The Life That Late He Led: Chapter 2

Another BACK SOON note awaited Brush at the door to the library; apparently Twilight and Spike were off on an errand somewhere. He thought of taking it down — if push came to shove, he was perfectly capable of handing over library books to the patrons —

Wait. “Handing” over? Wrong. So wrong. It’s almost the same language, Brush mused, yet it’s totally different.

And while he was wondering what other verbal gaffes he’d committed lately, Rarity burst through the door. “You’re here! How completely and utterly perfect.”

“Good afternoon, Miss Rarity. To what do I owe this honor?”

Rarity was ready. “Twilight tells me that you are long overdue for a new suit, and since I had the afternoon open, I thought I’d take a fresh set of measurements.”

“By the strangest of coincidences,” Brush said, “I also have the afternoon open. But since when do you make house calls?”

“For my best customers,” Rarity proclaimed, “there is nothing I wouldn’t do.”

Brush looked at her quizzically. “We’re your best customers?”

“Certainly among my best customers. And with dear Twilight now ensconced among royalty, I must conclude that your future needs will be extensive.”

“Not to mention expensive,” Brush quipped.

Rarity was undeterred. “The best, you’ll quickly discover, is always worth the price.”

“No doubt,” he agreed.

A measuring tape materialized in front of Rarity. She inspected it briefly, then directed it around various sections of Brush, calling out numbers as it moved. “You know,” she said, “you’re in very good condition for a stallion of … forty-five, was it?”

“It was,” Brush replied. “Once upon a time.”

“Not that I mean to pry or anything, but Twilight once said that you were just about as old as her parents, and Night Light must be pushing sixty by now.” Rarity sighed. “Not that he’ll ever look sixty. That pony …” She left it at that.

Brush grinned. “I’ve pushed past sixty. And before I got here, I looked it.”

“Hmm,” said Rarity. “Do you feel sixty?”

“Not really, no. Whatever they did to make a proper pony out of me, it cleared up a bunch of lingering health issues. I feel pretty good most of the time.” He smiled. “Then again, there’s no keeping up with Twi. She puts in some serious hours. I don’t know how she does it.”

“She is, of course, much younger than you,” Rarity pointed out.

“Indeed she is. But I never had that kind of energy when I was her age. If it’s a pony trait, it’s a good one.”

“You’re still trying to figure us out, aren’t you?”

Brush smiled. “I suppose I am. Sometimes I feel like the most clueless colt in town. A year-old foal is probably better adjusted than I am.”

“Has it been a year already?” asked Rarity innocently.

“Come to think of it,” he said, “we met just about a year ago. I’d almost forgotten how to do the calendar conversion.”

Rarity shook her head. “You’ve known Twilight Sparkle for a whole year?”

“Well, technically, yes, though we didn’t get to spend much time together until I arrived in Equestria, and that didn’t happen until the middle of this past winter.”

“So this will be your first Hearth’s Warming Eve together? How romantic.”

“I … hope so,” he said slowly.

“You’ll forgive me for saying so, I hope, but you don’t sound particularly enthusiastic about it.” Rarity edged a hoof’s width closer to him. “Is there, perhaps, a touch of trouble in the love nest?”

He reddened slightly. “I don’t think she’s about to dump me, if that’s what you mean.”

“Not at all. But usually the stallion who’s smitten is starry-eyed and, if I may say so, frolicsome.” She lowered her voice ever so slightly. “If you don’t mind my asking, how goes the frolic?”

Brush’s face went utterly blank. “I suppose it’s probably about the same as everypony else’s,” he said.

Rarity tossed her mane. “My dear fellow, you’re in a world where the mares outnumber the stallions four to one, and you have a mare all to yourself. You should be doing a great deal better than everypony else.” She winked at him. “And you’re an earth pony. You should be able to overwhelm a mere unicorn with sheer physicality.”

“She’s not a mere unicorn,” Brush protested. “She’s a bucking princess. For all I know, there’s a banishment order out there with my name on it.”

Rarity stared. “My, but things have certainly deteriorated since your, uh, unexpected arrival.” She paused to let that sink in, then continued: “And I know Twilight well enough to say that if you were going to be banished, we would not be having this conversation at all.”

“I’m beginning to wonder,” he said sadly, “if I know her well enough.”

“And I’m beginning to wonder,” she replied, “if you’re bedding her well enough.”

“She’s never complained,” he said.

Not to you, she hasn’t, Rarity thought. “Let me guess: you let her make the first move, right?”

“Well, yeah, I suppose I do. I have no idea when she’ll have the time or the inclination, so I more or less leave that up to her. Usually happens about twice a week.”

“Has it ever occurred to you,” Rarity said, “that perhaps twice a week might not be enough for a mare at the peak of her greatest fertility?” She looked him straight in the eye. “Can you even tell when she’s in heat?”

Brush visibly shuddered. “Usually she puts a scented candle on her desk.”

“That,” declared Rarity, “is not the answer we were looking for.”

“We?”

She put one foreleg over his neck. “I should not have to point this out to you, dear Brushie, but Twilight Sparkle did not reach halfway across the universe to hire a Number Two assistant.”

“Number Three,” Brush said. “The owl has seniority.”

“Let me start again,” she said icily. “Twilight Sparkle did not reach halfway across the universe to hire a Number Three assistant. She wanted you. Wanted you badly enough to take on the entire Equestrian bureaucracy just to bring you here. The very least you can do is to want her just as much.”

Rarity turned and walked toward the doorway. “Or act like it.”

<======>

It was late in the evening when Twilight returned to the library. “Spike, have you seen Brush?”

Spike shrugged. “He left about twenty minutes ago.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“He didn’t say much of anything,” Spike said. “He did mumble something about daisies, so I guess he was going out for dinner.”

“Daisies?”

She shook her head. “Sometimes … Spike, you’re in charge until I get back.”

“I thought I was always in charge until you get back,” said the dragon. “Even your coltfriend follows my instructions, most of the time.”

“Well, until I get back, you’re in charge.”

Spike nodded, and Twilight hurried out the door. He couldn’t have gotten far in twenty minutes, she thought.

Within five minutes, she heard Brush’s voice in the back of her head. He’s still wearing the locket. Good sign. She triangulated on the signal, and teleported to its source: a field of wild daisies on Ponyville’s far west side. He was sitting near one corner of it, and he seemed to be fumbling with a flower.

“If you wanted to eat out tonight,” she said to him, “you could have told me.”

“I wasn’t sure you were still speaking to me.”

“Well …” She let that drop. “So what’s with the daisies?”

“A tradition from the Old Country,” he said solemnly. “I wanted to see if it still worked.”

“What sort of tradition?”

“You know how we always said that we didn’t believe in magic? This proves that we lied. A daisy, they say, will determine the state of your relationship.”

“Show me,” Twilight said.

He cupped a single flower in his hooves. “What I wouldn’t give for some good old-fashioned humanoid manual dexterity right about now.”

“Should I fetch Spike? He has claws.”

“No, it’s all right. I can do this. I have to do this.” He managed to get hold of a single petal, tore it off, and declaimed: “She loves me.”

On the second petal, he announced: “She loves me not.” On the third: “She loves me.”

Twilight interrupted: “Uh, there are nine petals on that flower. You’re going to end up with ‘She loves me’.”

He looked into her eyes. “Do you think I’d ever want it any other way?”

And she began to cry. “I’m so sorry. I’m not at all used to this. I’m not at all used to you.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I’m not the easiest pony in the world to put up with.”

“But why do these things have to happen? It doesn’t make any sense.”

He stood up. “I guess it’s because couples aren’t identical twins, and they’re always going to have their disagreements.” He flicked his tail. “If both of us think exactly the same thing all the time,” he said, “clearly one of us is unnecessary.”

“I guess you’re right,” said Twilight. “What do we do now?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps we just push the reset button and start again at the beginning.” He smiled at her. “Miss Sparkle, may I have the honor of this dance?”

She giggled. “But we have no music.”

“Then you’ll just have to endure my hideous croaking,” he said, and began counting: one-two-three, one-two-three…

I’ll always remember
the song they were playing,
The first time we danced and I knew;
As we swayed to the music,
and held to each other,
I fell in love with you.

Could I have this dance
for the rest of my life?
Could you be my partner
every night?
When we’re together
it feels so right…
Could I have this dance
for the rest of my life?

They kissed, and then Twilight said: “And we didn’t even fall down.”

“Says who?” He tumbled to the ground. “Last one down is a blank flank!”

“Right here, right now? Out in the open?”

“I’m sure Princess Luna has seen far worse.”

“Well, then,” Twilight Sparkle said, “we should make it worth her while.”

<======>

Hearth’s Warming Eve. The last of the friends had finally departed, and Spike had excused himself for what he had called his own private business.

“He’s taking a nap,” Twilight Sparkle explained. “I’m surprised you’re not taking a nap, considering how much you two had to do to clean up this place.”

“Piece of cake,” said Desert Brush.

“There should be some left in the kitchen.”

Brush did an exaggerated facehoof. “Tripped up by my old language again, I see. ‘Piece of cake’ is an old human idiom meaning that something was easy, though not as easy as ‘easy as pie’.” He grinned. “Or maybe it’s the other way around. I never could figure that one out myself.”

Twilight nodded. “I can see how that might cause confusion.”

“Anyway, I’m not all that tired. I mean, now that I’m settling into this whole earth-pony groove, I’m kind of amazed at how much I can do now in a single day without falling flat on my face. Couldn’t have done that as a featherless biped.”

“You were an old featherless biped,” Twilight pointed out. “You’re barely middle-aged here.”

“How do you mean? My birthdate hasn’t changed. I’m still sixty-one. And ponies don’t usually make it to a hundred and twenty.”

“Tell that to Granny Smith.”

Brush laughed. “I can’t tell Granny Smith anything. She still thinks I’m some young upstart who contrived from Day One to swoop down upon the town and sweep you off your hooves.”

“You want me to tell her I didn’t mind being swept?”

“Granny believes what she wants to believe. It’s something I’ve learned to accept.” He flicked his tail once. “Fortunately, you’re never too old to learn.”

Twilight levitated a small log and dropped it into the fireplace.

“For some reason,” Brush said, “that still strikes me as funny. We’re living in a tree, and we’re burning pieces of another tree to keep warm.”

She stared at him. “That’s an odd statement, coming from an earth pony.”

“I know, I know. Everything goes through the cycle. Seed becomes sapling becomes tree becomes firewood. I keep wondering where I fit in.”

“Are you telling me you want to be cremated?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, no. Well, not today, anyway,” said Brush. “But I wonder if somehow I’ve screwed up the galactic accounting book or something.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I can’t last forever. Sooner or later, preferably later, they’ll be laying me to my rest, or whatever it is they do here. I assume I’ll be buried.”

“You would be correct, unless you requested otherwise.”

“How would you bury a pegasus, anyway? They live up in the clouds.”

Twilight looked properly horrified. “You would never, ever bury a pegasus. It’s considered a grave insult.”

Grave insult? Twi, honey, you’ve been hanging around me too long.”

She blushed. “Oh.”

“Anyway, I assume there’s some sort of afterlife.”

“Oh, the Final Journey.”

“Exactly. Or as exactly as it gets, anyway. I have two distinct sets of loved ones, from two different worlds. Will I ultimately be reunited with the first, with the second — or with None Of The Above?”

Twilight frowned. “I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know how it works. Princess Celestia says she knows how some of it works, but she can’t tell us.”

“She’s immortal. What difference would it make to her?”

“That doesn’t mean she’s invulnerable. She has great power, but nothing like infinite power.”

Brush pondered. “If the Worst Possible Thing happened, whatever that might be, and the only solution would be for Celestia to die, could she?”

“She could, and she would,” said Twilight. “I think. We’re not in the habit of discussing that sort of thing. And why are we discussing that sort of thing, anyway?”

“It just occurred to me,” Brush explained, “that about this time of year my old human community is celebrating the birth of an immortal, a second aspect of the first — the Son, as distinguished from the Father — who, to fulfill an ancient prophecy, was put to death on a spring afternoon.”

“An actual birth, pregnancy and everything? Was there a physical mother?”

“There was. A human, selected in advance. Her husband-to-be was quite surprised, since he’d had nothing to do with it, but he vowed that they would raise the youngster as their own.”

“Well, good for him,” said Twilight. “No matter what, he would stand beside his bride. I think every filly dreams of somepony like that, somepony who will stick with her no matter what.”

“No actor,” Brush said, “ever had a better cue than this.” He went to the kitchen, and returned with a small silver-colored box. “O Princess of Magic, wouldst thou consent to being stuck with me no matter what?”

Twilight’s heart jumped. “Is … is this what I think it is?”

“We can do it the traditional way, if you prefer.” He dropped to the throw rug in front of the fireplace. “Twilight Sparkle, will you marry me?”

Elapsed time from his last word to her exclamation of “Yes, yes, yes!”: too short to measure.

“You didn’t even look in the box,” Brush said.

“You could have put a donut in there and I still would have said Yes,” she replied. “What is it?”

He popped open the lid, and it was, yes, a ring, with a very simple, very familiar-looking stone. “This looks like a shard from one of Luna’s musical stones.”

“The very same stone,” he said, “that’s worn close to my heart.” He pointed a hoof toward the necklace he always wore. “I asked Luna if she could spare it, and she had one of the Castle craftsponies work up a ring.”

“You haven’t been to the Castle in almost a week.” And then: “Where could you have hidden something in the kitchen for almost a week?”

“If I told you that,” Brush said, “I’d never be able to hide anything anymore.”

She beamed. “I guess we have a little more to celebrate today.”

“We have all we need: a floor, a fire, and each other. And Spike’s sleeping.”

Twilight laughed. “There’s always Owlowiscious.”

“Yeah, but who’s he gonna tell?”

“Whom,” the owl seemed to say.

<======>

“You really don’t want to see me get married, do you?” Twilight said crossly.

“As I have said all along,” Celestia replied, “what I want is for you to be happy.”

“And you don’t think I’ll be happy with him?”

“Of course you will. You’ll have your years together, and everything will be wonderful. Then you’ll be confronted with the fact that you will live many years after he’s gone.” The Princess of the Sun sighed. “Mourning for the rest of your life is no way to live.”

“So you’d rather I mourn now?

“Please, Twilight. Don’t put words in my mouth. I will be more than happy to preside over your wedding. And I wish both you and Mr Brush the best. But I ask that you remember that I, too, have loved. And I have lost. And the hurt never quite goes away.”

“I will remember,” said the younger princess. “But I will not forgo happiness today just because tomorrow I will be sad.”

<======>

With him, it should have been easier; yet somehow it became more difficult.

“What I’m asking,” Celestia began, “is whether the difference in lifespans makes any difference to you.”

Desert Brush grinned. “If she dies, she dies.”

Seeing Celestia’s expression, he backpedaled. “Sorry. Old human joke. And after all, I used to be an old human.”

“I see,” said the Princess, frost seeming to form on her forehead. “You have thought about the matter?”

“Now and then,” answered Brush. “The only thing I know for sure is that the odds of Twi eventually becoming a widow are somewhere between Very Likely and Almost Entirely Certain. Unless, of course, they come up with something to postpone death.”

“There are incantations,” the Princess said slowly, “spells from the books of Dark Magic, which when wielded carefully can create the appearance of life once it has departed. However, no incantation can prevent the departure of life once it has begun.”

“Which means …?”

“In the event of life-threatening medical emergency, we will of course take all reasonable steps to save you. However, unreasonable steps are out of the question.”

He smiled. “Better to know that now, I guess.”

“Was there anything else on your mind?”

“Well, I was wondering. Just how immortal, if that’s the word, are you and your sister anyway?”

Celestia shook her mane, and he imagined he saw a map of the sky just beyond her head. “Having reached physical maturity, Luna and I do not age in the usual sense. But we know that there are forces in the Universe capable of taking us down.”

He nodded, remembering an incident at a previous Canterlot wedding.

“Which is why we shy away from the word ‘immortal’; it implies that we can survive anything, an implication that has some basis in reality, but one I would not like to put to the test.”

Brush grimaced. “You and me both, Your Highness.”

“There are those,” Celestia said, “who have suggested that Twilight, as a Princess, is of necessity ‘immortal’ herself. I must inform you that this is not precisely true. There exist substantial differences between those of us who were born alicorns and those who raised themselves to that state.”

“And there are — what, just three of you now?”

“Correct, though Princess Skyla is not at all aware of her status. It will be many years before she is able to assume the duties of an alicorn.”

Brush pondered for a moment. “How often are alicorns born? I mean, okay, Cadance and Shining Armor have one, but could they have another?”

“It is not impossible,” the Princess answered, “but it is not very likely. Cadance is actually pegasus dominant over unicorn; Shining Armor carries double unicorn alleles. Skyla’s birth as an alicorn was most unexpected, since normally alicornhood is the result of achievement, as it was for Cadance, as it was for Twilight Sparkle.” She looked at Brush. “If you and Twilight could produce a foal … but the doctors tell me that it cannot happen.”

“Perhaps with her second husband,” Brush said flatly.

The Princess raised an eyebrow. “Would that bother you?”

“If I’m dead and buried, the answer is pretty obviously No.” He shook his head. “Before that — well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“I’m surprised that you’d even suggest such a thing,” Celestia snapped.

“It’s not something I would expect. I have faith in Twilight. And if she discovered that she was falling for somepony, she’d probably lock herself in the basement and think up ways to blame herself, because that’s not supposed to happen. Not to her, anyway.”

“Hearts are not always wise,” said the Princess.

“As organs go, they’re pretty dumb,” Brush said. “I’m still trying to figure out how all this happened. It’s not every day that an overwrought, flap-eared jerk like me wins the heart of a princess.”

“Or becomes the highest-ranking earth pony in all of Equestrian history,” the Princess replied.

This time Brush raised an eyebrow. “What would Chancellor Puddinghead say? I mean, I’m hardly the leader of the tribe or anything. The earth ponies I know aren’t exactly looking for a leader. And I’m supposed to pass myself off as a prince?”

“But you will be a prince. You’ll be equal in status to Shining Armor, in fact.”

“That hardly seems fair,” said Brush. “Shining Armor has served Equestria with distinction, valor even, for many years. I just kind of stumbled in off the street somewhere.”

“You may as well get used to it,” replied Celestia. “This society runs off protocols and procedures.”

He groaned. “Do I have to put it on my business cards?”

“As though you weren’t instantly recognizable already.”

“Maybe I’ll have one printed up, just in case Blueblood wanders by the office.”

Celestia laughed. “You need not worry about that. You’re in the knowledge business, and if there’s anypony immune to knowledge, it’s Blueblood. Although I’m certain he’s going to resent your presence in the castle.”

“To hear Twi tell it,” Brush said, “Blueblood resents even your presence in the castle.”

“That he does,” said the Princess of the Sun. “You have said that you have faith in Twilight. Do you have faith in yourself?”

“In what way?”

“In terms of fidelity. Can you imagine yourself drawn to another mare?”

Brush smiled. “What would I want with another mare? I was lucky enough to get the right one on the first try. And besides, it’s not like anypony is hanging around outside waiting to get a glimpse of me or anything.”

“Again I remind you,” Celestia said, “hearts are not always wise.”

“Perhaps not,” said Brush, “but sometimes they know when they’re well off.”

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