• Published 15th Jun 2012
  • 16,004 Views, 205 Comments

Windfall - Warren Hutch



Timeskip foalbirth friends gathering to celebrate

  • ...
21
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 16,004

Chapter 1

Caramel's voice sounded from deep in the closet by the door, his mellow tan hindquarters the only thing visible as he rooted about, his brown tail lashing in mild agitation. "Sweetheart, do you know where I put my umbrella?"


Pinkie Pie's chipper voice called out over a faint clattering from the direction of the kitchen. "You left it hanging on the coat pegs by the back door."


The earth pony stallion backed out of the closet and trotted across the empty tile floor of Sugarcube Corner and disappeared through a swinging door marked "Employees Only". A couple of moments later his plaintive call came from the store room. "Aw, now where did I leave my rain slicker? It was just here yesterday!"


Pinkie's voice in the kitchen chirped in reply. "On the rack in the bathroom, remember? From when Snails brought Gummy over from Froggy Bottom Bog for his weekly bath!"


"Oh right, how could I forget?" Came the stallion's mildly pained reply as he cantered out of the back room shaking his head, an umbrella hanging by it's hook from his withers. He made his way around one of the side counters and up the stairs.


Pinkie replied with a giggle over the sound of pots and bowls being moved around. "The same way you always forget things silly. It's like it's your special talent or something. I'd certainly never forget wrestling a thirty two hoof long alligator all the way up the back steps and into the bathtub, especially since we do it every week. That's some impressive forgetting right there."

There was a dull thud of a heavy bag striking a tabletop. "Ooh! You know what? I bet that's why you only have three horseshoes as a cutie mark instead of four."


Caramel let out a sigh as he came trotting down the stairs, a shiny green rain slicker draped over his back along with the umbrella. "I remember Gummy's bath time, sweetheart."

He quietly suppressed a shudder while casting about at the bottom of the stairs. "Now I don't remember where I left my galoshes."


Pinkie's voice took on an apologetic tone. "You left them on the back porch. They're probably just full to the brim with water right now, which totally defeats the whole point of galoshes, doesn't it? Why don't you wear mine? They're in the front closet."


The tan stallion walked back to the closet and craned his neck inside, coming back out with a quartet of boots in his teeth made of almost florescent magenta rubber.
 He set them down and cocked his head dubiously as he looked at them. "Uh... I dunno, sweetheart... I don't think they... uh... fit me."


Another giggle came from the kitchen. "Just loosen the straps, gumdrop. They'll stretch."


The stallion pursed his lips and let out a sigh of imminent defeat. "But... but they're... pink."


At this, the door to the kitchen swung open and a slightly pouting, cotton candy colored face dusted with sugar and flour poked out and fixed him with a pair of limpid blue eyes that narrowed indignantly. "Hey. What's wrong with pink?"


Caramel hung his head with a soft chuckle and trotted over to his fiancees side, nuzzling her gently behind the ear, which caused the tiny gem studded horseshoes on her engagement earring to twinkle in the lights. "Nothing at all, sugar. It just doesn't look as good on me as it does on a certain mare I know."


Pinkie Pie gave a little hop, and turned her head so she was nose to nose with the tan stallion. "Ooh! You know I love guessing games! Is it Twilight Sparkle? She's got that super neat pink stripe in her mane and tail."


 Caramel's face fell for a moment as his train of thought derailed, but with an ease born of hard practice he switched tracks. He gave her a weary smile and a peck on the nose and then walked back to the galoshes, settling down to loosen the straps and push his hooves into them. "NoOo. I'll give you a hint, sweetheart. She's the only pony I'd be willing to go out in this downpour for, especially wearing a set of bright pink booties."


She tapped her chin with a hoof as she turned back toward the kitchen. "Hmmmm. Fluttershy?"


Caramel breathed out another sigh as he got back to his feet. "Close... but no."


 Now fully, if slightly ridiculously, girded against the lashing rain that pattered against the shop's windows outside, he followed her as she made her way to the center island where a large mixing bowl, a bag of flour, and a flour sifter waited. On one corner was a white cardboard pastry box wrapped in pink cling wrap and neatly tied off with string.


 Pinkie picked up the flour in her fore hooves and dumped a measure of it into the sifter as Caramel took hold of the box's strings in his teeth and craned his neck to place it on his shoulders, then shifted the cape of the rain slicker so it was better protected.


 When he turned back to face her, he gave her a sly grin. "I'll give you one more hint, sugar. She's the all over pinkest, sweetest, most beautiful mare this side of Equestria."


Her blue eyes crossed slightly in what passed for pensiveness for her. "Berry Punch?"


The tan stallion's face settled into a befuddled expression that was all too common for him. "Uh... no. She's more purple."


"Cheerilee?"


"She's what I'd call... uh... mauve, I guess. And, um... still no."


"Diamond Tiara?"


"What? No way. Well, okay, she's pink, but she's definitely not who I'm talking about."


"Princess Celestia?"


The tan stallion furrowed his brows with the usual sinking feeling that the conversation was about to buck him off. "Princess Celestia isn't pink."


"I know, right? But try telling that to Hasb..." She stopped and gave a little hop. "Ooh! Is it Lotus?" Her face took on a puzzled expression. "Or wait, Aloe? I can never remember which twin is the pink one."


Caramel blinked several times before he shook his head. "Now that you mention it, neither can I. Of course, I don't ever go to the spa except to pick up that mane conditioner you like."


Pinkie set the flour down on the counter cocked an eyebrow at him. "What were we trying to figure out here?"


Her fiance puffed out his cheeks and let out a heavy sigh. "I... I forget..."


She let out a giggle punctuated by a snort and shook her head. "You're adorable! Promise me you won't forget the way back from Sweet Apple Acres."


The tan stallion rolled his eyes. "I won't! Geez, I only worked there for like five years."
 Pinkie nodded in satisfaction. "Good. When you get back, I'll have fresh bread right out of the oven to go with some hot rutabaga soup." She gave him a wink. "And there's some other ways I can help you get warmed up too."


 Caramel's knees buckled a little as he flushed a bright red across his cheeks.


 He shook his head and assumed a look of exaggerated resolve. "Well! With that kind of reward waiting for me, I'd better set out on my mission! Dare the dark and the rain and the wind to deliver one box of pfeffer... paffer... uh, peppernoogie... Um..."


The steely glint in his eye kind of went out of focus as he turned to the busily baking mare of his fancy. "What are these things called again?"


 She giggled. "Pfeffernusse. They're my Mama's favorite type of cookie. So I thought they'd be good for a Mama to be." Pinkie replied matter-of-factly. "Although MY Mama might like them because they kind of look like little rocks but you can eat 'em."


Pinkie pursed her lips and gave him a solemn look. "Rocks were always kind of important to my family."


She resumed her breezy tone with a flick of her frizzy magenta mane. "I changed the recipe a little and put in oodles of pistachios because last time I went to visit Fluttershy she said she had this totally intense craving for pistachios, which is something I can work with. I mean more than the pickles or the pimentos although I suppose I could have done some kind of savory bread with olives in it and that would have been okay but savory foods and me are kind of like dragons and bicycles."


 Caramel could only blink at her. "Dragons and..."


 She continued without missing a beat. "Nothing to do with one another. Although if you gave Spike a tricycle I bet he'd be as cute as all get out. And we could race! I wonder if there's a place where you can rent tricycles in Canterlot. " She turned and looked at Caramel as if expecting an answer.


 He felt a mild tic in his left eye. Finally, his hard won instincts kicked in and he leapt for the last trailing thread of the conversation he could reach. "Okay. Pafeffermoose. Got it. On my way."


She smiled at him as she turned, pausing before she wrapped her mouth around the handle of the sifter. "Hurry back. Tell Mackie and the girls I said hi!"


With that, she lifted the metal canister over the mixing bowl and began sifting its contents into it. Caramel nodded and turned to go, pausing at the door before trotting back to her side. He sidled up to her with a smile and leaned in to plant a kiss on her cheek. "Whoops. Almost forgot to do this."


 The sides of her mouth curled up into a smile around the handle of the sifter as she gave him a sidelong glance with a flutter of her eyelashes.

Suddenly, her blue eyes went wide as a violent shudder shook her along the length of her body from nose to tail, lifting her hooves off the floor in a staccato cadence and sending a mushroom cloud of flour out of the sifter and into the air over the two ponies' heads.


When his fiancee's shaking just as abruptly stopped, Caramel let out a strained cough and blinked the powder out of his eyes. Pinkie's face and forelock were completely white, and an expression of shock and incredulity played across her features as the sifter dropped out of her mouth and into the bowl with a clank, throwing up a softer puff of flour.


 Her voice came low and soft, causing eddies in the cloud of ingredients that enveloped them. "A... a doozy!" She turned and grabbed Caramel by his cheeks with both hooves, pulling his gaze to hers. "A DOOZY!"


The stallion stuttered out a reply as the violent shaking overtook her again. "A-a-a Wh-wh-what?"


 His head kept bobbing up and down as she released it and clomped her hooves back on the floorboards, her ears perked and her nose raised as if she were following a scent on the air. The rattling of her hooves stopped as she went still again, more flour billowing in the air around her.


Just as the tan stallion got his head to stop nodding, she turned to him and locked eyes. "Sweet Apple Acres! It's at... Fluttershy!"


 A huge, gasp escaped her as she leapt bodily into the air, each hoof spinning in a different direction. She pivoted in mid leap and rocketed toward the back door, sending it open with a crash as she hurtled through it. She paused a moment and leapt into Caramel's forgotten galoshes, sending gouts of water in all directions as her hooves drove down into them with a splat, and then tore off into the rainy night.


Caramel stared out the door after her with his jaw hanging loose, listening as the rapid, squishy patter of her hooves receded. He shook his head, sending another burst of flour into the air, turned and grasped the hook of his umbrella in his teeth, and charged out after her, calling her name. "Pfinkie!"


 A moment later he came back, sheepishly closed the door and locked it, and then took off running again, the umbrella wildly thrashing over his head as he picked up his bright pink clad hooves.

***

Rarity's employees at the Carousel Boutique had just finished drawing the blinds and hanging the "Closed" sign in the window when they heard the gentle tapping of their boss' hooves on the polished floor to draw their attention.

A brisk smile crossed her alabaster face as her red rimmed glasses settled onto her nose. "Well done, darlings. Now that you've finished I'd like to take a few moments to discuss all the orders for the GGG as well as give you the overview for this year's Fall collection."

She turned and summoned a cork board festooned with drawings and fabric swatches from the back room with the glittering magic from her horn. "I'll be returning to Canterlot tomorrow to oversee the work at The Bijou personally, so you'll be on your own until I return for the Summer Sun Celebration."

At this her two assistants, Snips the apprentice tailor and Thimble the seamstress, exchanged a concerned glance. Rarity usually preferred to keep a tight rein on the Gala dresses her boutique produced.

She let out a small sigh. "I do so wish I could stay a bit longer in Ponyville, but that's how it is, I suppose." She caught herself and gave them a warm smile. "Not that I don't trust you darlings to do an excellent job while I'm away. I have absolute faith in the both of you."

Her employees both returned her smile with a grateful nod, beaming discreetly at the compliment. A wistful look crossed Rarity's porcelain toned face as she resumed her speech. "No, it's just I'd hoped to be here for..."

She shook aside her reverie and drew herself up, assuming a businesslike expression as she turned to the board and focused a spot of glittering magic from the tip of her horn on one of the drawings, causing it to light up slightly. "Well, enough woolgathering, as it were. Lets get down to it, shall we? The overall theme I'm going to be exploring with the fall collection is..."

She cut off abruptly as the front door to the boutique slammed open. All three unicorns turned as one to see a vibrant pink pony frantically jogging in place in oversized galoshes, each hoof fall sending a burst of rainwater out the top of each boot and onto the growing puddle of muddy water on the meticulously cleaned floor.

Her face was matted and streaked with pallid white, and her mane hung straight in heavy, dripping sheets, framing a pair of wildly glazed blue eyes. She stopped dancing in place and planted her hooves, suddenly overtaken by a vibrating shudder that sent a cloud of water droplets into the air around her, splashing onto an organza ball gown that stood in an alcove next to her.

Rarity's hoof went to her mouth with a gasp of shock, but the crazed mare in the door abruptly stopped shaking and started rapidly jogging in place again, letting loose a barrage of rapid fire speech in a rising crecendo.
"RarityfluttermacsweetappleacresitshappeningnownownowitsadoublesuperduperdodecaDOOZYwhatarewehangingaroundhereforgottagocomeon!"

Her frantic prancing swiveled her away from the three dumbfounded unicorns and just as suddenly as she'd appeared she accelerated back out the door, splitting the puddle she'd made into a V shaped wave splashing more muddy water on the delicate dresses to either side of the entry.

Rarity's employee's heads swiveled to face her as she stood boggling, mouthing the torrent of words to herself with her ears laid back in concentration. She blinked, then her eyes went wide as well. "Fluttershy? Now? Is something wrong? Your mane's never like that unless something is wrong!"

The white unicorn's horn sparked to life and wrenched her glasses off, tossing them carelessly aside as she bolted for the door, rushing pell mell into the downpour. "Pinkie, wait for meee!"

Snips floated his employer's spectacles from where his magic had caught them in midair and folded them carefully before slipping them into a small hidden pocket behind the lapel of his vest, and then turned toward the door, willing it shut with a flick of his horn.

Thimble gave him a sidelong look. "Could you make sense out of any of that?"

The chubby, blue-green unicorn stallion sauntered over to the mess by the door, giving it a quick glance over before he turned and headed for the back room. He gave the seamstress a genteel smile. "I've got some educated guesses, Miss Thimble, but only because I've lived here all my life and am acquainted with Miz Rarity's friends. I'm going to get on the horn to the girls up at the Bijou. If what I think is happening is happening, then the grape vine needs to start shaking, as it were. If you'll be so kind as to see to the stock up front, I'll be back in a moment with a mop."

With a short bow to the older mare, he glided out of the room as Thimble tentatively stepped forward to examine the mud splattered organza gowns.

She leapt back with a shriek as the door slammed open, narrowly missing her flank and revealing the waterlogged form of a tan stallion draped in a dark green rain slicker with muddy, bright magenta galoshes squeaking on his hooves.

He spat out the handle of his umbrella, allowing the canopy to rest on his sodden head. "Did a bright pink mare just pass by?"

The seamstress pointed a shaking hoof past him into the night and rain shrouded town square. "She-she went thataway..."

He nodded to her and gripped the umbrella handle in his teeth again. "Thankfth!"

With that, he turned and galloped away, the umbrella flipping inside out with a pop as he trailed it behind him.

Thimble numbly nudged the door closed with her horn. She shook her head to clear it as she turned her attention to the gowns again.

Another slam, another shriek, this time accompanied by a prodigious leap backward on the beige unicorn mare's part that sent her crashing into a rack of sun dresses.

The tan stallion in the pink boots was back, panting with his teeth clenched on the inverted umbrella, an earnest but glazed look on his face. "Fthorry about fthartling you there!" With an apologetic little half bow, he turned and galloped away again.

Thimble climbed shakily to her hooves and closed the door, and then began to shove ponikins and display cases against it with her magic.

***

A full throated argument was in strident swing in the muddy courtyard of Sweet Apple Acres main compound as the apple trees lashed and rustled in the wind and rain on the farm's rolling hills. The Apple family's latest farm dog Naomi skittered back and forth across the front porch of the farmhouse, barking frantically and wagging her tail in unalloyed canine excitement, largely ignored by the assembly of equines.

On one side stood a mud splattered white earth pony mare draped in an orange rain poncho marked with the crest of Equestrian Emergency Services, water rolling down her sodden nurse's cap and pink mane as she glared at a furious female zebra clad in a dripping dark cloak, gold rings adorning her neck and ankles as she hiked her bristling, black and white tail in agitation.

Off to the side of the argument's ground zero, two earth pony sisters stood watching with a mixture of dismay, annoyance, and worry on their faces. Both mares were bundled up in raincoats and galoshes, shiny with water and flecked with mud from running.

The orange elder sister stood hitched up to a shiny little surrey with some fringe on the top, her waterlogged old cowpony hat flopped down in her eyes, with a long blonde ponytail trailing beneath that lay flattened to her neck and dripping down her muscular shoulders.

The younger sister was a leggy, light yellow filly just on the cusp between adolescence and marehood, with an apple red mane tied back out of her eyes by a pink bandanna. Her flanks bore a cutie mark depicting a hammer superimposed over the face of a half apple.

A sneer crossed the striped equine's dark muzzle. "To take a mare in labor out in the wind and rain, I think this pony nurse has gone soggy in the brain."

The white pony scowled back at her, grinding her hooves in the muddy ground. "Miss Fluttershy needs a real doctor looking after her, not a witch doctor!"

At this the red headed filly stamped a hoof. "Hay! That ain't very nice thang t' say at all, Nurse Redheart!"

The black and white striped mare's eyes narrowed dangerously as she advanced on the Ponyville nurse. "Your thoughtless words you had best revoke, or I'll make you regret that you even spoke"

Applejack shifted nervously in her harness. "Now just hang on there, Zecora. Lets don't all go off half cocked now. If we can just calm down and talk this thru in a reasonable type fashion..."

She was cut off as Pinkie Pie skidded to a stop beside them, throwing a wave of mud ahead of her that splattered on the blonde pony and the nurse. After a brief moment of blinking her wide blue eyes at the assembled mares, she started vibrating in place like a pastel pink, mud dipped, four legged jackhammer. "Applej-j-jack is F-f-fluttershy okay?"

The farm mare hung her head and brought a hoof to her brow with a splat. "Oh good day in th' mornin'... I knew it was only a matter o' time."

She looked up at the shimmying, bouncing pink mare, ignoring the mud dripping down her own forehead onto her freckled cheek. "Fluttershy's just gone into labor, Pinkie. I went n' got Nurse Redheart, but then SOMEPONY" She emphasized her words with a glare directed at her younger sister. "figured it'd be a good idea t' run get Zecora when I distinctly told her t' stay put n' mind her sister n' law."

The younger mare set her jaw and pushed out her lower lip in a classic little sister's "you're not the boss of me" expression. "It IS a good idea. Zecora knows all kinds o' herbal remedies and suchlike."

At this Nurse Redheart cut in, her glare still fixed on the zebra. "Which is all very nice if you want to brew tea. You'll excuse me if I prefer modern medical technology for delivering a foal."

The zebra braced her back legs, standing on the tips of her hooves as she snarled at her adversary. "The mother's in no danger, nor the foal in her womb. Why take her from home and put her in a sterile white room?"

The white pony lashed her pink tail. "Exactly! It's sterile, not a filthy backwoods farmhouse..."

Applejack looked sharply at the nurse from under her drooping hat. "Whoa now, just what the hay are you sayin' there, Redheart?"

The nurse ignored her and glared at the zebra's scowling face. "And if something DOES go wrong we can deal with it right away before things turn grave. Now get out of my face and go back to your cave!" She paused, blinking in the dim light coming from the nearby front porch before scowling to herself through gritted teeth. "Oh by Celestia's sun dappled rump, now you've got ME doing it..."

Zecora snorted and surged forward, her forehead pressing up against Nurse Redheart's as they locked flaring eyes. "I DON'T live in a cave, I live in a hut. I am THIS close to kicking your skinny white butt!"

The medical pony ground her teeth and pushed back just as hard. "Bring it on, candy striper!"

The torrential rain seemed to intensify as both mares started pushing and shoving back and forth and shouting in a raucous mix of Poneise and Zebraic, with Apple Bloom tugging at her zebra friend's tail to try to pull her back as Applejack struggled to work her way free of the surrey's harness and intervene before it escalated further. Pinkie Pie continued to bounce and jitter in place like a dismayed pink wind up toy. Naomi the dog leapt off the porch and started running in circles around the whole scene, yapping and jumping and apparently having the grandest time a hyperactive canine could imagine.

It was at the height of the tumult that Rarity staggered into the farm's courtyard, her once pristine coat slicked down to her skin and splattered with several varieties of mud, her soaked, bedraggled mane and tail bearing a payload of twigs and leaves indicating she'd taken some tumbles through a couple hedges in her headlong flight. By the look of the lily pad speared on her horn, she may have fallen into a pond as well.

A few hoof steps on her heels, a raggedly panting Caramel gamely tried to keep pace with her, attempting in vain to keep the upturned umbrella clenched in his teeth over her already drenched head.

The disheveled unicorn came to a tottering stop next to the shimmying form of Pinkie, barely keeping on her hooves as she heaved and gasped to catch her breath, while the tan stallion who'd been following her dithered between sheltering her or his erstwhile fiance.

Rarity's deep blue eyes widened as she took in the scene before her, and she began to scream, as much to the world around her as to any one pony, her normally mannered voice cracking in the throes of hysterics as she danced from hoof to hoof. "What is going ON!? What's happened to Fluttershy!? I'm WET! And HYSTERICAL! And everypony's yelling and butting heads and NOTHING MAKES SENSE!"

Applejack sat heavily down in the mud with a shuddering sigh, half out of her harness and rocking in place with her hooves over her eyes, a worsening headache pounding in her skull like the rain on her hat. Meanwhile, Apple Bloom was struggling to interpose herself between Zecora and Redheart's shoving match.

Unable to choose between the two pathetic mares on either side of him, Caramel tossed the umbrella away in despair and slouched despondently between his vibrating, shimmering fiancee to his right and the wailing, mud drenched unicorn on his left. Naomi broke out of her circular track and rushed to confront and loudly denounce the discarded umbrella, focused her full barking fury on it as if it were the most villainous thing in Equestria.

A piercing whistle echoed across the barnyard, bringing everything to a sudden, startled stop. Naomi instantly deflated and slunk away under the porch, looking abject and guilty in a way that only dogs can manage.

All eyes turned to behold the impossibly wizened form of Granny Smith standing there framed in the golden glow of the doorway looking at them all. Cold steel gleamed in her eyes while the wind played at her wispy white mane and fluttered the heavy shawl around her bony shoulders. The aged green mare lowered her hoof from her lips and set it down with only the slightest tremor on the planks of the farmhouse porch.

She screwed her wrinkled muzzle into a scowl and spoke with a voice that carried undertones of implacable command beneath the raspy dryness. "If'n you younguns is done raisin' a ruckus, there's a sweet filly in here fixin' to give birth t' one o' my great grandfoals. Is any o' this commotion helpin HER even one little bit?"

To a mare the younger ponies all turned to face her and hung their heads, fidgeting uncomfortably under her relentless gaze as she glared at them.

Before any of the chastised mares could respond, the Apple family matriarch looked up toward Sweet Apple Acres' front gate with a grin spreading across her wrinkled face as a cheery voice sounded over the muddy courtyard . "Another Apple about to drop on our heads, eh Granny?"

All eyes turned to see a stout mare draped in a heavy canvas cloak and broad brimmed hat pick her way across the churned up mud of the courtyard, bulging saddle bags hanging from her sides. When she stepped into the light she revealed a broad, olive green face with a bluff, open smile.

Granny Smith held up a hoof in welcome. "Just the gal I was a-waitin' fer. Howdy, Cabbage Leaf. Y'got my note, I reckon."

The sturdy mare nodded. "That I did, Granny. Sorry if the weather slowed me up a little gettin' here."

Nurse Redheart blinked in recognition and stammered. "C-cabbage Leaf, the... the midwife?"

The new arrival nodded again. "Right a roonie."

She squinted her eyes and peered at the flustered nurse from under the floppy brim of her hat. "You're one of the Heart sisters, aren't you? I heard tell you all went into medicine." She beamed at the younger mare. "Does my old heart proud to see fillies I delivered make good like that. Feels like I'm makin' a difference."

The Apple family matriarch nodded in satisfaction and turned toward the door, gesturing at it with a hoof. "Well, we got one more t' add t'yer tally, if'n you'd kindly step this way, she's been in labor fer 'bout a half hour now."

Cabbage Leaf smiled and set her jaw. "Gotcha. Bathrooms back and to the left, right? I go wash up and get to work."

With that, she clomped up the steps, slipped off her muddy boots, and went inside.

Granny Smith turned back to the zebra, stallion, and assembly of mares huddled in the rain. She snapped a hoof at Redheart and Zecora. "You, and you, go git washed up too. You'll be helpin' Cabbie out with Miss Fluttershy. Step lively now."

The zebra nodded, and started in toward the house, pausing and turning to look back at Nurse Redheart. "I am sorry to say I let my collar get hot, that I said harsh words, and that you and I fought. It is better if we work together, and both bring all of our skills to bear, for our friend and her foal are our primary care."

Nurse Redheart fidgeted and took a glance over her shoulder in the direction of Ponyville. "Yes, you're probably right. B-but... proper... proper procedures in this case..."

Granny Smith set her jaw and gazed sternly at the younger mare. "Proper procedures is what I say they is as long as your hooves are on Apple family land, missy. Either play on th' team or git the hay off our property."

The white furred mare nodded in acquiescence and fell into step behind Zecora. When they passed into the house she came up beside the zebra herbalist and leaned in, whispering with a contrite expression on her face. They stopped, and traded hoofshakes that turned into a brief hug, and then continued back toward the first floor bathroom.

The wizened mare turned to her granddaughters, focusing on the eldest, still partially tangled in the harness of the surrey. "AJ, put that contraption back in the shed then go inside and git cleaned up. Yer in charge fer the duration."

She turned to the younger sister and bobbed her head toward the bedraggled trio of Rarity, Caramel, and Pinkie Pie. "Apple Bloom, take them poor gals upstairs and get 'em settled in a warm bath 'fore they catch their death o' cold."

Without another word the Apple sisters hurried to comply. Applejack struggled back into her harness and fought the not-so-shiny-now surrey into position to roll it back into the shed. Caramel stepped aside while Apple Bloom threw a foreleg over Rarity's shoulders and clamped her teeth onto Pinkie's tail, dragging the bouncing, jittering earth pony behind as she led the shivering unicorn toward the porch.

Granny Smith nodded in satisfaction, and then turned and cracked a toothless smile at the slightly befuddled looking tan stallion who now stood in the deserted courtyard in his mud clotted pink boots, the wind whipping his rain slicker as a dejected, broken umbrella flapped in the mud behind him. She beckoned to him with her hoof. "Now as fer you, young feller. You look like you could use some coffee and pie."

A smile blossomed across Caramel's face as he stepped up onto the porch, pausing as he pulled the slightly rumpled box forth from under the cape of his rain slicker. He beamed as it dangled by it's string from his teeth. "Thanks, ma'am. Pinkie and I brought pifflenoodle too!"

The old grey mare chuckled as she went inside. "Well that's right nice o' ya, sonny. Leave yer gal's galoshes out on th' porch so y' don't track mud all over."

***

Fluttershy let out a small, strangled mew as another contraction coursed through her. She lay sprawled on an old quilt atop their bed, her wings hanging limply at her rounded sides as she let out a succession of ragged, panting breaths.

Seated on the floor beside the butter colored pegasus, her mountain of a husband Big Macintosh looked gravely down at his shivering little wife and gently stroked her back with a broad hoof. His low, gentle voice hung in the air against the backdrop of rain pattering against the shuttered windows. "Keep breathin', little wing, nice n' steady now. Just like they taught us in Lamarez class."

Her faint voice replied plaintively. "Oh... I'm sorry, b-big bunny. I... it's okay. R-really. That... that last one wasn't really that bad."

The huge red earth pony pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. He'd been married to the soft spoken pegasus for long enough to know when she was trying her best to downplay how bad things were. Big Macintosh was strong enough to buck oak trees in half, but he couldn't do anything to ease his beloved Fluttershy's suffering at that moment. Nothing except stand firm at her side, offering her his quiet support.

Both ponies looked up as the door to their bedroom softly opened to reveal a stocky green mare with a white streaked brown mane and tail and a head of cabbage for a cutie mark. She grinned at them cheerfully as she set a pair of saddlebags down beside her. "Hey there! So everypony here who's havin' a foal please raise your hoof."

Fluttershy furtively peeked out from behind her straggling pink mane, biting her lip as she gingerly raised one of her hooves a little. "Um...I suppose that could be...um...me...I guess... If... if that's okay with you..." She was cut off with a squeak as another contraction hit. Big Macintosh nuzzled her neck as she gritted her teeth and curled her hooves into the old quilt beneath her.

He looked back up at the stout midwife as she came into the room. "You're Cabbage Leaf, right? Granny said you were comin'. I remember you from back when Apple Bloom was born."

The stocky mare chuckled as she settled down beside him. "I was here when your momma had your other sister, and I was here when she had you too, although I'd be pretty darn impressed if you remembered that." She gave him a sidelong grin and nudged him in the side. "You're a whole lot bigger than when I first met ya. Still just as cute, tho." With a wink at the husband she turned her attention to the wife.

Cabbage Leaf ran a hoof down Fluttershy's side and leaned in to speak softly to her. "Now just you relax, honey. I've been pickin' Apples for years now and I ain't dropped one yet. I'm gonna check you over, then lets see about gettin' you up and movin' around a little."

At the sound of shuffling hoof falls at the door, she turned and beckoned to Zecora and Nurse Redheart, who waited expectantly outside. "Come on in ladies, and lets get down to business."