• Published 26th Mar 2012
  • 15,928 Views, 770 Comments

The Past is the Future - the_panic



A human escaping from a nuclear holocaust brings change to all of Equestria and a certain librarian.

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"...Big Damn Heroes, Sir." "Ain't We Just?"

Sam stood stock still, jaw agape. “Princess, please tell me those aren’t what I think they are.”

Groaning under the stress of magically restraining the blob of replicators, Celestia responded, “I’m afraid I- agh! - I’m afraid that’s exactly what they are...”

“How in the hell did this happen?! The replicator designs on the archive don’t allow for self-replication!”

Beads of sweat began forming on the Princess’s brow. “There... There will be time for questions later, I hope, though I’ve got one very pressing one RIGHT NOW. Do you know how to stop this thing? My magical attacks only seem to push it back or temporarily wound it, it grows back incredibly quickly as if it were absorbing the attacks...”

Twilight, finally snapping out of her shock, spoke up. “Sam! Princess! Mind filling me in on what’s happening here?!”

“Sorry Twilight, it’s a huge blob of microscopic machines. We used them to quickly build things, but they never coalesced into a rampaging cloud of building-eating mini-monsters though...” Sam turned back to face the Princess. “I think I know of one way, but it depends on how long you can hold it in place.”

“By... By myself... I don’t know, not for very long, especially after exerting myself pushing it away in Canterlot. Luna should be here soon with the professors, however, and... She...” Celestia winced as she redoubled her concentration, “She should be able to help me hold it at bay for an hour or two.”

Sam rubbed his chin. “Alright. And you said that it seems to be absorbing magical energy? That could be a problem; I hope the professors can explain why it’s gained magical abilities... Is there a spell that can negate magical energy? Even just temporarily?”

“Yes, such a spell... Does exist.”

“Okay, great. I just need you to buy me some time to build something. It’s difficult to build intricate electronics like replicators, but it’s usually pretty easy to fry them if they aren’t protected by magic or other means.”

“Oh thank the stars, she’s almost here!” Celestia pointed up at the sky where a black and blue blur was quickly approaching her position.

Upon landing, Luna shook herself hard, throwing Bunsen and Hoofstein to the ground. “Thou hadst better not have gotten airsick in our mane!” She yelled angrily, while running a hoof through her flowing, sparkling blue mane.

“Luna! I can’t hold this thing on my own!” Celestia cried out, her knees beginning to buckle as the glow around her horn faded. As the barrier surrounding the nanomachines fell, the cloud quickly took the opportunity to reach out and smash at the ground near the two Princesses, before Luna added her own power, restraining the machines yet again.

“We hope we did not keepest thou waiting too long, sister.” Luna looked at Sam. “What are thou, strange creature?”

Celestia breathed a sigh of relief. “Luna, I wish we had time for introductions, Sam got here while you were away several weeks ago, but I need him to get to work. Even together we can’t hold the machines back forever.”

Sam nodded. “I’ll be right on it. Twilight, we’ll be back hopefully VERY soon. Bunsen, Hoofstein, you two follow me inside the library. NOW.”

The two scientists dared not speak another word in front of Luna, particularly after the way she ‘reprimanded’ them before she had retrieved them from the palace. The guards present at the time agreed, at Princess Luna’s ‘request’, to never speak of what they saw again.

Sam and the scientists entered the library, and made their way into the basement. Sam quickly set about grabbing the necessary tools and parts he would need to build the weapon he would need to destroy the replicators: an electromagnetic pulse generator.

Setting everything on the workbench, Sam turned to the two ponies behind him. “Okay, we don’t have much time, which means we don’t have much room to screw up with the wrong approach. Before I get to work, I need to know EXACTLY what modifications you idiots made to the replicators.”

Hoofstein accusingly jabbed a hoof in Bunsen’s ribs, causing the younger pony to give a yelp.

Sam tapped his foot. “Any day now, guys.”

Bunsen cleared his throat. “Okay... So first of all, we had to use some enchantments to create the communications system between the nanobots, as well as to prevent the original replicator generator from overloading itself or creating replicators that could replicate themselves rather than the products we programmed into them.”

Sam nodded his head. “Right, that explains why it seems to have magical abilities, though those weren’t bad ideas or anything enough to cause it to run rampant. What else did you do?”

“W-W-Well... At first we couldn’t get the replicators to create the proper shapes and forms for our products, they just kept coming out as deformed blobs, though the blobs WERE the correct materials...”

Sam was growing impatient. “JUST SPIT IT OUT ALREADY YOU JACKASS!”

“WE LOADED AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE INTO IT!!” Bunsen blurted out, “There, I said it, okay?!”

Sam went pale. “Come again?”

“Artificial intelligence... The file must have been in a damaged section of the original archive, we found it and recovered it, thinking that if we combined it with the replicator generator’s base code, it could self-improve its own operation...”

Sam began pacing nervously. “This is bad, this is VERY bad... Didn’t you see the warning accompanying it describing acceptable and unacceptable uses?! It clearly stated DO NOT USE WITH REPLICATOR TECHNOLOGY!”

Bunsen timidly replied. “That part must have been unrecoverable...”

“Okay... Well, that doesn’t change the method for fighting it, but with an AI embedded in it, it will definitely try to fight back.” Sam remembered what Celestia had said when she warned Twilight of being assimilated. “Is there anything else I should be aware of? Have the machines attacked or absorbed anyone?”

“Y-Yes... It swarmed on our junior researcher, Chip, especially after he tried fighting it off with a few bolts of magic. It just... Covered him... We heard him screaming, there was nothing we could do, and then he was gone. Lab coat and all... And the nanobot cloud began pulsing with little blue bolts of energy.”

Sam facepalmed. “Wonderful... This is a real mess you idiots have created... All the same, let’s get to work, we don’t have time to waste. You better believe that if we beat this, if the Princesses don’t wreck you two permanently,” Sam’s face took on an eerily calm demeanor, with only his glowering eyes betraying his true emotions, “I will.”

Both scientists gulped fearfully, in unison.

Hoofstein finally spoke. “So... What’s the plan?”

Sam was already elbow deep in electrical components. “Basically, an electromagnetic pulse generator. An EMP will completely destroy unprotected electronics, and nanites are infamously hard to protect against that, normally. If the someone can hit the cloud with a magic-negating spell, that should render the nanites pretty vulnerable.”

Hoofstein nodded. “I see. Anything we can do to help?”

Sam pointed to a pile of scrap parts from when he had repaired and improved the library’s electrical system. “Search through that pile for the biggest capacitor you can find, preferably one the size of my head, I know there’s one there from when I rewired the house earlier, though a soup-can sized cap should be just enough. Bunsen, go find my computer’s spare battery.”

With the two ponies occupied, Sam set to work dismantling the transformer circuit he’d built when he first arrived. Separating the two coupled coils, he mounted one of them on a plank of wood. Hoofstein brought him a few capacitors to choose from; finding the one with the largest voltage and capacity, he connected it to a two-way switch, which he attached to the coil and would later attach the battery to. Sam placed a small light bulb in parallel with the capacitor, and finally, once Bunsen brought in the battery, completed the circuit with a power source.

Sam wiped his forehead. “Alright, that’s it.”

Bunsen scratched his head. “That’s it? It looks so... Simple.”

“Yep, that’s it. If I flip the switch down, it connects the battery to the capacitor, charging it up. Once it’s done charging, the bulb will light. If I set the switch to the middle, everything is disconnected and the capacitor stays charged, until I flip the switch up. The capacitor will discharge through the wire coils, generating a nice big pulse of electromagnetic energy. Let’s go, I’ll be testing this thing in the field.”

Sam grabbed the EMP and went back outside, not bothering to wait for Hoofstein or Bunsen. Once outside, he could clearly see that the effort of maintaining the barrier around the replicators was taking its toll on the two alicorn princesses, Celestia in particular beginning to let go again.

“Okay! Princesses! I’ve got the device ready! Will you be able to cast the negation spell when you drop the barrier?”

Celestia didn’t respond; rather, she completely collapsed, leaving the burden of holding back the nanites completely on Luna, who shakily offered a response.

“We do not think so, Sam Mitchell. It is taking everything we have to restrain the abomination,” Luna looked over her night-blue shoulder towards Twilight, “Twilight Sparkle! You know the negation spell, do you not?”

Twilight nodded her head. “Yes! I’ll go with Sam once you let it go.”

“Very well. Sam, what is your plan?”

“I’d like to lure it somehow away from Ponyville. If what the professors have told me is true, this is going to get uglier before it gets resolved.” Sam turned to face Twilight. “I hate to ask this of you Twilight, but thanks to what Professor Bunsen did, the replicators are attracted to magical energy. I need your help with luring it out. Can you do that?”

Twilight’s face was frozen with fear. “B-But what if it catches me? You heard what Princess Celestia said, it’ll try to absorb me!”

Sam knelt down and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I know. I won’t let that happen,” he looked away in thought, “Can’t you teleport short distances?”

Twilight’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I think I see where you’re going with this; you want me to run with you ahead of it, and teleport us every so often to stay ahead, which will also expend enough energy to catch the replicators attention! I think I can do that, yeah!”

Sam pulled her into a quick hug. “Smart girl,” he looked back at Luna, “Okay, Princess Luna is it? When I give the signal, I want you to drop the barrier, and that’s when Twilight and I will start running,” Turning back to Twilight, “Where’s a good place to lure it to?”

“Just follow me, we’ll make a run towards Ghastly Gorge. It’s far enough away from here to keep everypony safe.”

“Alright. Here goes... Something,” Sam took a deep breath, and flipped the EMP’s switch to begin charging it. “Alright, Luna, let it go!”

With that, Luna dropped the barrier and collapsed from the exertion. Immediately, Sam and Twilight ran out in front of the replicator blob. Twilight quickly teleported herself and Sam a few hundred yards towards the gorge, with the flash of magic quickly attracting the attention of the silver swarm.

The chase went on for several minutes. Sam found himself silently thanking any deities who may have been listening for the fact that he’d been doing hard physical labor on Sweet Apple Acres. Several times, the replicators came within feet of Sam and Twilight and lashed at the ground behind them with silvery tendrils, and each time Twilight would cast another teleportation spell, propelling the pair another hundred yards forward.

Eventually, they reached the bottom of the gray, stone gorge. Sam glanced down at the EMP generator; the light bulb was glowing, indicating a full charge was ready to be released.

“Twilight! Hit it with the spell!”

A large tendril shot out from the replicator blob, prompting Twilight to jump out of its way, before unleashing a large bolt of magical energy towards it. The spell made a direct hit, causing the swarm’s slight blue glow to dissipate.

Sam ran towards the swarm, and flipped the switch to discharge the EMP.

The swarm stood still, as if it was assessing its current situation, but it was otherwise unharmed as the faint blue aura of magical energy returned around it. A group of thin tentacles quickly shot out towards Sam and Twilight.

They shouted in unison, “RUN!!”

Twilight resumed her pattern of teleportation, trying to keep herself and Sam at a safe distance as they waited for the EMP to recharge.

“Twilight, I thought the spell worked!” Sam shouted in between panicked breaths.

“It did! It must only last a few seconds, I’ve never cast it before!” Twilight shouted in frustration.

“Alright, on three, we stop running you hit the swarm with the spell again, and I’ll trigger the EMP at the moment the bolt leaves your horn, okay?”

“Okay!”

“Just a few more seconds, it’s almost ready... Here we go! One... Two... THREE!”

Sam and Twilight stopped on a dime. Twilight fired the negation spell again, and Sam hit the switch at that exact moment. As the blue glow began to recede around the swarm, the EMP began to affect it; the cloud began dissipating, disintegrating into a shower of silvery dust as it made a few final attempts to lash out and attack its vanquishers.

As the last of the cloud vanished, Sam and Twilight were struggling to catch their breath.

Twilight was the first to speak. “Sam! You did it! We did it!” She leapt up in an awkward attempt to hug Sam.

Reaching his arms out to support her weight, he laughed. “I guess we did, didn’t we? I’m gonna sit down for a second...” Sam set down Twilight beside him, and they both began laughing endlessly in an adrenaline-fueled high.

A few hundred yards in the distance behind them, a small baseball-sized glob of silver was pulsating on the ground, slowly chewing through the ground searching for metal ores to consume. Within minutes, the blob had gathered enough raw materials to reform itself, this time taking on the form of a black unicorn, splotched with wiry patterns of silver, wearing a ragged lab coat.

“So, Sam, what now? Is that it?”

Sam nodded. “I think so...” He stood up. “Ready to head back to Ponyville and check on the Princesses?”

“I would really like to sit here and catch my breath a little longer, and I’d really like for us to finish that conversation we were having before all of this,” Twilight began idly looking around, “but we probably sh- WHAT THE HAY IS THAT?!” She pointed to the strange, rapidly-approaching pony behind them.

Sam turned to see what had Twilight so disturbed. “Is that a unic-”

Sam’s sentence was cut short by a blast of energy from the stranger, followed by the unmistakable metallic sound of approaching nanite tendrils. Scrambling to get back on his feet, Sam raced to grab the EMP where he’d dropped it earlier, with Twilight close behind him.

“Looks like we missed some, Sam, same strategy?”

“Yeah, same strategy.”

Twilight began hurling magical attacks towards the replicator pony, knocking a few chunks out of its head and pushing it back while Sam readied the EMP. The replicator let loose an ear-splitting, grating, metallic roar before sending a few tentacles into the ground, quickly regenerating itself and charging towards Twilight.

Sam grabbed a large rock and hurled it at the replicator, knocking it down long enough for Twilight to charge up another spell. Instead of using direct magical attacks, this time Twilight levitated several large boulders and attempted to crush the monster. This only slowed it down for a few moments as the replicator pony dissolved into a shapeless mass and slithered out from between its stone tomb before reforming.

The black and silver horn on its head began to glow, and several sharp rocks began to rise into the air, in imitation of Twilight’s earlier attack. All at once, the replicator sent a shower of deadly projectiles in Twilight’s direction. She dodged at the last second, with a fraction of the rocks hitting her, causing her to shriek in pain as the stones left several deep, ragged gashes in her side.

“Sam! I can’t fight this thing back forever! Is the EMP ready?”

“Almost! It’s almost the-AAAHHH!” A silvery tendril sliced across the top of Sam’s skull just before being repulsed by Twilight’s magic. Struggling to regain his footing, Sam reached up to touch his head; pulling it away, his hand was soaked in blood.

“Are you okay?!” Twilight screamed. Her temporary distraction provided the replicator with just enough time to lash out with another tentacle, sweeping Twilight’s legs from underneath her and knocking her senseless.

“Twilight! Hit it with... With anything you’ve got! It’s almost right on us!”

Snapping out of her mental haze, Twilight ignored the pain from her heavily hemorrhaging side, and immediately began focusing her powers, and blasted the replicator back, knocking it on its side.

Instead of charging back towards the pair, the replicator unicorn just sat still where it lay, sending small silver tendrils into the ground. The silver mass began slowly growing in size until it had nearly regained its earlier mass, reaching several stories tall.

Immediately a large group of metallic tentacles flew towards the pair. Sam jumped in Twilight’s direction, scooping her up and tumbling just out of the way. Twilight began firing bolts of energy back at the once-again shapeless mass of silver, but to no effect. The swarm continued its slow, deliberate approach, throwing more rocks and tentacles in their direction.

Sam and Twilight ran out of the way, back towards where the EMP was sitting. A shower of rocks pelted them, knocking Twilight back to the ground with a sickening crunch and pop as her right foreleg bent at an unnatural angle, and striking Sam on his already-lacerated head, causing his world to turn red.

Sam landed on the ground only a few feet from the EMP device. Once again, the light bulb was on.

Struggling to concentrate, Sam yelled out. “Twilight, the EMP is ready! On three, I need you to concentrate and let loose the biggest negation spell you can! Give it all you’ve got!”

Another wave of silver death came raining down towards them. Twilight managed to repulse the tentacles aimed for her, and Sam rolled over towards the EMP generator just in time to avoid those coming for him.

“Okay, forget counting, throw the spell!”

Twilight fought to ignore her body’s screams, and focused all of her energy into her horn. As she released the spell, another wave of sharp tentacles came flying down towards her.

Sam’s blood ran cold as a terrifying realization hit him. The spell isn’t gonna hit in time, I can’t activate the EMP fast enough to stop the machines... “Twilight! Move! Do something!”

Twilight tried to move, but the energy needed for the last spell was immense. Her eyes wide, she weakly called out, “... Sam... I can’t... Help!”

Sam struggled to his feet, grabbed the EMP, and sprinted towards Twilight as his vision faded in and out.

With only a few feet left between Twilight and the horrors of replicator assimilation, Sam jumped in front of her and flipped the switch just as the spell hit. The tentacles pierced Sam’s side and hip, knocking him to the ground. For a split second he felt the nanites beginning to tear him apart cell by cell where they struck him, before the mass of replicators deactivated and fell away, leaving a gaping hole in Sam’s side that exposed his right leg’s muscles and the ball-and-socket joint of his hip.

Twilight could only watch in horror as Sam convulsed and screamed in agony, with a pool of blood rapidly spreading around him. She gathered all of her remaining strength and struggled to get back on all fours, but a shockwave of pain from her right foreleg reminded her of her injuries. She slowly limped over to Sam’s now-motionless form.

Twilight fell to the ground next to him, nudging him with her uninjured foreleg in an attempt to keep him conscious.

“Sam? Sam! Please, you’ve gotta stay awake!” Twilight began crying. “Don’t worry... They’re gonna come find us, the Princesses must have recovered enough by now, they’d be coming to back us up,” she was sobbing almost uncontrollably as she looked Sam in the eyes, “just hold on a little longer... Please... You just can’t leave me like this!”

The last thing Sam saw before slipping into unconsciousness was Twilight’s face, bloody and streaked with tears, looking down at him. Using the last ounce of energy she had left, Twilight sent a shower of sparks high into the air, a makeshift signal flare, before laying her head on his chest and passing out.

---

Twilight awoke to sterile white walls and the smell of anti-septic floor cleaner. She could make out a light, periodic beeping sound. She heard a familiar, but hushed voice murmuring nearby.

“Oh thank the stars, Luna, she’s waking up...”

Twilight’s vision slowly adjusted to the soft light, and saw the concerned faces of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna at her side.

“Princess Celestia? Princess Luna? What happened? Where am I? Did we destroy the replicators?” Twilight attempted to sit up, but the gentle hoof of the white alicorn pressed to her chest convinced her otherwise.

“Yes, and I couldn’t be more proud of you, Twilight. You, once again, saved Ponyville and quite possibly the rest of Equestria. You’re going to be okay, just lay back and get some rest,” Celestia cooed, “You’ve been here in the Ponyville hospital for the last three days; we found you and Sam shortly after you sent up those sparks. You’re both-”

“Sam?! Where is he?” Twilight struggled to look around the room; aside from the two princesses, she was the sole occupant. “Is he okay? What happened?!”

Celestia leaned down and gently nuzzled her young student. “I’m afraid I have some bad news on that count, Twilight. Sam is alive, but just barely. He lost a lot of blood, and his head injuries were very severe. He’s stable, for now, but I’m afraid we have no way of knowing if he’ll ever wake up...”

Twilight’s face froze as the gravity of Celestia’s words hit her.

Luna finally spoke. “Twilight, wouldst thou care to explain how Sam was so grievously wounded?”

Celestia shot Luna an angry glare. “Now is not the time for that, sister,” she hissed.

“No, Princess, it’s okay. Right before we finally destroyed it, the replicator lashed out with one more attack, and I couldn’t get out of the way. Sam must have known that my spell and his EMP wouldn’t take effect quickly enough to stop the attack, and he... He... “ Twilight’s voice trailed off as she began to sob quietly.

Celestia ran a hoof through Twilight’s mane. “I see. I’m so sorry, Twilight. I promise, we’re doing everything we can for him. He didn’t just save you, after all. With your help, he saved all of us.”

Twilight took a deep breath to calm her crying. “Can I see him?”

Celestia shook her head. “I would love to let you, but the doctors aren’t even giving me permission to check on him. His injuries are too much for magic alone to heal, and you’re not quite out of the woods yourself. Those cuts in your side were quite deep, and the doctor doesn’t want to release you until he’s certain that they aren’t becoming infected. That’s not to mention your concussion and severe ankle sprain, on top of your severe exhaustion.”

Twilight closed her eyes. “Okay... Just promise me I can see him the moment the doctors allow it.”

Celestia nodded and gave a gentle smile. “Sam is very important to you, isn’t he?”

Twilight nodded weakly.

“I understand. I’ll personally see to it that you’re the first pony to visit him when the doctor clears it. But for now, you should focus on getting your rest.” Celestia looked to Luna and motioned towards the door. “We’ll leave you be for now, besides, we have a certain pair of scientists to deal with. Your friends are waiting outside. Should I tell them to come in? They’re all worried sick about you and Sam.”

Twilight nodded. “I... I think I’d like that.”

The two Princesses made their exit, after which Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy entered single file, each of their faces lightly streaked with tears, especially Rarity’s. They gathered around the hospital bed, each unsure of what to say to their injured friend.

Finally, Applejack decided to break the silence. “Oh, Twi, Ah’m so glad ta see yer alright. How ya feelin’?”

Twilight sighed. “I’ve been better, but I’ll live...”

Fluttershy gently tapped Twilight’s shoulder to get her attention. “Um, I’m glad you’re okay, we were afraid you weren’t going to wake up... Have you seen Sam yet? How is he?”

Twilight could feel her eyes watering up again. “Flutters... Celestia told me he’s in pretty bad shape... They really are afraid he won’t wake up; he got hit pretty badly...”

Fluttershy in particular knew what this meant for Twilight. “I’m so sorry... I’m sure the doctors are doing everything they can to help him...”

Rarity couldn’t control herself anymore, and burst into tears. “Ohhh I’m such a horrible pony! I should have acted more lady-like, I should have been the one to apologize to him, we could have been friends this whole time, and now I’ll never get the chance...”

Applejack saw how Rarity’s outburst was affecting Twilight and jabbed Rarity hard in the ribs. “Ya’ll need to can it Rarity. Ya’ll don’t know what’ll happen with Sam, who knows? He could wake up tomorrow for all we know.” She leaned in to whisper in Rarity’s ear, “Save it, alright? This ain’t about you and Twilight don’t need to hear that sort of thing right now, ‘kay?”

Rarity nodded and levitated a dainty white handkerchief from her saddlebags to dry her eyes with.

Pinkie had been uncharacteristically quiet this entire time. Unable to bear the dark tone of the room, she decided she’d had enough. Fake it till ya make it, right Pinkie? Twilight needs you! She forced herself to give the biggest, widest smile that she could muster before leaning over and carefully giving Twilight a hug.

“Oh Twilight, I’m so glad you’re gonna be okay! As soon as you and Sam get outta here I’m gonna throw you the biggest most amazingest get-well-soon-and-thanks-for-saving-Ponyville-from-a-giant-self-replicating-monster-thing party you’ve ever seen! And if Sam can’t make it to that one, then when he does wake up, and he definitely will because I just know it, I guess I’ll just have to throw another one just for him too, right? It’ll be great! There’ll be punch, and cake, and games, and music and-”

Rainbow reached over to silence the overly-enthusiastic pink ball of cotton-candy. “I think we get the picture Pinkie, but try to keep calm, will ya? Twilight needs to rest if she’s gonna heal properly.” She rolled her eyes. “Believe me, I know.”

Pinkie somehow vanished and reappeared at Rainbow Dash’s other side. “Oh yeah I remember that! And you ended up sneaking back in here to borrow that Daring-Do book and then-”

Rainbow groaned. “UGH! Just quiet down, Pinkie!”

Pinkie grinned before making a motion across her mouth that was supposed to resemble closing a zipper. “Okie dokie lokie!”

Applejack took advantage of the silence to speak again. “Well, Twilight, before we all go, Ah just want ta tell ya that we’re all real proud ‘a you and Sam, and we’re all here for ya. If ya’ll need anything, just give one of us a shout, alright?”

Rainbow jumped into the air and puffed up her chest. “Yeah! I wish I coulda seen you and Sam, you guys must have been almost as tough as me to take down that kinda monster! Like Applejack said, if you need anything, say the word, and I’ll be right there for you in like ten seconds flat!”

“Thanks girls, that means a lot to me, really.”

Rarity gave a little curtsy. “Oh don’t mention it dear. Now, you get some rest. We’ll try to drop in every day to see how you’re doing, okay?”

Twilight gave a little smile. “I’d like that.” She slowly looked around the room at the worried faces of all her friends. “Well, I’m starting to feel pretty tired, and I don’t want to keep you occupied any more than I already have.”

Applejack nodded. “Alright girls, let’s give Twi’ some peace and quiet.” Following her lead, the rest of the group followed her out, except for Pinkie.

Waiting until after the others had left, Pinkie leaned over and gave Twilight another hug. While she had the unicorn in her embrace, she whispered in her ear, “I don’t know what to call this one yet, but my Pinkie Sense is telling me something about Sam. I don’t know what, except that it’s something really really good! So don’t worry, ‘kay?”

After Pinkie had let go, Twilight was still smiling, though her eyes were misting up again. “Thank you, Pinkie, I hope you’re right.”

Applejack threw the door open. “Pinkie! Come on, let Twilight sleep!”

“Okie dokie lokie, bye Twilight!”

I really do hope she’s right...

---

Two days later, Twilight was finally cleared to leave the hospital, though it would be a few weeks before she could walk normally again. Before leaving, she was allowed to visit Sam’s room. Sitting in a wheelchair outside his room, she took a deep breath to steel herself before going inside.

Feeling as ready as she ever would, she motioned for the nurse to wheel her inside. What she saw broke her heart; Sam’s head was heavily bandaged, and he had multiple tubes coming out of his mouth, chest, and side. One was to help him breathe, another acted as a feeding tube, a third one delivered medication from an IV drip, and the rest were a mystery to Twilight. The parts of his face that weren’t covered by gauze were swollen, discolored, and misshapen. Twilight barely recognized him.

“It’s all my fault... If I’d just tried harder to get out of the way, he wouldn’t have done that, he would be okay...”

The nurse was still in the room, and bent down to look Twilight in the face. “Twilight, I don’t mean to stick my snout in anypony else’s business, and I don’t know exactly what happened, but if he’s hurt because he was protecting you, I’m willing to bet he holds you very close to his heart. Folks don’t do things like that for just anypony, you know. So don’t fault yourself for this, okay?”

Twilight nodded. “So... What’s his condition? What exactly is wrong with him? Don’t spare the details, okay? I need to know.”

The nurse sighed. “Well, that gash in his side, he lost quite a bit of blood. We obviously don’t have human blood to give transfusions of, so frankly it’s a miracle just on that note alone that he’s even alive. The doctor isn’t sure, but the nerves for his right leg may have been damaged, so he may have trouble using that leg from here out. Then, his head was beat up pretty badly. We tried to at least heal his skull fractures with magic, but that only goes so far, especially considering we’ve never worked on a human before.”

“So... So what are the odds of him waking up?”

The nurse shook her head. “I’m sorry, I wish I could give you a reasonable estimate. I’ve seen ponies come in here with far more severe injuries and heavier comas wake up just days after we’ve stabilized them. I’ve seen lighter comas last months, even years. There’s just no way of knowing for sure.”

Twilight leaned over to nuzzle Sam. “Please, please wake up,” she whispered. She continued to stare at Sam’s motionless body, trying to hold back her tears, before turning to look back at the nurse. “Mind giving me a few minutes, please?”

“Of course, I need to go check on the patient next door anyway. I’ll be back in a few.” The nurse left the room.

Twilight nodded in acknowledgement before turning back to face Sam. “Sam... Why’d you have to do it?” She could no longer hold back the tears. “If I’d just moved out of the way, you’d still be okay... This is all my fault... I never even got to hear if you felt the same way about me as I feel about you... You know how much I care about you, right?” Twilight choked back a few pained sobs. “I’ll visit as often as I can, Pinkie Promise it, if I have to... Just, wake up, please...”

Twilight sat there in silence, struggling to cease her tears and dry her eyes before the nurse returned.

Sure enough, mere minutes later, a knock at the door preceded the nurse’s reentry.

“You okay, Twilight?”

“I’m fine, thanks for asking... Well... I suppose I should try to get on home... Applejack said she’d come by today to help me settle in back at the library. If you could push me over to the lobby, AJ can take me from there.”

“Sure thing, Twilight.”

Twilight and the nurse entered the lobby at the exact same time Applejack arrived.

“Ya’ll ready to go home, Twi’?” The farmer asked cheerfully.

“Ready as ever, thanks for coming AJ.”

“Don’t mention it, sugarcube.”

Applejack wheeled Twilight through town with an awkward silence hanging over them. Twilight was pleasantly surprised that a large portion of the damage caused by the replicators had already been repaired, and every pony that she and Applejack passed by gave her a friendly wave and loud thank-you.

Finally arriving at the library, Applejack finally spoke. “Welp, looks like we’re here. Do ya need any help gettin’ around? Want me ta carry ya to yer bed or couch or somethin’?”

Twilight shook her head. “I can take it from here, thanks though AJ.” She got out of the wheelchair and slowly limped over to her favorite reading spot, a small couch under one of the windows.

“Okay, ya’ll need anything else before Ah head out?”

Twilight shook her head.

“Alrighty then. Ah’ll drop in tomorrow to see how yer doin’, but if ya’ll need somethin’ before then, feel free ta send Spike over and Ah’ll have you taken care of in no time a’tall.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. See you tomorrow then.”

Applejack turned to leave, and began her trip back to her farm.

“Spike? Where are you Spike?”

The young dragon appeared almost out of nowhere. “Yes Twilight? Anything I can do for you? I’m glad you’re back home, and sorry for not visiting, but I took all this time to reshelve the books just the way you’ve been planning for a while, you know, to surprise you when you got home.”

Twilight smiled. “Thank you Spike, that was very thoughtful of you.”

“No problem! Now, where’s Sam?”

Twilight sighed. “I’m sorry to tell you, Spike, but Sam’s still in the hospital. He got hurt much worse than I did, and...” she struggled to force the tears back. “He’s in a coma... They don’t know if he’ll wake up...”

Spike gasped. “Oh wow, that’s horrible!”

“And the worst part was, it’s my fault he’s hurt that bad!”

Spike cocked his head to the side. “I doubt that, why do you think so?”

“Because if I had just moved out of the way of the monster, Sam wouldn’t have had to jump in front of it and take the hit for me!” Twilight became a wailing, inconsolable mess, sobbing in between ragged breaths.

Spike reached up to comfort her. “Oh come on, Twilight, that’s not your fault!”

“It is, Spike! Now I’ve got to make this right somehow...” Twilight managed to mostly regain her composure, sniffling a bit.

“What are you thinking?”

“Help me find a book on magical medicine, I want to see if there’s anything about how to reverse a coma.”

Twilight spent the next twenty-four hours reading through nearly every book she could find that was even remotely related to medicine, magic, or comas. She frantically flipped through each one before using her magic to throw them onto an ever-growing pile on the other side of the room. Her eyes were becoming more glazed and bloodshot with each passing second. Spike attempted numerous times to convince her to go to bed, but was met each time with an emotional rant about how she still felt guilt over Sam’s condition. Finally, Spike gave up and went to bed himself, leaving the poor unicorn to worry herself into a fit of insomnia.

When Spike woke up for breakfast, he found Twilight still furiously scanning through each book. Judging by the position of the current book pile, he estimated that Twilight had re-read every book twice.

“Twilight, seriously! You need to sleep, or at least eat something...”

“Can’t eat, reading.”

Much to Spike’s relief, Applejack came trotting through the door only moments later.

“Mornin’ ya’ll!” She noticed Twilight frantically throwing books around. “Twilight? Everything alright over there?”

“Yes, nope, reading. More reading. Gotta find a spell to fix Sam. My fault.” Twilight’s eyes and right ear were moving with a very obvious and exaggerated tic.

“Twilight, mind puttin’ tha books down and talkin’ to me fer a minute?”

“READING.”

Applejack smacked the book out from in front of Twilight, snapping her out of her trance.

“Sorry, what were you saying?”

“Nothin’ in particular. Are you sleepin’ and relaxin’ like the doc told ya to?”

“Yes, I’ve been sitting right here since you left me.”

“That ain’t what Ah mean, Twilight, so Ah’m gonna guess the answer is ‘no’. What’s got ya’ll so worked up?”

Twilight sighed. “It’s Sam. It’s my fault he’s hurt so I have to make this right, but I’m getting nowhere.”

“Mind if Ah ask a personal question here?” Ah wonder if’n she really does have feelin’s fer that biped boy...

“Ask away...”

“Alright. Why are you so torn up over Sam? Ah’ve never seen you so worked up about somthin’ like this.”

Twilight looked down. “I guess I might as well tell you, Fluttershy already knows... I think I’m falling for Sam. He means a great deal to me. I care about him beyond what I can put into words, AJ, even though he’s not a pony... And now he’s badly hurt, and it’s my fault; I don’t know if he’ll forgive me... I just don’t know if I can handle it...”

Applejack gave a concerned smile. “Ah figured you might’ve had feelins for the guy. Look, personally, Ah’m glad you’re okay. And you know none of us would care that he ain’t no pony, ‘specially since he turned out to be such a good guy. We’re yer friends, Twi’, and we just want ya ta be happy. If he’s good enough fer you, that’s good enough fer us. Now, Sam paid a pretty hefty price ta save yer life, don’t make light of that by beatin’ yerself up over what happened to the both of ya.”

“I suppose you’re right... I just hope he can forgive me...”

“Twilight, if he’s half as great as you seem ta think he is, the thought of holdin’ all ‘a this mess against ya probably never crossed his mind. Ah’m sure he wouldn’t ‘a done that fer you if he didn’t care ‘bout ya somethin’ fierce.”

Twilight cocked her head. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

“Yep! That you need ta calm down and relax, and that this mess with Sam ain’t yer fault. And please don’t try ta argue with me on that one. Though, when he wakes up, definitely make sure to talk to ‘em. He was tellin’ me the mornin’ of the attack that he had somethin’ on his mind to talk to ya about.”

“Yeah, he was almost getting to the important part when the replicators hit...”

“Good, well then, ya know where ta pick up when he gets better.” Applejack shifted her gaze to Twilight’s injured leg. “How’s yer leg doin’? Tried puttin’ any weight on it yet?”

“Not yet... It might be another week before I can do that. I can get around, though, I want to go back to the hospital. I really want to spend time in Sam’s room... In case he wakes up...”

“Alright, just promise me yer gonna keep yer head ‘bout this. Don’t spend all yer time cooped up in there, okay? He wouldn’t want ya to do that.”

“Okay, AJ, I promise.”

“Ah don’t normally say this, but ya’ll better Pinkie Promise it.”

Twilight groaned. “Alright, fine. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye, whatever. Satisfied?”

“Eeyep! Before I leave, ya’ll need anything?”

“I’m fine... I’m just gonna go catch some sleep; I’ve read through these books maybe five times each and I haven’t found anything... I’ve been up a while so maybe I should give it a rest. Thanks, AJ.”

“Anytime. Take care now, ‘kay Twilight? See ya’ll later!”

Twilight waved as her friend left the library. “Hey, Spike, I’m going to to lie down in bed... If you don’t mind, come wake me up around lunch time...”

“Sure thing, Twilight. Need any help getting up the stairs?”

“No, I can make it, just one step at a time.”

Eventually, Twilight made it to her room. She slowly, deliberately climbed into her bed, being careful not to lie on the stitches holding her cuts together or jar her sprained foreleg. Finally finding a comfortable position, she instantly passed out in a dreamless slumber.

---

The next day, Twilight attempted to return to her daily routine of studying and reading. However, she found that concentrating on the book at hand was nearly impossible. No matter how hard she tried, her mind kept drifting back to Sam.

After a few hours of failed attempts at getting any of her studies done, Twilight decided that she needed to go visit Sam. She thought carefully about how she would make the trip; she certainly didn’t want to try limping all the way over, and her leg was not yet healed enough to bear any significant weight.

She had Spike bring out her wheelchair. “Want me to push you to the hospital, Twilight?”

“No, thank you though, I want to go on my own.”

“How are you gonna push yourself, though?”

“I’m gonna try using magic. I’m definitely not back to full strength, but I should be able to handle this. I’ll be back a little later, okay Spike?”

Spike nodded. “Alright. You’re sure you don’t want any help? Because you know I wouldn’t mind.”

“I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

Visibly exerting herself as she concentrated, Twilight’s horn finally gave off a faint glow, and the wheelchair began to move. Slowly, she rolled through the doorway and into town, on her way to the hospital.

The trip only took a few minutes, but with the level of exertion required for Twilight to move herself like that in her current state, it felt like hours. By the time she arrived at the hospital, she was completely out of breath, and felt as though she could pass out at any moment.

The receptionist noticed the new arrival, and between how recently Twilight had checked out and how weak she looked from her trip back, the first thought to cross her mind was that Twilight was hurt again.

The receptionist lept over the desk and began quickly inspecting the lavender unicorn. “Twilight Sparkle, are you alright? Are you sick? You should have sent for an ambulance! Okay don’t panic, we’ll get you fixed right up, what’s the problem? DOCTOR!”

Twilight waved her away. “No, I’m fine,” she panted, “I’m just tired. I came to visit Sam... Can you take me back there?”

“You’re sure you’re not hurt again? Or sick?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. Give me a few minutes to check with the doctors and I’ll take you right back.” The receptionist darted back behind the desk and into the doctor’s office. After a quick conversation, she returned.

“Alright, he’s cleared for visitors.” She quickly looked around as if she were trying to sneak something away, and leaned down to whisper. “We normally only allow visits for a couple of hours a day, especially for patients like Sam, but we all know what you and he did, so I’m going to make an exception and let you stay as long as you need, okay?”

Twilight smiled weakly. “Thank you.”

A nurse came in and took charge of wheeling Twilight into Sam’s room. She pushed her as close to the bed as the chair would allow.

“Do you need anything before I go? Glass of water, anything like that?”

“No, thank you, though.”

“Alright. If you change your mind, just hit the call button.”

The nurse left the room, leaving Twilight alone with Sam. Still recovering from the strain of pushing herself all the way from the library, she shakily got out of her wheelchair and slowly climbed up into the bed with Sam, curling up at his left side and laying her head on his chest. She promptly fell asleep.

Drifting into unconsciousness, she began to dream. It started off as a pleasant scene; it was the night they had laid out on Twilight’s balcony, watching the stars. Neither of them said anything. They simply laid there, enjoying the night air.

The environment quickly changed, however. The serene night sky was quickly replaced by an expanse of fire and flying silver clouds of replicators that devoured everything in sight. Twilight screamed for Sam to get up and run, and they dashed out of the library and into the street, running for their lives. The clouds were gaining on them, closing in around them. Eventually, the two were completely surrounded, and several sharp tentacles shot out at Sam, piercing his chest. Another group came hurtling towards Twilight, flying closer and closer, until-

“SAM!” Twilight jerked awake. Drawing rapid, ragged breaths, she looked around frantically, slowly remembering where she was.

A familiar voice piped up. “Whoa there Twilight, calm down!”

Looking around, Twilight finally saw the source of the voice; Rainbow Dash had been sitting in the chair on the other side of Sam’s bed.

Rubbing her eyes, Twilight said, “Rainbow? What are you doing here?”

“Oh, just checking on you. I dropped by your house to see how you were doing and to get the new Daring Do book about an hour ago,” She held up a thick volume, “but you weren’t there. Spike told me where to find you.”

Twilight sighed. “Yeah... I just had to see him again...”

“He’s in pretty bad shape, isn’t he?”

Twilight just nodded.

Rainbow flew over to Twilight’s side of the bed, and put a foreleg around her. “I’m sure he’ll pull through.”

“Pinkie seemed positive of it when you all came to visit me.” Twilight looked up to face her friend. “Mind doing me a favor?”

“Anything!”

“I was just barely able to wheel myself over using magic and the little bit of strength that’s come back, but I don’t think I can get myself home... Mind pushing me?”

“Sure! You ready to go right now?”

Twilight nodded. She gingerly climbed down out of the bed, and back into the wheelchair. Safely settled into place, Rainbow grabbed the chair and pushed Twilight out of the hospital, and back towards home.

Once back at the library, Rainbow Dash made sure Twilight was settled in comfortably.

“Alright, I’m gonna let you be. Want me to drop in tomorrow? Maybe help you go visit Sam again?”

Twilight looked at the ground. “You don’t have to do that,”

Rainbow lifted into the air, “I know! I’m not the ‘Element of Loyalty’ for nothin’! I know Sam means a lot to you, so tell me, what time am I taking you to visit him?”

Twilight cracked a small smile. “Just come by whenever it works for you. I’m so exhausted lately that I actually have to set an alarm to wake up if I want to rise at my usual time... So, just drop by and wake me up if you have to.”

“Alright, sounds like a plan. See ya tomorrow.” Rainbow rushed out the door as usual, with the door slamming shut in her wake.

Twilight huddled down under her blankets, and drifted off to sleep.

---

Twilight woke up to the firm nudges of a cyan hoof against her shoulder. “Hey! Twilight! Time to go visit Sam!”

Twilight groaned and turned on her uninjured side.

Rainbow redoubled her efforts to rouse her purple friend. “Come on, Twilight, not even I’M that lazy!”

Twilight slowly sat up in bed. “Okay, okay, I’m up.”

“Good! Spike helped me make you some breakfast, though it *IS* lunchtime, heh.” Rainbow produced a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice on a tray.

Twilight laughed. “Breakfast in bed eh? Thanks.”

“No prob. I don’t mean to rush you, but Applejack is expecting me to get a small rainshower going over the orchards in half an hour, so... Well I guess I am rushing you,” Rainbow Dash said with a shrug.

Twilight ate her breakfast, and insisted on trying to complete her usual morning routine without Rainbow’s help. Growing impatient, Rainbow grabbed Twilight underneath her forelegs and sat her in the wheelchair before setting off for the hospital.

Upon arrival, the receptionist didn’t bother asking Twilight why she was there; instead, she called a nurse to wheel her directly to Sam’s room. Twilight thanked Rainbow, who quickly flew off to bring the rain to Applejack’s crops. The nurse arrived, and began pushing the wheelchair towards Sam’s room. Once inside, the nurse left, prompting Twilight to climb up next to Sam as she had done the day before.

Twilight gently laid her head against his chest, and closed her eyes. Just as she began to drift off to sleep, a slight movement caught her attention. She looked up and down Sam’s body, hoping to catch the source of the movement, but after another minute without any further activity, Twilight decided to try sleeping again and attributed the feeling of movement to her imagination.

She squirmed around a bit to get comfortable, when she felt it again. This time, she spotted the source; Sam’s left hand was moving slightly.

Twilight sat straight up. “Sam! Are you awake? Can you hear me?!” Realizing that he probably couldn’t talk or move his head with the tubes in his mouth and chest, she slid a hoof under his hand and added, “If you can hear me, squeeze my hoof twice.”

She felt two distinct pulses of pressure on her hoof.

“Ohmygosh! Sam! I can’t believe it!” Twilight had to fight to contain her excitement; all she wanted to do at that moment was throw her forelegs around him and never let go.

She heard low groaning sounds coming from Sam’s mouth, and saw his hand gingerly touching the tubes coming from his face.

“Don’t try to talk, or touch the tubes... I’m gonna call the nurse and doctor, just hold on, you’re gonna be okay!”

Twilight reached over and pressed the ‘call’ button, prompting the doctor to come galloping through the door, his messy brown mane hanging over his horn and glasses.

Twilight’s eyes were wide with excitement and concern. “Doctor! Sam’s awake! I asked him something and he squeezed my hoof!”

“He’s awake?! First let’s see...” The doctor ran over to Sam’s side and began examining him. “He’s breathing on his own... That’s good...” He repeated the same question and test that Twilight had done just moments before, with the same results. “He’s definitely conscious. Let’s get those tubes out of his throat.”

The doctor’s horn began to glow, as did the tubing. Slowly and gently, each pipe slid out of Sam’s throat, prompting a spasming of ragged coughing after their removal. Sam attempted to speak, but found himself unable to do so; after nearly a week with the tubes in his throat, it was dry and sore, making speaking quite painful.

Sam finally tried to open his eyes. The first thing he saw was the smiling, crying face of Twilight Sparkle, who was still sitting next to him. He reached up with his left hand and stroked the side of her face, struggling to crack a smile with his chapped lips. Twilight leaned into his hand, which Sam found was getting damp with her tears.

“Twilight, I hate to interrupt, but I’m going to have to ask you to move away so that I can check him over, I won’t take long.” The doctor had Sam open his mouth, checked out his throat, and examined the response of his eyes to light hitting them. He checked Sam’s blood pressure, and promptly remembered that he had no idea what normal blood pressure and heart rate were for humans. “As best I can tell, Sam, you’re okay, for now. We’ve been treating the wound in your side as best we can; we attempted to graft some skin over it, and so far it’s looking alright, no infection. Though, we don’t know yet if you’ll retain usage of your right leg, there may be some nerve damage... Additionally, you had a pretty nasty laceration on your head as well as a severe concussion, so if you are having a hard time remembering how you wound up here, don’t be surprised. I’m sure when you’re feeling better, Twilight can refresh your memory. From what I hear,” The doctor gently patted Sam’s shoulder, “You saved her life.”

Twilight cleared her throat. “So... When do you think he’ll be able to leave?”

“Well, it goes without saying he’ll be here a little while longer. We need to keep a close eye on his skin graft. But, with you awake, Sam, my outlook for you overall is very good. I’ll have a nurse bring in some water or something for you to drink, your throat is probably feeling pretty raw. Twilight, would you like me to have her bring you something as well?”

“No, thank you, I’m fine.”

“Okay, well, I’ll leave you be for now. Get well soon, both of you.”

Once the doctor had left the room, Twilight jumped back on the bed, and settled down between Sam’s left arm and his torso. She looked up at him, and he met her gaze, a few tears filling his own eyes.

“I’m so glad you’re awake... Do you remember what happened?”

Sam gave a nearly imperceptible nod.

“I can’t tell you how worried I was about you... What you did... That’s the bravest, most selfless thing anypony has ever done for me.”

A slight smile formed on Sam’s face.

A nurse entered the room, with a glass of water and a measuring glass with a small amount of medicine in it.

“Here, Sam, take this medicine, it should ease your sore throat so you can drink some water, maybe talk if you can stand it.”

Sam shakily took the medicine from the tray, and tipped it back, coughing as he tried to swallow it. Finally getting it down, he accepted the cup of water, and took a few sips.

The nurse took the glass from him and set it on the side table. “Don’t drink it too fast, your stomach hasn’t really had anything in it for a few days. You don’t want to get sick. I’m going to leave now, don’t hesitate to call if you need anything, either one of you.”

“Nurse? Would it be okay if I stayed here overnight? If Sam is fine with it, that is.”

The nurse looked over at Twilight’s pleading face. “Hmm... I don’t suppose it would hurt...”

“So? Sam? Did the medicine help any? Would you like for me to stay with you?”

Sam took a ragged breath, and in a hoarse voice, said, “Yes... To both questions...”

The nurse smiled. “Then it’s settled. I’ll come back later to check on you, Sam.” She left the room.

“I’m glad... to see you’re... okay.”

“Thanks to you...” Twilight began crying again. “I’m so sorry... You’re hurt because of me, it’s all my fault...” She felt something on her back; Twilight turned her head to see Sam’s hand gently rubbing her.

“Not... Your fault... Couldn’t let you... Get hurt... Or worse... Just... Returning... The favor.”

Twilight gave a weak laugh. “So I guess we’re even.”

“Almost... Before the attack... Conversation.”

Twilight’s eyes shot open in anticipation. “Yes? What were you going to say?”

“Hard to talk... Keep this short... You like me?”

Twilight nodded. “Remember what I told you? You’re so much more than just a friend to me, Sam...”

Sam drew another rough breath. “Good... You mean... A lot to... Me, too.”

Twilight buried her face in Sam’s shoulder, bawling her eyes out.

“Did I... Say it wrong?”

Twilight looked up at him, her large, purple eyes shimmering from the tears streaming down from them over her widely-smiling face. “No, that was just right.” She laid back down next to him, resting her head against his chest.

Sam pulled Twilight tight against his side. “Good... Let’s go to sleep... We both need some rest.”

Twilight didn’t need to be told twice; she snuggled down closer between Sam’s arm, and fell asleep with a smile on her face.

Almost as if on cue, Rainbow Dash arrived to pick up Twilight.

“Hey, Twilight, ready to go home?”

Twilight slowly lifted her head. “I think I’m gonna stay here for the night, Rainbow, you see-”

The sky-blue pegasus noticed the streaks of tears on Twilight’s face. “Everything okay? How’s Sam?”

Twilight gave a faint laugh. “If you’d let me finish, I was going to tell you. He woke up!” She was beaming. “Can you believe it? He’s gonna be okay!”

Rainbow’s face had confusion written all over it. “Um, Twi, he doesn’t look all that awake to me... Are you okay?”

Twilight facehoofed. “He’s resting, Rainbow. He’s out of his coma but he’s sleeping now.”

“I was... Asleep, anyway...”

Rainbow grinned sheepishly. “Heh, sorry Sam. I’m glad to see you’re doing better! We’ve all been pretty worried about you! Especially Rarity, for some reason.” Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.

“Thanks... Going to sleep now...”

Rainbow lowered her voice. “Why’s it so hard for him to talk?”

Twilight sighed. “While he was out, the doctor had these tubes and machines hooked up to him to help him breathe, and the tubes went down his throat. They tend to leave you pretty hoarse and sore, apparently.”

“Gotcha. Well, if you’re staying here, I might as well head out. Want me to take you home tomorrow morning?”

Twilight nodded. “If you don’t mind, that would be great. Could you also fly by the library and let Spike know I’m staying? Give him the good news, too!”

“Sure thing, see you tomorrow then!” Rainbow jumped out of the window and flew off.

Now maybe I can really try to get some sleep...

---

Over the following days, Sam’s condition slowly improved. His skin grafts were beginning to heal nicely, though it would be some time before they were fully healed. The swelling in his head was going down, and the bandages around his head were removed. The sight of Sam’s partially shaved head and the ugly, jagged line of stitches was a jarring one to Twilight, who had been spending every other night with him, though Sam seemed to think it made him look “pretty badass.” Twilight wasn’t sure she agreed, though she made a note to later ask Sam what the word ‘badass’ meant.

After a few days of resuming the regular intake of food and water, Sam’s throat was feeling much better, and talking was much less of a chore than it was when he first woke up.

Finally the day came that Sam was to be released, with strict instructions for regular and frequent visits back for follow-up examinations.

The doctor entered the room for one final check-up before signing off on Sam’s release.

“So, the skin graft seems to have taken nicely, I’m not seeing any signs of infection, and I honestly didn’t expect the swelling on your head to dissipate that quickly. How are you feeling?”

Sam winced. “Frankly, doc, not so great. Do you have anything better for the pain?”

The doctor sighed. “I’m afraid you’ve been getting the strongest stuff we have. Remember, our medicine is made for ponies; the fact that it worked at all on you with no ill side-effects was a stroke of pure luck.”

Twilight tapped Sam’s shoulder. “When we get you home, I think I remember reading about a spell that can help with pain. I’ll look it up again when we get there.”

“Alright, any other questions? If not, just remember to use the disinfectant ointment on your side at least once a day, and we’ll schedule a follow-up with you as you leave. Get well soon, Sam.” The doctor turned to look at Twilight. “You too, Ms. Sparkle.”

The nurses wheeled them both to the front lobby, where Applejack and, to both Sam and Twilight’s collective surprise, Rarity. Before anyone could speak, Rarity broke down in tears.

“Oh, Sam, I just want to say how glad I am that you’re okay, and I want to be the first to apologize for our little tiff... Can you forgive me?” Rarity flung herself around Sam’s neck.

Gently pushing her back, Sam gave her a cold hard stare, before laughing as Rarity pulled off her trademark pout.

“Frankly, Rarity, I kinda forget why we were so mad at each other. Must have been the bump on the head.” He pointed to the nasty stitches where his hair once was. “I remember that I was pretty uncouth to you as well, though, so how about we just forget the whole thing, whatever it was, okay?”

Rarity squealed like a schoolfilly. “Does this mean we’re friends?”

Sam nodded. “Sure, let’s be friends. And while you’re here, thanks for those clothes that Twilight had you make for me.”

“Oh those old things? Really it was nothing at all, I just-”

Rarity’s self-indulgent rant was quickly nipped in the bud as Applejack stuck a hoof in her face. “Rarity, Ah’m glad ya’ll are makin’ up, but Ah think our friends here are ready to get home.” She looked over at Twilight. “You ready?”

Twilight nodded. “I think I want to try to walk home this time, though. The swelling in my ankle has gone down a bit.”

“You sure ‘bout that, sugarcube?”

“Yeah, I can’t really put my weight on it, but I can at least use it to balance myself now.”

“Alright, if yer sure.” Applejack looked at Sam. “By the way, Ah’m real glad to see ya’ll are okay, Sam.”

“Thanks, AJ.”

The four friends left the hospital, and made their way back to the library, stopping every few minutes to let Twilight catch her breath. As they walked through the town, several ponies shouted greetings of thanks and appreciation to Sam and Twilight, who simply waved back.

Once back at the library, Twilight floated to Sam a pair of crutches that the hospital had sent ahead the day before. Sam quickly got the hang of them, and hobbled around before deciding to settle down on the couch.

“Sam, Twilight,” Rarity said, “is there anything either of us can do for you before we leave? Any cleaning, or any help with making dinner?”

Twilight smiled, and shook her head. “Thank you, but we’re fine. Just make sure Pinkie knows to hold off on any parties," she giggled, "Otherwise, I think I speak for both Sam and myself when I say that we really just feel like sleeping.”

“Alrighty then, Twi’, we’ll leave you to it. C’mon, Rarity. We’ll see ya’ll later!”

Once the door had closed behind them, Twilight jumped up on the couch next to Sam.

“So how does it feel to be home?”

Sam laughed. “Much better than being in a hospital bed, that’s for sure.”

Twilight’s face turned serious. “Back at the hospital, did you mean what you said?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, why do you ask?”

“Maybe I just want to hear you say it again?”

Sam smiled. “Okay. I suppose my voice doesn’t sound as ugly as it did then eh?” He reached over and pulled Twilight closer to his side. “Here’s what I wanted to say before we were so rudely interrupted. So yeah, this little situation between you and I is strange, for both of us as far as I can see; where I’m from, humans date humans and that’s that, we were the only intelligent creatures around. But, you make me very happy, Twilight. You’ve been so kind to me, when you could’ve just treated me like another experiment or research project. And you’ve made it clear to me that I make you just as happy. When I saw those things flying towards you back in the canyon, I knew if I didn’t do something, you wouldn’t survive it, and that just killed me, you know? The thought of losing you? Just like you said to me, I can’t explain it, but there’s a special connection you and I have, and I want to see how it works out, especially if it makes you happy.” He sighed. “So, how was take two?”

Twilight was looking up at him, a few stray tears running over her coat. “Perfect.” She cuddled up next to him, and laid her head against his shoulder, smiling at how comfortably she fit there. She then lit up her horn, and levitated a blanket over the both of them before slipping into the most contented sleep she’d ever had.

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