“Like an Unexpected Song”
by Donny’s Boy
Synopsis: She never expected to see that golden chariot flying over Ponyville. She never expected just how much her life would change. She never expected Twilight Sparkle … and Twilight Sparkle most certainly never expected Pinkie Pie.
“Now, no matter where I am,
No matter what I do,
I see your face appearing
Like an unexpected song--
An unexpected song
That only we are hearing.”
--”Unexpected Song,” Song & Dance
When Pinkie Pie awoke on the Sunday that was to change her life forever, she realized two things simultaneously. Firstly, she realized that the previous evening’s party had been the biggest, loudest, and most spectacular party that she had ever thrown. Secondly, she realized that now that the party was over and Sugarcube Corner lie silent and still, she’d never felt more miserable in her entire life.
The party itself had gone fine. The parties always went fine. Ponies came and talked and laughed and ate and drank. They danced to the thumping bass of the deejay’s turntables, and they played all of the various party games that had been shoved into every corner of the room. And then, at the end of the night, when the punch was all gone and the deejay had packed up her equipment, everyone had left en masse.
Just like they always did.
Pinkie swallowed a sigh as she trotted downstairs to where the remains of last night’s party lay strewn across the entire first floor of the bakery. Walking around the room with heavy hooves, she began stuffing ripped streamers into a trash bag while reflecting on how and why everything had gone so wrong, yet again.
She’d chatted with a few ponies, of course, but they’d all given her that look. They’d given her the look, and they’d tried to get away as quickly as they could while still maintaining some pretense of politeness. The main exception was the unicorn seamstress from across the way, who spoke to Pinkie at great length about her spring line of fashion and the latest gossip from Canterlot. Pinkie liked the unicorn and liked hearing about gossip, but all too soon the seamstress had excused herself to go talk to the mayor.
There was also the earth pony farmer from just outside of town, who’d looked Pinkie straight in the eye and said, “No offense, sugar cube, but I’m only here ‘cause my brother’s sweet on that pegasus animal wrangler and heard she’d be at this here shindig.” Pinkie had said that was okay and that it was good to see her there, no matter why she’d came, but the other earth pony had just shrugged in response.
On the bright side, that one pegasus from the weather team had come to Pinkie’s party--the one who always had a near-permanent grin, the one with the warm, rich laugh that came from deep in the belly. The pegasus with the beautiful, multi-colored mane.
The name of the pegasus with the infectious grin and amazing laugh was Rainbow Dash--Pinkie had asked around town. But every time Pinkie had tried to sneak up to Rainbow Dash to introduce herself and strike up a conversation, the other pony had zipped off somewhere else. It was uncanny. Almost as though the sneaky pegasus was trying to avoid her on purpose for some silly reason.
Finally, the sigh that Pinkie Pie had been holding in all morning escaped her lips, just as she finished filling up the trash bag with leftover party decorations and tied it off. At least everypony had enjoyed themselves. That was the important thing, after all, and it did make her genuinely happy to watch everyone having a good time. She just wished that some of the ponies who came to her parties would stay afterwards for a little while. Just to talk. To get to know her better.
To be her friends.
After casting one last glance around the bakery to ensure it would be in tip-top shape for when the Cakes would open on Monday, Pinkie began dragging the trash bag out the front door. She hadn’t taken but three steps, however, when she was distracted by the sight of a gleaming golden chariot streaking across the sky. How odd. There weren’t many chariots that came to Ponyville and certainly not chariots that were golden.
Quickly she tossed the trash bag into the garbage bin and then cantered off in the direction she’d seen the chariot flying. Her hooves moved almost of their own accord. There was something about that chariot--something important. She wasn’t sure just how she knew that, but she did … and she wasn’t a pony accustomed to second-guessing what she knew.
In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Pinkie Pie was a mare on a mission. Deftly she wove her way through the already-crowded town square, throwing out smiles and greetings left and right as she did, while never losing sight of the chariot that had landed ahead. When she finally reached her goal, the chariot was just taking off again, but in its place were left behind a unicorn and small dragon.
And Pinkie Pie knew, with the same certainty that she knew that chocolate cake was the very best thing in the entire world, that this unicorn and this dragon were important. Were special.
She knew that, come hell or high water, she was going to become friends with these two newcomers. She was going to introduce herself to them before anyone in town could talk to them, and she was not going to scare them off like all the others, and she was going to throw them the biggest and very best party she’d ever thrown, and …
And they were going to be her friends.
They just had to.
That’s what Rainbow Dash had told her, had told all of them, as they waited quietly in the darkened library. The air was hot and thick, as dozens of ponies squeezed together in the cramped confines of the library’s main room, but Pinkie Pie didn’t mind. With the claustrophobic density came two wonderful, amazing things. First, it brought Rainbow Dash--who was pressed against her, so close that she could feel every beat of the pegasus’ heart and every impatient rustling of the pegasus’ wings. And with Rainbow Dash came the name of that purple unicorn she’d met earlier in the day.
The unicorn who was named Twilight Sparkle.
It was a nice name, mused Pinkie. A friendly-sounding name.
And even though it was pitch black and no one would be able to see, Pinkie Pie grinned.
The natives of Ponyville had unerring instincts as to which of the visitors to their little hamlet would be simple passers-by and which would prove to be permanent immigrants. That braggart unicorn magician, for instance, had immediately been pegged as a mere flash-in-the-pan entertainment. Those two brothers with the cider machine had been similarly dismissed by the town’s populace--though, of course, their cider was greatly appreciated while it had been available. Many came through Ponyville, and many left through Ponyville. Not many stayed, however.
But that little pink filly with the bouncy gait and near-permanent smile? As soon as she’d hopped into town, Ponyville recognized immediately that she would never, ever leave. So too with the shy yellow pegasus who appeared on the outskirts of the village not too long after--and, several months later, the pegasus’ brash young friend, who proudly and loudly declared to all and sundry that one day she’d be a Wonderbolt.
And the day that a stressed-out, Canterlot-born purple unicorn landed in their midst, the Ponyville residents knew--knew as surely as they knew the Apple family would run out of cider during cider season, yet again--that this purple unicorn wasn’t ever going to leave. They knew she was meant to stay in Ponyville, despite all of her protestations that she was only in town for the Summer Sun Celebration preparations.
They knew all this because the natives of Ponyville could spot one of their own from a mile away. It was easy. As different as all of the town’s citizens were from one another, as varied as their races and occupations and personalities, they all shared one very important trait in common. They were all crazy as crazy could be.
And Twilight Sparkle? Twilight Sparkle was one crazy pony. She just didn’t seem to realize it. Which, really, when one thought about it, kind of just made her all the crazier.
Crazy enough that, when Twilight decided she was going to set out into the Everfree Forest to find the mythical artefacts that she claimed were the only things that could stop the ponification of the All Darkness herself … five near-strangers followed her, without hesitation and without question. Because a pony that crazy can’t help but draw craziness to her, like a moth is drawn to a flame.
Those five crazy ponies followed her, and those five crazy ponies fought for her.
Those five near-strangers followed her and, by the time they’d returned, victorious and unharmed, those five near-strangers weren’t strangers anymore.
Twilight Sparkle didn’t understand. And if there was anything that Twilight Sparkle hated, she hated not understanding.
As the party at Sugarcube Corner rolled merrily onward, despite the fact that the griffon guest of honor had departed in a huff, Twilight stood in a corner and gazed out at all of the gathered ponies with a thoughtful frown. Fluttershy and Rarity were by the refreshments table, chatting and smiling, while nearby Applejack was plowing through the apple fritters at a mildly alarming rate. And far across the room were Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, playing a game of Pin the Tail on the Pony, the excitable pink earth mare bouncing around the laughing and blindfolded pegasus.
Pinkie’s eyes, which usually bounced around as much as the rest of her did, were laser focused on Rainbow as Rainbow Dash stumbled forward, a pretend tail held between her teeth. The smile on Pinkie’s face was larger than any that Twilight could remember seeing before--and, given that it was Pinkie who was smiling, that was quite a feat indeed.
Pinkie was happy. Perfectly, wonderfully happy.
And Twilight didn’t understand.
“It's okay, Twilight,” Pinkie had told her, just minutes before. “Even you can't be a super smart smarty smart-pants all the time.”
Twilight had been wrong, so terribly, awfully wrong. The kind of wrong that she wasn’t used to being. The kind of wrong that she hadn’t been in … in years, really. Because Twilight Sparkle took great pains to never be that level of wrong, as though she could banish all those countless memories of disappointed eyes and exasperated sighs through being perfect in the here and now. She never quite could, but it helped. If only a little.
Twilight took a sip of the glass of punch she held in her magical grasp and tried to ignore how sickly sweet it tasted on her tongue. Pinkie’s punches were always just a little too sweet.
But despite how wrong Twilight had been, Pinkie Pie hadn’t looked at her in disappointment, and Pinkie Pie hadn’t sighed in that awful and familiar way. Pinkie had simply smiled, one of those easy, breezy smiles of hers. It was such a surprise, such an unexpected relief, that Twilight wasn’t even all that annoyed at the insulting implication that she wasn’t always “super smart.”
That blessed sense of relief, though, didn’t change the fact that still she didn’t understand. But she wanted to. She wanted to understand.
And, perhaps, just perhaps, she would.
It was days like these that Lyra Heartstrings cherished the most--perfect blue sky, warm breeze against her back, Bon Bon cuddled up against her side. With a contented sigh, she allowed her eyes to slide shut as she leaned back against the park bench. Happiness and perfection reigned, for the briefest shining moment.
Then Bon Bon jabbed her in the ribs while whispering, in an excited tone, “Lyra! Lyra, look at that!’
Lyra did as she was told and opened her eyes. Immediately she frowned. Pinkie Pie was some distance away, over by the school house, rolling on the ground and singing to herself. That wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, though, and honestly didn’t even qualify as strange by Pinkie standards. She felt confused as to why Bon Bon would want to point it out. Then, she spotted a rustling bush.
“Um.” Lyra scratched her head with a hoof. “Is Twilight Sparkle wearing a pith helmet?”
“She absolutely is,” replied Bon Bon, still speaking in that excited tone. Dreamily she sighed. “Don’t you think that’s so romantic?”
Lyra did not, in fact, think it was romantic. But the last time she’d admitted that, when asked a similar question by the earth pony beside her, she’d had to sleep on the couch for a week. So Lyra decided a little white lie was called for. “Sure! Sure thing, Bon. Pith helmets are totally romantic.”
Bon Bon gave her a look. “I didn’t mean the pith helmet itself. I meant the whole … you know! Caring so deeply about figuring out what makes Pinkie Pie tick that she’d play anthropologist.” Smiling, she nuzzled her fillyfriend. “It’s just like the time you practically moved into Sugarcube Corner after you bribed Mrs. Cake into teaching you how to make truffles. You remember? Because you wanted to impress me?”
The unicorn blushed. “I can neither confirm nor deny that allegation.”
“Anyways,” said Bon Bon, rolling her eyes, “I think it’s sweet that Twilight wants to learn everything there is to know about the object of her affections.”
“I dunno, Bon. Are you sure she’s not just weirded out by Pinkie’s future-sensing abilities? I mean, Twilight hasn’t lived here as long as most of the rest of us. She probably just isn’t used to Pinkie’s … Pinkieness … yet.”
That seemed to stymie the earth pony’s enthusiasm for a few moments. But then Bon Bon leaned forward, all excitement returning, her eyes shining and bright. “No, Lyra. It’s not just that.” She pointed.
Lyra followed the outstretched hoof with her eyes and saw a now helmet-less Twilight yelling at Pinkie Pie, her muzzle just inches away from Pinkie’s.
“That kind of passion doesn’t come from simple scientific curiosity.” Bon Bon’s voice practically oozed smugness. “That is the kind of passion that only comes from romantic love.”
Lyra couldn’t argue with impeccable logic such as that. And even if she could, she knew better than to try. So instead she just leaned back and allowed her eyes to flutter shut once again. “If you say so, Bon. Hope it works out for those two crazy kids.”
For just the briefest second, Pinkie Pie froze when she heard the voice. When she heard that voice on the breeze, warm and familiar, yet ringing out in a way it never had before:
The time has come to welcome spring
And all things warm and green …
Twilight Sparkle … was singing.
Pinkie shouldn’t have been surprised. Lots of ponies sang, after all, and practically no pony sang more than Pinkie Pie herself. It shouldn’t have been surprising to hear Twilight doing so, too. And yet, for some reason, it was.
But it's also time to say goodbye.
It's winter we must clean …
Perhaps it was simply that Pinkie hadn’t heard Twilight sing before--but no, no, that wasn’t it. Almost immediately Pinkie realized that couldn’t be the answer. She’d never heard Applejack or Rainbow Dash sing before today, either, but she hadn’t reacted to their voices the way that she was reacting to Twilight’s.
Not that Dash and Applejack didn’t have perfectly lovely singing voices--they totally, totally did--but they weren’t singing like Twilight was singing. There wasn’t that same lilt to the words, that same tremulous emotion.
How can I help? I'm new, you see.
What does everypony do?
How do I fit in without magic?
I haven't got a clue ...
Though Pinkie was still skating in lazy circles around the frozen lake, scoring the ice as she went along, she couldn’t tear her gaze away from Twilight. The unicorn was wandering uneasily among the various teams of ponies, her eyes darting left and right, a smile stretched wide and taut across her face.
Pinkie Pie knew that look. She knew it far better than she wished she did.
Frowning, she skated over to the edge of the lake and hopped off the ice. She wrestled with her skates for a few moments before she was able to pull them off and, after setting them to the side, she went trotting after Twilight.
Now that I know what they all do,
I have to find my place
And help with all of my heart.
Tough task ahead I face …
Twilight sounded so uncertain. So unsure.
Pinkie couldn’t remember ever hearing Twilight sound unsure. At least, not as unsure as she sounded right now. The frown never left the pink pony’s face as she weaved her way through the crowds, hot on Twilight’s heels. As she cantered along, her ears gave the occasional twitch, straining to hear every note that Twilight was singing.
Finally, Twilight passed through the main clusters of ponies and began climbing a small hill. At the top, the unicorn paused. She looked out at the land before and below her, her eyes far off, distant, troubled.
Pinkie stopped at the bottom of the hill. Some invisible force kept her from venturing closer, kept her from following her friend any further. Instead, she stood silently and watched. She watched, unseen and unnoticed, as Twilight sang out to the idyllic countryside that surrounded Ponyville.
It was then that Pinkie realized just how young Twilight looked--how young Twilight in actuality was. The dauntless unicorn had led them through so many things, over so many obstacles, that it was easy to forget, sometimes. Easy to forget that Twilight was just about the same age that Pinkie was. That Twilight maybe didn’t have all the answers, despite all her books, just like Pinkie didn’t. That Twilight might sometimes feel a little lost and a little alone, just like--
Pinkie gently shook her head and continued listening.
How will I do without my magic,
Help the earth pony way?
I wanna belong, so I must
Do my best today …
As the last note of Twilight’s song slowly faded into the chill air, Pinkie Pie knew that she should turn around, should walk away, should head back to the lake. And she would. Soon. In just a minute. But before she could make her legs obey her brain’s commands to get moving, Twilight was walking back down the hill, her breath showing in the air as little puffs of white. Pinkie smiled as Twilight drew near, but she could feel the smile shake and tremble at the edges.
She didn’t know why it should. There was no reason why it should, really. But smiles were silly and unpredictable that way. Sometimes.
Twilight tilted her head, once she was in speaking range, and her brow crinkled ever so slightly. “Is everything all right, Pinkie Pie?”
“I just didn’t know,” Pinkie blurted out in reply, almost immediately regretting that she hadn’t simply said that everything was fine. “I didn’t know that you … ”
“What?” In an instant Twilight’s eyes, which had looked so soft and so helpless when she’d been singing, turned as hard as the ice on the lake. “That I what, Pinkie?”
Still wielding her trusty smile, Pinkie Pie gave a shrug. “I didn’t know that you … that you could sing.”
It had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. But then, Rainbow Dash tended to think that all of her ideas were brilliant.
Now, though, standing in the center of Applejack’s large barn and looking around at the birthday party that was still in full swing, Rainbow wasn’t quite so sure. Rarity and Applejack were over by the refreshments table, arguing about apples or dresses or some other utterly unimportant and uncool thing. That part was just fine--more than that, it was pretty much par for the course with those two. Meanwhile, Fluttershy was standing right beside Dash, basking in her awesomeness and listening to her retell the story of the Best Young Fliers competition for the second or third time that afternoon.
That part was just fine, too. In fact, this was exactly what Rainbow had wanted all afternoon, a chance for some one-on-one time with Fluttershy. She loved all her pals, to be sure, but ever since the competition in Cloudsdale, things had been different with her fellow pegasus and oldest friend. When the going got tough, Fluttershy had really pulled through for her. Dash could still hear Fluttershy’s enthusiastic cheering over the roar of the wind in her ears, if she closed her eyes and thought about it hard enough.
She hadn’t gotten to thank Fluttershy for that, in all the hoopla after the competition. She’d thought Pinkie’s surprise birthday party would provide a good chance to finally do so.
But things hadn’t gone according to plan. Not exactly. Rainbow Dash still couldn’t help but shudder when she remembered the little scene she’d encountered at Sugarcube Corner earlier that afternoon. Then, after Rainbow had successfully dragged the reluctant earth pony to her own birthday party--and Pinkie had at last caught a clue that they weren’t throwing her a farewell party--Pinkie Pie had gotten even clingier than usual. Which, given how often Pinkie followed Rainbow around like an adoring puppy on a regular basis, was really saying something.
Rainbow Dash had been forced to take action. Desperate times called for desperate measures, after all. And it was then that Rainbow had blurted out the fateful words: “You know, Pinkie Pie, this whole surprise party was Twilight’s idea.”
Pinkie’s eyes had lit up like fireworks and, just as Rainbow had hoped, she went bouncing off to harass the purple unicorn instead of Dash. Once she’d gone, Dash had breathed a heavy sigh of relief and trotted over to the refreshments table to liberate Fluttershy from Rarity’s tedious, fashion-obsessed grasp.
But that had been over an hour ago, now, and still Pinkie and Twilight stood together in conversation--or, to be more accurate, Twilight stood while Pinkie bounced around her in tight, happy circles. What more, Twilight was actually smiling and laughing. It just plain didn’t make any sense. It was weird and unnatural and broke all of the known laws of nature, and Rainbow didn’t like it. She didn’t like it one bit.
“Um, Rainbow Dash?”
Blinking, Dash turned her head towards the voice that had just called out her name. Fluttershy was looking at her with an intent expression on her face, her eyes full of concern. Feeling a touch of chagrin, Dash wondered just how long she’d zoned out.
“Uh, hey, Fluttershy. Sorry ‘bout that. What’s up?”
Fluttershy smiled, a smile that was small but as warm as the sun, while she gently shook her head. “Oh, nothing, really. I was just wondering if you were all right.” Her brow crinkled, just the tiniest bit. “You looked like … like you might be upset. Maybe. A little bit.”
Rainbow couldn’t help but chuckle at that. Leave it to Fluttershy to worry even at a party. “Nah. I’m fine.”
“Okay. If you’re sure …”
There was something in the other pegasus’ tone that made Rainbow Dash pause. That caused a frown to tug down on the corners of her mouth and that caused her to take another glance around the barn. Rarity was now loudly criticizing Applejack’s table manners as the orange earth pony happily and deliberately ate a piece of cake as messily as possible. Gummy was lounging in the punch bowl and blinking in that eerie, unsettling way of his. And Pinkie and Twilight were over by the phonograph, dancing in the dorkiest and most embarrassing way possible, as an old scratchy record filled the entire barn with the sound of polka.
Almost immediately Pinkie Pie noticed Rainbow looking in their direction, and her face split into a huge, happy grin as she waved enthusiastically at the pegasus. Rainbow Dash grinned back.
It really was a great party. She had to give some credit to the bookworm--this might not be a Pinkie Pie level party, but still, Twilight had definitely brought the goods.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” replied Dash at last, casually leaning against her fellow pegasus, pleased to find Fluttershy’s shoulder every bit as warm as her smile. “Actually ... I’m feeling pretty great.”
The train rocked back and forth as it rattled along the tracks, and it might have lulled Spike to sleep if only his stomach hadn’t hurt so much. But hurt his stomach did, the unfortunate consequence of more ice cream than any baby dragon should ever eat in a week-long time period, and he dozed in fits and starts. A full, proper sleep eluded him, as his stomach churned and growled. He tried to distract himself from his stomach troubles by listening in on the conversation happening right next to him.
Twilight thought he was asleep. If Twilight assumed he was asleep, just because his eyes weren’t open … well, that wasn’t his fault, was it? Of course not. And it wasn’t really lying for him to keep his eyes closed. He was a baby dragon, after all. He needed his rest.
“I don’t think Applejack or Rarity would have come with me tonight,” Twilight was musing aloud. “I think they would have thought I’d had a screw or two knocked loose if I’d told them I wanted to, you know, stop time. Fluttershy would have probably been too scared, and I think Rainbow Dash would have just laughed at me.”
“Maybe,” Pinkie Pie agreed, laughing softly. “But Dashie doesn’t mean anything when she laughs at you. I mean, she laughs at me all the time!”
“True, true. But the fact of the matter is … you didn’t do any of that. You didn’t laugh at me, and you didn’t tell me I was crazy. You didn’t even hesitate. You said yes as soon as I asked.” Spike could practically hear the frown in Twilight’s voice. “Why?”
For a few long seconds, the only sound to be heard in the train car was the gentle chugging from the engine. Spike fought back the urge to crack open his eyes to peek at what was happening. He felt Twilight shift uncomfortably in her seat beside him.
“Sometimes,” Pinkie began, very quietly, very slowly, “when we go a little crazy is when we need a friend the most.”
Another pause, shorter this time. “That’s … actually rather profound. Who said that?”
“Um, I just did, silly filly. Weren’t you listening?”
“No, no, no.” Twilight chuckled. “I meant, who were you quoting?”
When Pinkie replied, her voice sounded a bit strange, a bit off. “I … I wasn’t quoting anypony, Twilight. I was just, y’know, talking.”
The urge to peek finally grew too strong, and Spike cracked open his left eye just a smidgen. He saw Twilight sitting forward on the bench, frowning deeply and staring straight ahead. She licked her lips, which he recognized immediately as a nervous habit from her foalhood. She always did that whenever her parents had …
Well. It was something Twilight used to do a lot. Not so much anymore, though. Not since they’d moved to Ponyville.
After licking her lips again, Twilight started speaking in a high, reedy voice: “I’m sorry, Pinkie. For jumping to conclusions, for dragging you all the way out here, for getting everypony so worried, for--for--for--”
Hyperventilating. Twilight was right on the verge of hyperventilating, and Spike began to reach towards her, began to open his mouth to whisper to her the words he knew by heart, the words he knew would calm her down. And was halted dead in his tracks when he suddenly felt someone lean over him and suddenly saw a bright pink hoof press up against Twilight’s lips.
“Shh. It’s okay, Twi.” Then a second pink hoof came into view, and together they cupped Twilight’s face and began stroking her cheeks. “Everything’s okay now, right? Ponyville’s okay, and Canterlot’s okay, and the princesses are okay.”
Twilight clamped shut her eyes, as if in pain. “B-but … but …”
“And I’m okay, too,” continued Pinkie, her voice musical and light, gently coaxing. “And so’s the good old Spikester … well, he would be okay, if only he hadn’t eaten so much ice cream that now he’s got a pudge and can’t budge!”
At that, Twilight giggled. It was small and quiet, almost inaudible over the sound of the train’s rattling, but it was undeniably a giggle. And then, after a second and louder giggle, Twilight began sobbing.
The pink pair of hooves disappeared from view, just for a moment, and then Pinkie Pie’s entire face appeared in Spike’s field of vision, as the earth pony stepped over in front of Twilight. Wordlessly she gathered up the unicorn in a fierce embrace, and Twilight leaned her head against Pinkie’s shoulder. As Pinkie began rocking the both of them back and forth, Spike closed his eye again and turned his head away.
After a minute or two, Pinkie began singing. But her voice was too low and too soft for Spike to make out most of the words. All he was able to catch was the line “Hush now, quiet now …”
It wasn’t that he’d never seen Twilight cry before. He was her number one assistant, after all, and he had known her for his entire life and for most of hers as well. Of course he’d seen her cry. It was just … he’d never seen her cry in front of anyone other than him. Not crying for real--not anything more than a single tear or tiny sniffle. Even Celestia herself had not been permitted to witness Twilight’s real crying, Twilight’s loud and unrestrained wails, so far as he knew. No matter how upset Twilight had been, she had always managed to hold in her tears until she’d reached the safety and privacy of her own bed chambers.
But she was crying now, and she was crying here. With Pinkie. Not just crying in front of Pinkie, either, but actually letting Pinkie hold her and comfort her.
It was strange. Not necessarily bad, but … strange. For the rest of the trip back to Ponyville, he sat in silence. He sat in silence, and he pondered.
Spike had insisted on throwing a bachelor party, just as he’d promised he would, and not a word anypony said could dissuade him from his self-imposed mission. Twilight begged and pleaded--and pointed out that Shining Armor wasn’t a bachelor, technically speaking, now that the wedding was actually over--but Spike remained steadfast. Pinkie Pie knew there was only one thing to be done.
She helped Spike throw a bachelor party.
Not anything resembling the traditional bachelor party, of course. It was, instead, a much tamer affair and fairly similar to most of the parties held at Sugarcube Corner. Pinkie let Spike choose the decorations and snacks, though, which the young dragon did with gusto. Consequently, there were quite a few more gems on the menu than at previous parties the bakery had seen over the years. The party games were the usual fare, however--proven classics such as Pin the Tail on the Pony, Battle Clouds, and three-dimensional chess. Rainbow Dash dominated in Battle Clouds, as she always did, while Applejack excelled at Pin the Tail on the Pony. Meanwhile, Twilight managed to absolutely demolish everyone at chess ... everyone, with the exception of Pinkie Pie.
After Pinkie had won her third game in a row, she’d braced herself, waiting for the inevitable tide of disbelief and anger to come rushing at her. But the inevitable never came. Instead, Twilight had simply smiled at her and playfully vowed revenge.
PInkie had returned the unicorn’s smile with one of her own, twice as large.
Eventually, the hour grew late, and Pinkie’s co-host for the evening lay down and promptly passed out in a corner, one arm hugging a ruby to his chest. As Twilight carefully lifted up the small dragon with her magic in order to carry him home, Pinkie Pie noticed Rainbow Dash and Applejack exchanging furtive looks with one another. Almost immediately she grinned. Pinkie had unerring instincts as to when a pony was planning something fun, and Rainbow and Applejack were definitely planning something fun.
Her suspicions were confirmed just a moment later, when Rainbow Dash loudly cleared her throat and said, “So, girls, now that the kiddo’s finally asleep … how about we go and have some grown-up fun?”
“Geez, you’re heavy.” Rainbow let out a grunt, as she trudged out of Happy Harry’s with a purple unicorn sprawled across her back. “I can’t believe I’m stuck draggin’ you home just because I suggested we hit the bars. I mean, it was AJ’s idea, too!”
Twilight giggled.”It’s ‘cause you’re the bestest, Dashie! A friend who’s true blue, through and through!”
“Ugh. Don’t … don’t call me Dashie.”
“Aww.” Twilight tried to crane her neck to get a peek at Rainbow’s face but only succeed in making herself dizzy. She shut her eyes. “Why so glum, chum?”
The pegasus loudly sighed. “It’s nothing. All right? Just … just stay quiet ‘til we get back to the library, okay? Can you do that for me?”
It turned out that Twilight Sparkle could not do that, as it so happened. Instead, she prattled on quite animatedly as Rainbow Dash hauled her through the empty, dark streets of Ponyville. Twilight talked about the latest Daring Do novel, talked about her studies in advanced thermodynamic magicks, talked about the new quiche recipe Spike was trying out and the latest design that Rarity was working on. Twilight talked about anything and everything, while Rainbow only deigned to respond with the occasional grunt or groan.
“… still can’t believe Pinkie thought that was the real Cadance. S’obviously a fake. A fakey fake McFakerson.” The unicorn giggled again, a giggle that was blurry and indistinct and ending in a loud snort. “Can you believe how stupid she is sometimes?”
Suddenly Twilight Sparkle found herself on the ground, the breath knocked right out of her lungs, as she stared dazedly at Rainbow’s hooves.
“She is not stupid!” Rainbow yelled, her voice cracking on the final word. “She can be random, sure, or annoying, but that doesn’t make her stupid!”
Twilight tried to push herself up but only found herself falling back down. She gazed up into the face of her friend, frowning. “D-Dashie?”
“And don’t call me that! Only Pinkie Pie is allowed to call me that!”
“S-sorry, Rainbow Dash. Didn’t mean t’make you angry.”
Dash shook her head. “Besides, all of us fell for the Changeling Queen’s trick. It wasn’t just Pinkie. So why are you singling her out?”
From her supine position on the ground, Twilight Sparkle simply blinked in reply. For once, she didn’t have an answer. She had no idea what to say.
Sighing, Rainbow clamped shut her eyes. Her nostrils flared as she took a few deep breaths. In a much quieter tone than before, she muttered, “Fluttershy would kill me if she knew I was gonna say what I’m gonna say. But heck, it’s not like you’ll remember it tomorrow, anyhow … look, Twi, here’s the thing.”
Twilight had managed to get herself propped up in a sitting position, and though she swayed a bit, she managed to keep a more or less steady gaze on Rainbow Dash. “What? What thing?”
“Pinkie Pie … she listens to you, okay? She thinks you’re, like, the smartest pony in Equestria.” Dash opened her eyes again. They looked strangely sad. “We all think you’re smart, don’t get me wrong, but--but not like Pinkie does. And when you tell her she’s dumb, she believes you, Twilight! ‘Cause she cares more about what you think about her than just about anypony else.”
“Thass not true!” The words were out of Twilight’s mouth before she’d even realized she’d been thinking them. “I’m not … why would she care that much?”
At that, Rainbow Dash grinned, a terrible grin without a trace of humor in it. Her teeth gleamed a ghostly white in the dark. “Do you really not know? Are you really that … that stupid … yourself?”
Twilight frowned all the harder. She almost snapped back that she wasn’t stupid. Almost. But that awful grin on Dash’s face and the sadness in Dash’s eyes made the words shrivel up on her tongue.
“Ugh, I don’t even know why I’m saying all of this.” The pegasus rolled her eyes before jabbing a forehoof in Twilight’s direction. “You! Stay right there. I’ve had enough of this--I’m gonna go get Rarity, and she can drag your sorry butt the rest of the way home.”
Still frowning, Twilight watched as Rainbow Dash took to the air and darted off in the general direction of Carousel Boutique. It was only after Dash was out of sight that she took a glance around and realized she knew where she was, almost smack dab in the middle of the town square. As she surveyed the area, squinting to make out the shapes of nearby buildings through the dark and through the haze in her brain, she noticed a very distinctive building. Home to a very distinctive pony.
She also noticed that, on the top floor of that very distinctive building that housed a very distinctive pony, the light was still turned on.
If she’d been sober, she might have thought better of it--might have stayed put, as Rainbow Dash had instructed--but she wasn’t sober. She wasn’t sober and, as she wasn’t sober, she didn’t think twice as she lit up her horn and prepared to teleport.
She rematerialized right in the middle of Pinkie Pie’s bedroom, exactly as she’d planned. Though really, given her current state, it was a minor miracle that she hadn’t teleported herself into the middle of the Everfree Forest or the bottom of a lake.
The mistress of the house stood just a few feet away, her head tilted and her eyes soft with worry.
“Pinkie Pie!” Twilight grinned as soon as she spotted her friend. “I came to … came to see you!”
Pinkie trotted over. “Um, normally that would be a super great surprise, Twilight, but … wasn’t Dashie gonna take you home?”
“Oh, yes! Yes! She was. And she did. Kinda. Kiiiiiinda.” The unicorn giggled a bit before cutting herself off and attempting to force her facial muscles into a more serious expression. “But then Rainbow got mad and left to find Rarity.”
“Oh, Rainbow Dash.” Pinkie sighed and pursed her lips. “I’m gonna have to have a few words with that silly filly the next time I--”
“You’re not stupid.”
Pinkie Pie shut up.
“You’re not stupid,” repeated Twilight, earnestly, fervently. “Sometimes I say you’re stupid, ‘cause sometimes you’re really annoying and not very careful with my lab equip--equip--with my lab stuff. And you didn’t believe me when I said somethin’ was wrong with Cadance, and you wanna know something?” She swayed a bit as she sadly shook her head. “That really upset me, Pinkie, ‘cause you know what it’s like to not have ponies listen to you, like the time with the parasprites, and it hurt that you girls wouldn’t trust me and hear me out. ‘Specially after all we’ve been through, y’know?”
Pinkie’s eyebrows knit together. “Twilight, I’m super duper sorry ...”
“S’okay.” Twilight dismissively waved a hoof through the air, just barely avoiding a tumble as she did so. “But the point is--’cause I do have a point, I always have a point--the point is, you’re not stupid. Actually, you’re kind of a genius in a really bizarre way, and Rainbow said you listen to me when I say you’re stupid, which is weird ‘cause usually you don’t listen to what I say at all, so I wanted you to know that--”
“Rainbow Dash said what?”
Twilight Sparkle blinked at the pony in front of her. Pinkie looked strangely upset, though Twilight couldn’t think of a reason why that should be.
She didn’t like that look. Pinkie Pie shouldn’t look upset. Pinkie, Twilight decided, shouldn’t ever look upset. And since it had to have been something that Twilight did or said that upset Pinkie, that meant it was up to Twilight to fix things. Fortunately, she knew just what to do.
Leaning forward, Twilight pressed her lips to those of the earth pony before her. She could feel Pinkie stiffen under her touch and could taste the slightest hint of sugar on Pinkie’s breath. Then, almost as quickly as she’d leaned forward, Twilight pulled away. She was met by wide, startled blue eyes when she did.
“So, yeah,” finished Twilight, with a wobbly little nod. “You shouldn’t hate me, ‘kay? ‘Cause I don’t think you’re stupid.”
Pinkie opened her mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. “I don’t hate you.”
“Thass good. I don’t want you to hate me.”
“Twilight, I …” Pinkie swallowed. “I really, really don’t hate you.”
Twilight beamed at that and felt a warmth start spreading through her chest. It might have just been the vodka fully hitting her, but she didn’t think so. “That’s great! ‘Cause you know what? I really, really don’t hate you, too!”
With a shuddering sigh, Pinkie Pie shut her eyes. “I should probably take you home. You’re really not so sober, and I don’t know if it’s the bestest idea for us to be talking right now.”
“Dashie said I was stupid, like I said you’re stupid. But you’re not stupid. Which means I’m not stupid.” Twilight grinned triumphantly. “That’s logic!”
“Twilight, please, you gotta--”
“I’m not stupid,” she repeated, careful to enunciate as clearly as she could. “And I’m maybe … maybe not at an ideal level of sobriety, but … I’m not that drunk. I’m not. Pinkie promise.” Then, miming the necessary motions that accompanied the sacred oath, she solemnly recited, “Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
At that, Pinkie Pie opened her eyes.
Twilight smiled, a big bright smile, and then kissed the pink party pony for the second time that evening. She could still taste that same wonderful sweetness from before, even over the vodka that lingered on her breath.
And this time … this time, Pinkie kissed her back.
Twilight Sparkle awoke to the twin unpleasantries of a splitting headache and a mouth that tasted like death warmed over. She kept her eyes firmly shut, though, almost as though she could stave off the day if only she didn’t have to see the sun's morning rays. But then, just as her headache reached the point where she decided she’d have to venture to the kitchen for some nice, soothing tea, a loud bang sounded from somewhere down below. Instantly Twilight’s eyes flew open in dismay.
After all, she was a librarian. She knew the unmistakable and unforgivable sound of a book being dropped when she heard it.
With a heavy groan, the unicorn stumbled out of bed. She glanced around her loft but didn’t spot anything amiss or see anyone except for her still-slumbering assistant. She tried to fight back a frown but quickly lost the battle.
Except for Spike, she was alone in her bedroom.
But that was all right. That was … fine, really. It was, in fact, precisely how it had always been and precisely as it should be. Everything was fine. Except, of course, for the ruckus downstairs. Or was it more of a fracas?
Still frowning, Twilight tiptoed past Spike and headed for the stairs. The banging from the first floor of the library grew louder with every step she took, and through the haze of pain and drowsiness Twilight wondered why her library thief couldn’t have at least chosen a decent hour of the morning to stage a robbery. As she climbed downstairs, she muttered under her breath, “Just plain rude and inconsiderate …”
She trotted over to the non-fiction section, grumbling all the while, and grabbed a large dictionary with her magic along the way. It was large enough and heavy enough, she figured, to serve as a good projectile weapon, should the need arise. Always better to be prepared, after all. That was Twilight’s motto. But as soon as she spotted her intruder, she froze. Then, very gently, she set the dictionary down on a nearby table.
Confusion warred with hope within her chest, creating an unpleasant tightness that felt like somepony pulling on a tied knot, and she wasn’t at all sure what to say. Finally, with just a touch of hesitation, Twilight called out, “Pinkie Pie?”
Pinkie Pie didn’t so much as flinch.
“C’mon, Pinkie,” Twilight repeated, sighing a bit and rubbing her aching forehead with a hoof. “Do you have any idea whatsoever what time it is?”
Still the earth mare didn’t look away from the bookshelves, where she was busy grabbing books off the shelves and tossing them over her shoulder. “Nopey dopey! But I haven’t gotten that tingly feeling in my left back hoof that tells me the sun’s coming up, so I’d guess it’s still pretty early!” She frowned at one book for a few seconds, her eyes flicking over its pages quickly, before she shook her head and threw it down on the floor with the rest. “I kinda sorta thought you’d still be asleep for a few more hours, actually. I mean, you were up pretty late last night, Twilight!”
“I was asleep,” Twilight retorted, rolling her eyes, “until a certain somepony woke me up with all of her banging around down here.”
“Oh, that’s not very nice!” Pinkie shot the unicorn a sympathetic glance over her shoulder, as she took yet another book from the shelf. “You should probably ask her to stop.”
Twilight didn’t even bother to sigh this time. Instead, she reached out with a tendril of magic and snatched away the book Pinkie was holding, before it too could fall victim to the pink pony. “What are you looking for, anyways? I am a librarian, you know, and if you had simply asked I could have helped you--”
She fell silent the very instant she saw the title of the book she now held within her grasp: The Life and Theories of Starswirl the Bearded. Carefully, reverently, she placed the book down on the table, right next to the dictionary, and then trotted over to Pinkie Pie. Leaning down, she began inspecting all of the books that now littered the library floor.
The Spells of Starswirl. The Collected Lessons of Clover the Clever. Magical Alchemy: Potions and Practice. And more--so many more, books about every conceivable kind of magic, biographies of all of the most renown wizards in Equestrian history, on and on and on.
By the time Twilight glanced back up, Pinkie Pie had stepped away from the bookshelves. The earth pony was staring down at the floor and shuffling her hooves a bit. “I guess I kinda made a bit of a mess, huh?” she murmured, with a weak little giggle. “Sorry about that, Twilight. I’ll get it all cleaned up, promise!”
“Why?” The unicorn’s voice came out as quick and as loud as whip crack, much louder than she’d intended. “Why … why these books? Why magic?”
At that, Pinkie looked up, those bright blue eyes even more intense than usual. The earth pony smiled at her, but it wasn’t like any Pinkie Pie smile that Twilight had ever before seen. Most of Pinkie’s smiles were breezy, careless, like a whisper on the wind. But the smile that Twilight was seeing now … it was focused, as focused as a telescopic lens trained on a faraway star. As determined as Rainbow Dash or Applejack during the Running of the Leaves. And, somewhere deep in Pinkie’s smile, there was a bit of mischief, a hint of challenge.
“You know why, Twilight,” said Pinkie, her smile never wavering, “or … or, at least, I hope you know.”
The unicorn simply stood there for a few moments, her body completely locked in place and utterly still even as her mind raced. Even had she wanted to, she didn’t think she would be able to tear her gaze away from those spellbinding eyes in front of her or that beautifully, brilliantly defiant smile.
Finally, and just a bit nervously, Twilight returned the other pony’s smile with one of her own. “Actually, Pinkie? I think you’re right. I think I do know.”
Pinkie Pie gave a nod, as though something important had just been decided between the two of them. “I just knew you’d be able to figure it out.” Then, with a wink, she added, “After all, you’re the biggest smarty smart-pants unicorn in Equestria!”
“You should stay for breakfast.” The words were out of Twilight’s mouth before she could think them over or second-guess them. “Please stay. I’ll--I’ll cook us something. Or, um, Spike will cook. Just … stay.”
Pinkie’s smile softened into a gentle grin. “Okie dokie lokie.”
“Why?” the farmer asked, with a tiny frown. Meanwhile, the weather pony simply gave a single, approving nod.
Why her? was what the farmer meant.
“Because,” the unicorn replied, thoughtfully, slowly. But Applejack just kept on frowning, while Rainbow stared at her blankly.
So Twilight sighed, and she tried again. She explained to her friends how endlessly patient Pinkie was with all her faults and all her mistakes. How Twilight had underestimated the pink earth pony at least a hundred times, and Pinkie had forgiven her at least a hundred and one. Really, Twilight was still just a student--at magic, at friendship, at life--and she needed somepony who could be patient with her as she stumbled forward and tried to find her way. All it took was one utterance of “I’m sorry” and, no matter the extent of the crime, Pinkie was all smiles and absolution.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash seemed to accept this.
And it was true what Twilight said, all of it, but it wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t the real reason why.
Applejack gritted her teeth and glowered at the smug blue pegasus in front of her. Out here on the path, without any trees to provide shade, the sun beat down much too hot, and she could feel beads of sweat trickle down her face. Reaching up to give her hat a good, firm tug, she muttered, “I don’t think you wanna be doin’ this, RD.”
“That so, pardner?” Dash’s eyes darted over to some nearby bushes before returning to focus on Applejack. “Well, I think you oughta be nicer to Fluttershy!”
The earth pony fought back the urge to roll her eyes. “Oh, hush yer yappin’. I’m plenty nice to Fluttershy.”
The nearby bushes gave a rustle. Neither pony paid them any mind, however, preferring to maintain their angry stare-down.
“Well?” said Applejack, finally. “What are ya gonna do, big talker? You gonna deck me or somethin’?”
Rainbow’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
Applejack chuckled a bit. “Naw, I don’t think yer gonna deck me. Ain’t got the guts.”
In an instant, Dash was right there, snout to snout with her, those pink eyes sparking and flashing in silent warning. Applejack could feel Rainbow’s hot, spicy-smelling breath on her face as her friend panted and snarled. After several long, tense moments, the pegasus sighed and took a step back.
“Forget it. You’re not worth it,” she spat, turning her back to the farmer. “Besides, ‘Shy would never forgive me if I hurt you.”
It was then that Applejack whirled around, lifted her hind legs, and bucked Rainbow Dash right in the head.
With a loud groan, Rainbow crumpled to the ground, and Applejack glanced over to the bushes that sat right along the road and bit her lower lip. Just as she’d expected, the bushes suddenly exploded as a blur of yellow came hurtling out, scooping up Dash almost before she’d even hit the dirt. Applejack tiredly sat down right in the middle of the road and used her hat to wipe the sweat from her brow.
“Oh, Rainbow! My poor Rainbow!” Fluttershy was hovering all around, gently poking at her fellow pegasus, looking for injuries, visibly frantic with worry and concern.
Rainbow bore it all with a rare, quiet patience. “It’s okay, ‘Shy! I’m totally fine. She didn’t even clock me that hard.”
Applejack snorted, and Dash tossed her a quick glare.
At the sound of the earth pony’s snort, Fluttershy glanced over as well, and her usually gentle eyes burned like the center of the sun. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Applejack! Kicking Rainbow Dash when she had her back turned!”
“Yep.” Applejack nodded affably. “Mighty low and dirty of me.”
“I hope you’ll apologize later, but right now …” The feathered nursemaid turned towards her newest patient again. Instantly those teal eyes were back to being all kindness and calm. “Right now, I have to get Rainbow back to my cottage so I can treat her and make sure she doesn’t have a concussion.”
As Fluttershy led the other pegasus away, insisting on having Dash lean on her for support, Applejack watched in silence. A few steps down the road, Rainbow Dash turned her head and gave the farmer a none-too-subtle wink paired with a huge smile. But Applejack waited until the two pegasi had disappeared completely from view before she finally gave in to that urge to roll her eyes, which by then was too strong to resist any longer.
A few seconds later, she heard the soft clop of hooves from behind. She didn’t bother looking over, as she knew full well who it was. “This was the stupidest idea either of ya have ever had. And both y'all have had plenty o’ stupid ideas over the years.”
“Maybe!” came the maddeningly perky reply. “But it totally, totally worked, didn’t it?”
“I reckon,” Applejack admitted with more than a bit of reluctance, unable to keep the sour note from her voice. “Still, I’m the one who Fluttershy’s gonna be mad at. Celestia only knows when she’ll forgive me.”
“Don’t be silly! Fluttershy doesn’t ever stay mad for long.” Pinkie Pie threw her fore legs around the farmer’s neck and hugged tightly. “Besides, I’m sure Dashie will explain everything.”
Applejack was significantly less sure of that. She wouldn’t bet the farm on Rainbow Dash explaining everything. In fact, she wasn’t so sure that she’d bet a single apple on Dash doing that. But aloud all she said was, “I sure hope you're right.”
“Aw, c’mon, AJ! Cheer up! We did a really great thing for our friends today.” And then, Pinkie’s voice dropped low and surprisingly soft, as she added, “And now … now we’ve all even Stevens.”
Applejack swallowed and turned to glance at Pinkie. Blue eyes met green, and for a moment, just a moment, the two earth ponies understood one another perfectly. Neither of them mentioned a stagecoach chase through the desert surrounding Dodge Junction. Neither of them mentioned a promise kept in word but broken in spirit. Neither of them had to.
Rather than dredging up what was well and past, Applejack simply gave her friend a rough nod. “Glad to hear that, Pink. I don’t like havin’ red on my ledgers.”
With a soft sigh, Pinkie Pie disengaged from her stranglehold, and at the sound of the sigh, Applejack gazed at her fellow earth pony with a confused frown on her face. Pinkie gave her a sad little smile in return.
“And now I’m all even Stevens with Rainbow Dash, too,” Pinkie explained, her eyes hooded and cagey, the way they always looked when there was something the pink pony wasn’t admitting.
But Applejack decided not to ask exactly what Pinkie meant by that. It wasn’t as though she’d ever get a satisfactory answer, anyway. She never did. Instead, she simply replied, “Glad to hear it, sugar cube.”
And she was glad, too. Whatever was going on between Pinkie and Dash, Applejack was happy to know that all was apparently well. It always made her stomach hurt a bit when she had to witness her family fighting--and these ponies were her family, just as much as her siblings and her granny. When they were happy, Applejack was happy. It was as simple as that.
Suddenly, Pinkie Pie perked up and grinned, a big, wide grin that nearly split her face right in two. It was precisely the kind of grin that the farmer had learned to dread. “You know, Applejack ... we could always figure out a way for you to get a fillyfriend, too.”
“Aww!” Pinkie’s grin dropped into a pout. “Not even a super pretty and super talented and super generous pony who can make the bestest dresses ever?”
Applejack scowled darkly, even as a faint blush stole across her cheeks. “Definitely no.”
“Why?” the fashion designer asked, with a high, tinkling laugh, as the animal caretaker merely looked on with confusion and worry written all over her face.
Why her? was what they both meant.
“Because,” the other unicorn replied, with expectant, hopeful eyes. But after a few final chuckles, Rarity said that she still didn’t understand.
So Twilight shook her head and, with a sympathetic little smile, she tried again. She explained that she needed somepony who wouldn’t take her as seriously as she sometimes took herself. Somepony to remind her how to laugh, how to smile, especially when the skies were dark and gray. Somepony who would bake a cake decorated to look like a giant stack of books, for no other reason than to bring a grin to the face of a reclusive, overworked librarian. Somepony who could see the loneliness lurking in the heart of a near-total stranger and know a surprise party was just what that lonely pony needed, even if the stranger hadn’t realized that herself.
Rarity and Fluttershy seemed to accept this.
And it was true what Twilight said, all of it, but it wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t the real reason why.
There was a time when, if one had asked Twilight Sparkle whether she ever expected to be hanging upside down from an apple tree while holding a basket of water balloons in her mouth, Twilight would have answered, very sensibly, that of course she didn’t. That time, however, was a time that had passed into the long-gone mists of memory. It was a time that existed before Ponyville meant anything more to Twilight than a tiny dot on a map, and it was a time that existed before Twilight had ever known an excitable pink earth pony named Pinkamena Diane Pie.
Still hanging upside down from the tree, Twilight wondered exactly where and how her life went so very, very off the rails. And, as she pondered over it all, she couldn’t help but grin, careful to keep a grip on the basket as she did so.
It might have been when she first landed in town and allowed Spike to talk her into trying to make friends with the locals. It might have been when she ventured into the Everfree Forest with five annoyingly persistent ponies hot on her heels. It might have been that impulsive, drunken, wonderful kiss. She doubted that she’d ever be able to pinpoint a single, precise moment, really. It was frustrating to realize that and, also, somewhat strangely exhilarating.
“Get ready, Twi!” hissed a voice from above, practically bubbling over with infectious joy. “I think I see Applejack heading this way!”
The apple tree and water balloons, though … this was something that Twilight did know about. Indeed, she could easily identify the very beginning of this entire terrible, misbegotten scheme. It had started with baking. That very morning, Pinkie Pie had burst into the library and all but kidnapped Twilight. Spike had apparently let slip that he was getting a bit tired doing all the cooking and baking for the two of them, and Pinkie had decided this was a perfect opportunity to provide her unique brand of helpfulness.
They’d started with cookies. Cookies were easy, Pinkie had said. Cookies were foal’s play.
The cookies had come out black as coal.
From there, they had progressed to muffins, then cakes, and on to biscuits and scones. Black. Burnt. Inedible. Each and every batch. Twilight had felt herself sinking into a mild depression as the baking lessons progressed, and that old, sick feeling had started churning in her stomach.
Failure. Lazy. Incompetent. Good for nothing, terrible, awful--
At that, Twilight had glanced up, only to find Pinkie’s face just inches away. Pinkie had smiled at her, big and bright, and in response the unicorn had simply swallowed a sniffle.
“I like how crunchy these are,” Pinkie had declared, indiscriminately spraying crumbs as she spoke. “Reminds me of rock candy back on the farm, which we always made with real rocks, 'cause that's the only way to make it. This is pretty good for your first time making cupcakes!”
Twilight had blinked. “You can’t be serious.”
“Twilight Sparkle!” A patented Pinkie gasp echoed throughout the room, loud and exaggerated. Just like the one that had greeted Twilight when she first set hoof in Ponyville. “You should know better than that, silly filly. Pinkie Pie is always serious about cupcakes!”
Twilight hadn’t replied. Instead, she’d simply looked into those eyes in front of her, those huge blue eyes, and in those eyes she’d seen nothing but utter seriousness. Utter sincerity. And an utterly insane belief that these cupcakes were not the most wretched cupcakes ever known throughout all of ponydom.
Twilight Sparkle had laughed. After all, what else could she do? She had laughed long and hard, until she was practically gasping for breath, and Pinkie had laughed along with her. Finally, Twilight had gotten control over herself and, after she had, she’d found that her eyes didn’t sting anymore and her stomach didn’t hurt.
Which was not something that could likely be said about Pinkie’s stomach, however, as Pinkie had been playing taste tester all morning. It was then that Twilight had suggested that perhaps Pinkie could try to teach her something that didn’t involve baking.
In the present moment, as she began to feel light-headed from hanging upside down for so long, Twilight wondered whether it might not have been a better idea to have stuck with the baking. At least she wasn’t likely to break her neck while baking--though she had to admit that, out here in the orchards, she was less likely to inadvertently poison somepony than she had been back at Sugarcube Corner. But it was all academic, anyway, as here she was. For better or worse.
“You gotta wait for the right moment,” whispered Pinkie, her voice vibrating with excitement. “You gotta feel the water balloons, Twilight. You gotta believe in the water balloons. You gotta be one with the water balloons.”
If she hadn’t had her mouth full with the handle of the basket, Twilight might have shot off a retort. She settled for rolling her eyes as hard as she could, instead.
“Ooh, she’s almost here! On the count of three!”
This really was an awful idea. Twilight picked up a heavy, water-laden balloon with her magic.
Not to mention a completely juvenile idea, at that. She squinted a bit, so as to get better aim.
At least it was a warm day. Who knew? Maybe Applejack would even enjoy a bit of cool water, given how hard the farmer always worked. Still squinting, Twilight positioned her balloon in hopes of hitting Applejack’s hat. She had to bite back a giggle, for fear of giving away their position.
The water balloon flew through the air, end over end, much like a beanbag lobbed underhoofed. Twilight’s aim proved a bit off, however, and the balloon splattered directly in Applejack’s face. Immediately the orange pony reared back in startlement and began shaking her head. Then, taking off her hat, she used it to mop the water off her face while grumbling.
“Pinkie! Rainbow! Consarn it!” Applejack wrung out her hat and set it back atop her head. Huffing, she glared up into the tree where her two attackers still lurked. “You two had better hope that y’all have--Twilight?”
Twilight grinned and gave the earth pony an embarrassed little wave. Speaking through her teeth, which still firmly held onto the balloon basket, she muttered to her co-conspirator, “Um, Pinkie Pie? What are we supposed to do now?”
“Oh, that’s easy peasy!” Pinkie’s giggles came so hard and so loud that they shook the entire tree. “Now? Now, we run!”
And that was precisely what the two ponies did.
Unfortunately, despite Twilight’s magic and Pinkie’s speed, Applejack was able to catch them before they were able to escape Sweet Apple Acres--and the farmer swiftly and mercilessly obtained vengeance through dunking the two ponies in the farm water trough. But even after the dunking, even after both ponies surfaced from the trough sopping wet, neither could stop giggling. After a beat or two of silence and her sternest glare, Applejack gave in and began chuckling too.
“Why?” the baker asked, her voice cheerful but curious.
Why me? was what she meant.
“Because,” the unicorn replied, leaning forward and smiling softly.
They lay on a blanket spread out atop a grassy hill just outside of Ponyville. The blanket was weighed down by countless dishes, full of sandwiches and side dishes, pies and cookies. And cupcakes--ridiculous, absurd heaps of cupcakes. Above the two ponies hung Luna’s moon, glowing softly. It was a perfect night, a perfect picnic. A perfect moment that the two ponies had decided to steal, just for themselves, as in the morning Twilight would take the train to Canterlot. Tomorrow Twilight would return to her hometown, to visit her parents and talk about … well, just what the elder Sparkles wanted to discuss was something that neither pony knew.
Twilight had been nervous about it, of course. Was still nervous about it. It had been Pinkie who’d suggested the picnic. Picnics were relaxing, the earth pony had reasoned, and besides, picnics had food. And who didn’t like food? Twilight hadn’t been able to refute the other pony’s logic. She wouldn’t have done so, even if she could have. But still the anxiety gnawed at her and stole away her hunger.
She shoved down her nervousness as best as she was able. Tomorrow she could worry--would worry--but tonight … tonight was for laughter. Tonight was for magic. Tonight was for them.
“Because, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight repeated, enunciating very carefully and deliberately. "Just because."
“Really?” Pinkie returned the other pony’s smile, blue eyes sparkling, laughing. She rested her head on Twilight’s shoulder, and her mane tickled Twilight’s nose. “Me, too! I mean, that’s my reason too.”
And it was the truth.
The grandfather clock ticked loudly from its prominent position in the large, elegant living room. On the other side of the room, Twilight sat on her parents’ couch. Her mother and father stood just a few feet away, the both of them just staring at her, not speaking. The room was stiflingly hot, just as it always was and always had been. Twilight waited in excruciating, agonizing silence for her parents to begin the conversation that she was dreading with every fiber of her being.
They had heard. They knew. They knew about Pinkie … about her and Pinkie. Twilight wasn’t sure just why she was so shocked by this, but she was. She supposed that she simply thought that Ponyville was small enough and far enough away that anything that happened there wouldn’t be of any notice to the ponies in the grand royal city. But she should have known that it would be different for a protege of the princess. For the scion of the Canterlot Sparkles.
She should have known. She should have remembered.
“Why?” her father asked at last, his voice perfectly calm and pleasant and his face absolutely stony and still.
Why are you doing this? was what he meant. Why are you doing this to us?
Twilight swallowed over the thick lump in her throat. Willed herself to not break eye contact. And then, in a voice quiet with determination, she replied, “Because.”
Both her parents frowned at that. And as they frowned, as their eyes betrayed that all too familiar hint of confusion and disappointment, Twilight found that any further explanation she might have offered died instantly on her lips. Instead of explaining, she simply took a sip of the tea that sat on her mother’s expensive but tasteful side table. As she sipped at the tepid tea, she tried to ignore how sickeningly quick her heart was beating. The silence stretched between the three unicorns like a thin, sharp wire, and Twilight thought she might just throw up then and there.
“That is an absurd thing to say, Twilight,” was all her mother said, when finally she spoke. The elder mare gave her head a gentle shake, a gesture which hurt more than any Ursa Major attack ever could.
A moment later, her father asked about her studies, and immediately Twilight leapt at the chance handed to her and began rambling off facts and figures, places and names. All of the recent lessons she’d learned and all of the new spells she’d practiced, anything and everything that didn’t directly involve a certain pink baker. The words just tumbled out of her like a rushing river as she kept talking at a desperate rate, her gaze intent upon her parents’ faces. Slowly but surely, that glint of disappointment faded from their eyes. Slowly, the smiles returned to both their faces.
And it was true what Twilight said, all of it, but it wasn’t the truth.
It wasn’t the truth that mattered.
Engagement parties were always happy and fun, and they were one of Pinkie’s most favorite kinds of parties to plan. A young couple in love, with eyes only for one another, surrounded by adoring family and friends … what was there not to like? What was there not to celebrate?
Pinkie Pie walked through the midday crowds that filled the Ponyville town square, her saddlebags pulling down on her flank as though each bag weighed a ton. But that was just silly, of course. Saddlebags couldn’t weigh an entire ton, no matter how many streamers a pony crammed into them, and besides, Pinkie hadn’t even had a chance to buy most of the items on her party supply list yet. She’d only gotten through “appetizers”--earlier that day, she’d picked up ingredients to make a lentil bean pâté fancy enough for a king, or queen, or a prince--but she was nowhere near the end of her list, where “xylophone” waited ever so patiently.
She might have to special order the xylophone, though. She stopped dead in her tracks, in the middle of the road, and frowned thoughtfully. The xylophone might be a problem. A few ponies passing by grunted in annoyance as they had to step around the suddenly-still earth pony, but Pinkie Pie barely noticed. Her mind was occupied by much more pressing matters. She’d had such a hard time getting her hooves on musical instruments back when the parasprites had invaded Ponyville, and she just didn’t know if that one store in town would--
“Pinkie? Pinkie Pie!”
Pinkie’s shoulders went rigid and tight, just for a second, before she forced her muscles to relax. Slapping a broad smile on her face, she turned her head towards the voice that had suddenly broken her party-planning musings.
Applejack stood not too far away, stationed behind her trusty apple stand, and was looking at Pinkie with a terrible sadness in those deep, honest eyes. It was horrible, that look in the farmer’s eyes, almost unbearable.
The pink earth pony checked quickly to make sure her smile was still in place before she finally trotted over to the apple stand. “Hiya, AJ! Nice weather, today, isn’t it? How’s the apple-selling going so far? Have you had a lot of customers? How about--”
“Pinkie,” interrupted Applejack in a loud, sharp voice, her frown deepening.
Pinkie went quiet. The talking and laughter of all the other ponies in the town square faded to a low, indistinct buzz, and Pinkie began sweating as the sun beat down mercilessly from above. Though maybe it was all the weight she was carrying that was making her sweat. Her saddlebags really did feel too heavy.
Applejack licked her lips, seeming nervous, before she continued. “You … you got the letter. The letter from the princess. Same as the rest o’ us.” It wasn’t really a question. But when Pinkie didn’t answer immediately, Applejack added, “Didn’t ya, Pink?”
Pinkie took a long, slow breath in through her nose and let it back out through her mouth. Then she laughed--a sudden explosion of sound, a bark of laughter that sounded too loud even to her own ears. “Well, of course I got the letter! Why do you think I’m planning an engagement party, silly filly? I mean, it wouldn’t make very much sense to throw an engagement party if nopony was engaged!”
“You’re … you’re doin’ what, now?”
But Pinkie ignored that question. Instead she reached back into her saddlebags and took out a folded sheet of paper. She carefully laid it out on top of the apple stand and flattened it out with a sweep of her hoof. The letter’s paper was smooth and creamy, off-white in color, and the words upon it had been written in an elegant, flowing script using a golden ink that nearly glowed under the sunlight. It was undeniably the most beautiful letter that Pinkie Pie had ever seen.
After clearing her throat, she began reading aloud, “Princess Celestia cordially invites you to the upcoming wedding of Prince Blueblood and Lady Twilight Sparkle--”
An orange hoof suddenly slammed down over the paper and prevented her from reading any further. Pinkie Pie jerked back with a squeak of surprise.
“You stop that right now,” Applejack hissed, her eyes narrowed and flashing. A few apples tumbled from the cart as the farm pony leaned forward, but Applejack didn’t seem to notice. “Stop pretendin’ you’re all right when you ain’t. Stop pretendin’ any of this is all right, when we both know it ain’t nothin’ of the sort!”
As the last vestiges of her smile crumbled to dust, Pinkie looked down and stared at the apples that had fallen onto the ground. They looked sad and lonely. After stooping to pick up the apples and put them back on the cart, Pinkie quietly replied, “I don’t know what else to do, Applejack. I just … I need her to still be my friend, and ...” She swallowed and tried to ignore the stinging at the back of her eyes. “And I’m Pinkie Pie! I throw parties! That’s who I am, and that’s what I do! I don’t think that … I just can’t …”
She squeezed her eyes shut, as tight as she could, and tried to think of something happy, of something fun. Something that would stave off those nagging, unwelcome tears that were welling up inside of her and making a nuisance of themselves. But all she could think of was Twilight--Twilight pouring hot sauce into a wine goblet, Twilight organizing Winter Wrap-up, Twilight smoking her bubble pipe, Twilight holding her, Twilight kissing her--and it was so wrong, so unspeakably wrong, but all of these memories weren’t making Pinkie happy the way they once had. Far from it. These memories were slowly choking her, strangling her, stealing something that had been precious and rare …
Pinkie Pie smelled the faint scent of earth and apples a moment before she felt a pair of strong forelegs wrap around her, pulling her in tight against a warm, broad chest. Her eyes stayed closed, but she allowed herself to lean her head against her friend’s shoulder. It helped. Just a little, but it helped.
Applejack sighed softly. “All right, then. You tell me what needs doin’ to get this party put together … and I’ll help ya do it.”
“Really and truly, sugar cube.”
Fluttershy furiously flapped her wings as hard as she could, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to keep up with Rainbow Dash. The blue pegasus was tearing across the skies at breakneck pace, so far ahead that she was almost out of Fluttershy’s visual range. But even if Dash rocketed out of view entirely, Fluttershy knew exactly where to go. Knew exactly where she would find her fellow pegasus.
The Ponyville library.
Even so, Fluttershy kept pumping her wings and hoping against hope that she would somehow catch up to Rainbow Dash.
But it was not to be. By the time she reached the library, the door stood wide open, and she could hear loud shouting coming from inside. Fluttershy landed and took a deep, steadying breath. Then another. And then a third. Finally, after a shout ear-splitting enough that it rattled the windows of the tree, Fluttershy took one last breath and forced herself to step inside the library.
“What in Equestia is wrong with you, Sparkle?” Rainbow’s face was pushed right up against Twilight’s, and the unicorn winced noticeably as she fell back against a bookshelf. “How could you just … I mean, we’re talking about Pinkie Pie, for Celestia’s sake! The pony who’d do anything to make a friend smile! The pony who loves everypony!”
Twilight Sparkle bit her lip. “I … I know.”
“The pony who loves you,” spat Dash, as though she hadn’t even heard Twilight’s response. “Who loves you more than she’s loved anypony, ever. Who loves you more than you deserve!”
At that, Fluttershy gasped aloud. “Rainbow Dash!”
But Twilight was shaking her head now. “You’re right, Rainbow. About everything. All of it. And I’m … I’m sorry.”
“Then why?” Growling, Rainbow slammed a hoof into the bookcase that stood behind the unicorn. The shelves shook violently, and a few books tumbled to the floor. “Why are you doing this to her?”
Instead of answering, Twilight simply bent down and began gathering up the fallen books in her hooves. Rainbow hovered in the air just inches away, still glaring, her lips curling in a snarl and leaving her teeth bared. Fluttershy, meanwhile, frowned at the sight before her. As much as she disliked when Dash got this angry, that wasn’t why she was frowning. Rainbow’s rage was … uncomfortable, but it was familiar.
There was something here that was wrong, though. Something that Fluttershy couldn’t quite figure out--until suddenly, all at once, it finally clicked.
“Rainbow Dash,” she called out, very quietly, in a voice that was as hard as steel. It was a voice she didn’t use very often with the other pegasus, but she felt it was justified here and now. “I need you to leave the library.”
Immediately Dash’s head whipped around. “Oh, no way! Twilight is not gettin’ let off the hook this time, no matter how much you--”
Fluttershy narrowed her eyes, ever so slightly, and Rainbow shut up. Fluttershy’s voice remained perfectly calm and perfectly deadly as she replied, “Nopony is being let off anything. But I really need to speak with Twilight right now. Alone.”
Rainbow glanced over to Twilight, who stood frozen, her forelegs laden down with books, and then back to Fluttershy. Indecision flickered in those deep, pink eyes.
“Please.” When Dash still didn’t budge, Fluttershy decided to pull out the heavy artillery. “Please, Rainbow. Do it for me?”
Sighing heavily, Dash landed on the floor and scuffed a hoof against the wood. Her shoulders slumped, and Fluttershy felt a sharp stab of guilt at the sight of the other pegasus looking so defeated.
“All right,” muttered Dash. “All right. You win.” She shot a poisonous glance in Twilight’s direction. “But don’t you even begin to think that this is over, Sparkle, ‘cause it’s not! I’m not done with you yet, not by a long shot … and that’s a Pinkie promise.”
With an angry flick of her tail, Rainbow Dash turned on her heel and stalked away from the other two ponies. She slammed the door on the way out, and both Fluttershy and Twilight flinched as the entire tree shook from the impact.
Fluttershy turned towards her unicorn friend once the shaking subsided, and Twilight gazed back at her with haunted eyes brimming over with exhaustion and pain and an ineffable sadness. “Well,” began Twilight, sighing, “I suppose that means it’s your turn to yell at me now. Feel free to start whenever you’re ready.”
“Twilight …” The pegasus paused and bit her lip. Wondered if she might be wrong. And yet …
It was all in the eyes, really. Fluttershy knew, from her years of experience taking care of animals, how to read body language and unspoken visual cues. To do the work she did, she had to know how to quickly pick up on important information. And right now, as she looked into the violet eyes of her friend, wide and glassy, Fluttershy knew that she’d been absolutely correct in her earlier suspicion.
She knew she was looking at a wounded animal. An animal who was bleeding and hurting and scared half to death.
“Twilight,” Fluttershy began again, careful to keep her voice soft and soothing. Just as she would with any wounded creature. “It’s your magic. Isn’t it? Something’s wrong with your magic. You … you didn’t pick up the books using your magic, as you normally would.”
The other pony blinked at that, and her jaw dropped open in evident shock. Then, with a weak, half-hearted chuckle, she replied, “Actually, it’s gone. My magic is … it’s completely gone. I haven’t been able to so much as levitate a single grain of sand ever since … since …” She closed her eyes and gently shook her head.
Fluttershy nodded sadly. It made sense, now that she thought about it. Twilight was the Element of Magic, after all, and magic needed friendship to survive. It needed all of its fellow Elements. It needed Laughter.
It made sense. Terrible, awful, perfectly logical sense.
“I … I didn’t even know about the stupid engagement until I got back to Ponyville.” Twilight laughed, but it was a laugh that dripped venom and bitterness. “But my parents want me to … and they’re--they’re my parents, Fluttershy … I can’t just tell them … I can’t, I can’t, I can’t …“
Wordlessly the pegasus approached Twilight and, when Twilight didn't speak and didn't stir, she gathered the other mare up into a gentle embrace. She held Twilight and waited for Twilight to let go, to begin crying, to release the tears that Fluttershy knew had to be lurking somewhere inside her, but Twilight never did. Twilight just shivered and shook, all while letting out a low, keening whine.
How could Twilight Sparkle be so stupid?
That had been the buzz around all of Canterlot for practically as long as anyone could remember, the gossip at every high-society gala. How could Twilight Sparkle—famed scholar, protégé of Celestia, bearer of the Element of Magic—possibly be so stupid?
Why, they asked, did she not follow her older brother's lead? Shining Armor had lived up to the proud legacy and lofty expectations associated with the Sparkle family name. He'd been the youngest pony ever to be made captain of the Royal Guard, and he served his nation and his princesses ably. What's more, he had the good sense to marry up, somehow winning the heart and hoof of Mi Amore Cadenza herself.
Indeed, Shining Armor was but the latest generation in an unending line of spectacular Sparkles—generals and chancellors, dukes and duchesses, ministers and magicians. All of Equestria's history books were filled with the lives and exploits of the Sparkle clan. And then … then, there was Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight Sparkle, the librarian.
An earth pony town, of all places.
But even that might have been forgivable. Something that could be overlooked. Twilight was still young, after all, and still had not finished all her schooling. Perhaps, whispered the nobility in Canterlot, perhaps Twilight was merely using the quiet little village of Ponyville to prepare for something greater and grander than anyone suspected. Some said perhaps she'd be named Royal Advisor, while others speculated that the young unicorn would be given a position in Parliament.
Thus, the rumors swirled and spread, but ultimate judgment was withheld.
And then came the day when the wedding announcements were sent out by Princess Celestia, announcing the upcoming nuptials of one Twilight Sparkle, to take place at the royal palace. The upcoming marriage of Twilight, the youngest of the Sparkle line, the one who'd always seemed to hold the most promise--and who was now betrothed to Prince Blueblood himself. The most eligible and desirable bachelor in all the kingdom.
Nopony called Twilight stupid after that.
In fact, at that year’s Grand Galloping Gala, held just a few weeks after the wedding announcement, the talk of the gala was Twilight Sparkle and her admirable intelligence. To be sure, there were a few bitter complaints and jealous barbs thrown, but overall, the nobility in Canterlot breathed a collective sigh of relief. The youngest of the Sparkles, at long last, was coming into her own and taking her rightful place in society.
Before that night, if one had asked Applejack if she’d ever feel annoyed by ponies praising Twilight’s brains, she’d have answered that of course she wouldn’t. But then, the Grand Galloping Gala always was a special circumstance.
The farmer stood behind her trusty apple cart, selling her baked goods as best as she was able, while nearby Rarity regaled a group of minor nobles with mildly fabricated stories of her romance with the Duke of Trottingham. The unicorn had just reached a point in her story where the duke was lavishing her with expensive perfumes when a marquis suddenly cut in, saying with a snort, "Speaking of romance, can you believe the news about Lady Twilight and Prince Blueblood? It is high time, I say! Rumor has it that, before accepting the prince’s proposal, Lady Twilight was actually dallying with some lowly pastry chef out in that backwater hamlet she so loves."
The rest of the little crowd gasped in unison and took a careful step back, while the oblivious marquis smiled a smug little grin.
For her own part, Rarity returned the marquis' smile with one as cold and sharp as ice. Applejack began inching towards the unicorn and wondered if she’d have to bodily restrain her from doing physical harm to the unlucky marquis. It was clear even to Applejack that this was a situation that called for careful diplomacy and tact.
Unfortunately, there was hardly a pony throughout all Equestria less suited to engaging in careful diplomacy and tact than Applejack.
The earth pony thought of explaining to the gathered nobles about how Twilight's eyes lit up whenever Pinkie burst into the library, or how Pinkie surprised the librarian on Hearts and Hooves with a three story tall cake covered in elaborate purple icing, or how it had been only Twilight who had been granted access to the bakery the day that Gummy had had his accident. She thought of telling a hundred different stories, of a hundred different moments.
Ultimately, however, she decided not to say any of that. They wouldn't understand—and, moreover, they didn't deserve to know. Not any of it.
Instead, as she quietly drew up beside, Rarity, Applejack simply retorted, in her very best Manehattanite accent, “Pardon my interruption, my dear sir, but I do believe that is the bearer of the Element of Laughter to whom you refer.” Then she tipped her hat towards Rarity. “Come, good madam, let us away. I seem to recollect that the princesses wish to have an audience with us.”
Blinking and seeming startled, Rarity just stared at the earth pony for several long seconds. Then she seemed to remember herself and, with a delicate cough, replied, “Yes, yes. Of course. We mustn’t keep the princesses waiting.” She flashed another frosty smile to the gathered nobles. “Please excuse us.”
In silence, the two ponies began trotting toward the entryway to the ballroom. Only after they were out of hearing distance from the group of ponies they’d just left did Rarity turn towards Applejack, her eyes wide and sparkling under the moonlight. "Beating nobility at their very own game? My word, Applejack, I never knew you had it in you!”
The farmer grinned despite herself. “That so? Well, Rare, I reckon there’s a whole lot about me ya don’t know.”
“Indeed?” Rarity raised an eyebrow in silent challenge, a slight smirk playing at the edges of her mouth--but then, suddenly she frowned, as her eyes shifted to a point somewhere over Applejack’s left shoulder.
Applejack turned her head and almost immediately spotted the cause of Rarity’s frown. There in the ballroom, at the long and extravagant head table, sat the royalty of Canterlot. Princess Celestia took the center seat and smiled graciously at one and all, but there was an unmistakable sadness in her eyes. Princess Luna looked similarly troubled, while Prince Blueblood only seemed bored. But it was Twilight Sparkle who stood out most of all.
The purple unicorn was smiling, a tiny smile stretched wide and almost to the point of breaking, while her forehooves rested primly atop the tablecloth. She didn’t move, not even to take a sip of drink or bite of food, but simply sat there, wearing that rictus smile. Never before had Applejack seen her friend look so miserable or so … so positively trapped.
“Oh, sugar cube,” she murmured, half to herself. She wasn’t even sure just who she was addressing, exactly. She only knew that she meant it with all her heart.
It was a beautiful dress, even in its half finished state. The dress had ruffles upon ruffles, elaborate and perfectly placed, accented with the loveliest amethysts and diamonds that magic could find. Every stitch had been sewn with the utmost care, and every last detail had been planned with the utmost attention. The cherry on top, of course, was that the fabric that had been chosen was as white and as pure as a fresh fallen snow.
It was a beautiful dress, truly. A radiant dress. Quite possibly even the single most beautiful garment that she had ever created.
Rarity absolutely despised it.
But she carried on dutifully, toiling away night and day on the project. She had promised, after all. Had Pinkie promised that she would create for Twilight Sparkle the most amazing, the most resplendent, and the most perfect wedding gown that ponydom had ever seen. It was to be a wedding present to the blushing bride, and certainly Rarity only gave the very best presents to her nearest and dearest friends.
And Twilight Sparkle liked it. At every fitting of the gown in progress, Twilight had smiled tiredly and declared her love for the dress. Every single time, she marveled over its painstaking detail and over Rarity’s prowess as a designer. And as much as Rarity loved hearing all this, as much as she basked in the praise, she couldn’t help but notice that there was one thing that Twilight never so much as mentioned during all of the fittings: the groom.
She knew why that was so, of course, and she suspected that Twilight herself knew that Rarity knew. But today … today was the last fitting before Rarity finished the train, which in turn would complete the gown, and she couldn’t help but feel a pang in her chest as she watched her friend gaze at her reflection in the boutique’s mirrors.
“It’s lovely,” said Twilight, her voice utterly devoid of the least bit of happiness. “The dress is absolutely perfect.”
Rarity set her jaw.
The purple unicorn glanced over her shoulder and offered up a wan smile. “Thank you so much for making this for me, Rarity.”
“You’re more than welcome, dear. Though, I must say … “ She hesitated. Took a breath. “The dress is hardly perfect.”
“Rarity! How can you say such a thing?” Twilight looked down at the gown she wore then back up, her mouth set in a confused frown. “This is the most beautiful dress you’ve ever made!”
Rarity allowed herself a small nod. “That's quite an accurate observation, yes. But the gown’s true beauty can only shine when the bride herself shines … and what you have been doing over these last few months, Twilight Sparkle, is the precise opposite of shining.”
Twilight’s brows knit together. “Rarity, that isn’t—”
“He’s horrid, Twilight! He is absolutely dreadful, and you cannot tell me that you don’t think so as well!”
“I … he … “ Still frowning, Twilight turned her back to her friend and stared hard into the mirror. “He’s a prince. My parents, they always … Shining Armor married a princess, Rarity! A princess! There are … expectations … “
“But darling! You don’t love him!”
“That doesn’t matter.”
Rarity allowed herself a small pause, a brief but meaningful silence, before she quietly ventured, “She still loves you. I hope you realize that. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you still love her.”
Twilight flinched but still didn’t turn back around. “That … that doesn’t matter, either.”
But it did, of course. Of course it did. Twilight had that tone in her voice, however, the one that indicated that she was determined to be obstinate and completely foolish, and Rarity chose not to argue. She’d gotten into far too many squabbles with Applejack to not recognize a losing battle when she saw one. Instead, she simply made the necessary adjustments to the gown and issued a brusque command to Twilight to return in two days for the finished dress.
That evening, Rarity took out the gown from its special, well-hidden, and absolutely contagion-free storage place. She laid it out on her worktable, next to all of the necessary supplies, and studied it under the light of the moon streaming in through the boutique’s windows. Lovingly she gazed at the satiny shine of the fabric, the dazzle and sparkle of the gemstones, the clean, smooth lines of the stitching. The gown truly was beautiful. The pinnacle of her entire fashion career.
With a soft sigh, she lit a match and set the dress on fire.
She watched in stoic silence as it blazed and burnt, then as it crumbled into a dull, gray ash. It took far less time than she would have imagined—weeks’ worth of work, gone in just minutes. Life was like that, though, wasn’t it? She supposed so, anyway.
Once the flames were completely out, she carefully brushed the dress’ remains into a waste bin and inspected her work table for any damage. She was pleased to see that her magic spell from earlier in the day had worked and that the table betrayed not a single scorch mark or other sign of damage. Pleased enough that she even smiled, just a tiny bit.
And then, still smiling, Rarity set out from her home and headed towards Sugarcube Corner at a brisk trot. Even from a distance she could see that, on the top floor of the bakery, a light remained on. Which was good news, as Pinkie Pie was getting a visit whether the earth pony was awake or not and whether she wanted one or not. Rarity wasn’t just coming over for an idle bit of chit chat, after all, but to discuss vitally important business.
Because she and Pinkie? They had a wedding to sabotage.
It was the perfect plan.
At least, that was what Rarity had told her. But then, Rarity knew so much more than Pinkie did about high society and complicated interpersonal relationships and romance and stuff like that. Besides, Rarity was her friend and wanted what was best for her. So Pinkie Pie figured it was probably best to just listen to what Rarity said she ought to do.
If Pinkie was being honest, though, as honest as Applejack--or, well, as honest as Applejack on a good day--she had to admit that a few lingering doubts tickled at the back of her mind.
Pinkie sighed softly at that thought, as she carefully arranged hors d'oeuvres on a silver platter in the kitchen of Sugarcube Corner. The engagement party was tomorrow afternoon, and she wanted to get as much done the day before as possible. Because the party tomorrow, it had to be perfect, absolutely perfect.
Because the party was going to be the first time that Pinkie would see Twilight since … since not long after the wedding invitation had arrived. This was her big chance to prove that she was still Twilight’s friend, that she and Twilight could still be friends, and that was essential. But when she had tried to explain all that to Rarity, the unicorn had leaned forward and asked, with those penetrating eyes of hers staring intently, “Can you honestly tell me that friendship is all you desire from Twilight Sparkle?”
Pinkie had paused at that. To even begin to go into what she wanted from Twilight, all of those thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, had been utterly beyond Pinkie’s capabilities. It was too much. It was too intense. So all she had said in reply was, “That doesn’t matter.”
As Pinkie finished with the tray of hors d’oeuvres and moved on to the desserts, she heaved another sigh and said, “So then Rarity told me I should write a love letter, but I told Rarity that I wasn’t so sure that was such a good idea. I mean, what if Twilight really, really loves the prince? Then wouldn’t a letter from little old Pinkie Pie just make her feel all guilty and sad?” She grimaced slightly at that thought. “And parties are supposed to make ponies happy, not sad! But maybe it’s okay if it’s for, um, ‘the greater good,’ like Rarity said?”
Pinkie Pie abruptly turned to face her patiently listening audience, her eyes huge and imploring, begging them for an answer to all her problems. But over in their highchairs, Pound and Pumpkin simply giggled and blew raspberries at her in reply.
“Aww, nuts. You guys are totally right, just like you always are. I can’t give the letter to Twilight.” Pinkie’s shoulders slumped a bit. She reached out with a hoof, sneaked a truffle off the plate in front of her, and popped it in her mouth. Chewing thoughtfully, she added, “You know what? I think I should try to be a strong, brave, loyal pony like Rainbow Dash. ‘Cause Dashie always knows the right thing to do!”
Pumpkin frowned at that, while Pound cocked his head and squinted. If Pinkie didn’t know better, she’d have said that they both looked a bit dubious.
Pinkie grinned with warm affection at the two foals and bounded over to deposit chocolate-flavored kisses on both their heads, earning happy gurgles from both the pegasus and unicorn. Then she headed for the opposite end of the kitchen, where a small, oak desk sat against the wall. On top of the desk sat a piece of paper which had been filled with a loopy, sloppy script that was immediately recognizable as Pinkie Pie’s own mouth-writing. Pinkie quickly glanced over the letter--the one she’d written under Rarity’s exacting, watchful gaze--and then gave a brisk nod. She reached down and ripped the letter right in half.
Rarity had made her write a letter to Twilight, after all, but Rarity had never made her promise to actually deliver it.
Pleased with this bit of cleverness, Pinkie brushed the torn halves of the letter into the waste bin besides the desk and trotted back over to the kitchen’s counters, whistling cheerfully along the way. Soon enough she was engrossed with arranging a tray of razzleberry tarts … so engrossed that she didn’t notice the light blue glow that enveloped the waste bin over by the desk or the pieces of paper that were silently levitated over to the high chairs.
It was the perfect plan.
At least, here in the dead of the night, it seemed like the perfect plan. But lots of things seemed like a good idea when Twilight had gone a certain number of hours without sleep, actually, things that later turned out to not be such good ideas after all. Twilight was reasonably confident that this was not one of those times, however. In fact, not only was Twilight reasonably confident that this was not one of those times, she was so impressed with her plan that she wondered that it had taken her this long to think up a solution to her problems.
All Twilight Sparkle had to do was to disgust and horrify Prince Blueblood so much that he wouldn’t want to go through with the marriage. She figured she had a decent shot of accomplishing that if she could somehow recreate, without the aid of her magic, all of the minor disasters she’d inflicted upon Fluttershy at that one fashion show years ago. Then the wedding would be called off, and not only would it be called off but it wouldn’t be her fault. After that, she’d assure her parents that it was somehow for the best, perhaps mentioning some bit of praise that Princess Celestia had given her recently--convince her parents that she was doing well in her studies, if not in love--and then she could go find Pinkie Pie and …
This was where Twilight’s plan got a bit fuzzy. Mostly, all she had figured out for this part of the plan were, first, groveling, and second, begging and pleading. Not necessarily in that order.
There were still a few other minor details to work out, as well. Twilight glared down at the book that was opened in front of her. It wasn’t telling her anything she hadn’t read in the last five books she’d cracked open and, with a frustrated grunt, she swept her foreleg over the reading table and sent the book flying across the room. It hit the wall with a dull thud before dropping to the floor, landing atop a pile of its similarly abused brethren.
The unicorn leaned back and glanced around the library. A small candle sat burning away on the table, providing just enough light by which to read. Long, dark shadows danced around the otherwise deserted library, causing Twilight’s stomach to clench in an uncomfortable sort of way. It was a silly response, she knew--shadows were just shadows--but suddenly she felt very alone and very lonely.
Her musings were cut short as she suddenly felt a pair of tiny arms wrap around her neck. “Still no luck, huh?”
She gave a little jump but calmed down after her exhaustion-addled brain finally processed the voice she was hearing. Twilight gratefully leaned into the affectionate embrace of the young dragon beside her. “Not really,” she replied, sounding tired even to her own ears. “Everything I’ve been reading has confirmed what I suspected, that my magic loss is due to my relationship with Pinkie Pie being … being severed. But I still haven’t learned what precisely I need to do to re-establish that connection.”
Spike said nothing. He merely tightened his hug and buried his face in Twilight’s mane.
The unicorn sighed. “She said … she said she still wanted to be my friend. Maybe that means we can … oh, Celestia, I don’t even know.”
Quietly Spike offered, “You could talk to your parents. You could try to make them understand, Twilight. Get them to call off the wedding.”
“I … I can’t, Spike. You know I can’t. They’ll be so disappointed. They’ll never forgive me if I were to ...” Twilight shook her head. “Besides, I already have a plan for that! The wedding will be called off, believe me, but I won’t be the one to do it. The part I still need to figure out, though, is exactly how to get back my magic before anyone besides you and Fluttershy realizes I’ve lost it.”
Spike pulled back a bit, and Twilight turned to face him. He wore a broad, bright smile, a smile that cut through the darkness of the library and filled Twilight with a happiness she hadn’t felt in a very long while.
“So, what kinda help do you need?” he asked, his eyes sparkling with energy and enthusiasm despite the late hour. “You just name it, and your number one assistant will make sure it gets done!”
Twilight reached out and gently patted the dragon on the head. “No, Spike, I can’t ask you to do that. It’s really late, and you should be in bed.”
Spike frowned in reply. “I can’t sleep knowing you’re so upset and still trying to figure all this stuff out. Besides …” He chuckled and gave a sheepish shrug. “You throwin’ books around is what kinda woke me up to begin with.”
“Oh. Uh, sorry about that.” She rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Okay, you’re right. You’re right. Here’s what we need to do. I need to get my magic back before the party tomorrow, if at all possible, because it’s getting progressively harder to hide the fact that I can’t cast any spells. That’s step one. Then I go to the engagement party and convince Prince Blueblood to call off the engagement. That’s step two.”
“What’s step three?” asked Spike, leaning forward eagerly.
“Step three is to make things right with Pinkie Pie and make my parents proud that I’m a Sparkle. I’m … still working out all the details on how to execute that particular step of the plan.”
Spike nodded and executed a crisp salute. “Aye, aye, captain! First Mate Spike is ready and willing to serve!”
“Great! Go grab the volume on Magical Maladies, and let's get started.”
Together the dragon and his pony stayed up all night and well into the morning, combing through books and burning through candles, but not a single one of the tomes revealed the answers that Twilight sought. Not a single spell worked in the slightest, and not a single spark of magic came from Twilight’s horn.
It was the perfect plan.
Rainbow Dash knew full well that, despite Fluttershy’s best intentions, the yellow pegasus’ gentle, hooves-off approach wasn’t going to get anyone anywhere. Twilight and Pinkie were both acting completely stupid--though if being stupid was a competition, the first prize would be awarded to Twilight, without question--and it was up to Rainbow Dash to knock some sense into both of those ponies. Then they could set aside this whole engagement nonsense, Twilight would apologize to Pinkie, Pinkie would take back Twilight, and Dash’s group of friends would be happy and together and whole again.
And all Rainbow had to do was set up a few little pranks.
She stood by the far wall of Sugarcube Corner and bided her time, keeping close watch on the party happening all around her. The engagement party was a loud and festive affair, which was exactly one might expect of a town as loud and festive as Ponyville was. The small bakery was festooned with streamers in lovely shades of royal purple, and the tables had been covered in pure white linens. On each and every table sat a silver platters piled high with food. A string quartet, tucked into a far corner, played quiet and soothing classical music, as the party guests mingled and chatted.
Twilight Sparkle sat at the head table along with Spike and the odious Prince Blueblood, who was flanked by the usual assortment of royal guards, as well as two rather stiff-looking unicorns who Rainbow recognized from Shining Armor’s wedding as Twilight’s parents. The table was mostly keeping to themselves, occasionally glaring out at the rest of the party’s attendees, and the look on Twilight’s face suggested that the unicorn desperately wanted to teleport to anywhere else in the entire kingdom. Also, for reasons Rainbow decided were best left unquestioned, Twilight had cake frosting smeared all over her muzzle.
Grinning sneakily, the pegasus slipped away from Fluttershy’s side just as Rarity provided a suitable distraction by launching into a lengthy monologue about her upcoming spring fashion line. Dash began tiptoeing towards the punch bowl on the other side of the room. Her plan was simple--Prince Blueblood was a jerk, just like Gilda had turned out to be a jerk, and so Dash was going to show everypony just what a jerk he was. She figured Blueblood would react to some party pranks pretty much the same way Gilda had, and then Twilight and everyone else would hate him and not want Twilight to marry him anymore.
She reached into her saddlebags and pulled out a bottle of hot sauce as she stealthily approached the refreshments table. After taking one last glance around, she took the cap off the hot sauce bottle and leaned forward ...
She didn’t see the rope heading for her until it was already around her waist and, by then, she’d been dragged off to the kitchen of the bakery. Scowling, she wrestled with the lasso for a few moments before she was able to free herself. Then she tossed the rope aside and leapt to her hooves, glaring at the pony who’d just foiled her perfect, brilliant scheme.
“Hey! What’s your problem?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Rainbow Dash!” Applejack snorted and glared right back. “I saw you tryin’ to sneak some hot sauce into the punch and ruin Pinkie’s party!”
“Well, yeah!” replied Dash, her glare softening into a look of confusion. “There shouldn’t even be a party, ‘cause Twilight shouldn’t even be engaged to that dumb prince. I’m just helping fix things!”
The earth pony groaned and ran a hoof over her face. “RD, there ain’t nopony who’s more against this wedding than I am. But if you go around messin’ things up, alls it’s gonna do is make everypony mad at Pinkie Pie. Not Prince Blueblood.”
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to reply and then, frowning, shut it again. Applejack … had a point, much as she hated to admit it. At Pinkie’s welcome party for Gilda, it had been Pinkie who had gotten the blame for the pranks, hadn’t it? It had been Pinkie who Gilda had been mad at.
Letting out a frustrated grunt, Dash demanded, “Okay, well, what’s your great idea, then?”
“Me? I’m gonna do exactly what I promised Pinkie that I’d do.” The earth pony shook her head. “I’m gonna do my darnedest to make sure this party goes off without a hitch, and you’re gonna help me.”
“So … that’s it? That’s your answer? We just give up?”
Applejack sighed. “No. That ain’t it, at all.” She walked over and bumped her shoulder against the Rainbow’s. With a gentle smile, she explained, “We don’t give up … we trust our friends to figure out the right thing to do, and we support ‘em while they’re figurin’ all that out.”
Rainbow Dash bit her lip and considered. To tell the truth, she still thought her plan was the better idea--not to mention a lot cooler and less boring--but she wasn’t entirely sure she’d be able to set up many good pranks if she had Applejack watching her like a hawk. Or a griffon. Or a meddlesome, apple-farming earth pony.
She could feel her wings droop in defeat.
“C’mon, Rainbow.” After another shoulder nudge, Applejack hopped up and trotted over to the kitchen’s large double sink. “I know you ain’t much for just sittin’ back and waitin’, so why not grab some o’ those dirty dishes and help me wash and dry?”
The pegasus rolled her eyes but obligingly headed over to the counter to grab the emptied platters. Reaching down, she picked up the nearest plate in her mouth, grimacing at the taste of left-over lentil bean pâté--and then she froze. Right next to the pile of dirty dishes was a sheet of paper. A sheet of paper which had been torn in half but sloppily taped back together. She recognized the writing immediately as belonging to Pinkie and, without thinking, read the very first line: “My dear Twilight ...”
She silently sucked in a breath. This wasn’t meant for her to read. And yet … and yet, Applejack had been right about Dash not being the kind of pony to just sit back and wait. Perhaps something in this letter could help Dash to help her friends. Perhaps if she knew more about what was going on, she could actually do something.
It was better than washing dishes, at least.
After glancing over to Applejack to make sure the other mare wasn’t looking, Rainbow Dash set the plate back down. Then, quickly and quietly, she began reading the letter on the counter.
It was the perfect plan.
Lady Star Sparkle, matriarch of the renowned Canterlot Sparkles, founder and board president of the Equestrian Educational Enhancement Foundation, mother to both the captain of the Royal Guard and the bearer of the Element of Magic, was a mare who was never without a plan. She saw today’s engagement party as a superb opportunity for her daughter to get to know her fiancé a little better. She knew that she herself had felt some misgivings when she was first betrothed to Twilight’s father, back when she’d been a young and foolish filly, but their marriage had lasted for decades now. Besides, marrying Blueblood would bring Twilight back to Canterlot, where her magical abilities could properly grow and flourish, and then Twilight would see. Twilight would understand. Lady Star just had to get Twilight to trust in her wisdom and to give Prince Blueblood a chance.
Unfortunately, there were three rather major hindrances to Lady Star’s plan. The first was a bright pink earth pony who was trying, ever so cheerfully and with all her might, to ruin Twilight Sparkle’s life.
The pony didn’t seem, at first glance, to be an agent of destruction. She smiled and laughed as she pranced throughout the bakery, refilling glasses of punch and restocking food platters as she moved from table to table. If Lady Star were being brutally honest with herself, she would even have to admit that there was a certain vulgar charm to the mare. Certainly, the young earth pony had an uncanny sense for just when a glass needed to be refilled or when a table’s conversation had fallen into an uncomfortable lull.
But any good feelings inspired by such displays of hostessing prowess were short-lived. All Lady Star had to do was look over at her daughter, and the anger and determination came roaring back to life. She only had to see that soft, maudlin look on Twilight’s face, as the younger unicorn tracked their party hostess’ every moment with her eyes, while wearing an unmistakable expression on her face that all but screamed that Twilight was infatuated with this ridiculous pink pony. Worse still, every so often, the pink pony would glance in their direction, would glance towards Twilight, with eyes every bit as soft and every bit as smitten.
This could not be allowed to continue. It would not be allowed to continue.
Twilight Sparkle had been born to greatness--had been born a Sparkle and had earned a position as the protégé to the Sun Princess herself--and greatness did not encompass backwater villages that lacked proper universities or resources for a unicorn who had the potential to become the most powerful magician in Equestrian history. Nor did greatness encompass frivolous bakers who had no larger life ambitions than to bake cupcakes and throw parties. Which was the precise reason that Lady Star had arranged for the engagement of Twilight to Prince Blueblood in the first place.
Unfortunately, Prince Blueblood was the second obstacle to Lady Star Sparkle’s plan. The prince was behaving quite neglectfully towards his intended and … well, to be frank, he was behaving not at all princely. The young heir to the throne sat next to Lord Nightlight Sparkle, and the two of them chatted animatedly about whatever it was that noble stallions tended to talk about. Lady Star thought she’d heard something about croquet but, given the general noise level of the room, she couldn’t be sure. This was yet another situation in which she would clearly have to take command.
She glanced over to her daughter. Twilight herself was the third and final stumbling block to Lady Star’s grand plan. The younger unicorn, cake frosting still dripping off her chin, leaned over to take a sip of punch from the glass cup resting on the table. Lady Star bit back a sigh at the highly undignified display. She’d already talked to Twilight about this earlier, but Twilight had insisted that she should try partaking of the refreshments in the earth pony fashion, as Ponyville was an earth pony town. How could she properly rule as a princess, Twilight had argued with her infuriatingly unassailable logic, if she did not share in her subjects’ customs?
Lady Star had not argued, as she greatly preferred her battles to be winnable, but that hadn’t meant she liked it. Especially since she’d never witnessed her daughter eat quite so messily, not even as a foal who’d yet to learn even the simplest levitation spell.
Leaning over, the older mare whispered in Twilight’s ear, “Dear, don’t you think you should be paying more attention to your fiancé?”
Twilight gave a small jolt and turned to face Lady Star with guilty eyes, as though she’d been caught sneaking cookies out of the cookie jar. “Oh! Um, sorry.” She chuckled nervously. “I guess I just figured it’d be rude to interrupt the conversation between Dad and Prince Blueblood …”
Lady Star simply stared in reply. She always knew when her daughter was fibbing, but she also knew that her daughter was far too smart to be defeated by a frontal assault. No, indeed. A sneak attack would serve her purposes much better.
With a sudden, bright smile, the noble mare called out in a clear tone, “Your Highness! I do believe Twilight was hoping to share some of her recent studies on magical alchemy with you, if you have a moment.”
Both Lord Nighlight and Prince Blueblood paused, blinking as though surprised there was anyone else at the table, and turned to look at the two mares beside them. Twilight slumped down in her seat and looked for all the world as if she wanted to slide right under the table.
Careful to keep her smile firmly in place, Lady Star gave her daughter a helpful nudge. “Isn’t that right, dear?”
“Er … yes?” Twilight glanced over to her mother, eyes full of uncertainty, before turning to Blueblood with a smile of her own. “If Your Highness would be interested, I’d be very happy to explain some of my latest research.”
Blueblood loudly cleared his throat. “Ah, well, as … interesting … as that sounds, I am afraid that I must go … go …” His eyes darted around the room. “Go mingle with my subjects! Yes!” He gave a brisk nod and quickly stood up. Smiling weakly, he began backing away from the table. “A prince’s royal duties are never finished, alas, and I must open my ears and my heart to the concerns of--”
At that moment, three things happened simultaneously.
First, still walking backwards, Prince Blueblood stumbled into the pony standing just a few feet behind him--who was, of course, that blasted pink pony. Second, the tray of desserts that the mare held between her teeth was knocked loose and went flying through the air, only to land on the prince and his finely-tailored suit. Third, Lady Star Sparkle realized that all of her hopes and dreams for her daughter were about to be utterly dashed.
For just a moment, the entire room went silent. Even the string quartet stopped playing, mid-song. A glob of chocolate silently dripped down the prince’s face.
“Why, you clumsy …” Prince Blueblood looked over his shoulder with a sharp glare. “Really, this is intolerable! Guards, arrest this … this commoner!”
The young mare’s eyes went wide, and she began slowly backing up as a pair of pegasi in gleaming royal armor advanced upon her. “Uh, would it be okay if instead I just said I was really, super, duper sorry? Because I’m really, super, duper sorry.”
Lady Star frowned deeply. She could see the sudden spark of fear in those bright blue eyes and could feel the thrumming tension in her daughter as Twilight took a hesitant step forward. Once again, an uncomfortable and undesired sympathy for the pink pony arose from somewhere within her.
“Certainly that won’t be necessary, Your Highness,” interjected Lady Star, her tone as gentle and deferential as she could make it. “It was a mere accident, after all.”
The two pegasus guards paused and glanced between the prince and the mare.
“Accident or no,” replied Blueblood with a sniff, “the royal neckerchief has been positively ruined.” His eyes cut over to the pegasi again. “Did I, or did I not, instruct you to arrest that pony?”
The armored pegasi snapped to attention. “Yes, Your Highness! Sorry, Your Highness!”
Quickly the guards closed in on the hapless little pony, and as they drew nearer, she began glancing around with a frightened, tiny smile frozen on her face. And as she glanced around, the rest of Twilight’s little band of misfit friends came racing over to attempt to stop the guards, and suddenly Blueblood was yelling, and the guards were yelling, and Nightlight had a pleading hoof on Blueblood’s shoulder, and Lady Star Sparkle could only stand there and watch. She could only look on with icy dread as everything spun out of control, as everything went completely and terribly wrong, and then ...
And then there was a flash of light.
There was a flash of light, blindingly white and hot as the sun, and a second later an explosion of energy ripped through the bakery with all the force of a tornado. Every single pony in the room halted immediately and then, a moment later, dropped to their knees as a booming voice thundered:
“Don’t you dare touch her!”
From her own position on the floor, Lady Star glanced up between shaking hooves--and she gasped. A few feet above the floor of the bakery floated her daughter, her eyes no longer violet but a solid white so pure and so bright that it almost hurt to gaze upon them. Even from some distance away, the elder mare could feel the nearly unfathomable power radiating out from the bearer of the Element of Magic in wave after wave, as Twilight hung motionless in the air like some glorious avenging angel.
It was then that Lady Star Sparkle wondered if perhaps, just perhaps, her daughter might not be so ignorant as to the meaning of greatness as she had always thought.
Only fragments came to her, disjointed impressions, sounds and visions, filtered through a haze of fury and of a magic raging out of control.
Blue eyes, wide with terror, terror of her. Pinkie’s eyes? The prince’s? She didn’t know. All that broke through the haze was the scent of fear, hanging in the air like a heavy perfume. That awful scent, paired with the knowledge that it was because of her, it was all her fault, just like everything, always, always ...
She felt tears stinging in her eyes.
Someone called her name. She didn’t know who. She wasn’t sure if she cared. Wasn’t sure if it even mattered.
The floor felt cold and hard against her hooves. Was she standing? She must have been standing now. So cold. She felt cold, deep down inside, though she didn’t understand why that should be so. Her head ached and throbbed with her anger, with her magic, and she had to shut her eyes against the pain. Had to try to regain some control.
Still someone was calling her name, and still she couldn’t hear. The voice was a mere whisper in the hurricane, lost to the howl of the wind.
She was afraid of what she might see if she opened her eyes. Afraid of seeing the fear, of seeing the anger, of seeing the disappointment. She was so afraid. So afraid.
Licking her lips, she opened her mouth to reply. But all that came out was a long, low whine.
“Twilight! The prince … the prince is gone! He left! Everything … everything’s okay, now.”
No, it wasn’t. Nothing was okay. Absolutely nothing had been okay for many, many months.
Her head hurt more than ever, and a pressure was building somewhere behind her eyes, a terrible, relentless pressure. It felt exactly the same as what she had felt once years and years before, in a palace so far away, when she was but a child. The exact same feeling she had back then, just seconds before she turned her parents into potted plants and a poor baby dragon into a towering giant.
Dangerous. Her magic was spinning dangerously out of control. She was spinning dangerously out of control. With all her might, she tried to clamp down on the energy flowing out from her, tried in futile desperation to rein it in before anyone could get hurt.
A new voice, now. One she recognized instantly.
It was the voice that had taught her not to fear the darkness, the voice that had told her to take a leap of faith, the voice that had urged her to smile, smile, smile. The voice that she cherished more than any other. The voice that belonged to a pony who Twilight Sparkle would protect with all that she had and all that she was.
Digging deep, she managed to find the strength for one more spell, for one last-ditch effort. She concentrated as hard as she could, even though doing so sparked another flood of pain that made her feel as though her skull was splitting right in two, and then at last she heard the tell-tale crackling sounds of imminent teleportation. She held on as long as she could, but all too quickly the darkness claimed her.
When she finally regained consciousness and opened her eyes, she found that she was in the library. Her head felt full of lead and twice as heavy. With a groan, she rested her chin against the hard, sturdy floor beneath her.
My dear Twilight,
Rarity said I should start this letter with “my dear Twilight” instead of something like “Hi, Twilight!” or “I really miss you, Twilight” or “How’re you doing, Twilight?” so that’s why I started by saying “my dear Twilight.” I’m kinda not really sure what I should say after that, though, and I’m sorry if this letter doesn’t make very much sense.
But you always say that I don’t make very much sense, so maybe it’s okay if my letter doesn’t make sense either? I hope it’s okay.
I really miss you. At least a dozen times a day, I think of something I wanna say to you, but I’m not sure if I should, so I don’t. It’s hard not saying things to you, though, Twilight. I got used to telling you things, all kinds of things, even things I never told anypony else.
“We can’t go showin’ that letter to Twilight!”
“Why, of course we can, darling! The letter is addressed to Twilight, after all.”
“If’n Pinkie wanted Twi to see it, then why’d she go and tear it up?”
“It was an error in judgment, quite obviously! One that we must now rectify!”
“Now you wait just one cotton-pickin’ minute there …”
With a quiet sigh, Fluttershy glanced over to Rainbow Dash. Rainbow sat less than a full wingspan away, perched atop of one of the mannequins in Rarity’s boutique as she scowled at the unicorn and earth pony standing across the room. Rarity and Applejack, meanwhile, seemed not to even notice the two pegasi as they were too busy squaring off against one another. Fluttershy wasn’t entirely sure whether to feel happy about that or not.
She also wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret the tight, tense expression in Rainbow’s eyes. Usually it was the kind of look that immediately preceded the hot-tempered pony yelling or throwing punches, but none of the other tell-tale signs were present. Dash’s shoulders were loose and relaxed, and her wings were calmly folded at her sides. It didn’t make sense.
“Rainbow?” Fluttershy ventured softly.
“This is dumb,” Dash muttered under her breath, throwing in an eye roll for good measure. “Here we are wasting time, when we should be working to get Pinkie and Twi back together.”
Fluttershy’s brow furrowed. “But I thought … I thought you were angry at Twilight.”
“Well, yeah! Not so much after today, maybe--what she did at the party was pretty radical, even I gotta admit--but just ‘cause I’m mad at Twilight for how stupid she’s been acting doesn’t mean I don’t still love the egghead.” She looked over to Fluttershy with a grin. “I mean, you still love me even when I do stupid stuff, right?”
Fluttershy could feel her face warm a bit and glanced down. She always adored it when Dash grinned at her like that--it was different than Dash’s other grins, more tender, more intimate. When Fluttershy glanced back up, a small smile was tugging at the corners of her own mouth.
Still grinning, Rainbow Dash leaned over and gave her a nuzzle. “And we both know Pinkie’ll forgive Twilight, just like you always forgive me … and that’s why you gotta go take Twilight the letter.”
“M-me? Why me?”
“Because Applejack’s been watchin’ me like a hawk, so there’s no way I’ll be able to sneak outta here myself.” Rainbow’s eyes cut over to the earth pony in question, who was still arguing hotly with Rarity some several feet away, before she continued. “But you, ‘Shy? You’re so super quiet, they’ll never even notice you’re gone ‘til you’re halfway to the library.”
Fluttershy frowned at that. She didn’t quite like all of the implications of that statement, but she also knew that Dash didn’t mean it how it sounded. She bit her lip. She thought Applejack had a point, actually, about Pinkie not wanting Twilight to see the letter. At the same time, Pinkie Pie undoubtedly wanted to get back together with Twilight, and Twilight Sparkle undoubtedly wanted to get back together with Pinkie, and showing the letter to Twilight could help that to finally happen.
Moreover, there was the simple truth that Fluttershy owed Pinkie. She owed Pinkie rather a lot. After all, it had been Pinkie Pie who’d orchestrated that pretend-fight between Rainbow Dash and Applejack, where Applejack had kicked Rainbow and Fluttershy had took the injured pegasus home, where Rainbow had thanked her and Fluttershy had stammered. Where Rainbow had kissed her, at long last, and Fluttershy had kissed her in return. Fluttershy had never let on that she knew--had simply let the two earth ponies and her fellow pegasus believe they’d pulled a fast one on silly little Fluttershy--but she knew.
She knew it was because of Pinkie Pie that she’d gotten Rainbow Dash.
“All right,” said Fluttershy, with a firm nod. “All right, Rainbow. I’ll give the letter to Twilight.”
Maybe there’s something else I should tell you. Do you remember the day we met? I saw you when you first got here, remember? You were all "hello" and I gasped really loud, remember? And I threw you a party so that you could have lots of friends, but there’s something you probably didn’t know. My very own first friend … was you.
It was you, Twilight. Before you came to town, I threw parties that everypony liked, but nopony liked the pony who threw the parties. Not really, anyways. Not like they do now. Not until you came, and we went on the adventure in the Everfree Forest--and then, suddenly, I had five really great, really super friends. You did that, Twilight. I never said thank you for doing that, I don’t think, but I should have.
So I guess I’ll say it now and hope it’s not too late. Thank you.
Twilight didn’t know exactly how long she lay in bed, just staring up at the rafters in the ceiling of the library, but it must have been hours. Spike came home at some point, and he spoke to her for a bit. Even touched her on the shoulder at one point. She couldn’t remember a word he’d said, but she could guess. He’d probably asked if she was all right. She’d probably told him that she was.
As Twilight lay there, she found herself noticing all the dust and cobwebs up in the rafters. She’d have to do some cleaning later. A clean home was a happy home, after all. That’s what her mother had always said, and her mother was usually right about such things. So, later she’d do some cleaning. When she was feeling a little better.
If she was feeling a little better.
Her musings were cut short by a soft knock from down below. Twilight’s heart skipped a beat, and she buried her head under her pillow and nestled deeper under the blankets on her bed. She knew better than to think she could hide in bed forever from her problems--she hadn’t seriously thought such a thing since she was a very small filly, indeed--but that didn’t mean that the temptation wasn’t there.
From under her pillow she heard the door creak open. Voices followed soon after, too low for her to quite hear, and then there were hoof steps on the ladder that led up to her lofted bedroom. Twilight remained as motionless as a stone. She held her breath, almost involuntarily, as though the near-silent sound of her breathing might betray her location.
Her mother. It wasn’t a surprise, and yet the utter predictability of the situation didn’t stop a bead of cold sweat from trickling down her neck.
“Twilight, I need you to tell me if you are all right. I need you to tell me right now. Do you need a doctor?”
She squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could.
“Twilight Sparkle, you will answer me.”
“N-no.” Twilight’s voice was barely above a whisper. “No, I don’t need a doctor. I’m fine.”
It was her father who spoke next, in a much gentler tone: “Sweetheart, would you please look at us? Please?”
Slowly the younger unicorn lifted the blankets and peeked out from under the safety of her pillow. Lady Star Sparkle stood just a few feet away, her face carefully neutral, while behind her Lord Nightlight Sparkle was gazing at his daughter with frank worry etched into his every feature. Twilight swallowed thickly and tried to will herself to not look away.
“We just wanted to let you know that we’ll be returning to Canterlot shortly,” continued Lady Star, her voice steady and sure, as she stared at a point somewhere above Twilight’s head. “Also, your engagement … your engagement has been called off.”
Twilight could only nod at that. It was hardly a surprise. “I imagine that’s the first thing that Prince Blueblood did. Cancel the engagement. I … I know you’re disappointed, and I wish I could say that I’m sorry about that.” She took a deep breath. “But I’m not. I’m not sorry.”
Lady Star said nothing but shifted her weight a bit, almost as though she was uncomfortable. It was odd for Twilight to see her mother do that--Lady Star always prided herself on her impeccable posture, but now, the older mare was almost slouching.
“Actually, Twilight,” said Lord Nightlight in quiet tone, “it was your mother who called off the engagement, not His Highness.”
Twilight blinked. And then blinked again. But even when she blinked for a third time, the words her father had just spoken still made absolutely no sense.
After shooting a pointed look in Nightlight’s direction, Lady Star cleared her throat. “As I said, we must be leaving, but we just wanted to check in on you to see how you were and to inform you as to the status of the engagement.” She turned, as if to go, but then paused. She glanced over her shoulder. “Twilight? Though I'll confess that I don't understand how it possibly could ... I hope this place makes you happy.”
“It does. Being in Ponyville has made me happier than I’ve ever been before.”
“I see.” The other mare’s eyes looked thoughtful, far off and distant, for a few moments. Then Lady Star gave a small nod. “I hope she makes you happy, as well.”
Smiling tentatively, Twilight nodded in return. “She does. She makes me so happy. Happier than I deserve, really.”
“I see,” repeated Lady Star, her facial expression still carefully, infuriatingly blank. She sighed and then, straightening her shoulders and lifting her chin, walked over to the ladder. She began climbing back downstairs while her husband remained behind.
Lord Nightlight chuckled softly and trotted over to the bed. Leaning over, he deposited a quick kiss on Twilight’s cheek. “Do try to come visit us in Canterlot more often, won’t you? You know how Shining Armor misses you.”
Twilight shut her eyes and silently leaned against her father. Her throat felt tight and raw, and for some reason she couldn’t stop shaking.
“And perhaps the next time you visit,” the older stallion continued, his words cautiously spaced and infused with a studied casualness, “you could bring that little pink earth mare, hmm? I seem to recall that Cadance and Shining were both rather taken by her, and I’m sure they’d love a chance to see her again.”
“O-okay,” Twilight whispered, as the tears fell down her face.
And the very next moment, he was patting her awkwardly on the back, and she was averting her gaze and trying to hide her crying, and then he too was gone. She heard the door open and close once more. Less than a minute later, Spike was racing upstairs, his eyes huge and scared.
“What’d they say? Are they mad? Do we have to move back to Canterlot?” The words tumbled out of the dragon in a single breath. “Twi, are you okay? Why are you crying?”
Twilight simply pulled him close against her chest, into a nearly crushing embrace, and allowed herself to openly weep as Spike hugged her just as tightly in return. They sat on Twilight’s bed like that for long moments, in utter silence. The library was so quiet and so still that both pony and dragon gave a startled jump when yet another knock came from downstairs--a knock that was soft and timid and could only have come from a very particular pink-maned pegasus.
Rarity is sighing a bunch and keeps looking at the clock, so I guess I should probably finish this up soon. Earlier she asked me--Rarity asked me, I mean--she asked me if all I wanted from you was friendship.
The truth is ... I don’t just want to be your friend. I really, really don’t. I’m not sure I have enough words for all of the things I want--I’m not sure there’s enough words in all the books in all the libraries in Equestria for all of the things I want--because I want a whole bunch of things. I want to be there when you learn new magic spells and see that look you get on your face when you finally get the spell exactly perfectly right. I want to hold you when you’re sad and when you’re happy and all the other times, too. I want to kiss you every single day for the rest of forever, and forever is a really, really, really long time.
But mostly, Twilight, I just want to see you smile again. You haven’t been smiling very much at all when I’ve seen you around town the last couple weeks, so if being just-friends is what will make you smile, then that’s exactly what Pinkie Pie is gonna do. You can count on her! I mean, me!
Just please smile again. Please?
Your friend forever and always,
Pinkie Pie’s face hurt in ways she’d never even dreamt possible before. She’d been smiling all day, at the Cakes and at customers, at Pumpkin and at Pound, and her cheeks felt like they were on fire. It was strange. Usually smiling didn’t hurt--usually smiling filled her up with a warmth that spread outwards from somewhere deep in her belly--but right here and now, smiling hurt a little more with every passing minute. Every single moment she kept that smile on her face made traitorous tears sting at the corners of her eyes.
She hadn’t seen Twilight Sparkle since yesterday. Since the single most disastrous party in Pinkie’s long and storied party-hosting career.
The other girls didn’t ask, and they didn’t pry. But they each made sure to drop by the bakery at some point earlier that day, with sad eyes and too-wide smiles. And Pinkie had to smile back at them, and it was terrible, and it cost her, but she didn’t have the heart to tell them that she couldn’t--
“Pinkie Pie!” Spike burst into Sugarcube Corner with flailing arms and a heaving chest. “Pinkie, you gotta come back to the library with me!”
Frowning, Pinkie set down her oven mitt and took a step out from behind the bakery’s counter. “Spike? Spike, what’s wrong?”
Pinkie Pie had only Spike use that tone of voice once just a handful of times before, and her legs moved of their own accord. As she shouted an apology to Mr. and Mrs. Cake over her shoulder, she rushed out the door, scooping up Spike onto her back and galloping towards the library for all that she was worth. Her heart hammered in her chest with every step she took, and any doubts or apprehensions about seeing Twilight that might have plagued her just minutes before were drowned out by one single, overwhelming fear: Be okay. Oh, sweet Celestia, please be okay.
The sky above was dark with the approaching night as they raced across town, and Pinkie couldn’t help but notice every shadow and every dark alley along the way. At last they arrived at the library, and Pinkie paused to glance at Spike for instructions on what she needed to do.
The young dragon fidgeted with his hands a bit before nodding towards the library door. “I think … I think you better go in first, Pinkie.”
Swallowing hard, Pinkie nodded in reply. “Okie dokie.”
She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and then shoved open the door--only to find herself in a completely pitch-black room. “Twilight?”
There was a soft click, as the door was suddenly locked behind her.
A gentle purple glow sliced through the darkness and, a second later, a dozen candles around the library had been lit. Now that the room was illuminated, Pinkie could see Twilight Sparkle standing just a few feet away, her eyes burning more brightly than any flame could hope to burn. The unicorn’s mouth was set in a hard, determined line.
“Are you …” It took effort for Pinkie to speak in the face of the intense stare she was receiving from the mare before her. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, Pinkie. And I’m sorry for … for having Spike scare you like that. Actually, I’m sorry for a lot of things, and I don’t even know where to—” With a loud sigh, Twilight cut herself off and gave her head a shake. “No. No, no, no. First things first. Pinkie Pie, I have something I need to tell you.”
Almost involuntarily, the earth pony took a step back, her tail hitting the shut door. “O-oh, no, that’s okay, really, we don’t have to--”
“Pinkie!” Twilight’s voice rang out like a cannon shot. “Pinkie, I need to say this, and I need you to listen. Promise you won’t interrupt. Pinkie promise.”
Pinkie hesitated, just a moment, and her heart sounded as loud as a huge timpani drum in her ears. “I promise,” she replied, in a voice barely above a whisper. “Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
Twilight Sparkle nodded at that, seemingly pleased. “I … I was scared. Of a lot of things. Oh, Pinkie, I was so scared, but …” She paused. Swallowed hard before she continued, “I’m sorry I was scared, and I’m sorry for all the things I did just because I was so stupid and afraid. But I’m not afraid anymore. Do you … would you like to know why?”
Pinkie could only nod numbly in reply.
And then, with those penetrating violet eyes still locked on Pinkie’s own, Twilight Sparkle began singing:
When I was a little filly
And the sun was going down,
The darkness and the shadows,
They would always make me frown ...
Pinkie Pie simply stood there, frozen, her stomach doing all kinds of crazy cartwheels that would put Rainbow Dash’s most outrageous stunts to shame.
I'd hide under my pillow
From what I thought I saw,
But Pinkie Pie said that wasn't the way
To deal with fears at all …
Twilight was smiling now, ever so softly. It was a new smile. A different smile. A smile that Pinkie couldn’t remember ever seeing before on that beautiful, beautiful face.
Slowly, carefully, the unicorn began approaching the stationary earth pony, as she continued singing.
She said, "Twilight, you gotta stand up tall,
Learn to face your fears.
You'll see that they can't hurt you.
Just laugh to make them disappear."
By now, Twilight was barely a breath away, those eyes and that smile taking up the entirety of Pinkie’s field of vision. Still Pinkie could not move, could not speak. And then, when Twilight’s lips gently brushed against hers, Pinkie felt those hot, hot tears, those tears which had been pricking at her eyes all day long, trickle down her cheeks at last.
Twilight tasted like hot sauce. She tasted like cupcakes. She tasted like rain on a warm summer’s afternoon. She tasted like a dozen daydreams and a dozen memories, and she tasted like a hundred hopes and a hundred fears. She tasted exactly like she did the very first time they’d ever kissed.
She tasted perfect.
When Twilight finally pulled away, Pinkie saw that Twilight was crying too. “When you’re standing next to me,” Twilight murmured, her voice breaking, “I don’t feel afraid. When you’re there … I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do, nothing I can’t be.”
Pinkie just smiled and reached up with a hoof to brush away the unicorn’s tears.
“I’m so sorry, Pinkie. I am so, so sorry. I can’t even begin to tell you how awful I feel about everything I've put you through.”
“Rarity … right?” Pinkie tilted her head, still smiling. “I mean, Rarity told you that you should sing me a song, didn’t she?”
Twilight nodded, a bit hesitantly.
“I thought so.” Pinkie laughed, and it felt good to laugh. It felt glorious, like letting all the air out of an overfilled balloon in one great whoosh. “Singing somepony a love song sounds a lot like a Rarity kinda idea.”
“Does that … does that mean you didn’t like the singing?”
Leaning forward, Pinkie nuzzled the unicorn’s cheek. “Oh, Twilight, I loved it! I’ve always loved it when you sing.” She shut her eyes and sighed. “I’ve always loved you, I think.”
A silence fell between the two ponies, joyous and sublime, as they leaned against one another. Then, very quietly, Twilight Sparkle whispered, “Marry me.”
Of the many ceremonial duties that were entrusted to her, Princess Celestia enjoyed officiating at royal weddings most of all. She had seen many brides and many grooms over her centuries of performing this particular duty, and still she never tired of seeing that certain glow, breathtaking and almost ethereal, that would shine from all of those ponies’ faces.
So it was that Celestia found herself in rather a good mood as she stood in the middle of the Canterlot palace’s expansive gardens, gazing around at the wedding reception that was in full swing.
Over by the fountain, a dance floor of parquet had been set up, and dozens of ponies crowded onto the floor to dance and to celebrate. Celestia watched with an amused smile as a lithe blue pegasus attempted to drag a yellow pegasus towards the dance floor. Meanwhile, not very far away from the dancers stood the musical entertainment for the reception, a small ensemble of musicians culled from the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra. Nestled cozily amongst the orchestra players, as well, was an orange earth pony equipped with a violin. As the violinist played, a white unicorn nearby stood listening and watching with attentive gaze and rapt expression upon her face.
With a soft chuckle, Celestia turned away from the musicians and glanced over to the reception tables. Heaping platters of food sat on each table and, at the longest table, the princess finally spotted the happy, handsome groom. The white stallion was decked out in the finest royal ceremonial attire, and he stood chatting with a beautiful purple unicorn mare, who wore a dress as dark as the night sky. The two unicorns smiled at one another every so often and, from a distance at least, seemed to be enjoying the other’s company.
It wasn’t long before a third pony joined the twosome. A pink earth mare, dressed in a gown the same shade of blue as her eyes, sneaked off the dance floor to approach the unicorns. Celestia had to bite back a most unroyal snort as the pink pony suddenly launched herself through the air and tackled the purple unicorn. The stallion laughed in response, even when the two mares landed in a nearby puddle and sent mud splashing everywhere. But in an instant his laughter was replaced by a dismayed frown, as some of the mud landed on his uniform.
As if on cue, a small, light yellow earth pony came trotting up, armed with a small napkin held between her teeth. Her deep, raspberry-colored mane stood out in stark contrast against the pure white of her elaborate gown. Quickly and carefully she began wiping the mud from the stallion’s clothing with her napkin, and he gazed down at her with a look of pure adoration as she worked to clean him up.
Celestia sniffled, just a tiny bit. She turned her head to the side, a smile still firmly upon her face, and surreptitiously dabbed at her eyes with a kerchief. A moment later, she felt a presence beside her, and she glanced over in time to see exactly who she expected to see.
“Good evening, Luna!”
“Hello, sister!” replied the Princess of the Night, returning Celestia’s smile with one of her own. “I must say, our nephew seems happier and more relaxed than I recall seeing him in some time.”
“He does, doesn’t he? I think being in love suits him.”
“I agree whole-heartedly with that assessment.” Luna tilted her head a bit, looking thoughtful. “I would not have expected a florist from Ponyville, I must confess, considering that she is … well …”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “A commoner and an earth pony?”
“Yes,” the other alicorn admitted, a bit abashedly. “Not that I think such should matter, mind you, but Blueblood always has been ...” Trailing off, she lifted a forehoof and gestured inarticulately.
“... has been Blueblood. Yes. I know.” The Sun Princess nodded. She loved her nephew dearly, but she knew perfectly well the sort of pony he’d always been--the pony he’d been before, that was.
Love really was the most powerful force in Equestria, wasn’t it? Not for the first time, Celestia marveled over the seeming impossibilities that love could work.
Meanwhile, across the gardens, the foursome of two earth ponies and two unicorns had broken apart. Blueblood and his new bride took to the dance floor while Twilight Sparkle and her fiancée picked up microphones. After a quick glance over to the musicians--which was met by a smile and nod by Applejack--the two mares began singing a tender, gentle ballad. Ponies began slow-dancing out on the floor, and Prince Blueblood held his beloved close against his chest.
“He always did have a fondness for roses,” murmured Luna wistfully. There was a pause, a hesitation, before she continued on. “This … almost did not happen, you realize. It would have been Twilight Sparkle with whom he danced and not nearly so happily.”
Celestia simply nodded at that. She knew.
“Then why, sister? Why did you not intervene? Why did you not put a stop to that madness before it reached the state it finally did?”
“Twilight …” The name came out as a broken whisper, and she cut herself off. Drew in a deep breath. “Twilight is a grown mare. Her life is hers to direct and to control, not mine.”
“So then you truly would have allowed Twilight Sparkle to marry Blueblood?”
Celestia turned and grinned at her sister. “Not a chance in Tartarus.”
Twilight Sparkle awoke to a pair of huge, blue eyes less than a centimeter away from her face. There was a time when such a sight might have startled her. There was a time when Twilight might have screamed in surprise or at least given a little jump. But those days were long, long gone. Instead, she merely smiled and kissed the other pony on the tip of her cute little pink nose.
“G’morning, Pinkie Pie,” she mumbled, voice still thick and groggy.
“Good morning, sleepyhead!” Pinkie grinned back, big and bright and cheerful and disturbingly wide awake. “You were all super adorable when you were sleeping and I totally didn’t want to wake you up, but I had to wake you up, because today is the first day of the rest of our lives!”
Twilight didn’t bother to reply to that. This was how Twilight woke up every morning, and this was the reason Pinkie gave her every morning. Twilight had tried to explain, on multiple occasions, that the rest of their lives could stand to include a few extra hours of sleep, but that was not an argument that Pinkie ever seemed to find persuasive.
Still grinning, the pink earth pony gave the unicorn a quick peck on the mouth. “You taste like socks!”
“Um, thanks? I think?”
Without further ado, Pinkie Pie rolled off the bed and began trotting off. As she did, the necklace she wore clasped around her neck, with a golden ring hanging from it, bounced with every jaunty step she took. She paused at the bedroom door to call out, over her shoulder, “I’m gonna make pancakes! Do you want blueberry or strawberry or pineapple or spinach or cauliflower or--”
“Blueberry!” Twilight interrupted quickly. “Blueberry sounds just fine.”
“Blueberry it is, then!”
With a wink, the earth pony disappeared through the door.
Twilight couldn’t help a small chuckle as she sat up in bed and stretched her legs. She was still a bit sore from last night--and, at that very thought, the unicorn smiled and blushed simultaneously. It had been worth today’s soreness, though. It always was.
Finally, she couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer, and she stumbled out of bed and over to the dresser. She grimaced at the absolute travesty that was her mane before levitating her hairbrush up to handle the tangles and snarls. After that little victory was won, Twilight picked up the golden ring that lay on the dresser and lifted it up next. She studied it for a moment, as she did every morning, allowing her eyes to take in the luster of the gold and the careful craftsmanship of the metal-working.
She slipped the ring over her horn and felt a small but familiar sense of warmth spread through her as the ring came to nestle against the horn’s base. It was perhaps a bit foolish--and more than a bit superstitious--but Twilight never felt entirely at ease or entirely comfortable unless she could feel that ring atop her head.
Already the entire library was filling up with the delicious smell of pancakes, and Twilight happily followed the scent downstairs. She found Pinkie at the stove, flipping pancakes with a dexterity truly unparalleled, while Spike sat beside her on the counter, drinking from a large ceramic mug. Twilight frowned as she took a seat at the kitchen table.
“That had better not be coffee, Spike,” Twilight began, in a warning tone. “You’re still a growing dragon, and that much caffeine isn’t good for you.”
Spike pouted in reply. “Aww, c’mon, Twi! Pinkie said I could!”
“Pinkie … is that true?” As soon as Pinkie turned around, with an impossibly wide smile and nervous eyes, Twilight had her answer. With a gentle shake of her head, the unicorn added, “Never mind. Don’t answer that.”
The pancakes were delicious, but then, Pinkie’s pancakes were always delicious. Spike and Pinkie chatted animatedly over their breakfast, mostly about whether strawberries or blueberries were the superior berry. It ended in a stalemate. Meanwhile, Twilight nursed a cup of coffee and responded to her baby brother and fiancée in monosyllabic grunts. It wasn’t until the end of breakfast that Twilight had finally started feeling alive and functional, and by then, Spike had left the table to begin washing dishes.
“So, Twilight, what do you wanna do today?” Pinkie leaned forward eagerly. “I know there’s still lots and lots of wedding planning stuff on your list! We could go taste wedding cakes, or we could audition wedding bands, or we could ask Applejack to teach us how to make those really neat ice sculptures, or we could do all sorts of stuff!”
Twilight’s mouth gave a twitch upward at the list of Pinkie’s proposed activities. It didn’t escape her notice that, although Pinkie was offering to help Twilight with the wedding planning list, all of the earth pony’s suggestions were geared towards her own likes and preferences.
Leaning back, with delicious and invigorating coffee flowing through her bloodstream, Twilight pretended to think it over before finally saying, in a casual tone, “Oh, I don’t know, Pinkie … I was actually thinking that today we could maybe go hang gliding off the mountain just outside of town?”
Pinkie Pie’s eyes went wide in shock. Then, slowly, a huge smile broke across her entire face.
“Oh, Twilight! Do you mean it? ‘Cause that’d be super, duper awesome! It’d be almost like we were pegasuses, and that’d be so …” She trailed off as her eyebrows knit together. “Wait a sec. I thought you said that hang-gliding was ‘stupidly dangerous’?”
That was true. It had been many years ago that Twilight had said it, but said it she had. It didn’t surprise her that Pinkie Pie had remembered, as nopony had a memory quite like that perplexing pink pony’s. But Twilight Sparkle had been a different pony then, when she’d uttered those words. A pony who had not lived through the terror of Discord. A pony who had not faced the stern rejection of her very own brother before going on to save his life. A pony who had not known the comforting embrace of the one she now loved beyond all words, the embrace that could quell all fears and all doubts in her normally over-anxious mind.
A pony who had not come so terribly, terrifyingly close to losing that same pony she so loved.
Twilight feared very little nowadays. All other fears simply paled in comparison.
But Twilight didn’t mention any of that. She simply gave Pinkie an affirmative nod. “I do mean it,” she said, as her eyes twinkled. “After all … this is the first day of the rest of our lives. We should make it a good one.”
A pony’s got to do what a pony’s got to do, thought Rainbow Dash grimly.
She stood motionless under the hot, blinding lights and scowled at the approaching enemy. The unicorn across from her approached slowly, craftily, her weapons held aloft with a telekinetic magic that glowed an eerie, ominous blue. Every instinct in Rainbow’s body was telling her to spread her wings, to take to the air, to escape while she still had the chance. But Rainbow ignored all of those urges and instead stood her ground.
She was a brave pony. She was a loyal pony. And she would not betray her solemn duties, no matter how dire the consequences.
Still closer came the fiendish unicorn, a slight smirk upon that hateful face, yet Rainbow Dash did not flinch and Rainbow Dash did not falter. Then, finally within range, the unicorn lashed out and struck with deadly accuracy … and the brave, loyal pegasus finally fell.
“Honestly, darling!” Rarity huffed in exasperation as she lowered the curling iron. “Don’t you think you’re being just a bit melodramatic?”
Dash peeked up at her friend from between her forehooves. She raised a single, eloquent eyebrow.
Rarity had the good grace to blush, if only slightly. “Yes, well … even so. Today is a very important day, and we must all look our best!” The unicorn lifted the curling iron with a wicked grin. “And that means you too, Rainbow Dash.”
With a heavy, beleaguered sigh, Rainbow pulled herself back up onto all four hooves. She stood in disgruntled silence as Rarity resumed primping and preening her. It took a full hour--the longest hour of Rainbow Dash’s entire life--before Rarity decided that she was finally pretty enough to be released from this torture.
A pony has to do what a pony has to do, thought Fluttershy as she stood trembling in stark, naked terror.
The problem wasn’t that the meadow was entirely full of ponies, although there were, in fact, quite a few more ponies than Fluttershy could generally handle at one time. Nor was the problem the loudness of all those ponies talking to one another or from the polka band that was playing off to the side or even Pinkie Pie’s party cannon, which was firing at semi-random intervals. All of that was a bit taxing on her nerves, true enough, but it was bearable. Almost. Sort of.
No, what had Fluttershy rooted to the spot, as firmly as though she were a tree, was the fact that all of those ponies were staring directly at her. Intently. Expectantly. Despite herself, Fluttershy felt a low little whine escape her lips.
“C’mon, sugar cube,” hissed a familiar voice from behind. “Yer holdin’ up the whole processional here!”
Fluttershy nodded. Or, at least, she tried to nod. She wasn’t sure whether she actually succeeded or not.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Rarity turned around to glare at the pony who’d just spoken. “Applejack! How can you be so insensitive?” The unicorn gave an indignant toss of her mane. “The poor dear is shaking like a leaf!”
A second voice came from behind, rough yet somehow also gentle. “Hey, it’s okay, ‘Shy. It’s just like we practiced, remember?”
Slowly Fluttershy nodded. She remembered.
“Right. Just like we practiced.” The words were low, soothing, almost seductive. “All you gotta do is put one hoof in front of the other. Just keep your eyes straight ahead and take it one step at a time.”
“Straight ahead,” murmured Fluttershy, locking her eyes on the small podium that stood several yards in front of her. “One step at a time. Just like we practiced. Just a hop, skip, and a jump …”
And then, after taking one last, deep breath, the yellow pegasus lifted her left forehoof and began walking down the aisle.
A pony must do what a pony must do, thought Rarity, as she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying.
Under usual circumstances, the unicorn would have had no qualms about crying. She was a mare of deep emotions, pure emotions, emotions unknown and unknowable to the likes of lesser ponies. And sometimes those deep, pure emotions manifested in a rather wet, noisy way. It was why she made sure to carry a stock of clean kerchiefs at all times.
But she could feel Applejack’s gaze upon her, and she could feel the sense of anticipation in the earth pony’s stare. That infuriating certainty that Applejack so obviously felt as to the inevitability of Rarity’s tears. And so Rarity kept her head held up and willed her eyes to remain dry.
Because if she cried, Applejack would gloat … and if Applejack gloated, Rarity would be forced to retaliate … and then things would quickly devolve into arguing, and they’d both given their oaths that on this one day they would not argue. They would not bicker. They would not do anything to take away from the joy or beauty of their dear friends' special moment.
Rarity’s fight against the desire to cry was a losing battle, however. She felt a tickle in the back of her throat as Princess Celestia began speaking, in warm, rich tones, about the two brides who stood before her. A sharp stinging began in the corners of the unicorn’s eyes as she watched two of her dearest friends beam at one another and recite the truly wretched--yet undeniably heartfelt and sincere--poetry that they’d written for this occasion. Then, when Celestia declared them bound in matrimony, when they leaned forward to kiss, Rarity finally gave up and gave in.
She was dabbing at her eyes with her kerchief when she suddenly felt a strong, warm foreleg wrap around her shoulders. Surprised, she glanced up--only to find herself looking directly into the glistening green eyes of an orange earth pony.
A pony’s gotta do what a pony’s gotta do, thought Applejack as she slowly, awkwardly danced a waltz with Twilight Sparkle.
She’d tried to get out of doing this--had tried to busy herself with helping clear the empty dishes from all the tables spread across the meadow--but Rarity had insisted. Everyone had to dance with the brides, Rarity had said. It was tradition, she’d said. And so, with a quiet sigh, Applejack had traipsed over to the small clearing left open for a dance floor and done her duty.
At least the dance she’d shared with Pinkie had been to an upbeat, snappy tune. Some sort of polka that Pinkie’s parents had taught to the wedding band earlier that week. The sort of music that allowed them to do the kind of dancing Applejack knew and the kind of dancing Applejack liked. But all of this hoity-toity classical music stuff that Twilight’s folks had insisted be played too … it was enough to make a farm pony want to run screaming for the hills.
Twilight was smiling at her so happily, though, and her eyes were wide and bright and clear. Not a trace of anxiety anywhere on that high-strung pony’s face. Applejack couldn’t help but smile back at her friend, just a little. It was nice seeing Twilight all nice and relaxed for a change. It almost made up for all the times the inelegant unicorn stomped on her hooves.
“Applejack, I can’t even begin to thank all of you girls for everything you’ve done.” Twilight reached forward to give Applejack a hug, managing to inadvertently kick the other pony in the shin in the process. “You’ve helped give Pinkie and I an absolutely perfect day, and I’m so lucky to have you girls as my friends.”
“Aw, shucks, Twi, t’weren’t nothing!” And then, after a moment’s hesitation, she added, “Say, anypony ever tell you that you’re a mighty fine dancer?”
It wasn’t really a lie. It was a question. Questions weren’t lies.
Besides, it was worth it to see the way that Twilight beamed in response.
Suddenly, there came a tap on Applejack’s shoulder, and she glanced over to see a familiar, grinning pink face. “Heya, AJ! Mind if I cut in?” Pinkie Pie asked with a giggle.
Applejack shook her head and tried not to sound too eager as she replied, “Eeenope! She’s all yours, Pinkie.”
As Applejack gingerly limped off the dance floor, she never took her eyes off the happy newlyweds as they swayed together in time with one another if not with the music itself. The two mares’ dancing was jerky, awkward, and yet somehow absolutely, beautifully perfect. Applejack felt a grin spread across her face from ear to ear as she watched.
“She’s all yours,” she repeated softly to herself. “Congratulations, sugar cube.”
“... and that’s the story of how your mommies fell in love and overcame all obstacles in their way and battled an entire squadron of hippopotomuseses and triumphed over evil and then got married and had the bestest wedding ever before living happily ever after!”
The purple mare frowned a bit and raised an eyebrow at her wife. “Pinkie Pie. There weren’t any hippopotami in that story. At all.”
“Details, details, Sparky!” the earth pony chirped in reply, while waving a dismissive hoof in the unicorn’s general direction.
Meanwhile, two small foals, nestled in bed underneath a veritable mountain of blankets and stuffed animals, remained absolutely silent. They seemed to be quietly pondering over what they’d just been told. They had been given the basic outline of this story a number of times before--they knew that their Mommy had first moved to Ponyville many years ago to learn about the magic of friendship, where she’d met their Mamma and all of their mothers’ other friends--but this was the first time they’d heard any of the nitty, gritty details.
It was a lot to take in, Pinkie Pie well knew. The very idea that their parents hadn’t always been together and hadn’t always been married was one that had baffled her and her sisters, when the three of them had been young fillies. But her own children had even more than that to grapple with. Not only did they have to process that she and Twilight hadn’t always been together but also the revelation that their mothers had actually broken up for a period of time after they’d gotten together.
It was nigh unthinkable. Unimaginable. Even to Pinkie herself, if she was being truthful.
At last, the little purple-coated filly leaned forward. “Mamma?” she asked, as she tilted her head.
“Yeppers, sweet pickle?”
“Did Applejack really kick Rainbow Dash in the head?”
Pinkie’s face broke into a grin. “She sure did! And let me tell you, nopony can kick as hard as your Auntie Applejack! This one time, she even bucked a--”
“And it was very wrong of Applejack to kick Rainbow like that,” interjected Twilight quickly, in a stern tone of voice. “And this does not give either of you permission to go around bucking ponies. Do you understand?”
The two foals glanced at one another, and, they both sighed in preemptive defeat. Grumbling, they muttered, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good.” Twilight’s eyes softened and, smiling gently, she leaned down to kiss both her children. “So! Any other questions?”
It was the pink-maned colt who piped up next. “Mommy, does this mean …”
“... does this mean we were almost royalty?”
Pinkie Pie glanced over to her wife in time to catch Twilight’s look of surprise. And then Pinkie promptly burst out into gales of loud laughter. Twilight frowned at the other mare in disapproval until, after several beats of silent disapproval, she too began giggling.
Their foals only had a few more questions before they inevitably grew bored with tales of such ancient history and romantic mush. All too soon the little ones were demanding a lullaby before sleep, and Pinkie managed to nudge Twilight into complying. Even after all these years, nothing filled the pink earth pony with joy in quite the same way as did the sound of Twilight Sparkle singing.
It only took three run-throughs of “Hush Now, Quiet Now” for the two foals to fall asleep, instead of the usual four or five, and Pinkie and Twilight quietly tiptoed out of the room once their filly and colt had finally nodded off. Together they retired to their own bedroom across the hall. While Twilight read a book on child-rearing techniques specific to the non-winged parents of pegasus foals, Pinkie wrote out a list of supplies needed for a party to be held tomorrow. While Pinkie brushed her teeth, Twilight combed out her mane. Finally, while Twilight magically double-checked the locks on all the doors in the house, Pinkie blew out the lone candle that sat upon a nightstand.
Pinkie Pie burrowed under the heavy comforter on their bed and let out a happy sigh as she felt Twilight snuggle up against her. The earth pony rolled onto her side and arched her back, enjoying the closeness and warmth of the fuzzy chest behind her.
It was in a familiar tone, one full of nervousness and doubt, that Twilight murmured into Pinkie’s mane, “You know, I’m still not convinced they were old enough to hear that story.”
“Aww, Sparky. You worry too much.”
“Maybe. Well, probably.” Twilight chuckled, and Pinkie could feel her wife’s chest gently rumble. “But that’s why you love me, right?”
“I love you for lots and lots of reasons,” Pinkie replied, grinning even though she knew Twilight couldn’t see her face. “But you don’t gotta worry about this. I mean, the story we told ‘em has a happy ending, after all! You can’t go wrong with a story that has a happy ending!”
Twilight didn’t reply for several seconds. When she finally did speak again, she sounded thoughtful, almost dreamy. “You’re wrong, Pinkie. Our story doesn’t have a happy ending ... because it hasn’t ended yet.” The unicorn’s forelegs gave Pinkie a firm, loving squeeze. “It’s only just beginning.”
Pinkie just grinned in reply. And as she drifted off to sleep to the comforting sound of Twilight’s soft snoring, she wondered just where their story might take them next. Just what challenges they’d have to overcome, what monsters they’d have to vanquish, what adventures they’d share with all their family and friends, what absolutely amazing parties they’d get to throw.
Pinkie Pie couldn’t wait.
Author’s Notes: Thank you so very much to everyone who’s read and who’s left comments along the way. I really appreciate everyone’s feedback and that so many of you have enjoyed this story.
This story is something of a patchwork quilt. It was born out of Thirty Minute Pony Stories, a MLP writing prompt blog for which I moderate. I wrote a number of TwiPie stories for the prompts and, over time, I realized that many of those stories had underlying similarities with one another. I was, at first unconsciously, pulling from a single head canon for the pair.
So I reworked some of those stories so that they could become a unified story and, here and there, wrote pieces for additional writing prompts that could be worked into “Like an Unexpected Song.” For anyone who might be interested in the full listing of prompts I used in the story, here’s all that:
Prompt: “One of the Mane Six or Spike reveals a skill nopony expected them to have.”
Prompt: “Spike witnesses something he won’t soon forget.”
Prompt: “Two ponies go to a bar; one gets extremely drunk.”
Prompt: “You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have--arm yourselves!”
Prompt: “Character A has done or is going to do something which will hurt Character B, and A knows they’re going to hurt B, but A is going to do it anyway.”
Prompt: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Prompt: “Magic has disappeared from Equestria.”
Prompt: “The circumstances leading to, following, or surrounding somepony uttering the question, ‘How could Twilight Sparkle be so stupid?’”
Prompt: “Rarity stops making a dress.”
Prompt: “Time to meet the parents!”
Prompt: “Twilight and Pinkie go to karaoke.”
Prompt: “The first day of the rest of your life.”
Prompt: “A pony’s gotta do what a pony’s gotta do.”