It was wintertime, but any holiday cheer would have been in distasteful irony. There was nothing to be happy about.
Something was missing. A facet of life in Ponyville, something I had always taken for granted. I had never even considered that one day I might be without it. This facet took the form of a keen and bubbly mare who always wore a smile, and made a point to share that smile with everypony.
But she no longer wore a smile. Her eyes were closed and she was almost frowning. It was unnatural for her, and when I spun the thoughts around in my mind, I didn't like the conclusions I drew.
There would be no more parties.
There would be no more giggling.
In fact, Ponyville would be lucky if anypony was ever happy again.
My heart clouded over from the snowstorm of emotion.
After the procession, I sat in the library for what felt like hours. Just sitting there. Staring at the floor, avoiding thinking at all costs. At that point, thinking would have been rather masochistic, if not suicidal. There was too much to think about, and no good could have been drawn from thinking about it. Not even Rainbow Dash could clear the cloud that hung over Ponyville.
But try as I might to rid my mind of all semblance of thought, I couldn't keep the gears from turning. My mind wasn't conditioned to a lack of thought; I gave up and allowed myself to process it all.
It was all so sudden, this first inevitable thought entered my mind, and I let it run. One day she was the same giggly ball of fun who I'd spent nearly every day of my life in Ponyville with. Then the next day, she was...
I couldn't think any further. I pushed all my thoughts away again as the tears began to flow. I lay flat on the floor, with my teeth gritted, sobbing.
I remained there the rest of the evening, barely conscious. I hardly noticed when Spike gently lifted my head and put a pillow underneath. I only half-noticed when a minute later he lay a blanket over me.
I should have noticed sooner, was the last thought to cross my mind before sleep gripped me...
The next morning I woke up feeling dead inside.
The chill of the winter weather had penetrated my heart.
I lay in that same spot for several hours that morning. My body seemed to think that if I didn't do anything that day, perhaps the day just wouldn't happen at all.
But it was wishful thinking; that became clear when a soft tap at the door caught my attention. Then a voice followed.
"Twi? Can ah come in?"
I still stayed where I was for lack of energy, willpower or any semblance of motivation, so in my stead, Spike opened the door. Applejack wandered in and took a seat next to me.
"Ah just want ta' talk, is all. Ah've been gettin' a might restless and ah thought talking it over might do us both some good."
I grunted in acknowledgement.
"I's just...nopony saw it comin'. She must've known, but she di'nt tell anypony. Ah can only wonder why..."
I grunted again in acknowledgement. Applejack seemed frustrated at this.
"Well a might help yew are. Honestly, all ah want'd t'do was talk and here y'are can't hardly put in a word 'r two?"
Applejack got up and went back outside. A moment later I heard Rarity's voice. The two of them were talking. A second later Rarity came in.
"Come on. Get up."
"Why?" I barely mumbled the question.
"We're not going to let you sit here and rot from your own depression. Some fresh air will do you good."
I still refused to get up, so Rarity cast a levitation spell.
"Come on. We're leaving."
Against my will I was magically dragged outside.
"Where are you taking me?" I again mumbled. Rarity, instead of replying, sighed.
"You still have friends left, Twilight. Being one pony short does not justify neglecting the rest. We all need to cope, but if any coping is to be done, we need you to be there with us. And you know what else, Twilight?"
"What?" I asked, hardly caring but humoring her anyway.
"You need us there with you. That's a fact."
I was silent the rest of the trip.
The loneliness of the cold blinded me to my companions.
Sugarcube Corner was a bittersweet sight. Even more bittersweet was the fact that the rest of my friends stood there, but the frizzy-maned bouncing blur of pink was not among them. I closed my eyes and tried to shut it all out.
"Twilight, you need to stand up. Now," I heard Rarity's voice say. I scoffed silently. Easy enough for the independent one to say.
"Twi, ah can honestly say ah din't expect ya ta' crumble so easy-like," of course the farm pony would know all about keeping one's composure.
"Twilight, come on. She'd want us to move on. She'd hate to see us suffer for her," pfft, yeah, Rainbow Dash. The pony that was never fazed by anything. She would say that.
"Be strong, Twilight."
My eyes opened wide. That last one was Fluttershy.
Even Fluttershy, the most emotionally fragile pony I knew, was standing up tall. Even Fluttershy, the frail and tender pegasus who was afraid of everything was looking her emotions in the eye and staring them down, daring them to consume her.
I realized then and there that I was an absolute mess.
I closed my eyes tight and gritted my teeth again, preparing for the tears. Rarity released her levitation spell and I fell to the ground with a light thud. With this, I was pulled away from my emotions for a moment by what I felt around me.
I hadn't noticed earlier, but there was a light snow on the ground.
Of course, I thought, it's winter.
Winter. The thought processed for a moment, after which I took a deep breath and stood up, tears in my eyes but a weak smile across my face.
"Anypony want to go ice skating?"
In the midst of icy despair, my heart began to thaw.
We all found skates and picked out a lake that had good, solid ice.
Rarity was absolutely right. The fresh air was like breathing in pure adrenaline. I was awake. I felt aware. The tears had long since crusted over and my eyes were dry. I felt like everything would be alright, and that the one who couldn't be here with us would be smiling down at us just knowing that we were doing what she always encouraged: having fun with each other.
I was just as horrible at skating as I was the previous time, during my first winter wrap-up experience. But this time, I was able to laugh at my mistakes. This time, I didn't have any goal to accomplish or task to complete.
This time, trying was all that mattered.
But there was still a fragment of that feeling at the pit of my stomach. I knew that my late friend would have wanted to be here for this. To be the one showing me how to skate.
It still tore me up a bit that she didn't get a chance to do at least that.
After an hour or so of skating, and copious amounts of tear-ridden giggling, we all headed over to Sweet Apple Acres, where Applejack had a roaring fire going and apple pies baking in the oven.
"Glad ta' see ya've come 'round, Twi," Applejack commented as she poured cider for all of us, "I was worried about ya."
I sipped the warm cider gingerly. The transition from cool, fresh air to warm, welcoming cider worked wonders on my mind.
"Thanks, Applejack," I paused for a moment to take another sip, "I just...it was upsetting to me particularly...when I was just a filly, Princess Celestia told me that I had more latent talents waiting to be uncovered. One of those talents was supposedly the ability to see the future. And so in the back of my mind this entire time, I've been wondering why that latent ability couldn't have surfaced sooner. If I could have foreseen what was going to happen, I might have...okay, maybe I couldn't have prevented it, but I could have made her last weeks more enjoyable. More fun. More...something, at least."
"You know, Twilight," Fluttershy cut in, "if you really feel bad about it, there's one thing you could do to get it off your mind."
"Oh? And what's that?"
"You could talk to Nurse Redheart and ask her for details. I'm sure she'll tell you what you want to know."
I mulled this over. It did seem like a good idea...there was the slightest hint of dread, but I ignored that.
I finished my cider, partook in some apple pie, and thanked Applejack for everything before leaving to find Nurse Redheart's office.
In my heart, the sun crept through the clouds.
"So, what was the issue?" I asked Nurse Redheart. I almost wasn't sure she heard me. My voice was dry and cracked. I suspected it didn't want me to talk; in the back of my mind, I was terrified of what the answer might be.
Nevertheless Nurse Redheart responded a moment later with a sigh.
"She came in about two years ago asking about some symptoms she was having. Well, as it would turn out...she was very ill. I told her she had a year to live, and upon hearing this, she told me not to tell anypony until after she was gone. That was winter of two years ago.
"But then in the summer a year and a half ago, she met you, and she began to get strong again. I don't much specialize in psychology, but I suspect that your presence in her life gave her something to live for. Her heart no longer beat for herself but for somepony else. Twilight, I think the friendship you offered her prolonged her life greatly."
After this, Nurse Redheart paused, and her demeanor changed slightly. When she spoke again there was an air of bitterness.
"But then you changed, Twilight. You began to tire of her antics. You misinterpreted her desperate cry for help as hyperactivity and pretended not to notice. That upset her. She couldn't make you smile anymore. And if her friends weren't smiling, she had no reason to smile, either. She lost her will to live because you passed her actions off as just her typical silliness.
"Twilight Sparkle, you killed Pinkie Pie."
I stepped back a pace in shock.
"What...what are you saying?"
"You brought about the end of her life, plain and simple. By neglecting her you failed to prolong her life, and so, in essence, you killed her."
"No! I never neglected her! I always appreciated her optimism and carefree attitude!"
"You took her for granted! You made her feel unappreciated and unloved! All that time you kept telling yourself 'she's just being Pinkie Pie', but you never bothered to understand why!"
I had no response. I was completely taken aback by these accusations. But the worst part of it...was that it all rang true. Before I could ponder this thought, however, Nurse Redheart continued.
"Celestia's favorite student...with the latent ability to forsee the future-"
"How do you know about that?!"
"-if only you had seen it this time. You might have appreciated Pinkie Pie and undone the damage before it was too late."
She gave a shudder and began to change shape.
"You killed her, Twilight Sparkle."
She grew taller, and her shadow enveloped the room.
"You killed her, Twilight Sparkle."
Her face grew darker.
"You killed her, Twilight Sparkle."
Her voice twisted into a demonic tome.
"yOU kIllEd hEr, twIlIght spArklE."
At that moment, I hear a distant voice. It sounded like Pinkie Pie saying wake up! Wake up, Twilight!
"You kIlleD her, TwilIght SparKle."
Wake up, Twilight!
"YoU kIlLeD hEr, TwIlIgHt SpArKlE."
Wake up, Twilight!
"YOU KILLED HER, TWILIGHT SPARKLE!"
"TWILIGHT, WAKE UP!"
I awoke with a start. It was no longer winter, but rather, mid-summer. I was rather confused and it took me a moment to get my bearings, but that moment was still working itself through when I heard a pounding at the front door and a subsequent blur of a pony zooming through it.
"Wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up!"
Pinkie Pie was bouncing around the room excitedly. I blinked the drowsiness out of my eyes and tried to comprehend what was going on.
It never happened, I thought, it was all a dream.
I inhaled steeply, and let out a difficult breath.
A dream, maybe, but definitely not fiction. I thought it all through. There was nothing made up about our relationship, I realized. I had been very much been taking Pinkie Pie for granted.
I took that opportunity to make a change.
Still a bit upset from the dream, I got up and walked over to Pinkie. She appeared confused as I buried my face in her pink, frizzy mane that only fell flat when her heart clouded over. I sighed.
"...I'm glad we met. And...I'm glad we're friends."
"Twilight, what's up? Did you have a scary dream?"
"Yeah...something like that."
I took a deep breath, but caught myself short when I felt Pinkie Pie give a slight tremble.
"Er...Pinkie...are you feeling alright?"
"Yep, I'm super-duper-spectacular!"
"...Are your Pinkie senses giving you any trouble?"
"Nope! They haven't acted up at all since Froggy Bottom Bog. Twilight, what's up?"
"Um...no reason. You're sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine!"
She shuddered again.
She was lying. There was something wrong with her. After a second, it clicked.
Princess Celestia told me that one day I'd be able to see the future.
It wasn't a dream at all. It was a vision. Pinkie Pie was actually dying.
Why else would she hide that she was ill?
It all added up. I'd been given a second chance at this, an opportunity make things right, and I wasn't going to let it slip by.
The important thing, I realized, was not to tell Pinkie Pie that I knew. Doing so would make her prolonged happiness that much more difficult to achieve. I needed to make sure she knew she was appreciated, and I couldn't do that if she thought I was only doing this to make her happy. That just wouldn't work at all.
"So Pinkie....what do we have going on today?"
She grinned wildly.
"I have no clue! Let's go find out!"
I smiled weakly, and felt a pang of guilt that could only come from understanding. What she did, she did to make her friends happy. If they weren't having a good time, she couldn't either.
We spent that day like we would have spent any other: having fun with the rest of our friends. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were hanging out in the meadow, so we decided to join them for a while. Pinkie, as it turned out, got along with Angel extremely well. I never realized how interesting a day in that meadow could be. Every time I had visited before, there were tasks to complete, issues to sort out. I never stopped to appreciate it.
We stayed there past nightfall, and when Luna brought out the moon we watched the fireflies light up the sky.
Afterwards, I walked Pinkie back to Sugarcube corner, and said goodnight.
"Twilight, thanks for being there today. I had a great time."
"Yeah, so did I!"
Pinkie stifled a slight tremble. I pretended not to notice.
The days passed like this. And each day, Pinkie was just as lively as the previous day.
Winter came, and I began to worry. This was the time of year I had seen in my dream. Before it was too late, I decided to make one last change. I stopped by Sugarcube corner one weekend.
"Hey, Pinkie, I have a favor to ask..."
"Would you mind...showing me how to ice skate?"
The pink pony's face lit up.
"Well of course, Twilight! Wait right there, I'll get my skates!"
The future I had seen shattered before my eyes.
Winter came and passed.
Pinkie Pie, though still showing a tremble now and then, was still bouncing around and having a good time.
And every single day that passed with Pinkie Pie still alive and throwing parties, I counted as a little victory. Days turned into months. Months turned into years. I counted every victory, and I never forgot a single one. I celebrated exactly five thousand, seven hundred and twenty four of these victories - that's fifteen years, seven months, a week and two days - before Pinkie Pie threw her final party and drifted off into infinite sleep.
At the procession, I stepped up to the alter and took a last look at my good friend. I shed a tear, but rather than holding bitterness in my heart, I held a smile on my face.
"Goodbye...and...thanks for being an awesome friend."