush, sir, you’re wanted in the Main Hall. It’s time.”
“Thank you,” said Brush as he stood up.
And Cadance said: “Just remember that word: wanted. Because you are.”