“Come on, Dad! We’ve played this boss before! How many times have we beaten him?”
“Cut me some slack, Champ! It’s not always as easy as it looks!”
I sat on the pillow in front of the TV, Dad right by my side. We’d beaten the Reaper before, but every now and then he gave us some trouble. This seemed to be one of those times. I could hear breathing behind us, but I’d learned to drown Mom out ages ago, especially when it came to boss battles.
“Dad, he got me! You’ve gotta take it from here!”
“Okay Buddy, but I’m cutting it mighty close!”
I watched the TV as Dad continued with the battle. The breathing behind me became labored; that wasn’t the kind of sound I usually heard from Mom when Dad and I were playing games, but I ignored it. I just cheered him on. “Come on! You’ve got enough life left in your bar! We’ve almost got ‘im…”
“Come on, c’mon c’mon c’mon…” Dad continued to button-mash while I laid next to him. Whenever we got to points like this, he always became really serious. He treated them like life-or-death situations, but even I knew it was only a game. I think it was just because he didn’t want to disappoint me.
“Dad, that’s it! He’s flashing red! You’ve almost won!” I pointed at the screen and started bouncing on my belly. For a second, the walls looked like they were dissolving away, but I didn’t pay attention— my eyes were fixed on the TV screen.
“Hold on, Buddy, don’t get ahead of yourself. There are still a few more hits to go!” Dad said.
I stared at the screen, watching as Dad maneuvered around scythes, jumping and rolling in all directions. When he got close to the Reaper, he was almost sliced in half, but one final dodge allowed him to get low and buck the Reaper right in the jaw. As the skeleton collapsed into a pile of bones, Dad and I high-hoofed.
“See? I knew you could do it!” I shouted.
“Yeah, your old stallion’s still got it!” Dad replied.
The two of us glanced at the corner of the screen, which was now saying, ‘Loading Final Level’, along with the spinning medallion. I said, “Alright, now we get to play together again! Let’s kick flank!”
Dad sighed and responded, “Not right now, Champ. Your mother would have my head if she knew I let you stay up this late. You need to hit the hay. You can finish the game in the morning.” With that, I heard a deep breath as I groaned and looked at the TV. Getting a look at the faded reflection in the dark screen, I caught a glimpse of a pair of extended wings and a dark, flowing mane. I squinted at the glass, not sure if I had seen what I thought I saw. Before I had a chance to turn around and look, Dad caught my attention by clearing his throat. He slowly walked to the TV and turned it off, leaving the system on. “Come on, Crimson, go to bed.”
“But I want to play with you. I do so much better when we play co-op,” I complained. “You’re gonna be busy in the morning.”
“I know it seems easier when we play together; I like it better that way, too. But if I’m not here to play with you, I’m sure you could win by yourself.” He sighed and smiled in response to my glare.
“But Dad, that final boss is so tricky! You’re much better at fighting him than me, and the two of us together are practically unstoppable!”
“Hey, at some point you’re going to have to figure out how to play single-player. I won’t always be here to play with you.”
“But I don’t get it! How come you’re still so busy? You retired!” I exclaimed. “You should have a bunch of time to play.”
Dad sighed and shook his head. “That… that’s not what I mean, Buddy. Having time to play now isn’t the problem. I’m worried about the future. Your future.”
“Ah, like father, like son.”
When I heard that voice, all my attention went from my father’s downcast eyes to the space behind the couch, then I saw a blinding light.
I bolted upright in my bed and immediately felt a tug in my chest, like somepony was trying to pull my lungs out through my nose. As a reflex, I swallowed, and when my throat tightened around the tube again, I realized I almost jerked it out. Breathing deeply, I laid back down against my pillow.
“Whoops! Sorry, Sweetheart! I didn’t think I was poking you that hard.” Gramma was leaning on the bed railing. “Sorry to wake you, but I thought you’d want to hear the good news.”
I rubbed my eyes and simply asked, “What?”
Mom was on the other side of my bed, smiling. “Dad’s surgery is over. He’s in the Recovery Room.”
My eyes dilated. “So he’s—”
“He’s fine. The surgery went just fine.”
I sank into my pillow with my eyes closed, taking deep breaths. Aside from the tube jammed up my nose, I actually felt alright. I realized that hearing good news can make you feel as good as taking a nap, and I had just done both of those. When I opened my eyes again, I noticed something on the wall that made me break out in a big grin.
“Just saw it now, huh?” Mom asked. Starry’s painting of Princess Luna and me hung in its proper place on the opposite wall. A new gold-colored, ornate frame held it in place, giving it a regal look. “They did the job pretty quickly. I thought you might like to have it back up on the wall.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”
“You’re welcome, Sweetie. You didn’t happen to see the artist, too, did you?”
At that moment, Starry’s head popped up at the bottom of my bed, followed by Tesla’s. “Hey, dude!” Starry piped up. “You feelin’ okay? Other than that fun-lookin’ tube up your schnozz?”
I smiled at him and responded, “Hey!” I glanced at Tess and smirked. “Well, at least one of you isn’t shy about the tube.” Tess just shrugged. “Yeah, I’m doin’ alright. Definitely could be better, but I guess I just have to deal for now. When did you get here, Starry?”
Starry glanced at the clock. “Eh, about fifteen minutes ago. Tess came and got me— said you weren’t feelin’ too hot and might need a little extra support. I can kinda see why; sounds like a lot happened since Friday. She gave me the gist on the way in.”
I sighed. “Yeah… ‘a lot’ is right. I don’t think I can go through it all right now.” I looked across the room, then leaned forward and whispered, “Did Tess tell you I got another visit?”
Starry turned and glared at her. “Yeah… lucky. I can’t believe you got to meet her, too!”
I turned to Tess and said, “Speaking of which, she did leave you to watch m—”
Tess cut me off. “Oh, believe me, I didn’t go anywhere until your mom came back. Are you kidding? I was afraid to go to the bathroom!”
“Yeah. Guess she has to wait to do that at home,” Starry snickered. Tess kicked him in the shoulder.
She glared at him and answered, “That wasn’t exactly the first thing on my mind, you know! Your mom knows where you are now; I wanted to stop back at my place and tell my parents that I was coming back here! I figured— oh, just shut up!” Starry chuckled as Tess rolled her eyes.
I heard Mom and Gramma titter at the door before Mom said, “Sweetie? Your Gramma and I are going to go check on your father. We just wanted to come back and let you know how he was doing. You’ve got Starry and Tesla here— will you be alright without us?”
After catching my breath from laughing at Starry getting pummeled, I answered her, “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Tell Dad I said hi, would you?”
“Absolutely, dear,” Gramma responded with a smile.
As the two of them started walking out, my stomach rumbled, so I shouted, “Wait!” When they turned back around, I asked, “Could you ask High Flyer when they’re bringing dinner around?”
Mom and Gramma looked at each other and frowned. Then Mom turned to me and said, “Sweetie, you aren’t allowed to eat now, remember?”
I reached up and felt the tube in my nose, then followed it to the wall where green gunk dripped from its other end into a glass jar. I narrowed my eyes, stared at the jar, and replied, “Oh. Yeah. Shoot…”
Mom sighed. “I’m sorry, sweetie. When the doctors say you can eat again, I’ll get you whatever you want.” I guess I had to settle for that. I couldn’t go see Dad myself, either, so I had to take what I could get. “We’ll be back in a little while, okay?”
I returned the sigh. “Okay. Tell Dad to feel better quick.”
Mom smiled. “Will do, honey.”
The moment the two of them walked out the door, my stomach growled again. I glared at my belly, then put my head in my hooves and looked at Starry and Tess. “Well, that sucks.”