• Published 30th Nov 2013
  • 16,303 Views, 1,057 Comments

Of Lilies and Chestnuts - Prane



Unable to have a child of their own, Canterlot socialites Fancy Pants and Fleur give adoption a shot. Enter Chestnut—a filly from beyond Equestria who will quite possibly turn their life upside down.

  • ...
24
 1,057
 16,303

Chapter 1 – The Solution She Needs

It rained for the next three days.

Fleur could venture a guess that the weather for the week had been scheduled deliberately to match her downhearted mood. For her every dream so painfully crushed, ten lightning strikes split the cloudy sky, and for every tear she shed into the pillow, ten thousand droplets soaked the soaring spires of the city. Just like the rain kept pony and non-pony citizens indoors, the sadness kept the mare confined to her bedroom.

She had never imagined that learning about her own infertility would cause such a massive blow to her lofty self-esteem. Never in her career had she lost confidence in her abilities, and never before had she found herself on a catwalk she was truly afraid to walk. But this time it was about her life and not a fashion show. This time she couldn’t blame the designer, or the lighting, or the unfair panel of judges. It was all on her. She herself was defective. Faulty. Broken.

Only Fancy Pants and his supportive attitude saved her from spiraling down to even greater despair. The news had affected him as well but he gave no sign of it, and instead dedicated himself to supporting his wife. In the morning, he was the one to make her breakfast, and in the evening, he stayed up late to keep her company.

Though Fleur didn’t smile even once over the course of those three days, today, as the scheduled storms had passed, her spirits were a bit higher. Not much, granted, but enough to muster the courage to step back into the world and, following her husband, pay a visit at the Canterlot Orphanarium.

A bunch of rowdy pegasi foals dashed by Fleur.

“I’m still not convinced,” she said. “This whole idea feels odd.”

“I, for one, find them adorable!” Fancy Pants exclaimed, stepping aside to make way for a graphite-colored griffon fledgling struggling to keep up with her friends. “Wouldn’t you say?”

Fleur rolled her eyes. For her, watching random colts and fillies playing tag was only mildly exhilarating, but Fancy Pants was more engaged in their perpetual chase than he had been during the last Wonderbolts Derby. Perhaps there was something unique to it, with tables and couches in place of cloudy circuits, but Fleur couldn’t really tell what. They were cute and all but getting enraptured like that? Ridiculous.

“Oh, I wish we could take all of them!” Fancy Pants said.

A nervous chuckle became Fleur’s way of hiding her apprehension. “You know that it would not be wise, dear!” she said, then turned to a stallion almost as bright and yellow as the sticky note which brought her here in the first place. “Isn’t that right, doctor?” She hesitated. “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch the name?”

“Hugs, Sunlit Hugs,” the stallion replied. “And yes, you are quite right, madam, quite right. Now, follow me, if you please. I’d like to show you around before we discuss your interest in adoption.”

Fleur shivered, but followed the stallion into the unexplored—and honestly, quite intimidating—world of abandoned, lost, or otherwise parentless ponies. From what she had gathered, this place was the only one of its kind in the city. Despite running on financial fumes, it provided shelter for colts and fillies who had nowhere else to go, and unlike more conservative orphanages in Manehattan or Baltimare, this one was welcoming to all orphans, ponies or otherwise. Maintaining order in such a diverse environment seemed near impossible, but the tireless optimism of Doctor Hugs and his small army of social workers had apparently created a sense of community between the pupils.

During the tour, Fleur and Fancy Pants had a chance to watch the children in their time of leisure. Some of them were playing ball in the backyard, glad that the rain was no more and they could finally go outside. Just near their playing field, a pair of extremely competitive crystal pony twins tried to outdo each other in the noble sport of puddle splashing. Back inside, one or two charming zebra foals were deeply engaged in drawing a picture of something that resembled Princess Cadance of the Crystal Empire. One or two, because although there were two striped individuals sitting at the table, Fleur could swear one of them was actually a changeling. What next, baby dragons?

When their path crossed with the racing pegasi and, subsequently, the huffing and puffing griffon for the third time, Doctor Hugs invited the couple to his office.

“I have to admit, doctor,” Fancy Pants said, “I wasn’t expecting such a wondrous atmosphere when I first learned about your enterprise!”

Doctor Hugs leaned back in his chair. “That’s a reasonable reaction, considering the mental shortcuts we rely on. We usually associate orphanages with the lack of happiness, and we think of them as centers of conflict because we assume that the children from broken homes are innate troublemakers. The word ‘orphanage’ itself sounds unpleasant if you think about it. That’s why we’re trying to change the undertone, here at our Orphanarium. It sounds softer, don’t you think?”

Fleur let out an almost imperceptible snort, while Fancy Pants tested the word himself.

“Orphanarium. It actually does! It’s quite fitting, as well!”

“Thank you! Now, I understand that you’d like to give home to one of our kiddos. Do you already have children of your own?”

“No, that would be our first,” Fancy Pants replied. “We have reached a stage in life when one begins to feel certain emptiness and, needless to say, we’d like to set this situation right.”

“Mhm. Would you agree with that, Mrs. Fleur?”

“Excuse me?”

Doctor Hugs moved in his chair, turning his attention to Fleur. “I’d like to know if you would subscribe to what your husband just said.”

“I…”

There was something piercing in his stare. Fleur was used to ponies eyeing her, even ogling her when she happened to be modeling some bolder ensemble, and she knew she could always hide in the very creation she was wearing, but the stallion watching her wouldn’t be interested in her fancy clothes. He was looking at her as if he could see right through her concerns. Fleur broke the eye contact but then she realized how silly that was. She didn’t do anything wrong, yet she was trying to escape like a school filly caught on cheating.

She feigned interest in the impressive collection of certificates displayed on the wall. It seemed that Doctor Hugs had been quite a dedicated student back in the day, or perhaps he was simply a show-off now. Either way, Fleur got an idea on how she could steer the conversation away from herself.

“Oh, I see. This must be one of your psychological ploys, isn’t it, doctor?”

“Only as far as your ongoing ploy to avoid answering the question,” Doctor Hugs responded in a firm, but polite manner. Gah! He didn’t fall for it. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel that something is bothering you, Mrs. Fleur. You do seem tense, and quite frankly you look like you want to just stand up and storm outside. Before we can go any further, I would like you to ask yourself: ‘Do I want to adopt?’ ”

The question got her to think.

Whenever she had been imagining her future children, she portrayed them as miniature versions of her and Fancy Pants. They wouldn’t be their exact copies, of course, and small differences would be most welcome. Her son would have her violet eyes, while her daughter would have a long braid as azure as her husband’s mane. With their looks set in stone, Fleur would make detailed plans for their education, their place in the high society, and even their interests and partaken activities to some extent. That was supposed to be her way of ensuring a good future for them.

Did she want to have a child to care for? Yes, with all her heart. Did she want to adopt a child? Not really. Maybe? Adoption wasn’t inherently wrong—even if it still sounded like some kind of a criminal activity—but it would go against everything she dreamed about and how she imagined her parenthood.

Engaged in her inner struggle Fleur failed to respond.

“Doctor Hugs, please,” Fancy Pants tried to carry on with the talk. “My wife has been through a lot lately, and—”

Non, wait,” Fleur interrupted. “The doctor’s right. There’s something I should probably get off my chest before we move on.”

“I’m all ears, Mrs. Fleur.”

She took a deep breath. If the wall of achievements was telling the truth, the stallion sitting across the desk was a certified psychotherapist, somepony trained in understanding the quirks of the mind. Perhaps he could help her? Fleur wasn’t particularly fond of externalizing her emotions but it was either that or going back to the downward spiral of the past three days. And to be honest, she had enough of that.

“I guess I have this… picture of me as a perfect parent of a perfect child. The picture that I know will never come true for various reasons. I’ve always defined the word ‘mother’ as someone who gave birth to a child, not adopted one. While of course I’m not against adoptees or adoption itself—well, maybe I am, a bit,” she admitted. “There’s something. Something that doesn’t feel right about it. I guess it doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

Doctor Hugs murmured in understanding.

“We’re all facing many different social roles in our lives,” he said. “We strive to be a loving father, a caring wife, or a good student. I get the impression that you’re concerned with your role of a mother. Recently you’ve realized that it’s different from what you have pictured in the past, and you’re not feeling right about it because of that.”

Fleur felt exposed like a model with her dress unbuttoned. Darn shrinks and their tricks!

“I suppose that’s… quite accurate,” she replied.

“Now, our standard procedure assumes a trial period of one week,” Doctor Hugs said. “This is to give the couples an opportunity to get to know their possible child better, and vice versa. We then arrange an evaluation session during which the final decision of adopting, or not adopting the child is made.”

Fancy Pants chuckled. “It sounds to be as much of a trial for the parents as it is for the children!”

“It actually is! If a couple is, say, not entirely certain of their parenting skills, they can put them to the test during that period. They might find out that they’re not ready for such a task, or on the contrary, that they excel in it. Regardless of whether or not they discover those skills during the trial period, they are given a chance to learn more about the role they want to take. As for the kids, they’re either getting a new home or a little vacation. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

Fleur felt there was something unspoken, yet strongly suggested between the lines.

“I think I understand what you’re trying to say, doctor,” she said. “However, there’s another issue we have been struggling with ever since we came here. We have met many wonderful colts and fillies, and I’m sure they all deserve a good home, or a vacation, as you put it.”

Fancy Pants joined in. “The matter is, neither of us knows which one of the pupils we’d like to get to know better. As improper as it may sound, we can’t decide.”

“Is there anything you could do to help us out?”

Doctor Hugs put on a happy expression. He really looked like a smiley face drawn on a yellow sticky note. “I suppose I can, if you have a few minutes to spare,” he said, taking a step to a nearby cabinet. “You know, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I see a lot of couples with similar difficulties nowadays. Fortunately, there’s a scientific method which allows to create your psychological profile of a parent.”

“And what would be the purpose of such a profile?” Fancy Pants inquired.

“By comparing the outcome against the, shall we say, personality silhouettes of our kids, we can determine the perfect match. The most appropriate choice for the couple,” the doctor said. “Aha! Here they are!”

He put two substantial piles in front of Fleur and Fancy Pants.

“Please fill in these questionnaires. Take your time, but don’t ponder over the statements for too long. Read the instructions and answer according to the truth. Remember, there are no wrong answers in here. Oh, and the statements on page three are shared. You’ll need to choose your answers together. The pencils are to your”—he turned back at them—“left.” He turned around again. “In the meantime, would you care for something to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

“A cup of tea would be delightful,” Fancy Pants said, glancing at the mare who only murmured in response. “Actually, please make that two, doctor. Thank you.”

Fleur plunged into solving the questionnaire. You find it easy to introduce yourself to other ponies. She gave it a strong six out of seven towards agreeing with the statement because sometimes she felt fed up with all those high society ponies. Next. A logical decision is always the best, even when it hurts someone’s feelings. Of course not! Let’s not be insensitive. One. You would rather improvise than have a clearly defined plan. Oh, please!

She wasn’t entirely convinced of the value of such a method. The idea of having her offspring determined by numbers was absurd, but if her own body didn’t want to cooperate, then she was willing to give science a chance.

Perhaps adoption was the solution she needed after all.

* * *

Three cups of tea, two questionnaires, and one broken pencil later, the results were ready. At least that’s what the doctor said, because he gathered the papers, left the office, and was yet to return with the most appropriate choice.

Down below in the streets, the ponies were busy following their daily routines as well as avoiding the puddles that had formed in the recent downpour. Taught by experience, or simply unwilling to rely on the weather scheduling, some of them had raincoats packed tightly in their saddlebags. They were throwing suspicious glances at the sky, as if something in its clear, cerulean shade heralded a climactic change about to exploit their bad luck again.

Fancy Pants turned from the window. “I wouldn’t want to jinx it, but I’m silently counting on a unicorn.”

“Jinx it? Really?” Fleur replied. “Nightmare Night was almost three weeks ago, dear. Surely there’s nothing left to be jinxed by now. But why a unicorn, I wonder?”

“There was that charming little filly in the backyard, the one wearing a beanie cap. She struck me as polite, resolute, and she apparently had an interest in fashion. I bet she would make an excellent model, just like you!”

“I beg to differ. Coats like hers have never been popular among local designers. In the Crystal Empire? Oh, without a doubt. You know how they love indigo mares,” Fleur said with a wry face. “Besides, two white ponies with such a daughter? We would be standing out in the neighborhood like never, and I mean it in a less desirable way. How about one of the pegasi instead?”

“Oh, hilarious. You know I’m far too old to be jumping to the ceiling! Why not that one griffon for good measure?”

“Well, at least you wouldn’t have trouble keeping up with her. She didn’t seem to be much of a physical type.” For the first time in days, Fleur giggled. “A griffon child, this is so wrong! Can you imagine what would my father say about that? ‘You have failed our great Prance, Fleur. You are fraternizing with the enemy! Bastille, we’re out!’ ” she said, holding to the image of her father and his pet pigeon an extra while. “Come to think of it, you were the enemy once as well, but he hasn’t disinherited me for dating you. In the end, that is.”

Fancy Pants returned to his seat. “To be honest, I wouldn’t mind having your father choose for us.”

“Because that of all things wouldn’t incite a revolution.”

“You know what I’m talking about, Fleur.”

“I do, but we’ve been having this conversation since lunch, and so far we’ve got nowhere,” she replied. “Let’s face it. We’re letting someone else choose for us because we wouldn’t be able to decide ourselves even if there were two foals to pick from. What does it tell you about our parenting skills?”

“Only that we need to rely on Doctor Hugs and his scientific approach.”

Fleur sighed and crossed her forelegs on her chest. “We need a push to get us moving, yes,” she said. “Only that, I think I’m scared. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to give a nice filly a chance to become somepony in life, but that doesn’t mean I’m not dreading the uncertainty. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know who will come through that door. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find enough strength to eventually accept him or her as my child.”

“Neither do I. But for what it’s worth, I think you’ll make an excellent mother.” Fancy Pants nudged Fleur, eliciting a hesitant smile on her face. “There you go. I also think we shouldn’t be expecting too much.”

“Oh? Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, I know that you’re not feeling this whole adoption prospect like I do, and I think you’re very brave for just coming here,” he said. “What would you say to this: promise that we’re going to unconditionally welcome whomever Doctor Hugs brings with him. From there, we’ll see what comes next. If nothing else, we should at least try to do our best to give him or her a little vacation. Do we have a deal, Mrs. Fleur?”

Fleur muttered something under her breath, but the exact words were drowned out by the squeak of the opening door. Doctor Hugs returned, and he wasn’t alone. Fleur and Fancy Pants stood up in anticipation.

“Mrs. Fleur, Mr. Fancy Pants, I’d like you to meet somepony. I’m certain that you’ll get along just fine.”

From behind the stallion, a rather average, cobblestone-coated pegasus filly dashed to them. Her trot was vivacious, her steps confident, and she was bursting with energy. She didn’t look like a pony who could stay put in one place for too long.

She flew up and grinned. “Hiya! Name’s Chestnut, but everypony here calls me Nutsie!” She reached out to the unicorns, her hoof high in the air. “Hoof bump!”

Only then had Fleur realized that this Chestnut character was no pegasus at all. No, everything in her appearance screamed otherwise, from her yellowy eyes and large fangs to little tufts of fur at the tips of her ears.

Chestnut was a batpony.

Flying down somewhat disappointed that neither of the unicorns was clear-headed enough to reciprocate the gesture, Chestnut folded her wings. Unlike pegasi ones they had no feathers and seemed like a piece of black fabric spread on a purple scaffolding, and together with the rest of her distinctive features they were giving her a rather unsettling look. She was the embodiment of everything that Fleur did not want to see in their child, and her picture could easily serve as a dictionary definition of the word ‘exotic’.

Chestnut crouched by Fleur and looked up, her brown mane sweeping the floor.

“Ooh, you’re tall!” she said, staring at the mare through her vertical slits.

Fleur had no idea how to respond to such an unusual compliment. She turned to Fancy Pants, waiting for him to save the day. In their marriage she was the one who contributed to their good looks the most, so he usually did the talking for both of them. She could always count on him to say something witty, like a greeting, sophisticated courtesy, or any kind of social interaction. She threw him a lasting, intense stare. Come on, say something! Anything!

However, her husband was also speechless. Judging by the blank expression on his face he was still in shock, and because of that he could only mumble one thing—a response truly showing his many years of experience in the Equestrian diplomacy.

“Oh dear.”