Heart and Soul

by Orcus

Chapter 2: A Fearful Truth

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A Fearful Truth

The doors leading to but one of many long, winding halls of the hospital flew open as the nurses and doctors rolled in a stretcher as fast as they could push and pull it. The mare with the distended, pregnant stomach on the stretcher, Prunus Persica was her name, was an earth pony of a tan coloration and an unkempt, dark brown mane, and currently a strained disposition as she felt the unrivaled agony that came with going through labor. Both of her eyes; her blue right eye, and her scarred, clouded, blind left eye, were squeezed shut so hard that tears were forming at their edges.

She whimpered, puled, and generally cried out as the pain she felt originating from the base of her body enveloped all of her known senses. She had been separated from her family for almost five minutes after being admitted into the hospital. Being unable to hear their familiar voices any longer, with the baby coming, left bleak worry to stain her mind. It was not the first time such a situation as this occurred, but somehow... somehow it felt so much worse than before.

Persica eventually sensed a host of bright lights shining over her closed eyes from somewhere above her after feeling the stretcher burst through a door, into what she thought for certain, with what frayed bits of awareness remained with her, was the operating room. She could barely feel herself being lifted off of it and onto a bed as she was overcome by the wretched pain in her abdomen too much to even realize it. Colors filled her sight—a rainbow, shattered into a thousand pieces and scattered in a chaotic combination. They overtook her vision, blinding her. It scared her.

Fear and pain tore at Persica like something not of this world. Nothing seemed to change for the mare but the volume of torment she felt, when a voice suddenly went out, ringing somehow clearer than anything else. "We need to perform a C-section!" it came through the haze. A deep, male voice. "Get me some anesthetics, stat!"

Moments after hearing the command go out, the excruciating pain Persica was experiencing went almost completely numb as the anesthesia injected into her system took hold of her. Heavenly numbness, it was almost like a wave of relief was washing over her entire being. The colors leaving her view, Persica's eyelids dropped like curtains and she let her exhausted head fall onto the sweat-soaked pillow below her like a rock. Her breathing having gone from erratic to practically lethargic in seconds, the doctors and nurses operated on her without resistance.

An unknowable amount of time went by, and Persica fluttered in and out of consciousness throughout most of it. She only felt her mind begin to return to reality when a gentle female voice spoke up from somewhere. "She's still awake, doctor," it said, unhurried but cautious. "Shall I give her some more anesthesia?"

"No, it's alright," came what Persica realized was the same voice from before who ordered her to be placed under it to begin with. "We've almost got the child out. She may want to see it before we put her fully under and begin the next operation."

Within minutes, or perhaps hours as it felt to her addled senses, Persica realized a hoof had snaked underneath the pillow holding her head. In a careful motion, it gently lifted both for her, so she could see the newborn most likely being cradled by the medical staff, she suspected. So it was indeed, as her view started adjusting to some fuzzy shapes standing beneath the light cast from the lamps above. They were cooing to each other of the child's health, expressing surprise and awe and pride in their work all at once.

"Miss Prunus Persica," the doctor himself started, speaking up with the utmost mirth in his tone. "Say hello to your new foal!"

In the vivid, yet somehow dim light Persica could make out the vague silhouettes of the doctors and nurses standing at the foot of the now sheet-covered bed, along with a long, limbless shape. It was white, and faceless. A grub-creature caked in her blood. It writhed about in their firm hooves, squealing and screaming out in some abominable tone with demented fervor, crying out for its mother. Its mother, who could only look upon it with a sickening mixture of pure horror and revulsion.

It was then that Persica awoke from the terrible nightmare, just as it reached its horrid climax. Her eyes flashed open and she sat up on the bed with the pace of a bullet, gasping for air as though she had nearly been drowned. Her heart pounded in her chest like a hammer speedily whacking a nail in perfect repetition and a thick sweat had broken out through most of her body, covering her fur in its cool feeling.

Closing her eyes, Persica caught her breath and calmed herself down until her panting went silent. When she became fully aware that it was all just a dream, she looked down to her left and saw the teal-colored, chitinous shape of her lover, the changeling Habeas Brittle, still dead asleep under the red covers beside her.

Just seeing this one individual next to her was what informed Persica that everything was okay. Many years beforehoof she had lost her husband in an incident with a vile, red-eyed changeling that forced her to kill him herself, and it scarred her as much as her maimed and unseeing eye could attest to. But when Habeas entered her and her young daughter's lives a great amount of time afterword, upon getting past a fairly rocky start that forced him to stay with them and recover from wounds he got in his first (and admittedly second) encounter with the mare, this one happy-go-lucky changeling changed her mind on many matters for the better. He reintroduced intimate feelings she once thought forever lost, and the two formed a close relationship as a result that still went strong to this day.

But with a troubling, disturbing truth Persica held to herself as of now, for how much longer would it last?

Still sitting up, Persica closed her eyes and bowed her head slightly as her heart rate returned to normal. The nightmare she had just endured was nothing more than a figment of her imagination, but there was a large, fearful reason that was surely the inspiration for its unbridled nastiness. A reason that she felt not even the always-loving, always-reassuring Habeas Brittle could convince her to raise a wall of courage against. Assuming he understood it as she did, anyhow.

Normally, Persica was a pony of a stoic demeanor as rigid as stone unless in the company of Habeas or her now-teenage daughter, Peach Blossom. Right now, thanks to the panic left behind in her mind from the nightmare, it was more like glass that had just been shattered to fragile shards by the careless swing of a mallet. Not bothering too hard to slip away unnoticed, Persica slowly pushed the covers off of herself, got off of the bed, and stumbled out of the pitch black room, into the upstairs hallway just outside it. From there, with her pathway illuminated by the silver rays of moonlight shining through the circular window at the end of it, she made her way to the bathroom and entered it, locking the door behind herself.

Turning the overhead light on, what Persica did next was approach the cupboard sitting underneath the rectangular mirror and attached to the sink. Opening up the top one and digging through it, she searched restlessly for one box she knew was residing within.

The first time she did this kind of activity was merely out of pure curiosity and doubt. But as fate had showed its ugly head, this was the third night in a row that Persica had done it, but now in much more muddled and desperate of a fashion. She needed to see it again. She needed to see that what she had witnessed all those times beforehoof were not what they seemed, as she had been telling herself repeatedly. It may have been her tired mind forcing this vain hope to become the fore desire of her weary brain, but Persica wanted with all her heart to know, just one, final time. Finally finding the box she sought in the back of the drawer, she sifted a quick hoof through it and pulled out a small, white, stick-like device. A pregnancy test.

Habeas and herself had only engaged in sexual intercourse five wonderful times since they first gave in to the temptation just shy of a year-and-a-half ago, from whence their relationship began. The last time they let their carnal desires take hold was little over a week ago, on a calm night that Peach Blossom was spending away with a close friend. Out of all things to expect from it, this kind of consequence was, in truth, the absolute final thing she thought to see. Thinking of it in the time before it all occurred made her nearly laugh with disbelief. And yet here she was now, once again. There was no laughing. Disbelief had been replaced with bated breath and widened eyes. For now there was only the test.

Persica followed through all the instructions with direct precision. When what had to be done was finished, she slowly lifted the test up to her face and closely studied the results. The test had its result clearly on it, reading the same as the last six she had gone through in the last three days. At this point, even with her semi-aware mind affecting her, Persica only now fully knew that these were no trash readings she could still deny. This entire affair was no astronomically coincidental string of false positives.

The outcome had not changed. She was pregnant.

She was pregnant. Just thinking of that one life-altering word was all it took to make Persica's stomach turn queasy. Habeas was a changeling. She was a pony. Their individual biologies shouldn't have been compatible. The science didn't add up! It should be downright impossible! How was it not? What would this mean? What would it become? What would... the foal look like?

What would the foal look like?

Placing a trembling hoof to her sweat-soaked forehead as the swarm of questions consumed her mind, Persica pondered what this all could have meant, but she came up with nothing in the chaos of it all. She couldn't take her eye off of the test she held and the damning answer it blatantly gave, like a wretched symbol that was mocking her out of spite. All Persica could do was stare at it until the sound of a hoof gently knocking against the door went out, causing her to lose her grip on the test in sheer surprise, which fumbled from her hooves to the tile ground below with a light clatter.

"Persica, are you okay in there?" came the calm, drowsy sound of Habeas' voice from the other side of the door. "I heard you get up and quickly leave the room. Are you well?"

Persica hurriedly picked the test back up and brushed some strands of hair from her messy mane away from of her face, which now bore a deathly pallor. She inhaled a deep breath, summing up all of the will she could muster to form a proper, stable response.

"Y-y-yeah, I'm fine," she lied, putting on a shaky smile of gritted teeth as though he was in the bathroom looking at her suffer through this small panic attack. "Just f-feeling a little bit ill, is all! I'll... I'll be out soon..."

"Ill?" he questioned. "How bad is it? I could go into the kitchen and whip you up some soup or ginger ale, if you like."

"N-no!" The one word she used came out louder than she wanted it to, but she had to roll with it now that it was out, and let her tone simmer down to what it was before. "N-no, Habeas. I'm fine. It must have been something I ate at dinner. It'll pass."

"If that's the case, I could get you something else for it-"

"I'm fine, Habeas," she repeated, her voice rising to a dull growl. "All I need is a few more minutes to myself."

He sighed from behind the door. "Very well, then. I'll go back to bed, but if you're not back in ten minutes, I'm coming back to check on you," he said. The sound of Habeas' hooves slowly pattering away quietly went out through the upstairs hall outside until Persica could hear them no more, and she let out a breath of relief, before having that relief turn back into terror when her eye refocused on what was in her hoof.

She stared at the test for a minute more and then tossed it into the trash, wishing to be rid of it more than anything else at the moment. Shutting off the bathroom light and exiting it, she trudged back to her room and entered it as slow as a snail. She saw Habeas laying back in the bed and crawled into it with him. Crawling under the warm sheets, she got as comfortable as she possibly could now that her night was ruined.

Persica looked at Habeas' still shape, watching as his chest and the covers over it expanded and contracted with every relaxed breath he took, and wanting more than anything to ask him a particular question. "Habeas," she eventually whispered into his ear as the temptation became too much, her hooves stroking the thick locks of her chocolate-brown mane anxiously.

"Yes?" he yawned, rolling over and facing her with a loving, sleepy smile on his face. "Something you need, dear?"

"I just want to know something. What are..." she felt reluctant in asking this question, but went on anyway with a deep breath. "What are... baby changelings like?"

"Baby changelings? Hmm..." he hummed, allowing his senses to wake up a little more. "Changeling larva, when they hatch from eggs, are like... I guess you could say small, fragile grubs. I mean really small. Tiny. Only little bigger than your hoof. They have such adorable faces though; like an adult changeling's, but smaller. Younger. Cuter. Probably not unlike a pony foal."

"That's what they're like? That's it?" wondered Persica aloud, her eyes turning to and setting on what she could see of the ceiling above. "Oh..."

Habeas hummed again and rubbed a hoof over his chin as a curious thought came to him. "Where did such a question like that come from, exactly?" he asked. Persica's eyes widened for a second before returning to their previous disposition.

"I was just... it was just a random question that came to mind, that's all," she stated. "I couldn't help but inquire before I had the chance to forget to ask it."

"Well, I'm always glad to answer you, no matter the time." Habeas yawned, stretching his legs out a little bit before resting them by his side. "If that is all, then... good night, Persica. May you have sweet dreams."

"Good... good night, Habeas," she said back. As the mare sensed him drift away, she laid there motionless for some time, thinking of the future. Thinking of what to possibly expect from it. It wasn't more than ten minutes before she unknowingly began to fall unconscious, but it was a long ten minutes to her.

Unbeknownst to Persica as her eyes finally shut, Habeas also fell asleep with a little unease plaguing his mind. Unease focused on something else important, but no less worrisome...

Next Chapter: When Family Comes Together Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes
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