• Published 26th Jul 2016
  • 4,052 Views, 189 Comments

Sick Little Ponies (And One Dragon) - Estee



Seven sick Ponyville residents. Seven short stories. Six Bearers. One dragon. (Bring your own hoof sanitizer.)

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Fluttershy: A Thousand Little Nurses

"...I'm sorry for asking, Applejack, but... are you sure you have to go?" Not as sorry as she'd been for having had to ask for help in the first place, requesting that her friend add any part of the labors involved in keeping the cottage running to those of retaining (and often, post-Crusade, rebuilding) the Acres. "...because it's okay if you stay a little longer, it really is..."

Applejack smiled down at Fluttershy, briefly brought up a foreleg and pressed it to the back of the yellow right ear. "Temperature ain't so bad. Ah think you'll be okay for the night, 'Shy. Ah know it takes a lot t' get you off yer hooves and into bed like this, and that's jus' part of why Ah didn't mind comin' out today, an' why Ah'll be back t'morrow, early -- before the Acres need their own tendin'. And Snowflake, he'll be in after that. Him and me, we've been gettin' everythin' settled. An' yeah, it's hard work, Ah know -- but it ain't so bad when you're teamed with somepony who jus' never stops workin'. An' now it's all done, least 'til the Sun is raised, or if somethin' hits overnight. An' as far as that goes -- Ah could stay, if'fin y'really needed me to. So could he, Ah reckon. But..." Stopped, looked away so that the embarrassment wouldn't be visible for more than a moment, with her hat automatically shifting to shade most of it.

Fluttershy knew what the trail-off meant, sighed and adjusted her position in the bed a little, momentarily staring at one of the little holes which led to the tunnels lacing through the walls. (There were many holes and tunnels, with no way to block them all.) She'd been training Snowflake to be her mission-activated substitute for over a year, and Applejack had picked up a few incidental things just from the time she'd spent at the cottage. But there were things neither of them were up to managing, and one of them...

"How's Marian?"

Applejack sighed. Without quite making eye contact, "Still pregnant. Real pregnant."

Fluttershy slowly nodded, still looking at the tunnel entrances. No bright eyes peered back at her: the two of them were alone in her bedroom. "...yes."

And that was the problem. Because Marian was real pregnant, as pregnant as it was possible to be without actually giving birth -- something which Fluttershy had been expecting to happen Any Minute Now for the last four days.

"If y'want me to," Applejack began to slowly, awkwardly offer, "Ah could -- well, y'could kinda talk me through it, or jus' tell me 'bout what t' expect now, an' then --"

"-- no," Fluttershy sighed. "...you shouldn't have to. She's friendly, Applejack, friendlier than anypony wants to believe, but... she'll be in pain. Things change when you're hurting that much. Personalities can twist, and she wouldn't understand what she did after it was over, or why, because she doesn't really think that way. But she... could lash out, especially at somepony she doesn't know as well. And Sweetbark won't see her, even though she's healthy, because..."

"Because of what she is," Applejack finished.

A sad nod. Ponies were nervous enough around normal badgers. And Sweetbark's endless attempts to protect her artificial 100% success rating (achieved by passing off any even remotely risky case to Fluttershy) would never allow her to treat a pregnant one, even a sow without a hard-won reputation for multiple births which turned into wriggling tangles. The cottage basement had been given an exposed dirt corner for the occasion, and Marian had burrowed in, brought the gifted grass down, arranged the circle -- then waited.

For four days.

Applejack looked at her for a while.

"Ah've gotta take care of mah own," she eventually said. "Family, tenants. But, 'Shy -- if y'really think y'need me tonight, Ah can ask Snowflake to send word ahead, let them know Ah'm stayin' the night. Ah don't mind. Y'jus' gotta ask. Say the word an' Ah'm here, Ah swear."

She wished she could.

"...no. But thank you for everything, Applejack. It helps... more than you might think. And thank Snowflake for me, but -- he's got to get home too."

"Jus' try t' get some extra sleep, then. Okay?"

Which would normally mean four hours instead of her standard three. But tonight...

Another check of the holes, moving past that special one. Still no eyes. They were -- waiting.

"...okay."

Applejack smiled, turned, and began to trot for the door --

-- paused.

"You sure there's nothing else?"

And the words did not reach her throat.

Take me with you.

Save me from --

-- no. Marian could not be moved, and so Fluttershy had to stay.

"...no. Luna watch over you on the road, Applejack. Good night."

The farmer smiled, but it felt like an uncertain specimen. And then she left.

Fluttershy lay still in her bed. She was not waiting for sleep to come and carry her into the nightscape under just-raised Moon: even given her illness added to complete solitude, true rest would not have come for hours. She wasn't straining to listen for the first sounds of Marian's labor, any more than she needed to sleep in the basement: one of her smaller friends would scurry up from the basement at the first signs, giving her the alert. She was just... waiting.

For it.

Because it always happened.

Illness was rare for her: the same endurance which allowed her to push on deep into the night seemed to protect her from a number of sicknesses, although anything especially virulent had a chance to get through, and there were times when she forced herself beyond the usual limits and found her body temporarily weakened and susceptible on the other side. But whenever sickness happened within the cottage, in the years since she had come to ground... it came close behind. There was no stopping it. She had tried. The only measure she had found was retreat to where it would not find her, and she'd risked that a few times, mostly during the winter, when the cottage was at its most stable: virtually no births, less in the way of emergencies, a chance of having that remain true for an entire night, and she needed rest to truly recover. But on two occasions, it had tried to follow, and...

Fluttershy sighed.

Maybe... maybe I can get through this time.

She wouldn't.

Maybe it won't be so bad.

It would.

Maybe Marian will start labor in the next two minutes, finish in five, and I can spend the night at the Acres.

Not a -- well, a tiny chance. Just enough to keep the faintest of hopes just barely alive and somehow, that made things all the worse.

What was holding it up? Probably Applejack. Those who lived on the Ponyville-facing edge of the cottage grounds would be watching the farmer's departure, making sure she was truly gone. That she couldn't interfere. So if her friend had been moving at a standard trot, then given the time required for the chain to pass signals into the heart of the cottage, she was probably looking at --

-- a pair of bright black eyes peered out at her from one of the little holes.

There was a smell of freshly-severed grass.

"...oh no..."

Then there were two more pairs.

"...please, it's okay, there's nothing to worry about..."

Eight.

"...really, if you'd just..."

Her bedroom door creaked open, the pressure of so many little (and some much larger) bodies forcing it inwards. And Fluttershy stopped counting numbers. Totaling species was somewhat more interesting.

When it came to the variety of animal residents on her grounds, with herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores all trying to live together when two-thirds of the population at least entertained instinctive fantasies about eating the remaining fraction... with the general exception of those awkward times when new arrivals were being settled in, there was peace at the cottage. A carefully enforced peace. Eventually, everyone understood the rules: when she was present, no one in the immediate area's mix did anything to each other, and when she wasn't there, neither were they. The groups divided themselves along invisible boundary lines, only coming together under her watchful gaze. And should she not be around, they did nothing to each other, because eventually, she would find out, and the consequences for that started with the Stare. By generally having the categories separated (with the exceptions of a few long-term residents who had truly learned to get along), the peace was kept.

There were wolves in her doorway, standing next to groundhogs. Hawks and mice kept silent company. Three shrews rested in the hollow of a bobcat's back. They had all come up together. They would all stay together.

"...I'm fine," she told them. "...everything's fine, really. Everyone can just go back to their places. But thank you for checking up on me. So... back down the ramp, and through the holes, everyone, and I'll maybe read for a while, someone lets me know how Marian is, and..."

They started to approach.

"...honestly, everything's okay, you know this doesn't --"

The wolves jumped onto her bed, laid down, one on each side. Each began to lick her, which was a temporary distraction from the squirrel who was standing on her snout, forepaws desperately trying to shove some rather fragrant grass into her mouth.

"-- please stop."

Which was a double mistake. First, because it opened her mouth, and the grass went in, landed at the back of her throat, and made her automatically swallow. Which triggered a cough, and the groundhogs scurried up, placed fat bodies against the sides of her head. Three cats arranged themselves around a hind leg and began to purr with all their might.

And the other part of the error was the constant one, the failure which always came when it was happening. She could tell them anything she liked, short of trying to add the force to make her requests into an actual order. And they would ignore her. After all, she didn't know what she was talking about. She wasn't thinking properly. She was sick.

And when she was sick...

The vibrations of purring stimulated the healing process in cats: somepony petting their ill companion could actually speed the recovery a little. Wolves licked wounds because their saliva seemed to serve as some sort of cleanser. Other animals instinctively knew the grasses which would make them vomit or help to bring a fever down, would seek them out whenever the need arose. For social species, grooming would begin as pack and flock members searched the coat of the ill for parasites. Some would bring back food, or try to push the sick one towards water. But it was all instinct. They never truly thought about what was wrong, or diagnosed. They just acted.

When she was sick... they tried to take care of her. All of them did. Because her talent allowed her to communicate, and she sometimes believed that one of the ways the communication happened was by tricking the recipient animal into thinking she was just an oddly-shaped member of its own species. Bears saw an exceptionally small bear who wasn't particularly interested in fish, badgers concluded she just wasn't interested in burrowing at that exact moment, and rabbits... well, Angel wasn't the best example to judge by. But to some degree, they generally accepted her as one of their own.

Which meant they treated her as if she was a member of their species.

When she was sick... any species at the cottage which had even the faintest instinct for treating the ill decided they had to take care of their own. And so they all did. At the same time. Every method, used in concert with every other method, because none of them truly understood what was wrong, and none would step or flap aside to let the others work because they all had to get their claws, talons, wings, and paws in. Too many cooks spoiled the meal, and too many nurses...

More grass was shoved at her mouth. She wondered if it was one of the vomit-inducing varieties, or if the first bunch had served there. At least for the latter question, she'd have an answer soon enough.

Abruptly, the squirrel moved. A red-tailed hawk landed on her recently-vacated snout and gazed impassively at her, looking down past the corpse held in its beak.

Oh no.

Of course. As always, she had to be fed.

The body was that of a small vole. Not a cottage resident: the hawk had been made to understand that much, and those members of the cottage community who would have normally been terrified into fleeing or striking by the display seemed to be treating it as the sum line for the harsh algebra of necessity. And so the hawk hopped down to pillow level, clearing space among several smaller birds, and began to make the corpse -- somewhat smaller, so it would be easier to swallow.

Her teeth ground against each other. Nothing would have made her open her mouth, which included the two raccoons currently giving it a valiant try, claws exerting pressure against the greater strength of her jaw. They were only trying to help, although that assistance wasn't necessarily being given to the hawk. They undoubtedly had their own medical procedure in mind and based on previous experience, it was almost guaranteed not to do anything worse than making her feel even sicker.

She tried not to think too much about the scent of blood soaking into her pillowcase. Or the scent of blood at all -- except that the hawk was now determinedly poking pieces at her closed mouth, trying to get her to eat so she could rebuild her strength. After four tries, it briefly dropped the -- section -- and screeched at her, effectively asking something along the lines of 'Why won't you let me help you?' And then it temporarily retreated, having decided that the solution was to create even smaller pieces.

However, this effectively created a portion of space for the bear. Just not enough of it, because the bear was why she hadn't bothered to lock the door. The collective solution of the cottage to locked doors and an ill caretaker was "bear," and new doors were expensive.

Fluttershy sighed, but only internally. And she felt little claws moving through her fur, and tiny beaks poking to check for ticks, her wings being preened in exactly the wrong way, enough bodies clustered around her to trap the heat and bring her temperature too far up, or at least that was what would have been happening if the breeze created by all the wings wasn't bringing it down again, at least for the exposed areas. She was too cold, and too hot, and her stomach was starting to churn while her nostrils desperately tried to pinch themselves shut. Birds sang into her ears because to them, falling asleep was the worst possible thing, and the bobcat tried to get her to rest because staying awake would only drain her strength. Nuts were shoved at her, along with grass, fruits, and pellets which had probably recently been in the vicinity of someone's digestive system. And a sudden determined pressure at her right flank meant someone had just decided she had to be thirsty, and the only thing to do was push her out of the bed as the first step in moving her towards water.

She closed her eyes, but only for a second. After that, she simply tried to look at one of the little tunnel entrances. A special one, at least on this night, the one her basement runner would use if anything happened with Marian. No eyes stared back at her from the hollow.

Fluttershy held as still as she could (although the shoving was getting really insistent now), and kept quiet simply because she no longer dared to speak at all. And endured.


[/hr]

"Mornin'! Ah know Ah'm a little early an' Ah probably made too much noise comin' in, but Ah woke up a bit before the usual an' decided to drop on by, jus' give you a start before Ah had t' think 'bout the Acres --" and Applejack stopped, slowly looking around the bedroom. The orange snout wrinkled, even as the eyes went wide with worry.

"'Shy? Were you bleedin' during the night? Ah can get the cart an' haul you t' the hospital right --"

"...it's not mine," she quietly said. "Thank you for coming, Applejack."

"Y'look -- tired. Really tired."

"...I didn't sleep much," Fluttershy understated.

"Marian?" It was the natural question.

"...no. Nothing the whole night. Not... for that. I should start on the feedings..."

Applejack still looked concerned. "There's shed fur all over your room. It was clean last night. An' feathers. All over your bed an' you. An' -- um... what's that over by your -- aw no, don't tell me, please don't let that be..."

There didn't seem to be a sigh deep enough to express her true feelings. "...it is."

And now the expression had shifted into horror. "Your crew had a fight? Dominance struggle 'cause you were out of action, or someone jus' decided they were hungry an' didn't care any more, an' --"

"-- no. It's just... it's hard to explain, I just --"

There was a scurrying noise within the wall. Both instinctively glanced in that direction as a twitching nose poked out. Three loud squeals filled the room, and then there was the sound of claws scrambling away.

"...that's the signal," Fluttershy wearily said. "Marian's starting." She slowly began to force her exhausted body out of the bed. "I've got to go..."

The hard head pushed at her.

"No, y'don't. Y'ain't slept. Yer sick, y'didn't sleep, an' y'got no strength for this. Ah can go --"

"-- you don't know what to do. Neither does Snowflake, and he won't be here for hours anyway. I have to go. I can... keep going. Long enough for this. But..."

And she hated to ask: she always did. Because she never wanted to impose, and there was always the fear that she wouldn't be at the cottage for the emergency which only she could attempt to fix. But without rest, without recovery... she wouldn't be good to anypony, much less anyone.

Marian had been keeping her on the grounds. But Marian's time had arrived. And after seeing the newborns into the world, welcoming them to Sun, cleaning and watching the first feeding, being there for those vital moments of arrival, imprint, and love... they could both rest.

"...is it okay... if I sleep at the Acres today? Please?"

Immediately, "'course it is. An' on the way -- are we gonna talk 'bout what happened in here?"

"...I think so." Fluttershy made it onto her hooves. "And maybe that'll help keep it from happening again. Once in a while, when it's safe. But for now, as long as you stay near the ramp, in the shadows, until it's over... let's just go say hello."

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