Crystal’s Hopes – Chapter 61 [Draft]

There was something different about the condo Crystal and Velvet used to share.

It wasn’t the fact that every hard corner had been foal-proofed with soft foam, or that there was a fabulously plush rug of multi-colored pastel hues in the center of the room.  It also had nothing to do with her old bedroom now painted a gentle green color and home to a crib.

The something different was Velvet herself.

“All right, we’re still safely in the first stage,” Velvet said in a voice that sounded much calmer than she looked.  She paced the living room, beads of sweat visible along her sides.  “Everything is right on schedule.”

She wasn’t the shy filly Crystal met so many years ago.  Nor was she the laughing, playful jokester she’d grown into.  Most of all, there was no sign of the insecure, self-loathing mare Crystal had discovered was hiding under the grinning facade.

“Sweetie,” Sunbeam said from where she hovered in the kitchen while Pepper baked another batch of worry muffins.  “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable at the hospital?”

Velvet was somepony new.

“No, I wouldn’t.”  Velvet pointed at her bookshelf full of books on pregnancy, labor, and motherhood that had long since replaced the Prima Donna collection.  “If I go now, I’ll just be sitting there for hours.”

Today, she was confident.  She had been waiting for this day for so long, and now it was finally here.

“Besides,” Velvet mumbled, her ears going flat against her disheveled mane as she glanced at the front door, “I’m waiting for somepony.”

Well—mostly confident, anyway.

Crystal tilted her head.  “Who?  The rest of your family is at the hospital already, aren’t they?”

The only response Velvet gave was a frustrated huff and more pacing.  Crystal looked past her to offer Sunbeam a sympathetic shrug.

By the time Pepper was on his fourth batch of muffins—blueberry, apparently, was the flavor of worry—Velvet looked about ready to sweat her entire body weight through.  She stopped her frantic pacing, sighed, and mumbled, “I guess she’s not coming.”

“Who?”  Sunbeam trotted over to press her nose to Velvet’s cheek.  “Who, Sweetie?  I’ll go find her and drag her over here by the tail if I have to!  Just, please, let’s get you settled.”

Two curt knocks drew a gasp from Velvet.  “Oh my Celestia,” she breathed, “she’s here!”

They watched as Velvet hurriedly wobbled over to the door and threw it open.  An old mare stood on the other side, head held high in perfect form and expression locked in disdain.

“Velvet Step,” the mare said in a clipped tone.  “I must admit, it is not often that I will go to a hospital for somepony.  It is less often that I will then, after being told they are not there, go to their home.”

A startled, almost manic laugh bubbled up from Velvet’s throat.  “Seriously?  I’ve been waiting here for you instead of going to the hospital.”

No change came to the mare’s expression, much less amusement.  “How ironic.”

“Uh, yeah.”  Velvet looked over her shoulder and gestured for Crystal to get off the sitting pillow.  “Sorry about the trouble, but—”

Before Crystal could get up, the mare raised a hoof to stop her.  “There’s no need to make any accommodations for me.  Although I am still quite curious how you believe there is any plausible reason for me to take you on in spite of your letters, I’m simply here to tell you the answer is assuredly no.”

Sunbeam shoved her way between Velvet and the mare, standing on the tips of her hooves to try to match her height.  “Excuse you!  I don’t know what’s going on here, but who are you to talk to my daughter that way?”

“Who am I?”  The mare snorted.

“Mom,” Velvet hissed as she tried to tug Sunbeam away, but to no avail.  “Mom, don’t you remember?  This is my old teacher, Shimmering Waltz!”

Crystal gasped and Sunbeam wilted at the name: the single-most prestigious ballerina in living history.  While Sunbeam just stared with wide eyes, Crystal broke the tension to ask, “The answer to what is no?”

Shimmering snorted.  “Miss Step can explain.  I bid the rest of you good day.”

“Wait!” Velvet winced as she moved a little too quickly, grabbing Shimmering by a forehoof.  “You went all the way to the hospital just to tell me ‘no’?  I don’t buy that one bit!  What’s the deal?”

The hoof was quickly torn away and a withering glare sent in its place.  “Because I realized, as I was walking here, that you have a history of quitting.  You quit my lessons.  You quit the Canterlot Ballet.  And now you’ve quit the Royal Ballet.  By all logic and reason, you are entirely unqualified.”

Crystal heard the unspoken—“But?”

Shimmering’s gaze snapped to her.  “Excuse you?”

Crystal moved forward to stand beside Velvet.  “I agree that it doesn’t make sense to go through all of that effort just to tell her no for—for whatever this is.  There’s a but.”

In the background, there was the sound of a muffin tin flattering against the ground as Pepper hurried over to join the united front. “Speak up, buttercup.”

“I see you surround yourself quite well,” Shimmering commented under her breath and shook her head, expression softening.  “You’re right.  Despite my better judgment, I find myself… sentimental.”  Her sharp composure returned.  “Do you know what happened the last time I allowed sentiment to override my judgment?”

Velvet chewed on her lower lip and said nothing as she shook her head.

After a long, tense pause, Shimmering relaxed into the faintest of smiles.  “I gave up my career to have my daughter.”

“Then you understand?” Sunbeam asked with a rush of sugary hope.

“Given that it was quite possibly the wisest choice I ever made, yes.  I do.”  Shimmering held out her hoof to Velvet.  “I expect to hear from you as soon as you find yourself physically able, Miss Step.”

Velvet squealed and shoved past the hoof to throw her forelegs around the old mare’s neck.  Though the embrace wasn’t returned, it was tolerated with only a slight frown.

Shimmering cleared her throat.  “There is, however, one condition.”

“Of course!”  Velvet pulled back, settling on her haunches to wipe the tears from her eyes.  “Of course. Whatever it is, I’ll do it.”

“I expect you to finish your lessons.”  The mare’s expression tightened with stern sincerity.  “And I expect you to do so without complaint.”

Velvet paused long enough for Crystal to worry.  Though whatever was on the table still eluded her, she wanted Velvet to have it. She needed Velvet to have it.

Finally, Velvet nodded.  “Yeah.  Okay, yeah.  I agree.”  She held out a hoof. “Thanks, Ms. Waltz.”

Shimmering accepted the hoof for a brief shake before stepping back from the door.  “Yes.  Well.   I expect you are in dire need of going to the hospital, so please stop delaying the birth of your foal.”

Sunbeam gave an enthusiastic nod.  “Listen to your teacher, honeybun!”  She trotted over to where a pre-packed pink bag waited.  “Let’s go!”

While Shimmering had left and both parents were flitting about in a fret, Crystal stared at Velvet.  The mare had her face buried in her hooves, just a glimpse of a smile visible around them.  Though it filled her chest with warmth, there was still a question lingering in Crystal’s mind:

“What exactly was that all about?”

Velvet’s head snapped up and she blinked away the tears in her eyes.  “I—”

“Walk now, talk later!” Sunbeam exclaimed, planting her forehooves on Velvet’s rump and giving her a light shove upright.  “Let’s go, cakepops!”

Velvet snorted a laugh and ambled forward, emotion and pregnancy restricting her movements.  “Jeeze, Mom, it’s like you’re more excited about this than I am.”

“Or just taking it more seriously!” Sunbeam trotted ahead to reach the stairs first.  She pivoted on her hindhoof and took a few steps down them backwards, her eyes locked on Velvet.

Velvet’s brow arched.  “Uh, I seem to recall a certain hypocritical mare standing on a train platform in full sweats from stalling her own labor, actually.”

From behind them, Pepper cleared his throat.  “Let’s not antagonize your mother, okay?  How about you tell us what that whole ordeal with your old teacher was about?”

Crystal nodded in wholehearted agreement, ears swiveled to both face Velvet as she started speaking.

“Okay, okay.  Yeah, so, I started writing letters to Ms. Waltz about maybe teaching at her studio.  It was the closest chance I had, you know?  She at least knew me.  All I had to do was convince her to give me a chance.”

Crystal held onto one of her hooves as they started down the stairs together. “And how long have you been harassing her?”

“Harassing!” Velvet huffed, both from indignation and exertion.  “Rude.  I didn’t harass her.  They were just letters.”

“How many?” Pepper asked, still vigilantly guarding the rear.

Velvet waited until they reached the ground floor before she sheepishly muttered, “One every week for the past four months.”

“Velvet Chocosyrup Step!” Sunbeam exclaimed and threw open the lobby doors.  “That’s stalking!”

“It’s determination, and it paid off!”  Velvet yelled back.

Waiting outside the condominium building was a rented sulky, the carriage a veritable nest of pillows and blankets.  While Crystal and Sunbeam helped Velvet settle in, Pepper strapped himself to the front.  The two mares took up position on both sides of the sulky and trotted alongside it as Pepper started forward.

“So,” Crystal began, sending a sidelong glance up at Velvet, “how soon do you think you’ll be able to start?”

“I guess not very soon. Which sucks, because I hate that you’ll have to keep paying my rent while I…” Velvet’s ears shot up, her jaw went slack, and she groaned.  “Oh sweet Celestia’s sunny flank—“

“Velvet!” Sunbeam shrieked and Crystal was startled into laughter.

“—I’m going to be taking dance lessons with teenagers!  This is going to be so awkward!”  She buried her face in both hooves and wailed dramatically.

Eyes turned and followed them while they made their way through the streets of Canterlot.  A sign affixed to each side proudly explained: ‘Pregnant Mare On Board’.

“Look at it this way, sweetie,” Pepper said over his shoulder.  “At least you’ll have a great workout regimen to look forward to.”

Sunbeam nodded. “That’s true!”

There was a long pause before Velvet gasped.  “Are you—Are you saying I’m fat?

“You’re pregnant,” Sunbeam replied in a flat voice, her brow furrowed into a straight line.  “Of course you’re not fat.  You’re just carrying extra weight.”

Velvet gasped again and clutched her forehooves to her stomach. 

 “My foal isn’t extra weight!

With a soft groan, Sunbeam caught up with Pepper and shot him an exasperated look.  “Please tell me I wasn’t like this when I was pregnant.”

Pepper cleared his throat.  “Oh!  Look!  The hospital!”

“How convenient,” Sunbeam muttered as she fell back into position.

Crystal tried to stifle her giggle, instead schooling her expression into one of placid concern. Her best friend was, after all, having a foal. This wasn’t the time to be laughing.

Or perhaps it was exactly the time to be laughing. She wasn’t sure.

The sulky came to a gentle halt and Sunbeam hovered over Velvet’s every movement, cautioning her with continuous reminders to be careful. Velvet swatted her mother’s hoof away, paused, then waved it back for assistance with the step down.

Pepper trotted off to park the sulky, and Crystal hurried ahead of Velvet and Sunbeam to hold the lobby door open.  As soon as they crossed the threshold, somepony tall, golden, and angry stormed up to them, her face twisted in a snarl.

“Velvet Step, you better have a phenomenally good reason to explain your well-past-fashionably late arrival to your own labor!”

Velvet backpedaled a step, dropped her rump down to the floor, and raised her forehooves in a plaintive gesture.  “Hey, whoa, calm down!  I’m here now, right?”

“Careful with the pregnant mare!” Sunbeam squeaked.

Golden huffed and tossed her mane over her shoulder.  She stared down her muzzle at Velvet, the left corner of her lips curled in an irritated sneer.  “Do you realize how worried I’ve been?”

“Worried?”  Velvet lowered her hooves with a growing grin.  “Aw, Goldypants, you do like—”  She doubled over from a sudden contraction, groaning out a strained, “—me.”

Sunbeam paced a quick circle around Velvet before helping her back upright.  “Yes, yes, yes, we can deal with friends later, for now can we please get my daughter to a room?”

A forest-green unicorn peered around Golden’s lanky legs, his ears folded back and his head ducked in a submissive posture.  In an uncertain voice, he asked, “Is this who we’ve been waiting for?”

Velvet’s eyes went wide.  “Oh my Celestia, Golden, is this your stallionfriend?!”

“Who?”  Golden frowned and looked down at the stallion.  Her brow furrowed in momentary thought before it shot back up.  “What?  No!”  She cleared her throat and put on a sweeter voice.  “No, no.  This is Forest Shadow.  He won my time for a day in a charity auction.”

Forest raised a hoof to offer a meek wave.  “Hi.”

Sunbeam jogged in place, her nervous gaze darting between her daughter and the nearest nurse.  “Velvet…”

“Wait.”  Velvet’s grin returned in full force as her attention focused solely on the stallion.  “You bid on a day with Golden, and she’s making you spend it in the hospital?”

Golden rolled her eyes.  “Oh, don’t make me out to be a villain.  It’s not my fault the days collided.  Besides.”  She looked down at Forest again—prompting him to flinch away—and flashed one of her practiced picture-perfect smiles.  “We’ve had a lovely time, haven’t we?”

Forest’s throat bobbed with an audible swallow.  “Well, it’s been, uh, different than I imagined.”  He met her gaze and seemed to melt into a goofy smile.  “Different is good, though.”

“Exactly.”  Golden turned back to Velvet and waggled a dismissive hoof.  “Now, run along before you give your mother a heart attack.”

“I think I’m on my third one already!” Sunbeam exclaimed as she grabbed Velvet’s hoof and tugged her forward. “Nurse!”

The nearest nurse turned to look at them with a tired but cordial smile.  “Hello!  What is the—” Her bright eyes flicked to Velvet and her lips pursed.  “Please follow me to the maternity ward!”

“Finally,” Sunbeam huffed out like a great weight had been lifted from her back, “somepony gets it.”

Crystal trailed after them only to notice the entourage of ponies that stood up from the waiting room seats to follow.  The sensation of her hooves dropping out from under her stopped her in place, and all she could do was watch them walk past and feel her heart swell.

Horsey flashed a big smile and squealed, “I can’t believe she’s having a foal!”

“Where’s Savoir?” Crystal asked, mostly because she didn’t know what else to say.

“Oh, he’s at the hotel with Claire and Amoureuse.” Horsey’s smile wavered for a brief moment. “Claire’s afraid of hospitals, Celestia only knows why. And Amour is scared of anything Claire’s scared of.”

Crystal gave a sympathetic nod while she glanced at all the ponies passing them by: Velvet’s grandparents, uncles, and aunts, all of whom she recognized but wouldn’t succeed in naming correctly.

A voice of gravel growled out, “Can somepony find me a cup of coffee that doesn’t taste like it was brewed with a sock?”

Except for Velvet’s grandfather, Bitter Batter. It was impossible to forget him.

Crystal spotted some of Velvet’s friends from ballet toward the rear of the group, as well as—”Mom?”

“Hmm?” Upper Crust stopped mid-step and turned her head to regard Crystal with a weary smile.  Red Velvet was draped on her back, and his favorite blue blanket was draped over him.

“What are you—” Crystal sputtered. “I mean, why are you—”

Upper Crust raised a hoof.  “I’ve been foalsitting Red for Sunbeam and Pepper. Shocking as I am sure this must be to you, I can do things such as this.”

When Sunbeam had mentioned Red was being foalsat by a friend, this certainly wasn’t what Crystal had expected.  She just blinked, more than slightly dumbfounded.

“And if your confusion pertains to my presence, well.” Upper Crust sniffed, tilting her nose into the air. “I would venture to say that Velvet and I are friends.”

“Friends,” Crystal sputtered in a half-laugh. Her mouth snapped shut with an audible click at the withering stare she received. “You’re serious.”

Upper Crust only replied with a sharp nod, though there was a glimmer of amusement in her eyes just before she turned away to catch up with the others.

They were all gathered in the hall just outside a room that Crystal assumed was Velvet’s. A passing nurse gave a meaningful clearing of her throat at the crowd, but nopony would move. Instead, they huddled all together, arguing over who would be present in the room and who would stay in the maternity ward’s waiting room.

The door opened and a nurse poked her head out. Everypony went silent as all eyes fell on her.

“The mom-to-be has requested a Crystal and Horsey be with her during this time.”

“What!” Sunbeam’s eyes went wild.  “Oh, no, she doesn’t!  I will be right there beside her, and I will—”

The nurse smiled.  “Are you Mrs. Sunbeam?”

“Her mother,” Sunbeam corrected with a harsh tone.

With a small bob of her head in acknowledgement, the nurse continued, “The mom-to-be requested a Mrs. Sunbeam not be present due to, how did she put it?” She hummed in feigned thought. “I believe her words were, ‘Tell Mrs. Sunbeam she has her tail tied too tight and it’s stressing me out.'”

Sunbeam sputtered an incoherent string of half-started insults as Pepper took her by the hoof and softly said, “Dear, you are a little stress-inducing right now.  Maybe it would be best to calm down first.”

You calm down!” Sunbeam finally yelled.  “My baby’s having a baby!”

The nurse turned her attention to Crystal and Horsey, waving a hoof to gesture them forward.  “Please come on in.”

Stepping into the room transported Crystal away from the nervous and excited tension that thrummed out in the hall.  Soft lighting haloed Velvet in a gentle glow where she lay on the bed, white sheets drawn halfway up her stomach and her back resting against a large pillow.

“Hey,” she said, the usual rasp of her voice made soft with emotion.  Then her lips quirked into a grin.  “How did Mom take the news?”

Horsey moved over to the far side of the bed and gave Velvet a light slap on the forearm. “Be nice to your mother! She went through all this to have you.”

Velvet stuck out her tongue.  “I’m just having a little fun.  We’ve still got hours to go before the action sta—”  She doubled forward, her word stuttering into a groan.

“Oh,” Horsey cooed, looking over at Crystal with empathy clear in her pinched brow, “contractions are the worst.”

“You’d know.”  Velvet lifted her head and gave a wry grin, her teeth clenched tight.  “Like, do you even have them at this point?  Or do you just wake up to discover you’ve had another foal?”

Crystal snorted and looked at the readout of the nearest monitor: the foal’s heartbeat, nice and steady.  “She’s only had two, you know.”

Velvet waved a dismissive hoof.  “You know she’s not going to stop until she’s had, like, forty.  In fact, she’s probably pregnant right now.”

“Not that I know of,” Horsey put in softly.

“Knock knock!” a stallion’s voice called as he knocked and then let himself inside, the nurse from before following close behind.  “Well, Miss Step, today’s finally the day, is it?”

Velvet started to grin, but a soft smile overtook her lips instead.  “I hope so, because if I have to deal with these contractions for more than twenty-four hours, I want a refund.”

Dr. Doctor was an earth pony who, while large in stature, was neither lanky nor bulky; he instead had a pleasant build in between the two.  In fact, all of him could be summed up as pleasant: eyes of a blue summer sky, mane like a spring meadow, and fresh snowfall coat.

All he was missing was autumn.  Perhaps, Crystal thought idly, he was just waiting to fall in love.  She choked back a laugh at her own joke and tried to ignore the look Horsey shot her.

“So, Doc, give me the news.” Velvet watched as Dr. Doctor unceremoniously lifted the sheet that covered her for a quick examination.  “How long until I never have to see you again?”

“Miss Step, I’m hurt.”  He lowered the sheet, muttered something about centimeters to the nurse, then flashed a smile.  “I thought we had such a good time this past year.”

Velvet gave a dramatic roll of her eyes, but whatever playfully sarcastic remark she had to give was lost under a pained groan.

Dr. Doctor patted the edge of the bed in a comforting gesture without actually making physical contact.  “You’ve still got a way to go, I’m afraid.  Nurse Pomegranate will keep an eye on your and your foal’s vitals.”  He smiled, though it was softened with empathy as Velvet came out of the contraction pain.  “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

As the doctor left the room, Pomegranate took his position and fixed Crystal and Horsey with a serious look.  “Which of you is serving as Miss Step’s support pony today?”

Crystal exchanged glances with Horsey.  “I suppose that would technically be her, since she has more experience.  But I—”  She gripped one of Velvet’s hooves in her own.  “I’m here, too.”

Velvet managed a weak smile and squeezed the hoof holding hers.

The sentiment seemed lost on the nurse, who just focused on Horsey.  “Help her regulate her breathing.  If she’s not responding, it’s just a contraction.  Ensure she changes position frequently.  If you can encourage her to walk around the room, all the better.”

Horsey nodded, the gentle demeanor she normally carried replaced with utmost sincerity.  “Absolutely!  I’ll give her my very best care.”

“Good.”  Pomegranate smiled, albeit there was fatigue around her eyes.  “I’ll be back for another vitals check soon.”

“Thanks,” Velvet offered in a weak voice.  Sweat beaded along her forehead, and Crystal levitated a cloth over to dab it up.

When the three of them were alone, Crystal just watched as Horsey guided Velvet through a series of breathing patterns.  Inwardly, she cursed herself for not learning any of this after she found out Velvet was pregnant.

She hadn’t known what to expect.  The few romance books that extended past the big moment of love declarations depicted foalbirth as intensity and speed.  Everything was fine, the water broke, there was screaming, and then a foal was born.

Of course, Sunbeam’s labor with Red had shown her that wasn’t the case, but she’d spent all of that in a waiting room.  Today, she was both fully prepared and not prepared at all to be a part of the whole thing.

There was a long pause of silence as Velvet tried to relax, intermittently broken by the beeps and trills of the monitors.  Crystal hated the sound of them; they reminded her of days—weeks—months spent at Silent’s side.

She didn’t want to think about that today.

Velvet briefly closed her eyes and began to speak with careful measure.  “Girls… I’m scared. I want this—Celestia help me, this is what I want.” She winced, her ears folding flat against her mane.  “I know I’ve made mistakes getting here. But I want this foal so, so much.”

She took in a deep breath and looked between them with a weak smile.  “But I’m scared I won’t be a good mother. I’m selfish, and stubborn, and… reckless and stupid.”  A self-deprecating laugh forced its way past her lips.  “What if I just keep making mistakes and ruin her life, too?”

“Velvet Sprinkle Step,” Crystal said in her best Sunbeam impression.  “Do you want to spend these hours feeling sorry for yourself over things in the past you can’t change, or do you want to tell us all about what you’ve got planned for your foal’s future?”

The worried lines of Velvet’s face smoothed over with warmth and she nestled back into the pillow behind her.  She explained her vision of teaching her foal to dance and bake.

Pomegranate came in to check her vitals.

While taking a short walk around the room, Velvet told them how her foal would be steadfast friends with Red and Claire and Amoureuse whether she liked it or not.

Crystal tried to understand the meaning behind Pomegranate checking under Velvet’s sheet.  She knew what the nurse was looking at, but not what she was looking for.

Horsey suggested a game of charades, at which she was far better than Crystal.  It kept Velvet amused—especially when Crystal did her very best impression of Princess Celestia, and Horsey guessed that she was a dragon.

After a couple of closely timed contractions that brought the charades to an end, Velvet made weary mention of how she was hoping for a colt rather than a filly.

Horsey tilted her head.  “Why a colt?”

Crystal snorted.  “Because she doesn’t think Equestria can handle two of her.”

“Oh!”  Horsey covered her mouth as she laughed, eyes crinkling with delight.  “Of course Velvet would say that!”

As they shared a giggle, Crystal noted Velvet’s silence.  She looked over at the mare to see an expression that was perfectly shuttered to hide all emotion.

“I’m sorry, did you want to deliver that punchline?” Crystal pawed at the air.  “I didn’t mean to—”

“No,” Velvet gasped out, and that was when they noticed how tightly she was gripping the sheets.  “I think I’m about to—deliver the foal.”

Horsey stood up and glanced nervously at the door.  “Oh, no, how bad is the pain?”

Velvet’s eyes rolled back, her head hit the pillow, and she gave a low, agonized sound like a strangled scream.

“That’s pretty bad,” Crystal commented, entirely uncertain of what else to do.

Mercifully, Horsey did.  She charged over to the door and yelled out into the hall, “Velvet’s in transition!”

Crystal bit her lower lip and doubled down on her wish for having prepared more for this.  “What does that mean?”

One of Velvet’s forehooves shot out, grabbed Crystal’s, and squeezed with unrelenting pressure.  “It means shut up!

“Okay!” Crystal squeaked as tears sprung to her eyes.  “Okay!”

Pomegranate marched in, took one look at the scene, and nodded.  “All right.  This is the home stretch, Miss Step.”  She quickly recorded something down on a chart and glanced under the sheet.  “You’re almost there.  I’m going to have to ask one of your friends to leave so we have enough space for the doctors and—”

“Absolutely not!” Velvet shrieked and somehow squeezed Crystal’s hoof even harder.  Her other hoof flung in Horsey’s direction, but she had been smart enough to stay just out of reach.  “They stay!”

Though Pomegranate arched her brow, she didn’t argue further.  She took up position on one side of the bed, focusing her attention on the monitors.  “How bad is the pain?”

Crystal whimpered, “Bad.”

“Not yours.  Hers.”

Velvet clenched her eyes shut and growled out, “Bad!”

Pomegranate took this in with a nod.  “Are you feeling an urge to push?”

After a grumbling moment of thought, Velvet shook her head.  Pomegranate nodded again and moved back to the foot of the bed.  “We’re very close.  The next hour is going to be tough, but you have to let me know as soon as you feel like pushing.”

Velvet panted and writhed against the bed.  “If I say I feel like pushing, can we skip this part and I just hold my foal?”

Pomegranate chuckled softly.  “I’m afraid not.  You’re almost there, Miss Step.”

“Just keep breathing,” Horsey said, then led by example, gesturing to Velvet to focus on her.

The grip on Crystal’s hoof started to loosen and she briefly contemplated pulling it away, but then Velvet cried out and held on tight again.  It would be fine, she tried to reassure herself; if Velvet broke it, at least she was already at the right place.

Two hours didn’t crawl by.  They snarled, snapped, and utterly threw a tantrum for every tortured second that passed.  Crystal hardly noticed the arrival of two doctors and another nurse, but when Horsey’s gentle suggestions to breathe became loud pleas to push, Crystal realized what was going on.

Velvet was having a foal.  Right now.

At the end of a desperate push, Velvet’s head snapped to the side to give Crystal a sweat-stained scowl.  “This is all your fault!”

The doctor who wasn’t Dr. Doctor glanced over.  “What?”

“You did this to me!” Velvet tugged on the hoof she was still clutching and pulled Crystal closer.

“Are you—“  The doctor paused and glanced at his peer, who was entirely focused on Velvet’s progress.  He looked back at Crystal and blinked.  “Are you the… father?”

“How is this my fault?!” Crystal yelled, surprised by the volume of her own voice.

“Because you—you—“  Velvet trailed off before crying out and turning her head away.

The doctor watched the exchange with confusion on his face.  “But you’re a… mare.”

Crystal snapped, “Of course I am!”

“Then how are you—“

With a growl, Crystal flung her free hoof in the air. “I don’t know!”

“But that’s not—“

Horsey stomped a hoof against the floor.  “Ponies!  Focus!  Please!  She’s about to—“

A new voice’s cry tore through the air, and both the doctors and nurses immediately focused elsewhere.  Velvet slumped against the pillows and gasped for air, then gasped again when the doctor and one nurse started to leave. “Where are you—Why are you leaving?”

Dr. Doctor took a side step to put himself in her field of view.  “Don’t worry, Miss Step.  They’re going to do a quick check-up to make sure everything’s all right.”

“All right?”  Velvet jolted upright, then groaned and fell back again.  “What’s wrong?  Why isn’t she all right?”

“It’s just standard procedure.”  He smiled and patted her still-raised flank.  “You can relax.  You did wonderfully.  Now just relax and your foal will be right back with you before you know it.”

Dr. Doctor and Pomegranate went back to work on—well, Crystal had no clue, but they seemed to be quite busy.  Velvet stared up at the ceiling, her weary expression made worse with a bereft look in her eyes.

“They took my foal,” she whispered in a hoarse voice.

“It’s very, very normal,” Horsey said as she levitated a damp cloth and wiped the sweat from Velvet’s forehead and cheeks.  “I promise.  She’ll be right back.”

Velvet flinched and rolled her head to the side to look at Crystal.  “Did you see?  Is she a filly or a colt?”

Crystal glanced down at her hoof that Velvet still clutched as if her life depended on it.  “I was somewhat preoccupied, I’m afraid.”

Velvet groaned, her eyes slipping closed.  “I want to see her.  Or him.  I want to see my foal.”

“You will soon, I promise.”  Horsey leaned over to brush Velvet’s bangs out of her eyes.  “I promise.”

They listened as Dr. Doctor and Pomegranate left the room, the door clicking shut behind them.  Horsey came around the bed to help extract Crystal’s hoof and replaced it with her own.  “Velvet.”

Velvet sniffed and cracked her eyes open.  “Mm?”

“You’re a mom now.”  Horsey’s expression broke with a bright smile as a laugh slipped into her quiet voice.  “Can you believe it?”

“No.”  Velvet huffed a laugh in return.  “Everything is fuzzy right now.”

Horsey giggled and looked over at Crystal, who felt lost after the frenzy of activity without it.  “That’s normal, too.  I think it’s so we keep coming back for more foals.”

Crystal wanted to say something.  She wanted to comfort Velvet, to do the right thing.  But she didn’t know the what, or how.  Instead, she just stepped forward and put both forelegs up on the bed at Velvet’s side to partially nestle in next to her.

“Hey, girl.”  Velvet snickered and rested her muzzle on top of Crystal’s head.  “Sorry for yelling at you.”

“It’s all right.  I’m pretty certain I deserved it.”  Crystal closed her eyes with a sigh.  “I didn’t prepare at all for today.”

After a long and thoughtful pause, Velvet angled her head to blow a puff of air into Crystal’s ear.  “Whatever.  It’s fine.  I guess it makes us even, since I never did anything for your Foundation.”

Crystal jolted upright to look her in the eyes.  “What?  You did something!  You did a lot, in fact!”

“A lot?”  Velvet snorted.  “I wrote some letters and distributed some pamphlets.”

“Do you understand how important both of those are?”  Crystal shifted back to stand on all fours again.  “I don’t want to argue with a mare who just gave birth, but—“

“Please don’t,” Horsey squeaked.

Crystal breathed in to continue, but the door clicked and they all went silent.

Pomegranate walked in, cradling a bundle of cloth in the crook of one foreleg.  “Hello, Mom.  Are you ready to meet your new foal?”

Velvet’s head jerked up and her eyes went wide.  “Yes.  Yes, please, yes.”

As the nurse transferred the bundle into Velvet’s embrace, she pulled back the corner of it to reveal the sleeping face of a little colt.  His purple coat matched Velvet’s eyes, which were glossed over with tears but no less brilliant.

“My son,” she said in a breath that shook with reverence.  “I have a son.”

“He’s perfect,” Crystal said, pressing her nose to Velvet’s cheek.  “Absolutely perfect.”

The colt gave a tiny little sneeze, whimpered, and settled back into a snore.

“You are perfect,” Velvet whispered before she started to laugh and cry while holding the colt closer to her chest.  “My little Velour.”

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