("My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic," its characters and situations are copyright of their respective owners. Story copyright 2012 by George Pollock, Jr. All rights reserved.)
George Pollock, Jr.
"I'm concerned about the foal," the doctor admitted.
"How so?" the female pony asked. She glanced at the shadowy image in the light box on a wall of the examination room. It was like an X-ray but somehow more. But less than a photograph. An image of a ghost. An image of the youngster within her.
"There seem to be … physical abnormalities … developing." It was always difficult saying that, the mare thought. Always. There'd be the sudden gasp, the patient's initial stunned silence and the almost-blank look of fear as horrific images filled the patient's mind. And the doctor hated it. Because there was no way to make things better. They were. They would happen.
The pony blinked. "Such as what, Doctor?" And that was all.
And that surprised the mare. Was she expecting that, she wondered. How could she? "The, um, skull, hooves and spine seem to be developing unusually. Let me show you." She pointed to the ghostly image, then circled her hoof around a tiny projection on the skull. "First off, let me assure you there is good news. The skull is mostly forming pony-normal, and the horn is in its proper place and growing at the rate you'd expect at this stage."
The pony – a unicorn – grinned. "That's my gift, Doctor."
The mare glanced back for a moment at the patient's white horn. She carried it well, even in midlife. But her age was something else to be discussed. Later. "Behind it, though," the mare continued, returning to the image, "there are these little bumps growing in a line to the back of the head. See?"
The unicorn squinted. "Oh ... yes."
The doctor moved her hoof along the back of the ghost. "And they continue along the back to the tail. And that's another concern."
"What about it?"
"It seems to be bony."
"A pony's tail is just hair. Just like the mane. It wouldn't appear very well on the scan, if at all. But your youngster's tail appears to be developing as an extension of the spine. Like a cat's or dog's."
A strange pause. "Or a lizard's?"
"Yes. I suppose."
Why isn't she more upset? "But I want to assure you that the foal otherwise has a normal pony body configuration."
"You mentioned the hooves."
"Right." The doctor's hoof moved to the tips of the ghost's legs. "Ordinarily, the bones in the hoof are covered by a single structure called the wall. But here, if you look closely, not only are there no walls, but there are extra sets of linked phalanges at the end of each leg. And the terminal phalanges are curved and developing pointed external ends."
The unicorn cocked her head quizzically and looked lost.
The mare reconsidered. "Your foal is developing … claws ..."
The patient regarded the image for a long moment. It dragged on such that the doctor began to notice. "Well …," the unicorn finally said, almost absently, "I guess that's to be expected ..."
"You thought this might happen?"
The unicorn sighed and looked at the floor for a moment. Then she faced the mare again. "Doctor, have you ever seen these traits together before?"
A shaken head. "Certainly not on a pony."
"What about another creature?"
"Well," the doctor replied, indicating the line of bumps on the image, "if I didn't know better, I'd say these look like osteoderms."
"And those are what, exactly?"
"They're bony plates under the skin of some reptiles. They're kind of the anchor for some of their scales. And some reptiles have vertical scales where your youngster has the bumps."
"I don't know if you know this, but on dragons, those vertical scales are flexible. But not quite soft. The scales on a dragon's body are the hard ones everypony thinks of when they think of dragon scales."
The unicorn lowered her eyelids slightly, and a smile – tiny and surprising to the mare – began to rise. "Actually," the patient said, "I'm quite aware of how flexible the vertical scales can be."
"Most ponies aren't."
The smile grew. "I am not most ponies, Doctor ..."
The mare nodded. She did have a huge reputation as an artist, she conceded. Daring. Bold. She was famous for that. Or infamous. It depended on your perspective. And on what incident in her life you were talking about.
"In any event," the doctor continued, "there's nothing in your medical record that would account for this aberration."
The smile vanished instantly. The eyes behind the narrowed lids suddenly became defensive, even angry. "Please do not refer to my unborn," she growled, "as an 'aberration.' "
The mare had never heard a unicorn growl. She fought the distraction. "I meant the differences from normal development at this stage. Nothing more."
"I would hope so." Some heat dissipated through a sigh, and the patient started studying the floor again. "Doctor," she said at last, and very softly, "it's the father. That's what it is. That's all."
The unicorn looked up. "What if I were to tell you … that the father is a dragon?"
The mare imagined, and some of the images that ran past her mind were disturbing. She couldn't deny that. "That would explain a lot," she admitted. "But I've never heard ..."
A unicorn's smile returned. This time, it was proud. "Well, now you have."
"You're … kidding …" She studied the proud smile for a moment. "You're not kidding, are you …?"
"No. Not in the least."
"A … dragon."
A silence of acceptance, then: "And you didn't think that was important enough to mention? Why didn't you say so when we confirmed the pregnancy? My Celestia ..."
"I didn't know how to, exactly."
"You could have said,'The father is a dragon.' " It was her turn to sigh. "... Please forgive a professional question, but … I mean … how …?"
"How did we do it, you mean?"
"I was thinking of the physical compatibility, yes. The size difference ..."
"He's not a fully grown dragon. From what I understand, he's considered to be at the very end of his teens. As dragons reckon it. So he's still not so grown that … things … couldn't happen." Her smile became fully worldly.
"Does he know you're pregnant?" the doctor asked.
"He's been visiting Pyra, his ancestral homeland. He was actually born in Equestria. The pregnancy was confirmed after he left."
"And you still haven't told him?"
"I didn't know how to, exactly," the patient repeated.
"Oh, for Celestia's sake … OK … Just out of curiosity, how long have you known him?"
"Since he moved here to Ponyville when he was a child."
The mare calculated. "If he's a late-teenage dragon now, that would be something like quite a while."
"It has been."
"A teen parent. Not the best of all possible worlds. I have to be honest."
"I … really think he'll step up. He's always been a fine young gentlepony. 'Gentle … dragon,' I guess. He always does the right thing." A chuckle. "Eventually."
"For your sake," the doctor said, "and your youngster's, I hope so." She shook her head. "Well … my concern is for the health of both of you. You've made a foal, and we're going to make sure it comes into the world in good shape."
The unicorn glanced away. "I don't know that you can call it a 'foal.' Not in this case."
"Then we'll call it your child. Because that's what it is."
"All right." The patient looked again at the image on the wall. "He's quite adorable, really."
"The child? I can't perceive the sex yet. Pony or dragon ..."
"Actually, I meant the father."
"He's had a crush on me since we met. It's been sweet. Even after all these years."
The doctor recalled something, and she had to mention it. "I'm glad you brought that up," she began. "You know you're no longer in your prime brood years. Just a little past."
"I know," the unicorn replied quietly.
"That's going to present its own problems. Pregnancy for a pony in midlife, as you are, gets complicated."
"I know," the unicorn repeated quietly.
The mare regarded the patient's mane. The unicorn had been her patient for many years, since the pony was a filly with chic curled mane and tail that were deep blue with violet undertones. Even back then, the doctor had perceived that she was – and would be – a pony of style. Of class and art. And of boldness.
The unicorn had, indeed, evolved into elegance with the years. But the price had been the rich colors of her mane and tail. To the point of gray hairs – but still only a few – among the subdued blue and violet.
But even then, the doctor acknowledged … to take a young lover – a dragon lover – at her age …
Well, that was bold.
"Aside from your age issue," the mare continued, "there could be complications we can't even begin to predict" – she raised a hoof toward the image on the wall – "just from the genetics. You could miscarry. You could have a stillbirth. The child could die after birth or while it's young. I don't know. I've never had a case of trans-species pregnancy – or even heard of one. I'm surprised it could even happen between a pony and a dragon."
The patient gazed at the doctor with devilishly playful eyes. The smile returned and blossomed into a grin. "Oh, Doctor," she almost whispered, then rubbed her belly slowly and dramatically, "right now, I'm full of surprises."
The mare tried to suppress a snort of laughter. She failed. She started snickering and ended up in belly laughs. It just felt good. For her part, the unicorn just kept grinning.
The doctor recovered slowly with a smile. "Mmm … ahem … well … Seems like the child will have a great sense of humor, anyway."
"The father has always been playful, too. That's part of his charm."
"Hmm. May I ask you a personal question?"
A smile in reply. "Doctor, when I'm here, all of yourquestions are personal."
"True. What … made you want a dragon? If you know what I mean ..."
"I didn't want a dragon. I wanted this dragon."
"And why …?" The patient's blue eyes – still bright with passion, even after all these years, the mare noted – drifted to the side, drifted away. "I always knew how he felt about me. And I was never sure how to respond. But he became a friend. A good one. More than a crush. Or an admirer. A friend."
"I'm glad for that."
"And then, a few months ago, he said he was going to visit Pyra to learn more about his heritage. He'd lived here in Ponyville since he was a child, as I said. I was a filly then. And he was so sweet. But the age difference, of course – and the species issue – and anything beyond friendship … well, society wouldn't understand ..." She fell silent, and the silence sounded almost ashamed.
"From what I know about your career," the doctor said, "you've never really cared what society's thought of what you've done."
"And it took me forever to get to there. But when I was young, I did care. I was rather shallow, Doctor. You probably saw that."
"Well ... sometimes." The tone, delivered with a smile, was understanding.
"But I would never – ever – take a child. Ever. I'm not perverse."
"I've never thought you are. Just daring."
"For the record," the patient stressed, "the father was of consenting age when we … you know. By both Equestrian and Pyran law."
"Now, that sounds a little defensive."
"It's accurate," the unicorn noted. "For the record."
"OK. So why did you finally take him?"
"I suppose – before he left – I wanted to finally express my gratitude … appreciation ... affection … for his friendship. In some ways, it's been magic."
"Just for the record," the mare said playfully, "there are ways to express that other than taking the friend."
"Well, I found myself wanting to give him … an experience … that would be special. Something he could remember and feel happy about. And let's be honest, Doctor: Having been taken by a unicorn would make him special among dragons. The, um, size issue you mentioned."
"Had he ever been taken before, as far as you know?"
A shaken head. "He said he hadn't."
"Not even by a young dragoness?"
A shrug. "There really were never any around."
"Huh." The doctor chuckled. "Well, he certainly left you something to remember him by."
"I'd remember him, anyway. This," she said, patting her belly, "is an unexpected gift. One I'm proud of. Make no mistake. And a blessing. Especially at my age."
The mare studied the patient's abdomen. The fetus inside was only four apples big now, but it would start showing eventually. And news that an unmarried famous artist like the unicorn being pregnant – let alone by whom – would spread like the wind. Even to Canterlot. Where – the doctor recalled from her discussions with the patient – the princesses kept her on retainer. I wonder, she thought, what they'd think to learn that a pony-dragon child was on the way.
"You must tell the father," she said at last. "It's his right to know."
"Yes. I understand that."
"Promise me you'll tell him before your next appointment."
"I promise." She grinned. "Should I bring a note from him?"
"Pinkie promise me."
The unicorn's eyes widened. "What?"
"Pinkie promise me."
"How do you know about that?"
"Pinkie Pie's one of my other patients. Didn't you know that?"
"No. I usually don't discuss my health issues with my friends. So she and I have never mentioned our doctors. Or doctor, I guess."
"Pinkie promise," the mare replied.
A broad laugh. "Oh, Doctor! We're adults!"
"Pinkie promise," the mare repeated.
The patient finally realized that the only way around the obstacle was through it. She sighed and crossed her chest with a hoof. "Cross my heart, hope to fly," she recited, then held the hoof over her left eye. "Stick a cupcake in my eye." She lowered the hoof and smiled. "Satisfied?"
A mare's grin in return. "Now, you know what happens when you break a Pinkie promise, right? Especially if I tell her you have ...?"
The unicorn thought of her longtime pink friend who created the promise. She thought of one time, long ago, when somepony seemingly broke a Pinkie promise – but truly hadn't. And she thought of what the pink friend had done when the promise seemingly had been broken.
"I'm familiar with what happens," she answered. Best to play it safe, she decided. She was carrying a youngster, after all.
The doctor nodded. "All right, then. Any questions for me?"
"Should I stay on the diet you outlined?"
"For now, yes. But I'll have to check what's best for a prenatal dragon – or half-dragon, I guess. Egg yolk, maybe. Dragons gestate in eggs."
"I do like omelets."
"And I've met dragon doctors from Pyra at inter-realm medical conferences. I'll check with them, too."
The mare turned to the light box and removed the fetal-scan sheet. She pondered it for a moment. "A mother who's a midlife unicorn, a father who's a teenage dragon and their trans-species youngster ..." She faced the patient. "You're all probably going to go down in medical history. But it's probably going to be really rough on all three of you. Are you ready for that?"
The unicorn bowed her head. Her gray-flecked blue mane swept forward, and as she closed her eyes, she seemed to be praying. "I thought I'd never have a child," she said quietly. "Certainly not at my age. And certainly not one as special as this."
She raised her face, and her eyes surprised the mare with their strength. "But no matter what happens," she said, "I will have this child. Even if I die doing it. The child is everything. The only thing.
"If the choice must ever be made, Doctor … save the child … not me. That is my final word."
The mare was silent, then put the sheet in a folder thick with paper. "Let's pray it never comes to that," she said, very softly. "Come on. Let's get your next appointment set up."
She opened the examination room's door and let the patient pass. As they headed down the hall, the mare noted the unicorn's cutie mark swaying as she walked. Because of the patient's art and success, her mark was known throughout Equestria. "It just struck me," the doctor said.
The unicorn glanced back slightly. "Hmm …?"
"By the time you're full-term, you'll probably be too big to wear any of your own designs. No formal events for you by then. That's sad."
The patient halted suddenly, and the mare nearly ran into her. The unicorn kept staring ahead, and the doctor was confused.
"No … formal wear … for an expectant mare ..." the unicorn whispered to no one.
Then she gasped.
"Oh … my … dear … CELESTIA ..."
She spun around almost violently toward the doctor and shouted, "FORMAL MATERNITY WEAR!"
The mare spoke her mind: "I'm sorry – what?"
"FORMAL MATERNITY WEAR!" The unicorn rose on her hind legs and hugged the doctor almost maniacally. "DARLING! YOU'RE A GENIUS! FORMAL MATERNITY WEAR!" She released the embrace excitedly. "I've never heard of it being done! It's brilliant! It'll be my next project! THANK YOU!"
The mare recovered enough to joke. "It's certainly pregnant with possibilities."
"Pregnant … Possibilities …" Blue eyes flared wildly under the stately white horn. "THE. NAME. OF. THE. LINE! Absolutely fabulous!" She gazed in awe at the mare. "Oh, Doctor! You've missed your true calling!"
A smirk. "And when I think of all the money I wasted on medical school ..."
The unicorn spun around and trotted briskly down the hall. "Let's see …," she began as her voice got farther away, "they'll have to be lightweight and cool and stretch and still flatter their lines. Or curves, I suppose ..."
The mare watched her go. And suspected – deeply – that several months from then, throughout all Equestria, expectant mares at formal events would be wearing fashions with labels bearing her patient's famous tri-diamond cutie mark.
Or maybe not. By then, the doctor speculated, the unicorn might – Celestia willing – have her hooves full with a far more personal, and very successful, project.