It was a beautiful Spring morning in Ponyville. Birds were singing, clouds were drifting lazily through the sky, and a blonde-maned, blue-gray pegasus pony was arguing with a mailbox.
"Open, you little rolled-steel reprobate!" she snarled while trying desperately to pry open its door from the left side, using the edge of her hoof as a wedge. But it was no use, it simply wouldn't budge. It felt like something was jamming it in place along the bottom, but she had felt down there repeatedly and couldn't find anything.
She stepped back and took a deep breath, trying to think of another approach since brute force wasn't working. She held up the day's mail for the address on one upturned hoof, and said in the most charming voice she could manage, "Open up mister mailbox, it's time for your breakfast," before trying to gently open it one more time, and -- predictably -- failing. "GAH!"
She was beginning to wonder it anyone would notice if she just didn't deliver any mail to Carousel Boutique today when the proprietress, Rarity, sauntered up beside her. At least she could just hand it off directly to her, now.
"Lovely, isn't it?"
Ditzy Doo turned and noticed the bolts of cloth Rarity had tucked neatly into her saddlebags, a delightful floral print on silk. "Oh, yes, quite." Ditzy never pretended to "get" fashion, it was full of endless complexities that sailed clear over her head like Rainbow Dash on a double espresso, but everyone could agree that flowers were pretty, right? She could handle that. Just don't let her back you into having to actually say something meaningful, and you'll be fine, she told herself.
"It matches the trim around the windows much better, I think," Rarity continued.
"I'd wanted to go with raspberry to begin with, but at the time the closest the manufacturer had was grape." Following her gaze, Ditzy realized she was talking about the... mailbox? "It turns out they expanded their color selection last month. I just had it installed yesterday; I decided to switch to a top-opening door while I was at it. So, Miss Doo, what does the EPS have for me today?"
Ditzy blinked once and remembered the stack of mail still balanced on her hoof. "Oh, just a new catalog from your wholesaler and, judging from the pink envelope and glitter, another party invitation from you-can-probably-guess."
With a spark from her horn, Rarity gently lifted the mail from Ditzy's hoof and opened the pink envelope. "It seems silly to me to go through this trouble when she could just tell me, but she considers the invitations to be as essential an element of the party as the streamers and cake."
"What's the occasion?" Ditzy asked, taking advantage of Rarity's distraction to glower at the mailbox that had thwarted her.
"Uh... The one week anniversary of last Tuesday, apparently. Not that it matters, it will be delightful, as always. Well, back to work for me. Enjoy the rest of your route, Miss Doo." With that, Rarity waved farewell and walked back into her shop.
Ditzy Doo caught her breath and realized how closely she had just dodged a colossally mortifying bullet. Rarity had apparently assumed she was simply admiring her new raspberry-colored, top-opening, mailbox. Or did she say grape? She stared at the box, trying to remember what color it had been before. Her mind was unable to recognize any difference in shade.
"What the hay is wrong with just PURPLE?" she muttered to herself, as she gingerly tried opening the mailbox from the top. It swung down smoothly on hinges positioned inside the door, hidden from view or feel while closed. She swung the door back up and snapped it closed, and felt her left eye swing a few degrees out of position before she willed it back.
Today was off to an absolutely wonderful start.
The door to Sugarcube Corner slammed open dramatically, the sun at Ditzy Doo's back. "Muffins," she demanded.
"Coming right up! Do you feel like something sweet, or something sour? You sound like you've got some sour in there already, so I guess the question is if you want to keep the sour streak going or cancel it out with some sweetness! Whaddya think?"
"I'm thinking something with blueberries the size of my hoof."
"Nooooot quite that big, but pretty big!" Pinkie Pie went rummaging through the pastry display. "This should cure what ails ya, as long as what ails ya is the lack of a delicious muffin!"
Ditzy chomped the entire top off the muffin in one bite, savoring the sweet crumbly crust. Oh, yeah, that's the stuff, she thought to herself. She chewed slowly and swallowed before moving on to the stump, which seemed to be literally more berry than batter.
"So what put the sour in sourpuss this morning?" Pinkie asked in her usual chipper tone.
"Would you believe I lost a fight with a mailbox?"
"That's awful! You're both supposed to be on the same side! What could make a mailbox betray its allies so cruelly?"
Ditzy cocked an eyebrow in Pinkie Pie's direction. She was never sure how much of what she said was just playing along with the joke, or an actual disconnect from reality. "More like a new recruit who thought he knew better than the pros," she clarified.
"Oof, that can be even worse. I'm so sorry. But maybe Tuesday's party will make up for it! Did you get your invitation yet?"
"I think it's in here somewhere," she replied, tilting her head towards her mailbags. "Along with a bunch of others."
"Good! Didn't want you to miss out! Want another one for the road?"
"Oh, Celestia, yes." Pinky carefully bagged the second muffin and placed in an outer pocket of Ditzy's mailbags for her. Ditzy dropped a couple coins on the counter for the pink mare and trotted out. As the door closed behind her, she thought to herself, Maybe today won't be so bad after--
Stepping out of the bakery, Ditzy had walked right into the path of Sticks and Stones, the same pair of unicorn bullies that had been tormenting her since elementary school, and somehow never seemed to tire of it. Stones, the heavier one, was crossing his eyes and letting his tongue roll out of his mouth as Sticks, the tall and scrawny one, critiqued his work.
"No, no, bro, you can't just cross your eyes, they gotta be at totally different angles."
"I know, but it's freakin' hard to do. She must just have a natural talent." Stones began to snicker despite his efforts to contain it.
"Yeah, maybe it's genetic, like how some ponies can roll their tongue into a tube and others can't?" Sticks said, starting to chortle as well.
Don't react, Ditzy told herself. They WANT you to react. She continued on her route, but the stallions seemed to be "coincidentally" going the same direction.
"Lemme try," Sticks said as Stones let his face relax and tried to blink the strain out of his eyes. "DERRRP!"
"Whoah, brah, how'd you manage that?" Stones looked on in admiration of what Ditzy assumed was a reasonable facsimile of the way her eyes went crooked when she was anxious, but she refused to turn her head and confirm.
Don't react. The library's just a couple blocks away. You can make it.
"I picked a landmark high and to the right, and one low and to the left, and tried to make them overlap. Did it work?"
"Oh, brah, totally! Classic Derpy!"
Hearing the familiar "derp" noise was bad enough, but to hear them actually call her "Derpy" threatened to make her blood boil. She scrunched up her eyes for a moment, willing the memories back down to the pit they threatened to crawl out of.
Just. Don't. React.
"Oh, bro, you know what we should do?" Stones suggested. "We should get some glasses or goggles or something, and put X's on the lenses, so if you want to derp your eyes you can just cross them so the X's meet."
"Righteous! Then I'll bet with enough practice you could totally derp on command!"
DO. NOT. FREAKING. REACT.
"Or... You know what? Make some goggles with X's right in the center, and give 'em to Derpy. Then she can practice making her eyes look normal!"
Ditzy heard the distinct clop of a brohoof from the pair. "HA! Wicked idea, bro!"
"WHY CAN'T YOU TWO JUST LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE?!"
As she looked back and saw stacked double images of the two stallions braying in laughter, she realized she'd answered her own question the moment she asked it. Giving up on the notion of trying to keep her eyes straight, she just closed one and galloped down the street, hell bent for leather.
"Can I help you?" asked Twilight as Ditzy slammed the door shut behind her.
"Uh... Yeah, I mean no, I mean... Delivery for Twilight Sparkle?"
"Right here," she said, her tone worried. "Is everything alright?"
Ditzy shook her he head trying to un-derp -- un-cross -- her eyes. "No-- I mean, yes, I'm fine, no, I don't need anything." She turned her head to bite down on the twine wrapped around the large, square package and pulled it out, Twilight's own invitation to Pinkie's party tucked under the knot..
"Great! A few of the books in here are a bit outdated, it's nice to finally get new editions to replace them." Twilight's horn glowed as she lifted the books onto a table and began to unwrap them. "Then we can sell the old copies at the Friends of the Library sale, and get money for even more books..." She sounded downright giddy at the thought, and stopped to inhale the scent of the freshly printed volumes, seemingly intoxicated by it.
While Twilight oohed and aahed over the new additions to the library's collection, Ditzy fished the clipboard out of her bag. "Fign here, flease," she said through teeth gripped around particle board.
"Oh, certainly." The pen swished itself over the signature line and floated back into its slot. "Thank you so much!"
"Ahh im a jay's hork," she replied, fitting the clipboard back into its place. She turned back to the door, and in her mind she saw Sticks and Stones out on the street, waiting for her to emerge.
"Say, Twilight..." she asked, her voice tense, "do you mind if I take my lunch break in here? It's nice and quiet." It wasn't even quite eleven o'clock yet, but she knew the backup muffin would help calm her nerves.
"Oh, I don't mind at all. Although it won't be so quiet in about twenty minutes, Cheerilee's bringing her class over for a lesson in library science."
Ditzy was fishing out her backup muffin when a thought struck her. "Aren't Snips and Snails in her class?"
"Yeah, they are, why?"
"How do... What are they like?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are they... Do they get along with the other foals?" Ditzy was having a harder time with this line of questioning than she expected. "Are they friendly?"
"I suppose so, I haven't really dealt with them much, outside scolding them for that Ursa Minor fiasco. They get into their share of trouble, but they generally mean well. Why do you ask?"
Ditzy noticed Twilight was actively trying to make eye contact, which made her want to avoid it even more than usual. "I just... Well, I went to school with their older brothers, Sticks and Stones. Those two were the worst bullies in our class. I guess I was wondering if..."
"If they were following in their hoofsteps? No, I don't think so. From what I've heard, it sounds like they might've bullied their younger brothers as much as their classmates, and Snips and Snails don't want to inflict that on anyone else." Twilight paused and thought for a second. "Your daughter's in that class, isn't she? Did she say something?"
"No, she hasn't mentioned anything. I mean, there's always some foal getting into trouble, but nothing mean-spirited; Cheerilee's gotten really good at putting a stop to anything like that before it takes root." Because she's seen what happens when you don't. "But just because she doesn't say anything about it, doesn't mean it's not happening. Celestia knows I didn't tell my own parents everything..."
"So what brought this up now?"
Ditzy sat down on her haunches and took another bite to delay having to answer. After several prolonged seconds of chewing, she said, "I just had a run-in with Sticks and Stones out on the street. I barely see those two since graduation, but nearly every time I do, they make a production out of it." She explained what had happened outside the bakery, and their "idea" of making derp-facilitating goggles.
"Wow, that's mean. But since I've been helping Cheerilee's class with their studies, I've been reading up on foal psychology and behavior..."
A typical Twilight Sparkle reaction, Ditzy thought, smiling, identify the problem, and find the book for it.
"According to this one book on bullying, they seem to enjoy provoking reactions in their victims. So they suggest encouraging foals -- or adult ponies, as the case may be -- to resist the urge to respond to their taunts, so that they lose interest in--"
"Don't you think I tried that?" Ditzy snapped. "Every time I run into them, I tell myself not to react, and I try, I try so hard..." She closed her eyes, trying to conceal the fact that they'd gone crooked again, and to avoid Twilight's concerned gaze that was so incredibly determined to meet hers. "But it's like every other pony but me has this switch in their head that they can just turn off and not be bothered by what people say to them, but I don't have it. I can't 'not react' to them, I just can't. They know exactly what buttons to push, and they just keep pushing, and before I know what's happened I'm flipping out at them and my eyes aren't even pointed at the same thing anymore and it's exactly what they wanted to get out of me and I knew it and I gave it to them anyway because I just can't stop myself!"
"Oh, jeez, Ditzy, I'm sorry, I had no idea--"
"No one does, no one has any idea, or they just don't believe me, or they tell me I just need to 'toughen up' and 'not let them get to me', and I tell them I'd love to if they'd just tell me how, but they never do, and everyone always gives me the same advice over an over again and it never works!"
Twilight was silent for several seconds before speaking again. "Alright. I won't give you that same advice again. What I will do is keep researching, and if I find any different advice, I'll let you know and you can see how it works for you. Sound good?"
"Sounds like a plan. And... I'm sorry I snapped at you, Twilight. You didn't deserve it." Ditzy opened her eyes without thinking, and found herself looking Twilight right in the eye.
Panic and vertigo washed over her, like the time an uncontrolled windstorm had blown over Ponyville from the Everfree Forest and she helped the Weather Patrol disperse it. She'd never confronted a storm that strong, and the winds sucked her out of formation and into the eye. She felt like the pupils of Twilight Sparkle's eyes were the eye of that very storm, and she was being sucked uncontrollably into them, while at the same time they were penetrating deep into her own being.
Ditzy broke eye contact and scampered abruptly to the middle of the room, panting like she'd just run a marathon. "I... should probably get going. You've got the kids coming soon, and... I don't think I can handle that many kids right now." Before, she'd thought of staying to give Dinky a hug before continuing; now, the thought of being in a crowd that size terrified her. I'll just catch her later. "Besides, I'm supposed to be working."
"Right. Of course. I'll... I'll let you know if I find anything in my research, okay?"
"Sure." Ditzy made her way to the door, careful not to even look in Twilight's direction. "Thanks for your help."
"You're welcome." Ditzy could tell that she meant it, in every sense.
By the time she'd left the library, Sticks and Stones had thankfully moved on. Feeling a little better after unloading her frustration at Twilight and enjoying another blueberry muffin, she was able to keep her cool for the rest of her route, which a couple hours later eventually took her past the school. She knew this part of the day would cheer her up. After dropping off the day's mail at the office and picking up a stack of outgoing notices for the parents, she looped around the building to the windows of her daughter's classroom, like she did every day, rain of shine...
… and saw nothing but curtains.
"What. The hay. Seriously." While they were clearly back from the library by now like she'd expected, she realized the teacher must be showing a filmstrip or something, but that did nothing to cancel the frustration. On her first day of school, her daughter Dinky Doo was so upset about the idea of not seeing her mom all day that Ditzy promised to take a moment from her mail route to wave at her through the window. It had helped Dinky through a big and scary change in her life, and had become a daily tradition, rain, shine, or brutal hailstorm. She even stopped to wave during that vicious windstorm, between getting sucked into the eye and rejoining the Weather Patrol.
I should've waited at the library, she thought, scolding herself. I should've toughed out the crowd for her sake. What kind of mother am I? Still, this wasn't the first time circumstances had gotten in the way, she reminded herself; like before, she'd just have to try again later. After my last stop, I can fly back here for the wave before dropping off the outgoing stuff. It'll be a short trip by air, she'll still be in school then. But with her mood already sour, even delaying the chance to see her little filly made her feel even worse. She hoped the last leg of her route would help make up for it.
After her last few stops downtown, Ditzy's route led her towards the outskirts. The long path to Fluttershy's cabin was just the quiet and peaceful environment she needed.
As she trotted along, enjoying the scents of the flowers and the antics of the squirrels, a butterfly drifted in front of her and suddenly her attention was focused. It seemed to be exploring the meadow, looking for the best sources of nectar. Ditzy followed it quietly on hoof for several steps, spreading her wings for the first time that day and stretching out the soreness from the previous day's heavy workout. As the butterfly drifted higher, she launched herself into the air as gently as she could. She couldn't glide forever, but she kept herself airborne with as few wingbeats as possible, directing the wind away from the butterfly so it wouldn't be buffeted out of the air. On another stretch of gliding, she stretched out her feathers and felt for every tiny movement of the air, mapping its eddies and currents in her mind. She reached out a single foreleg, and for a brief moment, the butterfly, the wind and her hoof were all matching speed and direction, and the butterfly sat itself down on the edge of her shoe. They floated in the air like that, perfectly still, for maybe a second before gravity's pull on Ditzy Doo disrupted their harmony. She allowed herself to fall a moment and let the butterfly put some distance between them before flapping again and landing gently back on the path.
A soft voice interrupted the moment. "Wow, that looked fun!"
"Oh, hi, Fluttershy..." Ditzy was suddenly embarrassed that someone had seen her. She knew it wasn't anything weird or wrong, but these moments between her and the wind always felt kind of personal to her, and some stuffier ponies thought chasing butterflies is something only foals should do. At least Fluttershy wasn't one of them.
Ditzy pulled another pink envelope from her mailbag, wondering how much glitter she'd have stuck to her teeth by the end of the day. Fluttershy passed it down to the white rabbit that lived with her, who ran it back up to her house. "Anything outgoing?"
"No, not today. But if you'd like to stay for a moment..."
Ditzy considered the offer, checking the position of the sun. The only stop she had left was Sweet Apple Acres, and the afternoon was still young. She had a little time. "All right, but not for long."
Once they got inside, Fluttershy pulled a pitcher of lemonade from the icebox. "Perfect for a sunny day." Ditzy had to agree, her lemonade always hit the spot.
"So, are you doing okay? How's today been treating you?" Ditzy flinched internally at the question. She didn't want to get into it, so she just answered with a generic "Fine."
"Ooh. That bad?"
Was the flinch as internal as the thought? She couldn't think of anything she'd done to show her actual mood, but Fluttershy picked up on it anyway. In fact... Fluttershy had never done anything to interrupt Ditzy's rounds before. They'd known each other since school, and she knew how seriously she took her job. Normally she'd have invited her to visit after she was done.
She knew what kind of day I'd had as soon as she saw me. She had to. Ditzy never understood it, but somehow Fluttershy was always able to read her like a book. She was trying to cheer her up. And she was doing a decent job, Ditzy had to admit.
Ditzy opened up to her about the mailbox incident, the enounter with Sticks and Stones, the conversation with Twilight, and missing the chance to wave at her daughter. She always felt better talking to Fluttershy; for some reason, she just... got her.
"I don't get it. When I passed them in the market the week after Winter Wrap-Up, they just said 'Hi, Derpy,' snickered, and moved on. But today, it was like they smelled blood in the water. They sensed that I was already in a vulnerable state and moved in for the kill."
"Well, I've told you before, Ditzy, you're just really easy to read."
"Everypony's easy to read for you."
"Not as easy as you are. Sure I'm good at telling how somepony's feeling, but you're easier than most. Even ponies who aren't as good as me can tell. Your face must've been all frowny and your posture all crouchy, and they could tell from looking at you that you were already in a bad mood. But after Winter Wrap-Up, you were so proud of yourself for your work with the birds after Twilight gave you that compass, nothing got to you for weeks. With your head and your tail high, they knew not to bother."
This wasn't the first time Fluttershy had tried to explain this. Ditzy knew what body language was, she'd seen ponies be obviously sad or happy or angry. But it seemed she only recognized the most extreme examples. The way Fluttershy described it, everyone was always broadcasting their hidden feelings through their posture and expression, but try as she might, Ditzy just couldn't ever see it. Was there really this whole other level of it, something too subtle for her to see but obvious to everypony else? Was she so blind to it that she didn't even see what she was showing of herself?
It's like living in a town full of mind-readers, she thought to herself.
"Here's an idea. I don't know if it'll work, but at least it's something to try. So you can't make yourself not react. Why don't you try controlling how you react? Maybe in a way they aren't expecting?"
Ditzy looked up from her glass, intrigued. "How do you mean?" She looked Fluttershy in the eye as she spoke; she was one of a very short list of ponies Ditzy was comfortable doing that with.
"Well, maybe when they're making fun of you, you can join in and make fun of yourself. Build off of their jokes, insult yourself before they can insult you. They're trying to make you angry and defensive, but if you start agreeing with them, even if you don't really believe it, maybe it'll throw them off, and at least they won't get the angry reaction they're hoping for."
"That's... holy horse-apples, Fluttershy, that's brilliant. It's like... verbal Aikido! Using the energy of their attack and redirecting it back at them!"
"Well, it's something to try," she said, blushing at the praise. "Like I said, I'm not certain it'll work. But at least it's a different approach."
As long as they'd known each other, Fluttershy had always known just what to say. She was there the day when Ditzy's hated nickname had been coined. It was Fluttershy's first year of school in Ponyville since moving there the summer she earned her cutie mark. Ditzy saw a bit of herself in that awkward yellow pegasus, and took it upon herself to show her around. One day during art class, the two were working together on a paper-mache butterfly. They had a frame made of chicken wire, but Ditzy was having a hard time manipulating the paste-soaked paper. After another sheet flopped uselessly onto the table, Fluttershy asked her what was wrong, and not knowing how to explain her difficulty with the fine motor control required, she replied, "My hooves have gone all derpy on me!" She was just making a joke, and actually thought it was kinda funny; she wouldn't have minded if what few friends she had made a nickname out of it, because they would have meant well. But Sticks overheard, and passed it on to Stones, and before long everypony at school was calling her "Derpy Hooves" and making up ridiculous, insulting rhymes to go with it. Fluttershy was a good friend, but she just wasn't nearly assertive enough to stand up to them. The teachers couldn't do anything because the other ponies were careful to behave around them; Cheerilee, having recently earned her cutie mark and acting as a teacher's aide that year, tried to do what she could to work the system for Ditzy's benefit, but it wasn't enough, and once the joke had spread there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Even as a grown mare, she swore that some of her classmates had graduated thinking "Derpy" was her actual name.
"Thanks for the lemonade, 'Shy. And the advice. I'll try to remember it for next time, and let you know how it goes." She sucked down the last of her drink as she got up to leave.
"I hope it works. If not, we can come up with something else. And who knows, maybe Twilight will find something in her research. I mean, she learned how to run a race from a book."
Ditzy realized something else was still gnawing at her, something that Fluttershy had mentioned earlier. Something about Twilight... and Winter Wrap-Up.
"Fluttershy... Why do they keep picking me to escort the birds?"
"Well, because you're the best pony for the job, of course."
"Oh, come on. I got lost every year before Twilight got me that compass."
"You didn't get lost, you just took a while to find your way there and back. I know your sense of direction is a little... tricky, but you've never not gotten where you were going, have you?"
"Well, no, but there's better flyers in town. Like Rainbow Dash and Cloud Kicker..."
"Well, for one, they're expert weather ponies, so they're needed elsewhere. But there's more to it than just getting there and back, you have to get the birds to follow you. Can you imagine Rainbow Dash trying to do that? She'd just yell at them to stay in formation like a flight team and they'd all scatter in fright."
"Alright, but you're way better with animals than I am. Why can't you do it?"
"You know I'm not a strong flyer. I just don't have the endurance to cover that kind of distance in the air. Besides, I don't like flying any higher than the treetops, and there's actual mountains along the way. You can handle it easily, like that express package you flew to Cloudsdale yesterday."
"Well, I'm still kinda sore from that, I've been doing my route pretty much on hoof today. I couldn't do it two days in a row."
"Well, no, but it was express, they needed it fast, and you got it there fast. Escorting the birds is more distance than speed."
"Well, I suppose, but somepony has got to have those qualities plus a decent sense of direction."
"And don't forget your sensitivity to air currents. That's the most important thing of all."
"Really! Like when you were playing with that butterfly earlier, you could feel all those little currents of air that a big and strong pegasus pony can power straight through, but mean a lot more to a tiny butterfly, or a robin, or a sparrow. You can tell what the air feels like for the birds that are following you, so you can make the trip easier for them. They're not nearly as tired when they arrive when you lead them, and they can get right to settling into their nests and finding food and singing their songs. No other pony in town can do that as well as you do."
Ditzy started to blush at the praise. "You mean that? I always assumed everypony could feel that, they just didn't care as much about it as I did."
"Oh no, I don't think even Cloud Kicker can feel the air as precisely as you can. I certainly can't. It's quite a gift."
Finally, something I can do that nopony else can, instead of the reverse. Nice change of pace.
"And there's also the fact that I always insist on it during the planning meetings. I always get funny looks and arguments, but because of my knack with the animals, they've always respected my opinion." She looked almost embarrassed by the confession; Ditzy realized it had to be one of the few situations where she actually gets assertive.
"Well, that makes a lot of sense. I never realized... Thanks, 'Shy," she said as she started back down the path. "That really brightened my day."
"I'm glad, it seemed to need it."
Ditzy looked around the path for the butterfly from before, but it had moved on. She picked up the pace and started to make her way towards her last stop.
"Oh, Ditzy! One last thing!"
She turned around just in time to see Fluttershy's eyes not only cross, but one point up and the other down, as she said softly, "Derp!"
Ditzy snickered loudly before bursting into a full laugh. For some reason, Fluttershy was the only pony she knew who could do that and give her a smile instead of a frown.
As she approached Sweet Apple Acres, Ditzy still felt weighed down by her frustrations earlier in the day, but at the same time lifted up by the happier events. It was an odd mix, but at least it balanced out somewhat, and with her visit with Fluttershy fresh in her mind, the good stuff seemed to be winning out for the moment.
She trotted along the path down the middle of the orchard, imagining her psychological revenge against those bullying stallions. As petty as it felt and as non-violent as she was by nature, she couldn't help but fantasize about introducing her hooves to their faces. "Do these hooves look derpy to you now? Huh?" she imagined shouting at them as she stomped their smug grins off their faces.
Being a dirt path rather than a paved road, the dirt would occasionally clump up. Ditzy began to imagine some of these clumps to be Sticks' and Stones' faces, and she broke them apart with a playful kick, indulging in a quiet, villainous laugh.
Farther down, in a miniature valley between two low ridges, she saw a larger clump that seemed half-buried in the ground. She decided to put an end to her revenge fantasy, but do so with one last, satisfying deed. She pulled back her right front hoof, and swung at the clump with full force.
For a time, Ditzy wasn't aware of anything. Then, slowly, she became aware of a pony screaming. It was a primal, agonized bray, interrupted only by a pitiful sob on the inhale.
As she gasped for breath, she realized the screaming pony was her.
Following that realization was one of pain. White-hot, unbearable pain, shooting from her hoof up the full length of her leg like a never-ending lightning bolt, the flash blinding her from inside her own head. She became aware of the feeling of the ground on her left side, and of her tears mixing with the dirt to cake mud against her cheek. She wanted to know if her leg still worked, but she didn't dare move a single muscle.
She heard a voice in the distance; familiar, but not identifiable. As it came closer, words became clearer.
"Hold your carriage, I'm-a comin'!" Applejack? She thought so, but the pain was like cotton in her ears. She felt the approaching hoofbeats through the ground, a frantic, perhaps panicked pace.
She heard the pony skid to a halt at the top of the ridge ahead of her, and cautiously opened an eye. Through the tears, she could make out an orange-tan mare with a wide-brimmed hat. Applejack turned her head behind her and shouted, "MAC! Run back to the house and fetch the first aid kit! We got somepony injured here!"
Ditzy felt another, heavier set of hooves run off into the distance as Applejack approached. "Oh, horse-apples, what happened here? Ditzy? That you, sugarcube?"
Ditzy was only able to manage a weak nod.
"Oh my, look at this-- Strike that, don't look. Oh, dearie, what did you do to yourself? Your shoe's torn half off, and... aw, no, your hoof..."
"What... about my... hoof?" She managed to squeak out.
"You done cracked it all the way up to the quick. No wonder yer cryin' like a trapped bunny, I can't even 'magine how much that hurts."
The heavier hoofbeats returned and didn't stop until they were almost on top of her. "Aw, hell, AJ, you didn't tell me it was Ditzy Doo."
"Well, ah didn't recognize her at first. 'Sides, would you've hurried any more if you'd known? Now gimme that kit, she's bleedin' here."
Big Macintosh gingerly lifted her injured leg, but thankfully the motion didn't worsen the pain. Or maybe she was already feeling the maximum her brain could process, so it just didn't matter. Applejack dabbed up the blood and carefully wrapped a bandage around the hoof. By then her screaming had subsided into a quiet sob.
"Alright, you're gonna have to go see a doctor for this, but first we need to get that shoe outta there, and safely. You're in luck, though, Mac's as fine a farrier as ah ever seen. Now, can you sit up?"
"I... think so." Folding up the wounded leg to her chest, she carefully lifted herself onto her haunches with Big Mac's support, pretending the other three legs were all she had.
"Now, if you think you can manage it, I'd like you to fly up onto Big Mac's back and lie there while we carry you up to the house. If not, we'll have to go get a cart and load you into it. Ah ain't about to make you take a single step, even on what legs you got."
Ditzy nodded, and with a few short flaps landed herself across the large stallion's back.
"Alright, that's fine. Lemme get these for you," Applejack said as she shoved her nose under the straps of Ditzy's saddlebags and slid them onto her own back.
As they carefully trotted back to the house, Ditzy looked at the crest of the Equestria Postal Service on the bags. Sweet Apple Acres was her last stop, but she was still supposed to return to the post office with the outgoing mail she'd picked up. For the first time in her career as a mailpony, she'd be unable to complete her appointed rounds. Not because of rain or snow or dark of night, but a stupid half-buried rock caked with dirt.
And worse than that, she'd miss her chance to give Dinky the wave she was still waiting for. She was probably looking out the window at that very moment, wondering what was taking her so long.
The tears rallied at that thought, and she sobbed into Macintosh's mane. Everything that had gone wrong today, every minor frustration, came flooding back. At least I have a good excuse to cry, she told herself. No one has to know it's about anything but the pain.
After a good few minutes of feeling sorry for herself, she realized that she was on top of Big Macintosh himself. Nearly every mare and a few stallions in Ponyville would envy her position, and even pay the price of a thrown shoe and cracked hoof to be in it. She leaned into him a little bit and sniffed his mane; as always, he smelled like hard work, rich soil, and apples. If they could put this scent into a candle, I'd buy a million of 'em. By the time they got back to the house, everything that had happened that day seemed to matter a little less, and even the pain didn't seem quite as bad.
Not until Big Mac started working on it, anyway. The tacks had to come out, but every little twist sent a fresh wave of agony up her leg. She didn't even try to keep her eyes straight anymore, that ship had long since sailed.
"Ah'm tryin' to be, but you keep squirmin'!"
"I'm squirming because it hurts!"
"It'll hurt less if you quit squirmin'!"
"Whoah, there," Applejack interrupted. "We are all on the same side, here, right?" The other two ponies nodded.
"Alright, then let's act like it. Now, Ditzy, how 'bout I git you a little somethin' to drink to take the edge off? What'll ya have?"
"Got any lighter fluid?"
"Heh. Not quite, but my gran'pappy Moonshine makes this stuff that most've us won't use 'cept for blastin' old tree stumps outta the ground. That'll take the edge offa anythin'. I'll go get a jug an' a shot glass for ya."
"Ah don't think that's such a great idea, AJ," Big Mac interjected.
"What are you talking about?" shouted Ditzy, bolting half-upright from the cot. "It's the best idea I've heard all week!"
Big Mac sighed. "Alcohol thins the blood. And this wound o' yours is worryin'ly close to the frog."
Ditzy Doo gulped. The frog was more than just a soft pad inside the curve of the hoof. It was a pump that pushed blood back up a pony's leg with each step. A cut too close to the frog, and with each step her blood would be pumping out, not up.
"On second thought," Applejack said after moment, "How 'bout I just get you a nice cold glass o' cider? Not hard cider!" she quickly clarified at Macintosh's glare. "Just regular, non-blood-thinnin', non-life-threatenin', safe-for-a-foal apple cider."
"I'd love some."
"Be right back."
Big Mac looked carefully at Ditzy's ruined hoof and shoe. The frontmost tacks had come clean out, but behind those where one in the left and two on the right that were still partially embedded in the nail. "Okay, look. Wigglin' these tacks wiggles the hoof, and that wiggles the soft bits the hoof's connected to, and that's what's makin' ya hurt. It won't be pleasant, but ah really do think the best thing is to just yank 'em straight out and git it done with. It'll hurt, but then it'll be over, and we can get you to a proper doctor. Agreed?"
Ditzy tried to answer, but the words caught in her throat. She just nodded instead.
"All right. Now just lay back down -- there ya go -- and let me work." He placed her foot gently on the low workbench, and fitted the forked end of the small prybar around the first tack. "Alright... On the count ah three. Ready?"
Another nod. Ditzy shut her eyes tight.
Applejack almost spilled the cider running back into Big Mac's workroom at the sound of the scream. "What in tarnation?"
"Your brother is a lying bastard, that's what!"
"A lyin' bastard what got the first tack out, you mean. Ditzy, you wanna take a drink ah that cider, calm your nerves before ah do the next one?"
"Keep going! Just get it over with!"
"Alright, no countin' this time..."
The bent shoe, finally free, clattered to the floor.
"There ya go, darlin', it's all over. How 'bout some ice-cold cider for our brave little filly, here?"
"Okay," Ditzy sqeaked out. Applejack set the glass on the workbench and pointed a bendy straw towards Ditzy's mouth. She cracked one eye open and slowly raised her head to take a sip.
"Mhm. Good stuff." She slurped down some more. "Keep it coming." Applejack filled her glass from the pitcher without a word.
Several minutes and half a pitcher later, Applejack broke the silence. "Okay, now if yer feelin' up to it, we need to get you to the ER. A pony's feet are delicate things, I ain't gonna take any chance of you goin' lame. I'll go get Caramel, we can get you into a cart and wheel you over."
Two thoughts had kept Ditzy going through this ordeal: That of reassuring her certainly-worried daughter that she was okay, and of riding on Big Macintosh's back again on the way to the hospital. Now they're talking about putting her in a cart?
"Are you sure a cart's a good idea, AJ?" she asked nervously. "I mean, they can be kinda bumpy, and the slightest little jostle of this hoof hurts like you wouldn't believe..."
"I suppose you'd rather Mac carried you, then?" Ditzy thought she heard an amused tone in her voice, but assumed she was mistaken. This was no time for laughter.
"Well... I mean, if he wouldn't mind..." She suddenly felt guilty for raising the objection. He almost certainly has other work he needs to do, work that's been delayed by a pony too stupid to tell a rock from a clump of dirt before kicking it...
"That ain't no problem at all, li'l filly. Ah'd already finished 'bout everythin' ah needed to be doin', and the rest don't need somepony of my size to do it."
Ditzy's heart nearly skipped a beat. "Well, okay, if you're sure." A few gentle wingbeats later, and she was back where she wanted to be. "Applejack, could I ask you another favor?"
"What is it, sugarcube?"
"Could you... run to the school and pick up Dinky for me?" Her gut twisted into a knot at the idea of delegating such a task, but there just wasn't any better option. "I'd ask Mac to take me, but her class gets out in about twenty minutes and I don't think there's any way he could get me there that quick. I don't want her standing around worrying about me."
"That ain't no problem at all, missy. Ah can get there in ten at a full gallop. I'll have Apple Bloom keep her company, too. We'll all meet you at the hospital later."
"Thank you, that means a lot." She reached out to shake hooves out of habit, but a fresh zap of pain reminded her of other priorities. "Guess we should probably get going. Although, Mac, I hate to ask yet other favor on top of this one, but would you mind making a small side trip? It's only a couple blocks from the hopsital..."
Big Macintosh took a slow, steady pace from the house to the street, taking care not to jostle his passenger unduly. As they passed the spot where they'd found her, he asked, "So, what exactly happened, if ya don' mind tellin'?"
"It's... kinda embarrassing. Okay, it's really embarrassing." But I think he deserves to know after taking such good care of me. "I was kicking clumps of dirt, imagining they were these two bullies from my school years I ran into today--"
"Who, you mean Sticks and Stones? Ah hate them varmints."
Ditzy blinked, surprised that he knew of them. "Yeah, them. Anyway, I saw this one big clump that looked like it would be really satisfying to break, and..."
"An' it turned out to be that rock we been meanin' to pull outta the path. Aw, darlin'. You went an' hit that thing with all you had, didn' ya."
Big Mac turned his head to give Ditzy a brief nuzzle as he kept walking. "Mighty foolish thing to do, there."
"Well, don' worry. The doc'll getcha fixed up. An' it's hardly the stupidest thing anypony's ever done. We all go an' do somethin' mighty dumb once it a while, don't beat yourself up for it."
"What's the dumbest thing you've ever done?"
"The dumbest?" He thought for a moment. "That'd have to be the time ah got into a drinkin' contest with Caramel, usin' that stuff gran-pappy Moonshine makes. Ah tell ya, mah head felt about as split open as your hoof there. That was the night ah got myself injured an' left AJ havin' to harvest all them apples herself. 'Cept ain't nopony can remember exactly what ah did to hurt myself. Or if they can, they ain't tellin'. Mah only clue was that the bruise on mah ribs was the same shape as the crank handle on the juice press. Me and Caramel may've gotten into a fight while ah was so drunk ah couldn' even feel mah own ribs crack, but neither of us remembers it."
"Wow, Mac. That's... pretty impressively dumb."
"Yeah, ah don' touch gran'pappy Moonshine's stuff no more. It's more dangerous to drink than it is to blast with."
They were quiet the rest of the way to Ditzy's requested side trip. Macintosh must've known what it meant to her, as cheerfully as he agreed to it. Finally he trotted up to the doors of the post office and Ditzy dropped off her mailbags with all the outgoing letters and packages they contained, so that her track record of never leaving her rounds incomplete remained unbroken. She spent the short walk from there to the hospital nuzzling Big Mac's neck, and she wasn't sure but it seemed like once in a while he nuzzled back.
"You'll need to wear a boot on that hoof until the crack grows out completely, otherwise you might reopen it. And since it won't be wearing down from use, get a good farrier to file it down for you regularly; don't try to do it yourself. But absolutely no walking for at least three days, and no heavy exertion, either. Understand?"
Ditzy nodded at the doctor's instructions.
"Good. Now, is the local holding up?"
"Well, I can't feel anything below the ankle, so I'd say that's a yes."
"Very well. I've written a prescription for some painkillers, the pharmacist will go over the details for you. Really, though, you're lucky the injury wasn't so bad. It could've been a lot worse."
"Not that bad? Then how come it felt like the crack was being flossed with barbed wire soaked in lemon juice?"
The doctor flinched a little at the vivid imagery. "Well, it's a sensitive area. All those nerves make sure we're as careful with our feet as we need to be."
"Most of us, anyway."
"Well, just stay off it, and when you do start walking on it again -- with a boot, remember? -- if it feels like anything's wrong, don't hesitate to come in for a followup. And I mean that. Do. Not. Hesitate."
"Now if you need anything else, the nurse can help you out. We'll keep you here overnight while we're waiting for the tests, make sure you didn't pick up any infections. But if not, you'll be able to leave in the morning. I'll check in with you once they're done."
"Thanks, doc." With that, the doctor left the curtained-off area to tend to his next patient.
"Did you need anything else, miss?" asked the nurse, poking her head in after the doctor left.
"Well... It's not medical or anything, but if you wouldn't mind..."
Once the admissions nurse finally let him know he could visit her, Big Macintosh poked his head through the curtains around Ditzy Doo's bed, and finally understood her cutie mark.
A cloud of soap bubbles floated above her bed, and the only word he could think of to describe their motion was "dancing." She lay on her left side, and had pulled back the blanket to expose her right wing, which she held upright. She made only the slightest of movements, and the slowly-falling bubbles rose back up into the air and swirled around each other. The expression on Ditzy's face was pure, undisguised bliss.
"Well, ain' that somethin'," he said quietly.
"EEP!" Ditzy quickly flapped to disperse the cloud and furled her wing back to her side.
"Aw, ah'm sorry, I'd ah knocked but you ain' got no door..."
"Oh, it's okay, I guess. It's just that, I dunno, when I do that, I'm just sort of in my own little world, you know?"
"So is that how you practice that talent o' yours, with the air currents?"
Ditzy suppressed the surprise that he knew about that, too. "More like how I discovered it. As a filly I'd play with bubbles, dandelion seeds, even plain old dust in the sunlight. Anything light enough to float in the air and visible enough to track, I could play with for hours, just experimenting with how the air made it move, and how I could move the air. Then, when I learned how to fly, I was able to apply what I'd learned about how the air moved almost immediately, and there was my cutie mark. Seven perfect little soap bubbles, dancing in the breeze."
Ditzy closed up the bottle of bubble liquid the nurse had gotten her from the gift shop and tucked it under her pillow. Big Mac looked like he was about to say something more, when a tiny voice began echoing down the hall. "Momma? Momma! Where are you, Momma?"
"She's right this way, sugarcube. See where Big Mac is? I'll bet she's in there."
"I'm not a sugarcube, I'm a muffin!" Dinky defiantly replied. "Well, I'm really a unicorn, but my mom always calls me muffin!"
"Alright, alright," Applejack chuckled. "No offense meant, that's just what ah call folks." She poked her head around the curtain. "See? There she is."
"MOMMA!" The tiny lavender foal ran to her bedside, hopping repeatedly in a desperate but hopeless attempt to reach the mattress until Big Mac offered her a boost.
Ditzy wrapped one good leg and one half-numb one around her daughter in a tight hug, nuzzling the mane on her head that looked so much like her own.
"I was so worried when you didn't come and wave to me, my horn told me you were near like it always does, but the curtains were all down 'cause Miss Cheerilee was making us watch this boring movie about vowels and junk, and I was sure you'd come by later but you never did, and I told Miss Cheerilee I was worried about you but she told me it was prob'ly nothing and you were just busy, but she didn't get it 'cause you come and wave every day even when you are busy, and I knew something had to be wrong and then Applejack came to pick me up instead of you and I knew it even more, but she told me that there wasn't anything to worry about, and Apple Bloom says she's not the kind of pony that tells lies, but I know grown-up ponies are always telling li'l foals there's nothing to worry about even when there is, then she said we were gonna see you at the hospital, but how can there be nothing to worry about when you're in the hospital, that's where you go when there is something to worry about, and she tried to calm me down with some ice cream and it was really good and I told her thank you like I'm s'posed to but I just didn't know what to believe anymore and I was really really scared, and now I'm here and you've got a bandage all 'round your hoof and a tube in your leg and I need to know if you're gonna be okay!"
Ditzy looked down at her daughter's eyes, brimming with tears, and realized her own were, too. "Aw, muffin..." She gave her another reassuring hug. "Momma just hurt her hoof is all. It hurt really bad, but Big Mac and Applejack took good care of me, and so did the doctor. I just need to be careful with it, and I'll be okay."
"So there's really nothing to worry about?" She looked skeptical, yet hopeful.
"No, not anymore."
Dinky visibly relaxed, finally able to take her mother at her word. "Can I help you get better?"
"Well, just having you here makes me feel better. But if you want to try, why don't you snuggle up with me under the blanket, and you can point your horn at my hoof and think get-better thoughts through it, and maybe your unicorn magic will help it heal faster." Ditzy knew it was unlikely that she'd be able to do anything at her age, she was only just getting the knack of using her crayons with her horn. But it would make her feel useful, and she knew how much that would help her cope.
Dinky snuggled up tight next to her mom, aimed her horn, and concentrated like she was trying to lift a boulder. A couple of feeble sparks jumped from the tip of her horn. "Don't strain yourself, kiddo," her mom said gently, "Just relax." Dinky looked up, nodded, and settled into a more comfortable position, looking like she was meditating more than exerting yourself. Every few moments, another spark would appear, probably convincing her that it was working, despite the odds.
After a few soothing minutes like this, Ditzy noticed that Applejack had made a discreet exit. Big Mac took a few quiet steps closer, looking like he was about to say whatever it was he was going to earlier, when he was interrupted again by a high-pitched voice from outside the curtain. "Where is she? Is she okay? Did those meanie-weenie bullies beat her up? Ooh, I hope she gave them as good as she got! What bed are THEY in? I wanna get a piece of 'em myself! Oh hey, there's Big Macintosh, she must be in there!"
"Hi, Pinkie. No, I didn't get into a fight, I just threw a shoe and messed up my hoof." Big Mac rolled his eyes in frustration as the hyperactive pony charged in beside him.
"Oh. Boy, now I feel silly for getting all worked up over those bullies. Not that they should get away with what they did, I banned them from the bakery for a week for what they said to you," -- apparently an entire week without access to sweets was a dire punishment in Pinkie pie's mind -- "but I guess threats of violence weren't called for if they didn't do this."
"Don't you worry about it, Pinkie. I can take care of them myself." As much as she liked Pinkie Pie, she could really be a bit … much … at times, and this was one of them. She hoped she'd said enough to satisfy her and she'd leave her to rest.
Rainbow Dash flew herself up instead of trying to get past Pinkie, looking over the top of the curtain rod. "You doin' okay, there? Applejack sorta filled us in, we were worried about you."
As extroverted as Rainbow Dash was, she was a cool breeze compared to Pinkie. But still, things were getting a little crowded for her taste.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Just gotta stay off it." She summarized the injury, if not the cause, and the doctor's instructions for them.
"Oh jeez, all the way up to the quick? I did that once in flight school, flubbed a landing after a high-G maneuver, smacked my hoof hard on the strip. That is not a pain you forget, my friend. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried like a little filly who'd lost her Wonderbolts action figures, it was that bad."
Ditzy appreciated the fact that at least one visitor was actually expressing sympathy, rather than just going on about... whatever. But apparently it reminded Pinkie of the same thing, only she expressed sympathy rather differently.
"Ooh! I know what we should do! That party I'm throwing on Tuesday? We should make it a 'Get Well, Ditzy Doo' party! The cake isn't decorated yet, so that's no problem. I can redo the banners. Oh, and we should get bubble soap in honor of her cutie mark! We can have bubble-blowing contests! Woohoo! It'll be the best get well party ever!"
Okay. This was too much. The Pinkie Pie limit had been reached.
"Alright, Pinkie, we can talk about that tomorrow, but right now I really need some rest. It's not that I don't like you, it's just that you're being really loud and high energy right now and what I need is some peace and quiet."
… Is what Ditzy wished she could say. Instead, all that came out was a faint, Fluttershy-like squeak.
"Uh, Pinkie?" Dash interjected. "Maybe this isn't the best time for this."
"OOH, I can do different colors of streamers! Streamers that match your coat and your mane! And we can play Pin the Tail on the Ditzy, I can make a pinata in the shape of those awful bullies -- or is that too violent? Yeah, it's not really fitting in the theme of a get well party. I could make one that looks like you, but that goes even LESS well with the--"
"PINKIE!" The deep, booming voice was so unlike the quiet drawl everypony was used to that they all looked around for a second before realizing it was Big Macintosh who spoke.
"Yes, Mac? Do you know what the pinata should look like?"
"Pinkie, can't you tell that you're stressin' her out?"
"Well, she's all huddled up under her blanket, but I assumed that was excitement for her get well party."
Big Mac sighed deeply. "Look, missy. She likes you. We all like you. but you're a real high energy pony at the best of times, and right now you're hoppin' around like you jus' discovered the miracle o' coffee. And she jus' can't deal with it right now. She. Needs. Quiet."
'But... But she always loves my parties."
"Ah know she does." It was true, they were always fun. But she'd never been the guest of honor for one; she'd been able to carefully keep Pinkie from discovering her birthday for years, just to prevent the inevitable surprise party. "But that don' mean she's in any shape for plannin' one right now while she's laid up in the hospital!"
"Oh, okay, I guess we can start planning it tomorrow when she feels better. We can collaborate or party games and decorations--"
"And furthermore, you shouldn't be goin' and volunteerin' her as the guest o' honor without clearin' it with her first! You ever stop to think that maybe she don' wanna be the center of attention the whole time?"
"She... not... What?" Pinkie looked about as confused as if someone had just told her they don't like chocolate. It conflicted so badly with her understanding of things that she couldn't process what she was hearing.
"Ditzy Doo is a sensitive mare, Pinkie. Ain't you ever noticed how halfway through a party she always disappears into a corner for a while? Sometimes more than once?"
Big Mac noticed that? She didn't think anyone but Fluttershy noticed that.
"Uh, no, I hadn't. I mean, why would she? Was my party not fun enough?" The thought seemed to horrify her.
Big Mac scrunched his eyes for a moment, the strain of explaining the idea of introversion to somepony like Pinkie Pie clearly getting to him. "No, it ain't that. She just ain't like you, is all. She can't be energetic and sociable and 'on' all the time. She loves your parties, she just needs to take a break from time to time. All the noise an' activity, it wears her out faster than other ponies, and she just needs time to recharge. An' if she's the guest o' honor, how is she ever gonna get a chance to do that?"
"Um." Pinkie looked like the concept was starting to sink in, but it was like Big Mac was speaking to her in a language she was still learning. "Okay. Wow. This is real party planner's conundrum. I'll have to go back to the drawing board for this. In the meantime, though: Tuesday's party, still on, theme unchanged. Get well party for Ditzy Doo, on hold until I can crack this nut." She actually looked like she was deep in thought. "Wowie, I may need to get Twilight's help on this. Twilight! Back to the library! We have a paradox to resolve!" she shouted as she turned to leave. "OOPS! I mean..Twilight, we have a paradox to resolve!", she whispered, somehow no quieter than her normal voice but at least not a battle cry, winking at Ditzy as she did.
"What? Now? But I haven't even gotten a chance to see Ditzy!" Twilight complained from outside the curtain.
"Alright, alright!" Big Mac barked. "Everypony come in, one at a time, and say your piece to Ditzy. But keep it brief." None of them dared to argue with him. This was easily ten times more words than any of them had ever heard from him in a single conversation, and even Applejack gave him a wide berth. He poked his head out of the curtain to make sure everyone was queued up and well-behaved.
A virtual parade of concerned ponies made their way through, but it was nice that they came to wish her well and it was over soon enough. Finally, after the Cutie Mark Crusaders had left to investigate whether any of them had a talent for medicine, Applejack picked up the now fast asleep Dinky. "Ah told her she could sleep over at our place with Apple Bloom, if it was okay with you."
"That's fine. Thank you, I hope it's not a bother."
"Oh, it ain't no bother at all. She's a sweetie, Apple Bloom loves her to death." Big Mac helped her lift the foal onto her back, where she hugged her neck and nuzzled in, making a sound that might've been a badly-slurred "muffin".
"You gonna need any help takin' care of her while yer laid up?"
"Her half-sister Sparkler should be back from visiting their dad in Manehattan tomorrow, I'll ask if Dinky can stay with her for a while. I doubt she'll mind, they get along so well she'll probably think I'm doing her a favor."
"Well, like the doc said, don' even hesitate to ask if you need another set ah hooves 'round the house," she said as the whole Apple family turned to leave.
"You know, you don't have to go," she told Big Mac.
Letting his sister leave ahead of him, he pointed his nose towards the clock on the wall. "I sorta do, darlin'. Visitin' hours ended about when Scootaloo was tryin' to take yer temperature. Ah think ah hear the nurse out there tappin' her hoof."
"You do," she confirmed from outside the curtain. "I'm supposed to move her into an actual room for the night."
"Oh." Ditzy was disappointed. She'd hoped once the last of her visitors was gone, she'd have enough time alone with Big Mac for him to say whatever he'd been trying to all evening.
"It's alright, you need your rest, like ah been tryin' to tell everypony else."
"I suppose. See you in the morning?"
"Bright an' early. Ah'll even wheel ya home."
"I'll be able to fly, you know."
Big Mac shook his head. "Doc told you not to exert yourself, an' ah'm gonna see that ya don't. 'Sides, them painkillers can mess up your balance. Found that out after that drinkin' contest ah told you 'bout. You don' wanna be flyin' with them in yer system."
"Dang. I guess that means I'm taking some sick days after all."
"Darn tootin' you are! Just how soon were you plannin' on goin' back to work? Ya know what, don' answer that. Your record don't apply to rounds you didn't start on account o' not bein' able to show up for work in the first place. You hear me?"
Ditzy shrank into her bed. "I hear you." She looked up and met his big, green eyes. No panic, no vertigo. Just concern.
"So that's settled then. Ah better let the nurse move ya before she wears a hole in the floor." He pulled the curtain aside and stepped out of the way. "All yours, missy."
"Much obliged," the nurse sarcastically replied.
As she started to wheel Ditzy's bed out into the aisle, Big Mac leaned down and gave Ditzy a quick peck on the forehead. "Take care o' yourself. Anythin' happened to you, ah might just have to break my own rule against gran'pappy Moonshine's blastin' hooch. Don't think there's nothin' else that'd dull that hurt." With that, Ditzy watched the second pony she ever met who really, truly got her trot out towards the front desk and out of the ER.
"Took long enough, but that was nice of him," the nurse said once they were alone together in the hall.
"Yeah, it was... Not quite what I was hoping to hear, but nice."
"Sweet Celestia, do you expect him to just blurt it out? It's no easier for stallions than it is for mares, you know."
Ditzy felt distinctly embarrassed by her social cluelessness. "I'm not really... any good with... you know. Subtlety."
The nurse was silent for several steps. "You thought that was subtle?"
Ditzy felt her cheeks pinken, and sighed. She started to open her mouth to explain, but instead just muttered, "Never mind."
"Alright, alright. Well, trust me. If you were hoping to hear what I think you were hoping for, he was doing his level best to tell you just that without actually using the words. Understand?"
"I think so?"
"Good enough. Just... When he's wheeling you home tomorrow, don't forget what the doctor said about not exerting yourself, okay?"
"Of course not, that's why I'm taking the wheelchair instead of--"
Ditzy buried her face under the blanket as the nurse failed to conceal her snickering under a cough. Once her bed was locked into place in her room and the nurse had left her alone, she reemerged, turned off the table lamp, and snuggled down into the pillow.
As bad as things had gotten, maybe it wasn't such a completely dismal day after all.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is property of Hasbro, and made awesome by Lauren Faust.
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