• Published 23rd Oct 2017
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In Quiet Moments - Krickis



When Nurse Redheart's pet gets sick, she knows there's only one pony she trusts. And while she's there, perhaps Fluttershy can teach her that there's somepony else she needs to take care of as well.

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2 – Solidarity

Chapter Two

Solidarity

Right from the start, it was clear that this day was going to be different. As always, the sun wasn’t up when Redheart awoke, but she woke to something much more pleasing than her alarm clock.

There was some light pouring into Fluttershy’s living room from her kitchen, and gentle noises of someone moving around as quietly as possible. But neither of those were the reason Redheart woke up. No, it was something much nicer, something she almost thought was a dream.

Fluttershy was singing.

It was quiet, hardly louder than the other sounds coming from the kitchen, but Fluttershy’s voice was serene. She had been humming along merrily while they made dinner the night before, but hearing her actually sing…

It pulled Redheart off of the couch and guided her towards the kitchen. She lingered outside the door to savor the sound. It was hard to imagine anyone could be so happy before the sun was out, but Fluttershy sounded like she was in complete bliss. Her voice occasionally rose in volume, which brought out a smile from Redheart; Fluttershy was clearly trying to keep quiet, but she kept getting lost in her song and forgetting.

It was with some reluctance that Redheart finally entered the kitchen. Just as she expected, Fluttershy immediately stopped her song. Redheart would’ve liked to have heard more, but she knew she’d feel guilty if she kept listening in.

“Good morning, Fluttershy,” Redheart said brightly. She ignored Fluttershy’s blush, hoping to avoid causing her any more embarrassment. Instead, she turned her focus on the little skunk who was already eating at the table. “And good morning to you, Few.”

Fluttershy seemed relieved to have something else to focus on. “Feverfew is feeling much better after a good night’s sleep.”

It was good to see Feverfew eating again, even if she wasn’t attacking breakfast with her usual ferocity. Then again, maybe that was a good thing as well. “I hope you learned a lesson out of all this. I know I definitely have… I can’t believe I was so careless in the first place…”

“It’s okay.” Fluttershy extended her wing and gently touched the tip to Redheart’s back. “Everypony makes mistakes sometimes, and there’s no need to beat yourself up over it.”

For an earth pony, Redheart was pretty familiar with pegasi wings. She had to be; the treatment of sprained or broken wings was a regular part of her job. And among the things she knew about pegasi and their wings was that they were notoriously picky about letting other ponies touch them. Proper care for a patient’s wing had to be done as delicately as possible, not only because wings were a complex series of bones, muscles, and ligaments, but also because pegasi considered wing touching to be fairly intimate.

Which was why even though Fluttershy’s touch was minor – only a few primary feathers against Redheart’s shoulders and back – the gesture caused her to blush slightly. It was a nice feeling, but none of her experience with injured wings taught her how to respond to voluntary contact.

If Fluttershy noticed the awkwardness, she didn’t address it. After just a moment, she withdrew her wing and walked over to the stove. “I hope the couch wasn’t too uncomfortable last night.”

“Not at all,” Redheart said, happy to be back on a topic she could handle. “I actually feel pretty well rested, all things considered. I just hope I haven’t been too much of an inconvenience… It’s awfully early to be up and about, considering how late we went to bed last night.”

“Oh, no, it’s been nice having you over. And, uhm, I’m used to sleeping unusual hours.” Fluttershy pulled out several plates before turning back to the stove. “I hope you like pancakes.”

“Pancakes?” Sure enough, Fluttershy carried a plate with pancakes stacked on it to the table before going back for a second one. “I do, but you didn’t have to go through all that trouble. I was planning on just getting out of your hair, actually. I should get Feverfew home before I go to work, after all.”

“Nurse Redheart,” Fluttershy said gently, yet resolutely. “It’s really no trouble at all. Besides, I’ve already made them. And I don’t mind watching Feverfew while you’re at work, so you can come back and pick her up this afternoon.” Fluttershy finished setting the table with butter and maple syrup before adding, “Uhm, if you want to, that is.”

Nurse Redheart tried and failed to remember the last time she’d taken the time to eat a proper breakfast. Even on her days off, she was either too busy running errands or too exhausted from work. “Alright, you drive a hard bargain, Fluttershy. But I do have one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Just ‘Redheart’ will do. I’d rather not be nurse anything until I’m at the hospital.”

Fluttershy giggled as they took their seats. “Okay, I think I can manage that one.”

The pancakes were amazing, which hardly surprised Redheart. The longer she was around Fluttershy, the more it seemed like everything about her was wonderful. Despite being quiet and keeping mostly to herself and her close friends, Fluttershy was surprisingly easy to talk to. She was friendly, nurturing, her cooking was divine, and, if Redheart was being honest with herself, she was stunningly pretty.

Even though they had eaten a big dinner the night before and Redheart wasn’t used to eating breakfast, she still ate the whole stack of pancakes Fluttershy had given her. They were simply too good not to.

“That was perfect,” Redheart said once they were all gone. “But I’d better get going or else I’ll be late. That is, if a certain someone doesn’t find a way to make me late anyway for leaving her here…”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Fluttershy said, giggling and pointing to Feverfew. The little skunk also seemed to have eaten her fill and decided to take a nap to sleep it off.

Redheart smiled. She felt bad at the idea of leaving Few without saying goodbye, but she knew it might be her only chance to leave at all. “She shouldn’t give you any problems when I’m gone. And thank you again for everything, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy stood up with Redheart and walked her to the door. “It’s my pleasure.” As Redheart left, Fluttershy waved from the doorway. “Bye, have a nice day at work!”

Redheart waved back and returned the well wishes, then set off towards the hospital. Although most of the ponies in town seemed to have no problems with impromptu singing, Redheart had never been the type for that. Still, she found herself humming along during the walk.

It was a bit odd, really. Feverfew had gotten sick, even if it hadn’t been anything serious. Redheart had been forced to rush out in a panic. She’d spent the night on a couch and hadn’t really had enough sleep. By all accounts, she suspected that she should have found the situation miserable.

Should’ve, perhaps, but she didn’t. The few hours after Redheart had finally been able to calm down upon learning there was nothing to be concerned about had been wonderful. Talking with Fluttershy while Feverfew was curled up with her left Redheart smiling throughout the whole evening. And even though she was on Fluttershy’s couch, Redheart had finally relaxed enough for a good night’s sleep. Waking up to find that Feverfew was feeling better and that Fluttershy had made them breakfast solidified her good mood.

Today was going to be different. It wasn’t going to be another one of those days.

Even if it tried to be one. As soon as Redheart walked in the door, Nurse Sweetheart greeted her with an exasperated look. “Good morning, Redheart.”

“Good morning, Sweetheart. Trouble last night?”

“Not too much, but there’s one thing still giving us trouble.” Sweetheart sighed. “It’s Mr. Waddle.”

“Still refusing to take his medicine?” Redheart asked. Sweetheart nodded, and then Redheart surprised even herself by chuckling. “Alright, I’ll go talk with him.”

Sweetheart fell into step behind her as they made their way to the room. “Everyone knows to listen when Nurse Redheart’s the one giving the orders. I’m a little jealous, to be honest with you.”

“I’ve just been doing this for a long time. But you know, sometimes there’s more to it than just giving orders. I’ve got an idea.”

Mr. Waddle was sitting up in bed with his forelegs crossed when they walked in. Redheart had to wonder how long he had been sitting like that. “Good morning, Mr. Waddle.”

“Hmph,” was all the greeting he gave. “When are you ponies going to realize that I’m healthy as an ox?”

“I hear you haven’t taken your medicine again,” Redheart said.

“I don’t need it! All I need is a good morning walk to shake these old bones loose.”

Exactly as Redheart had expected. “Okay, let’s go for a walk then.”

Both Mr. Waddle and Nurse Sweetheart turned to her in surprise, although they were on opposite ends of that spectrum. Sweetheart pulled Redheart off to the side and spoke in a hushed tone. “Nurse, you know that with his arrhythmia, he needs to rest. And several times a day, he goes –”

“Out in his wheelchair so he can get some fresh air, I know. Trust me.” Redheart flashed a smile before going over to Mr. Waddle’s bed. “Here, I’ll help you up, then the two of us can take that walk, alright?”

Mr. Waddle laughed. “Well, about time someone sees what’s what!”

Redheart used a foreleg to help brace Mr. Waddle as he stood up, then the two set off at a leisurely pace. Although his arrhythmia did mean he needed to take it easy, a simple walk within the hospital wasn’t going to do much but leave him winded. In fact, she was counting on exactly that.

Within a few minutes, Mr. Waddle began to slow down. “Wow, I, uh…” He came to a stop as he caught his breath. “I think that maybe I should go get some more rest after all…”

“Alright then, let’s get you back to your room.”

As she suspected, Mr. Waddle was much more willing to take his medicine once they returned from the brief walk. The whole endeavor took half as long as just trying to convince him had taken the day before, and with any luck, the lesson would stick with him in the future.

“How did you know that wouldn’t just encourage him?” Sweetheart asked once they left the room.

Redheart smiled. It had been the way Fluttershy had handled Angel Bunny’s interest in parkour that inspired her. “Sometimes ponies just need to try things for themselves to be able to see that they won’t like them.”

With no other issues left over from the night before, Redheart should have gone to her desk to plan her day and pretend she was going to finally get to all that paperwork. Instead, she went to room 103 to pay a certain colt a visit.

She knocked on the door gently before going inside. “How’re you feeling today, Rumble?”

Rumble coughed as she entered. “A little bit better,” he said, although he didn’t sound it.

After so many years, giving his symptoms a quick check was almost automatic. There seemed to be no change in his condition, so she soon moved on. “Did you sleep better last night?”

“I tried. I know I need to rest to get better, but I kept waking up…”

Redheart nodded. “It’s hard being away from home overnight.” Redheart took a seat on the end of his bed. “But I have an idea. What if we had your brother stay to read you a bedtime story tonight? Would that make it feel a little more like home?”

Rumble smiled for a moment, but it was short lived. “But they said that visitors had to leave after dinner time.”

“Just let me worry about that.” Redheart leaned in and winked. “We’ll sneak him in through the window if we have to.”

That got Rumble to laugh a little. “Thank you, nurse.”

“Just remember that this is to help you fall asleep. I’ll trust you because you’ve been so well behaved this whole time, but I don’t want to hear that you two stayed up playing games all night.”

Rumble nodded. “Don’t worry, nurse. I’ll make sure he behaves.”

Seeing such an immediate improvement in his mood helped lift Redheart’s own. By the time she left his room, she was feeling uncharacteristically optimistic about the day ahead of her. She made arrangements to allow Thunderlane to stay after the other guests left, then finally made her way to her desk.

What she found was nothing short of a miracle. Nurse Tenderheart was already there, putting some papers in order. “Good morning, Redheart!”

“Tenderheart? What’s going on?”

Tenderheart motioned to a stack of papers left on the desk. “Well, these are the ones that need your attention specifically, but I took care of everything else.”

Redheart stared in disbelief for a moment, then shook her head. “No, what I meant is why are you doing all this? You don’t even work today, and isn’t your sister in town?”

Tenderheart chuckled. “Well, my dad got it in his head to take her out on a hot air balloon, and you know how I am with heights. I got up early to see them off and didn’t have anything else to do, so I figured I’d come in and make up some of the time I missed yesterday.”

The stack of papers that Redheart would need to take care of looked quite manageable; she would probably be through it by the end of the day. “Well, I certainly won’t complain. I can’t believe you got through so much of the backlog.”

“Hey, I did say I owed you one. And you know, this would probably be less of an issue if you organized things a little better. Here, I’ll show you how I do it.”

It was baffling that in all her years of nursing, Redheart had never quite gotten the knack of organizing her work. Before she became the head nurse, she spent a lot less of her time with paperwork, so she never found the need to be as organized as most of her peers did. As far as she was concerned, the most important thing was the time she spent with her patients, and everything else could wait. But the promotion had brought about a big change in how she had to do things, and Redheart always struggled to keep up.

Really, overhauling her organizational system was a long way coming. And with Tenderheart’s help, Redheart was left with a system that she could use to hopefully keep things running smoother in the future.

The day continued in much the same vein. Not everything was perfect, but more things fell into place than not, and obstacles were faced relatively easily. And although Redheart never got caught up enough to have time to slow down, that was just part of working in the hospital. Besides, it kept her busy and passed the time quickly.

By the time Redheart’s day was finally winding down, it was fifteen minutes past the end of her shift. She was surprised to find it had gotten so late, and even more surprised to realize she was actually at a stopping point for the day. Another fifteen minutes to wrap things up, and she was out the door.

It was difficult to remember the last time Redheart left on time. Well, she was almost leaving on time. Certainly closer to it than she usually did. She walked to Fluttershy’s cottage at a steady pace, the full day catching up to her once she was no longer hopping from task to task.

Even if the day had been a good one, it had also been exhausting. She hadn’t felt it much at work, but as she put more distance between herself and the hospital, she found herself sighing and slowing her pace.

‘Today was good,’ she reminded herself. She had gotten everything done that she needed to, and had even made steps to make her future easier. While some patients had been a little on edge, that was to be expected since none of them wanted to be there, and they had all been reasonable with her and the rest of the staff. She’d kept busy, and hardly even noticed the time going by.

Until leaving, of course. Her hooves were sore from being on them all day, she only just now realized that she had skipped lunch, and above all, she just felt absolutely exhausted. It had been a good day, so why didn’t she feel good about it?

All she wanted to do was scoop up Feverfew, bring her into bed, and pass out. It was the same way she felt after a bad day, and she couldn’t place why. Sure, some of it was to be expected. A day of running around the hospital was never going to be easy on her hooves, of course. But there was being tired after a busy day, and then there was wanting to shut down and not have to so much as think about anything besides cuddling with Feverfew.

But she knew she would not be so fortunate. She had to go to Fluttershy’s cottage to get Feverfew, of course, then she’d have to walk back across town to her own house. There’d be dinner to make, and sweet Celestia, she left that fish out the night before!

The more she thought about what was still ahead of her, the more she felt overwhelmed. Her pace slowed even more, which she knew wasn’t helpful at all, but she couldn’t manage to move any faster.

The slowed trip to Fluttershy’s cottage gave her more time to dwell on her problems and less of a chance to relax at home, but eventually she found herself outside the door. She took a moment to compose herself; it wouldn’t do to look anything but her best for Fluttershy, who had gone above and beyond in her kindness.

Redheart knocked on the door and managed a smile as it opened. “Hello, Fluttershy. I hope Feverfew wasn’t too much trouble today.”

Fluttershy stepped aside to allow her to come in. “Oh no, she was a perfect angel.” A small white rabbit shot her a look that caused her to chuckle. “Uhm, figuratively speaking.”

It was a little surprising that Feverfew hadn’t come running to greet Redheart, but as Fluttershy led them into the kitchen, she soon saw why. Feverfew had pointedly turned her back to them, even as Redheart tried to get her attention.

When Redheart attempted to pick up Feverfew, she darted away. Redheart sighed. “I know you’re mad that I snuck off and left you here, but I had to go to work. How about the two of us head home?”

Feverfew showed no signs of relenting.

“She’ll come around,” Fluttershy said. “Are you hungry? I could make us some dinner again.”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that! You’ve already done so much, I couldn’t possibly ask you to do anything else.”

Fluttershy showed a small smile. “You aren’t asking, I offered.” She looked over the kitchen and her shoulders drooped a little bit. “Uhm, maybe something easier tonight, though. How do grilled cheese and tomato soup sound?”

Redheart couldn’t help but smile. It seemed that ‘no’ wasn’t going to be an option. “Okay, but only if you let me get the soup going.”

“Deal.”

There wasn’t any humming while they worked this time. In general, Fluttershy seemed more tired than the night before. She smiled and kept her tone positive when Redheart would ask questions about where pots or ingredients could be found, but she kept to herself otherwise. Redheart wasn’t sure if she should give Fluttershy space or try to carry a conversation herself.

It didn’t matter much, as the easy meal didn’t take long at all to make. Still, Redheart couldn’t help but feel like she was intruding on Fluttershy’s personal time.

At least the food itself was good. It was simple, but somehow comforting in that regard. It reminded Redheart of simpler times.

“So how was work today?” Fluttershy asked as they ate.

Happy to have a conversation started, Redheart pushed her concerns aside. “It was great. I got so much done today, and I managed to set some things up that should make tomorrow easier.”

“That’s good to hear. Do you always work such long hours?”

That dropped Redheart’s smile a little. “Yeah, twelve hours is a pretty normal shift for me. Sorry, I should have told you that before leaving you with Feverfew all day.”

Fluttershy stroked Feverfew, who was still determined to look her grumpiest. “It’s really fine, I didn’t mind one bit. But it has to be tough working such long days. I hope you get plenty of days off.”

Although the long hours did often get to her, Redheart didn’t want to complain. “When the hospital’s not too busy, I get plenty of time off.” Of course, the hospital was always busy.

“And you were just saying last night how busy it’s been… You poor thing, you’re probably overworking yourself.”

“No, I love my job! Really!” Redheart had forgotten that she mentioned flu season, and quickly shifted the subject. “But at least I get days off. Taking care of all of Ponyville’s animals must be a nonstop job.”

“It can be a little much sometimes, but the only thing I need to do every day is feed them all. That gives me plenty of time to rest and relax when I need to.”

“If you say so…” Redheart couldn’t see working every day being anything other than horrible, but she wasn’t about to argue the point. “So was today an easy day then?”

“Uhm… not exactly. The Sweet Feather Sanctuary is every bit as wonderful as I had hoped, but there is a lot more to keep up with now. It has to cater to the needs of all sorts of animals, so everything has to be kept just right. The rain lately sure has been great for all the trees and flowers, but the grass was getting so high that the bigger animals couldn’t watch out for the smaller ones. I had to take care of that before anyone got stepped on.”

“Yeah, we definitely don’t want that.”

Fluttershy nodded. “And then a family of wolverines showed up. They weren’t used to being around so many other animals and kept scaring them away. It took forever to convince them that everyone could coexist peacefully. Then I had to convince the other animals not to be afraid anymore, and… well, it was a pretty long day.”

“I’ll bet.” Redheart dipped the last of her grilled cheese into her soup and quickly finished both. She set the bowl on top of the plate so she could carry both to the sink and stood up. “You probably want to unwind after all of that, so I’ll get out of your hair.”

Fluttershy stood up as well and took Redheart’s plate from her, carrying it the rest of the way to the sink. Before she could return for her own, Redheart had already grabbed it and followed behind her. Fluttershy smiled and shook her head when she noticed Redheart’s insistence on helping.

“Thank you,” she said as she took the plate from Redheart, leaving it in the sink with the other. “But before you go… well, I was wondering if, uhm, maybe you’d want to take a walk with me?”

Redheart cocked her head at the sudden request. “Sure. Is there something I can help you with?”

Fluttershy looked away and… was she blushing? “No, uhm. I just thought it’d be nice to get some fresh air and talk a little more. If you’d rather not, then that’s okay.”

“Oh, no, I’d love to,” Redheart said. She didn’t even need to think about that one. In fact, there was only one variable in the situation. She turned to Feverfew. “That is, if someone isn’t going to be a stinker about that.”

Feverfew took a small step towards Redheart while still trying to look indifferent. She quickly gave up on that, however, and made a running jump onto Redheart’s back.

Both mares laughed, and Fluttershy moved closer to pet Feverfew. “What do you think of going on an evening walk, Few?”

“I think some skunky could use a chance to stretch those legs a bit,” Redheart said. “Assuming she ever gets off, that is.”

Redheart was unable to see Feverfew’s reaction, but Fluttershy laughed. With no objections, Fluttershy led them through the living room and out the front door.

The sun had almost finished setting by the time they were outside, but moonlight would still be enough for Redheart to find her way home once they were finished. Meanwhile, there was a sense of gentleness about the cool evening air.

Fluttershy seemed to have a destination in mind, and she moved purposely towards it. They walked in the opposite direction of town, which gave Redheart a good idea of where they were headed. That was fine by her; after the rush of the day, letting someone else take the lead was nice.

It didn’t take long to reach their destination. While it was a good distance from the hustle and bustle of town, Sweet Feather Sanctuary was only a short walk from Fluttershy’s cottage. Since it had been built after Redheart adopted Feverfew, this was her first time visiting the sanctuary.

Without Fluttershy, Redheart would have felt uneasy about being around so many wild animals at night. But Fluttershy seemed to have no reservations. If anything, she seemed to perk up as they entered.

Even in the dying light, there was a serene feeling to everything around them. Fluttershy brought them to what seemed to the be the centerpiece to the sanctuary – a large pool, complete with a small waterfall. It looked like a natural formation, but Redheart knew better; she had heard horror stories from Hard Hat about what ‘that crazy mare’ had asked him to build.

“This place is wonderful,” Redheart said as they came to a stop. She took the chance to set Feverfew down, who began exploring the various sights and scents nearby.

Fluttershy sat down near the water, so Redheart followed suit. Although Redheart had already picked a spot near the other mare, Fluttershy still shifted to be a little closer to her. Given how spacious the sanctuary was, the move wasn’t exactly subtle. Redheart just smiled contently.

“This place is everything I always dreamed of,” Fluttershy said. “I spent years dreaming of this place before I ever told anypony. Making plans, wishing I could do more…”

“You’ve certainly done a lot now,” Redheart pointed out. “You’ve really turned this place into something to be proud of.”

Fluttershy beamed. “And I am proud of it. It feels like ever since I got my cutie mark, this is what my life has been leading up to.” She paused, taking in her surroundings for a moment. “What about you? Did you always plan on being a nurse?”

Redheart chuckled. “Oh, you don’t want to hear about that. And it’s, uh, a little embarrassing.”

“Sure I do. If you want to tell me, of course.” Fluttershy placed her hoof on top of Redheart’s and they smiled at one another. “And you don’t have to be embarrassed with me.”

Redheart blushed a little. “Well, when I was younger, I really wanted to be in the royal guard.”

“What’s embarrassing about that?”

“Nothing. Except that I had some friends with the same idea, and we used to dress up in homemade uniforms and call ourselves the ‘Ponyville Guard’.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that! I bet you were adorable.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you didn’t live in Ponyville back then! And, uh…” Redheart looked over at Feverfew to give herself an excuse to avoid eye contact. “I was a teenager.”

“I stand by what I said.”

Redheart’s blush provided enough reason to keep her eyes focused on Feverfew. The little skunk was staring at something in the pond when a fish jumped out nearby, splashing Feverfew as it landed back in the water. She jumped back, and both mares giggled.

“So what changed your mind?” Fluttershy asked.

Rather than looking back at her, Redheart cast her eyes downwards. Fluttershy’s hoof was still resting on hers. “We didn’t do much guarding, but we did a lot of drills to make sure we were ready just in case. And since I was the oldest, it was always my job to take care of everyone. I started to learn first aid as a way to do that, and then I guess I just kept learning. It took me a while to see, but one day I realized that what I really wanted wasn’t to be a guard – I just wanted to help everypony. I wanted to make a difference and keep ponies safe and healthy, and I realized I could do that from right here in Ponyville.”

“See? That was a nice story.”

Redheart finally turned back to look into Fluttershy’s eyes. She decided to chance moving a little closer. “I guess you’re right.” She smirked as she added, “As long as nopony has any pictures of me in that uniform.”

Fluttershy laughed. She didn’t seem to mind Redheart’s move to be closer; if anything, Redheart got the impression that she was delighted with the way things were going.

“Look.” Fluttershy gestured above them. The sun had finished setting during Redheart’s story, and the sky was now filled with stars. But much closer, other lights also began showing clearly against the night sky. There were only a few when Redheart first looked, but as they watched, more and more fireflies joined in.

Redheart turned her hoof so that instead of having Fluttershy’s hoof resting on hers, Redheart held it in her own. “It’s so beautiful.”

Fluttershy simply nodded her agreement. While the two mares watched the fireflies, Feverfew made her way back to them. She let out a yawn and curled up next to Redheart, who used her free foreleg to cradle the skunk.

“You know,” Fluttershy said after a while, “anypony could see how much being a nurse means to you.”

That was a topic Redheart had hoped they wouldn’t come back to. “Sure. It’s what I spent my life working towards, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

“You do so much for everypony in town.”

Redheart blushed. “Well, I try to do what I can.”

“You take care of so many ponies every day. But I… well, I get the feeling that there’s somepony you aren’t taking very good care of.”

Redheart frowned. Somepony she wasn’t taking care of? That wasn’t possible. “What? Who?”

“You.”

Oh, that was all. “That’s sweet, Fluttershy, but you don’t have anything to worry about. I make sure to go for all my regular checkups and take all possible precautions when working with sick patients. I’ve got a clean bill of health, I promise.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Fluttershy said with a smile, but it soon faded as she continued. “It’s just, well… there are other ways you need to take care of yourself, too.”

“What do you mean?”

Before answering, Fluttershy took a look around them. “Sweet Feather Sanctuary is everything to me. I love it, and I’ll do anything to help it be the best animal sanctuary I can make it. But… it’s also a lot of work. I do have a lot of good times here with all of my animal friends, but most of the time it isn’t just fun and games.”

“Of course. Anypony could see how much work you put into all of this.”

Fluttershy smiled bashfully. “Just like anypony could see how much work it is to run a hospital.”

Redheart opened her mouth then closed it. She wasn’t sure which was more surprising: that she walked into that one so willingly, or that Fluttershy, of all ponies, had been able to catch her off guard so easily.

As if reading her mind, Fluttershy continued. “A lot of things are hard for me. I don’t always do well around ponies I don’t know, especially in groups. I worry if things that I do or make are really good enough, so I usually keep them to myself. These days, I’m a lot better than I used to be. A few years ago, I could barely talk to anypony at all.”

“I admit I was pretty surprised when we started talking last night,” Redheart said. “I hope this hasn’t been too much for you. I didn’t mean to…”

Fluttershy leaned her head on Redheart’s shoulder, cutting off her train of thought. “No, it’s been nice having you around. Even if it can be challenging, I do like spending time with other ponies.” Fluttershy lifted her head and immediately turned to look away. “And, uhm, it was probably good for me that you stayed. It… well, sometimes it can even be hard to take care of myself. It’s much easier to take care of someone else.”

Redheart remembered how even though it had been late by the time she arrived at her cottage, Fluttershy still hadn’t eaten the night before. How many times had Redheart skipped meals just because she didn’t have the willpower to make something for herself? “I know what you mean.”

Fluttershy looked back and smiled. “I… I know we’re not exactly the same. I couldn’t even imagine working somewhere with so many other ponies. But… I can tell you try to keep everything inside, and I know how that feels.”

“I… I just…”

“It’s okay.” Fluttershy squeezed Redheart’s hoof, which was still wrapped around her own. “You don’t have to talk about anything if you don’t want to. But it can help to get those thoughts out of your head, and I’m happy to listen.”

Her instinct was to deny that there was anything wrong. It was what she always did, and besides, things were looking up after all the steps she’d taken earlier at the hospital. “Well, uhm… as the head nurse, I’m not actually in charge of the entire hospital.”

Redheart looked down to see Feverfew had fallen asleep in her foreleg. Her head popped up again as Fluttershy draped a wing over her back. She turned to see Fluttershy blushing, but still smiling comfortingly. Redheart mimicked both the blush and the smile as she scooted closer so that they were pressed against one another.

“So what’s it like being the head nurse?” Fluttershy asked.

The fireflies continued to drift around them. Feverfew was snuggled into the crook of Redheart’s foreleg. And Redheart was learning something about pegasi wings that being a nurse hadn’t quite prepared her for: exactly how warm and comforting it felt to have one wrapped around her.

“I guess it can be pretty stressful…”

Mostly, Redheart talked while Fluttershy listened. Occasionally she would comment, but she didn’t have many solutions to Redheart’s problems. Fluttershy’s place had never been in a hospital, after all. But still, she listened and she sympathised.

For the second night in a row, the two of them stayed up talking for more of the night than was wise. The quietness of the moment prompted them to keep their voices low, neither wanting to disturb the peace more than they needed to. Not that it mattered; only the fireflies were around to hear them talk.

Author's Note:

This chapter was probably the biggest pain out of anything I’ve ever written. And it wasn't even because of how close to me this subject is. I'm just... really not into writing stories that aren't full of drama :facehoof: