• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,236 Views, 765 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate - Sprocket Doggingsworth



A young filly in present day Ponyville is cursed with nightmares of post-apocalyptic Equestria. She finds herself influencing the course of future history in ways that she cannot understand.

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Everypony is Broken

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - EVERYPONY IS BROKEN
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." - Harper Lee




One of the good ones. Just like your mother. Ponies kept telling me I was good folk. But it was still kinda hard to believe, you know? Cause what do they know? Other ponies can only see the stuff that you do. Not the crazy stuff running through your head as you're doing it.

The Sub Mine F's. The cloak-o nurses you rough up. The kids you abandon cause trying to save them just doesn't add up when you weigh the pro's and con's of it.

But maybe Nurse Redheart was on to something. “You have a good heart.” She’d told me. Maybe that's the part that counts. The part that tries in the first place - the part that cares.

I was only just starting to understand what a rarity that was. In ponies past, present, and future.

If you think about it, all the kids of Trottica really needed was to believe in themselves. Stirring Nurse Redheart's words around in my brain like thinky cake batter, I wondered if maybe that belief that I had - that hope - was the good heart that my Mom would have approved of.

The good one that Twink had seen in me.

Ordinarily questions like this just rattle around my head until they wear me out or smack me with an idea, but as I lay there in my hospital bed, tuning out the bleep-a-majig, I felt a warm glow all over.

Screw Loose loved me. Needed me. And Mom. Wherever she was, she might actually even be proud of me. The idea was cloud nine.







“Rose?” Said Bananas Foster from out of nowhere.

“Huh?”

I blinked. Remembered I was in the fucking hospital. It was not a pleasant transition.

“What?” I snapped at her.

Real good-hearted of me, right?

I turned to her. Expected her to say something nasty about Screw Loose. To try to get more story time. To complain about how Nurse Stethoscope was gone. Anything. But Foster just sat there twittering her hooves. When I looked closer, I saw that she was actually really shaking. The poor girl was terrified.

Before I could even ask what was wrong, she hit me with the big question. “How does all the zebra hate start?”

I had no answer but stunned silence.

“How does it start?!” Bananas Foster yipped at me in panic and desperation.

“I...don’t know.”

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

“Then can you tell me some more of your story please?” She was pressing her hoof against the magic bubble now. “I have to know.”

“About zebra hate?”

“About everything.”

Bananas Foster left me in awe. Eyes wide open. All that time, my thoughts had been about the war. The actual bomb. The princesses. But you can’t stop a war with a letter to the princess. War is like this tidal wave that sucks everything and everypony up into a giant frenzy, tosses them around, and spatters them against the rocks till there’s nothing left of them but mist. Even the winners end up in tears when all’s said and done. Trottica taught me that.

But Foster was on to something. She had come along - this kid who’d known nothing but the inside of a bubble - and just cut it all straight to the core.

Forget the bomb. Forget the war. If we played our cards right, there was a slim chance that maybe. Just fucking maybe, we could stop the hate.

The problem was, first we had to figure out where we ponies went wrong.





For the second time in a single night, I had been way too hard on Bananas Foster. I felt like a big stupid jerkface from Jerkland. So she acts a bit immature. I thought. So she feeds a little on the attention and pity of others. So what?

Bananas Foster couldn’t help being needy any more than I could help pushing my own inner pirate deep, deep, deep way down inside to yarrrr at me in silent tears. We’re both messed up. Both broken.

But she cared. She had a good heart. That did count for something.

Besides, last I checked, Bananas Foster hadn’t had a great big stupid freak out because she thought a barking pony was actually an otherworldly shadow-thing from the future coming to get her. I wasn’t in a position to judge.




* * *





So once again, I found myself opening up to her, even though I didn’t appreciate her attitude toward Queenie. She was in it now as deep as me. And maybe, I thought. Between her ability to quote ancient texts, and her perspective on pony nature, she might even have a part to play in what’s to come.

I didn’t tell her everything, though. That Leonardo DaWhinny story was shared with me in confidence. And I didn’t have the right to go shooting my mouth about Cliff Diver either. There was the bit about Blueberry Milkshake too. To blabber the story of what’d happened between us on the playground would make her seem like a lousy pony.

But Blue had left me a note. “We need to talk.” How could I go blah-blah-blah’ing about what she’d done, and what she’d failed to do before we'd even settled our differences and had that talk?

No. Bananas Foster ended up with a bit of an edited version of what happened where my friends were concerned, but I didn’t pull any punches on the me stuff.

That meant she got all the details that made me look crazy. She heard all about the visions. The dreams. The scribbly drawing of The-One-I-Saved-Because-I-Was-Fucking-Supposed-To. But unlike Cliff and Roseluck, Foster just plain hated it all. Scowled every time I so much as mentioned a voice in my head.






When I got up to the part in the library, and I saw The Book I’m Meant To Have, I finally just stopped and said, “Alright, I have to know. What do you have against all this...Rosie Sense stuff?”

‘Cause I knew she believed it.

Bananas just looked back at me and shook with anger. Gritted her teeth. Clenched her hooves.

“They never gave you a choice.” She said with a growl. “They’re using you.”

“They?” I said.

She threw me an accusatory glower. “You know. Fate.” Like it was my fault for playing along, or something.

She pounded her bubble in anger. Then turned around and bucked that magic shield as hard as she could. Then she whipped right back around again and threw herself at it - chest first. Flailing. Punching.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Calm down. It’s fine. I’m fine. Really! Fate sucks, sure. But I’m still fine! That’s just...life, I guess...Or something.” So strange to hear such optimistic words spilling out of my mouth. It happened without warning.

But Foster was down on her knees now, pressed against her bubble. Unimpressed.

“You think I don’t know that?” She said dryly.

Suddenly, I understood. It felt like being punched in the gut. Bananas Foster was even more fucked by her fate than I was by mine. A horror crept over my heart as I watched her come apart right there on the floor. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even reach out to touch her. And it wouldn’t have worked to tell her that she was a good dog.

I felt so bad for her! I didn’t know what to do. So I lay there just sort of watching like a jackass.

“How can you be so cool about it?” Bananas said to me at last.

“What?”

She lifted her head up, mane all disheveled, and threw a fiery stare at me. Every bit as righteous and intense as that Trottica slave rage. Only pointed at me.

“How could you?” She growled, more an accusation than a question.

Had gravity and my own frailty not already been pinning me to that hospital bed, her stare would have nailed me to it like a butterfly under glass. Bananas Foster fucking hated me. I mean really hated me.

“What? What did I do?”

I could feel myself shrinking as she stared me down. There was a darkness about her I can’t describe. All of that anger. That resentment. That awful loneliness she must have felt being cooped up in that bubble for a fucking lifetime. All pointed at me.

“I didn’t have a choice, okay?” I whimpered. “Please, it’s not my fault.”

The words felt thin even as they escaped my mouth. As that haunted face of hers stared me down, I was suddenly reminded of every bad deed of my own - every failure - every shortcoming. That girl looked at me with so much disdain, I felt somehow certain that she knew it all. From punking out on that poor kid in the open wastes, The One I’m Not Meant to Save, to the massacre at Sub Mine F, to Twinkle Eyes.

Then from somewhere deep inside my brain, the memory of Twink clonked me on the head again with that 2x4 o’ friendship.

No. Fucking no.

All the little reprimands and doubts I’d been knocking around my own head since Trottica were suddenly being hurled at me by somepony else. I found myself arguing with Foster, defending myself - telling her all the things I’d failed to make myself believe the first time around.

“I did the best I could.” I told her. “And yeah, I rolled with this weird fate stuff. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice. None of us do.”

That smacked the anger right out of her. None of us do. It hurt her to be so powerless. She fell backwards. Closed her eyes. Brought her hooves to her face, but it didn’t stop the tears.

“How could you?” She said again, and this time punctuated the point by clobbering herself in the face with her hoof.

“How could you?” She said, this time in a whisper.

“It’s not your fault either,” I said.

I didn’t know exactly what she was beating herself up about, but I thought I might have a pretty good idea.

“You wanna talk about it?”

She shook her head ‘no,' and sobbed there in that awful, bleepity hospital silence.

Finally, she sucked in a mouthful of air. It sounded like sandpaper.

“I’m sorry.” She said. “This has nothing to do with you.”

I could tell she only half-believed that. But she was trying. She really was.

“What I said…” Bananas trailed off for a moment or two. “...That wasn’t right.”

“It’s okay.” I said.

“No, it’s not.” She added. “But that’s inconsequential. You have every right to hate me now.”

“I don’t.”

She held a hoof up, “And I got no right to ask this after what I did, but could you please finish your story?”

It was the most grown-up I’d ever heard her sound. And though the apology was definitely real, I was pretty exhausted.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “You should get some sleep.”

“No!” She said firmly.

After a brief moment she composed herself and said to me in a quivering voice, “Please. I need clues. About the zebra hate.”

She looked at me as though my next words would either be an execution or a pardon. That dark intensity I’d seen in her eyes a few moments prior had turned into more helplessness and terror. It was like watching one of the mine kids getting beaten.

“My brothers…” She tried to finish her thought, but just ended up biting down on her own hoof and wailing into it.

The war, the bomb, the zebra hate, as she called it - it was personal to her in ways I couldn’t begin to guess or understand. My heart went out to her again. It was getting exhausted from all the strain, but I reached over to my tray of leftover bad pudding, swigged a cup of water, dropped the paper cup on the floor, and said, “Okay, I’ll tell you more.”

She sighed relief.

“Just, please. Understand that I play along because, well...maybe with all this stuff going on, all the stupid fate stuff, maybe there’s a reason, you know? I’m really, really hoping there’s some kinda reason for what’s going on.”

Saying it out loud made me sort of believe it. For the first time since Twink died. That old pony platitude was a strange comfort to me - everything happens for a reason.

“I’m sure there is,” said Bananas Foster dryly. “But do you really think it’s a good one?”

I didn’t have a smart answer to that. I really didn’t. But I was sick of the debate.

“Do you want me to tell you the story or not?”

Bananas Foster nodded, and I continued. As draining as it was to relive, I actually did want to catch her up on what had happened. Whatever problems she may have had with her own fate, she was onboard with mine now, like I said. For better or for worse.






Foster listened with anxious enthusiasm. Not the “exciting campfire story” enthusiasm that folks like Cliff tend to display. She was tearing her mane out over it. The thing is, she kept waiting for the good news - the clue about zebra hate that never came. From a problem-solving angle, my story just didn’t give us much to work with. How the hell were a couple of kids supposed to fight the future knowing only that the future's gonna suck, and absolutely nothing about how it’s gonna get that way?

Sadly, I did not finish my story that night. I wanted to catch her up. Really, I did, but I barely got past the part with Misty and Twink and me in the cages, I just plain started crying. Again.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.” I said.

“Wait, please.”

But I turned myself over then and there as best as I could with the tubes still in my hoof. Faced the opposite side of the room. I didn’t say another word to Foster. The girl pleaded with me, but I shut her out, and cried like a foal.

“Sorry Twink,” I whispered into my pillow. I said it about a thousand-million times until eventually, I drifted off to sleep.




* * *





That night I dreamt I was back in school again. It was recess time, and we were all knocking around this big red kickball - Misty Mountain, Twinkle, Cliff Diver, Blueberry Milkshake, and me. We were playing some game that didn't really have any rules, though the one thing we could all agree on was that Misty was a big fat cheater.

Twink tackled him and everything. Bit him in the ear.

"Ow!" He said. "Ees not my fault I am better at things than who ees not me!"

The rest of us just laughed. You know, because biting is funny.

Even Screw Loose joined in the fun. She came to us as the dog she imagined herself to be. Paws, not hooves. Long carnivore teeth digging casually into a tennis ball. A tail that could really wag. It matched her bird's nest head of hair. Her dog body was the same greyish blue color as her pony body, which is just kinda weird, cause who’s ever heard of a blue dog? Queenie pounced on Misty the cheater as he rolled on the floor, shielding himself from Twink. Laughing.

This was the Way It's Actually Supposed to Be. Not cause some fool voice in my head tricked me, and spit a bunch of hornets at my brain. It’s just that it all felt so perfect. Like the way we were all meant to live.

Twink was giggling. The birthright of every child. A joy she seldom knew in the Wasteland, except that time when she was blowing villagers away. But she was doing it there on the grass.

The whistle blew. Five minutes left. I looked across the field toward the schoolhouse. The sun was going down behind it, as if to double-warn us that we didn't have very much time. The sun doesn't usually set during our lunch hour. But it was a dream, and strange as it may have seemed, I couldn't quite put my hoof on why it was strange. So I forgot all about it.

We just kept on playing. We were together. All of us free. It was one of those moments where time seems to stand still, just for a little bit, and you think "wouldn't it be great if this never had to end?"

But it did. Twink eventually stopped wailing on Misty.

The Sun got redder, and redder, and redder behind her, and that wholesome little schoolhouse stretched out a long shadow across the entire field. A crooked shadow that sorta crept along the floor in jagged little motions. Like it was reaching for something.

But I was the only one who seemed to notice. Everypony else ignored it.

“Guys? Do you see this?”

The door to the schoolhouse opened, and it was totally black inside. Not dark. Black. So black that it looked like light simply couldn’t escape.

A figure stepped out of the ink and stood by the doorway. It wasn't like the creature from before. This one was shaped like a pony. But it wasn't a pony. It was wrong. It flickered like the shadow of a tree cast by a campfire. Bending. Contorting. Twitching every instant.

It made my stomach sink like an anvil, but still I found myself wandering toward it. Both afraid of it, and terrified to look away. What the fuck was that thing? It had something for me. I couldn't tell. A message? I couldn't make out its whispers.

A hoof fell on my shoulder. I looked up and there was Roseluck.

"Don't go there." She said.

"Rose!" I threw myself at her chest and hugged her. "Help, the shadows are back."

"No they're not." She said.

"Huh?"

"Check your hoof."

I looked down. My black hoof. It wasn't cold. Not even a little.

"I don't understand."

"This is how they find you." She tapped my head.

"That is how they get you."

She pointed to the door. Now a normal schoolhouse once again, but I knew what she meant. I was really worried now. I'd almost wandered in there on purpose!

"And when they come back?"

Roseluck put a hoof against my heart. "This is how you beat them." She smiled.

I rolled my eyes. Roseluck always was a sap.

Ring-ring.

Ring-ring.
The recess bell rang again, calling all the children back to class. The Flickery Guy was gone. Miss Cheerilee was standing there instead, right next to the door that, mere moments ago, had been a portal into The Dark.

Twink came up behind me and clapped me on the back before running off.

“You’re It!” She called over her shoulder as she galloped off.

Misty Mountain was walking away from the schoolhouse too, rather than toward it with the rest of the kids. But he slipped off quietly.

I couldn’t figure out which way to go.

Ring-ring.

Ring-ring.

The bell chimed for us again. Cheerilee was getting impatient. She didn’t notice the two stragglers, because they had never been in her class in the first place, but looking around, Cliff, Blueberry and me all decided that we had better go.

I gazed out across the field and found Twinkle Eyes hollering at me all the way from the hill.

“Ha! Ha!" She said. "You’ll never catch me.”

I’d never seen her so happy.





I awoke to the sound of my own bleeping. It blended into the background at first and I didn't quite realize where I was, or that the whole schoolyard thing had been a dream. But when I opened my eyes, I saw white. Hospital white, and like a kick to the face, it dawned on me. Twinkle Eyes hadn't merely wandered off. She was dead. I swear I nearly screamed when I first saw that empty chair to the right of my hospital bed.

It was like losing her all over again.

"How are you feeling?" Said a familiar voice next to me.

I couldn't quite place it. When I groaned, and turned myself over, I found Miss Cheerilee beside me, just to my left, sitting in Roseluck’s chair.

"Ahhh!" I said.

"Are you alright?"

"I'm sorry." I looked around me in confusion. "You scared me. I thought you were my sister."

My teacher’s face tightened upon hearing that. A grim look.

"Where is she?" Asked Miss Cheerilee.

"She's home,"

"Oh," she said, looking away as she spoke. "I see."

Bleep-bleep.

Bleep-bleep.

"Oh no, Miss Cheerilee!" I exclaimed in horror. "Don't get the wrong idea. She didn't just leave me here. I sent her home."

Bleep-bleep.

Bleep-bleep.

That didn't sound good either.

"Why wouldn't you want your sister here with you?"

Dammit, I wasn't awake enough for this. Cheerilee was getting the worst possible impression. A wave of anxiety hit me so hard, I lost my breath.

I don't need this. I don’t need this. I really don't need this.

"It's okay, it's okay," she said. "You don't have to talk about it."

"But you don't understand," I insisted.

"Rose Petal," she said gently, but firmly. "I am here to visit you - to comfort you. You've been through a lot. Why don't you just relax, okay?"

I nodded.

She let me be for a long while. Just sorta sat there. It gave me time to gather my thoughts. Get my bearings.

I looked around. I was back in Ponyville, no shadow things had found me yet, I was very firmly planted in the present for the time being, Twinkle Eyes wasn't even going to be born for another couple of centuries, but she was still dead, and the dogmare was somewhere in this hospital waiting to see me again. Checklist complete. Oh, yeah, and Miss Cheerilee was sitting next to me as I tossed these thoughts around, waiting to make polite conversation.

"I'm glad you're alright," she said at last.

"Me too." I opened my eyes and groaned.

"Did you get the card?"

"Oh, yeah. It was beautiful." I perked up.

The thing really had cheered me up, you know. Once I stopped and thought about it a little. So sweet. So innocent. Everything we'd fought to preserve. Twink may never have skipped through a field and bathed in sunshine, but she probably would have appreciated a bunch of doodles from fillies who actually had. I felt bad for having been so negative, and detached, and piratey when I'd first gotten the thing.

"Where is it now?" Said Miss Cheerilee.

I stopped. The project that my entire class had gone through great effort to make for me was now crumpled up and stuffed underneath my back.

I laughed awkwardly.

"It's safe." I said.

"Are you looking forward to Hearth's Warming Eve?" Said Cheerilee with a bounce.

Before I could even respond, a nurse in colorful scrubs trotted by my door in a hurry. Whoosh. For a moment - just a blink of the eye - I could swear it was a cloak-o. I chomped my teeth down and hugged my bedsheets, convinced that I was going to die. Checklist or no, I suddenly had no idea where I was. When I was. I just felt this surge of blind terror. It seized me and annihilated all other thoughts from my brain like a bolt of brain lightning.

And then it subsided just as quickly as it had come, and I felt so stupid. I’d just freaked out over a rosey pair of nurse’s scrubs. You know you've officially lost your mind when you develop a phobia of floral prints.

"Rose Petal?" Said Cheerilee.

"Huh? What?"

I looked around me. Teacher. Bleep-a-majig. Curtain that Bananas Foster was hiding behind. I was safe again in the present.

"Are you looking forward to Hearth's Warming Eve?" She repeated.

I shrugged. "Oh, yeah sure."

"Hmm." She said all puzzled and concerned-like all of a sudden.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing," she replied.

But that’s not what she meant.

Miss Cheerilee was starting to get on my nerves. I had just gotten out of a coma. I could barely move, and I felt like garbage. Why was she acting like I was some kind of freak for not being chock full o' holiday spirit? Was I supposed to rip the tubes outta my hoof and start dancing with joy?

It made me want to scream.

"What is it, Miss Cheerilee?"

"Nothing, Rose." She asserted. "Really."

I sighed.

How could I assure her that I wasn't some disturbed wackadoo, or that Roseluck was, in fact, the best fucking big sister ever, when Cheerilee didn't even say what she was actually thinking?

I bit back a great big old scream. Then I saw the worry lines on her face. It occurred to me that I didn't even know what she thought had happened. Or what the rest of the town had presumed. I mean, did they think I ate a bunch of tea for no reason? Did they even know about the tea? Did they think I was dying?

"Hey, Miss Cheerilee," I asked. "How is everypony back at school taking the news?

"We’re all pulling for you. You read the card."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure how they're gonna react when I come back."

"You know," I raised my big black evil hoof.

She gasped.

So they don't know about the hoof. Check.

"It's fine," I said. "It doesn't hurt. See?"

I thwacked my hoof against the railing of my bed to show off how totally fine it was. Of course, the thwacking itself hurt, but I tried not to let that show.

Miss Cheerilee pulled back so hard the chair skidded across the floor a little. She was actually scared of it. What Cliff Diver and Twinkle Eyes had done - holding my hoof, comforting me - suddenly became all the more special. They didn't have to do that. Most ponies - even good ones - would probably be too freaked out by a black hoof o' evil.

Not my friends.

"Really, Miss Cheerilee." I rolled my eyes. "It doesn't bite."

Out of pity, Cheerilee forced herself to lean forward and pretend not to be scared. But she still wouldn't touch it.

"Is it really...evil?"

Oh, boy. So the town did know. Maybe even a little too much. I honestly didn't know what to say. 'Cause, yeah, sure, the hoof was evil, but it wasn't anypony else's problem but mine.

Like I said, the damn thing doesn't bite.

"I'm fine. Really." I grumbled. "Look, it says 'Hi.'"

I waved to her. You know, to lighten the mood.

She just waved back and whispered, "Does it always talk?"

"Huh?"

"Did the hoof tell you to drink too much tea?" Said Cheerilee in a hushed tone. "Does it tell you to do other things?"

Grown ups suck at joke-getting.

"It's a hoof," I replied. "It can't talk."

"Oh."

Bleep-bleep.

Bleep-bleep.

Bleep-bleep.

"Well, that's nice." She added.

"How's Cliff been doing?" I was pretty desperate to change the subject.

"Oh, just great." She said. "Your's Hearth Warming presentation was wonderful, and, um...interesting."

Sweet Luna, what did he say?

"Don't worry," said Miss Cheerilee when she saw the look on my face. "You got an A. The presentation was unorthodox, but your research is very, well...thorough."

Cliff told her about his theories. I knew it. He’d told the whole class! I wasn't even sure I believed in that alternate dimension stuff, and he’d gone and told everypony about it. In a project that was supposed to have come from both of us!

I facehoofed.

"Don't worry, it's fine." She said, putting a hoof on my shoulder.

Everypony kept putting their damn hooves on my shoulder.

"The other kids enjoyed it. Your grades are better than ever. You're still a good student. Ooh..."

She slid a fancy type-written letter on to my lap.

"And a great artist."

"What's this?"

"The school newspaper published pictures of our open house art exhibit."

"Who's Stuffed Shirt?" I said, turning the letter over in confusion.

Whoever he was, his big fat fancy signature took up half the page.

"A very famous and influential art critic. He saw your picture and wants to take it on tour."

Picture? I just cocked my head like a dumb dog and looked at her. I was honestly confused.

"The one that you drew..."

I just stared at her blankly some more.

"...The day before you...you know."

I thought about it long and hard. She was talking about Strawberry Lemonade. My frantic doodle.

"Oh. That." I said.

I could do without ever looking at that helpless eye, or that crack in the wall again.

"He can keep it." I said.

"What?" Said Cheerilee, taken aback that I didn't seem to care. "Oh. Well, um, I'll just talk to Roseluck next time I see her. This could be a big opportunity for you, you know."

"Art isn't really my thing." I said honestly. "I'm more into books."

"Your piece could be seen all across Equestria! Canterlot. Los Pegasus. Fillydelphia. Manehattan."

"Did you say Fillydelphia?"

"Mmhmm." She nodded.

I was suddenly real glad that I had sent Roseluck away. After a great big wedding gig, she could afford to take some time off to help me with all of this bomb stuff. And it looked like I might actually have an excuse to go looking for answers in the City of Sisterly Love, before too long.

"I always wanted to visit Filly," I told Cheerilee.

"More than Manehattan? Or Canterlot?" She said all cheerful-like.

She must have been relieved that I was actually showing enthusiasm about something.

"Yeah. Uh. I like cracked bells. They're uh...my favorite kind of bell."

Just then Cliff Diver burst in, eyes buried in paper.

"Got good news and bad news," he said. "Bad news is, I can't find an address of anypony named Misty Mountain anywhere in Fillydelphia. There's a Mountain Family, but no--;"

"Hi, Cliff." Cheerilee waved.

"Ahh! " He shouted when he realized he wasn't alone with me. "Miss Cheerilee."

"Misty Mountain?" She asked.

"He's Rose's--:"

"Pen pal!" I blurted out a smooth lie before Cliff had the chance to spit out a clumsy one.

"You have a penpal, and you don't know his address?"

So much for smooth lies.

"Uh...He moved," I said. "...And I...um...lost his new address. Cliff looked it up at the library for me."

"You're a very devoted friend," she said. "It's something I've admired in you since Rose had her accident."

"Thanks, Miss Cheerilee." He said all sheepish-like.

The fact that Cheerilee referred to it as an "accident" without any of that awkward pretense was kind of a relief to me.

"And you gave us all so much to think about with your report!" She beamed.

Cliff blushed.

"Can you do us both a favor though, and go get Rose's orderly? She's awake now, and could use some food that it isn't cold."

He looked at us both. I threw him an "it's okay" nod.

When he was gone, Cheerilee pulled the chair up close to me again and hit me with the big question, "How is everything with your sister Roseluck?"

"Um...fine, I guess? Why?"

"So you're doing okay at home?" She pressed.

"Well, we've both seen better days, you know? I'd like to get out of the hospital, and she would too, so it's not um...great. Why do you ask?"

"If you could live anywhere," she asked. "With anypony in the whole wide world, who would it be?"

I give that some serious thought. It didn't take a whole lot of time. Sure a lot of kids would say “in Sapphire Shores’ mansion,” or something, and the idea sounds fun, but when I was stuck in that cage in Trottica, I knew who I missed the most. Who I feared for the most if anything happened to me.

And when Misty had mentioned Fillydelphia, and everyone else squirmed, it was the idea of a post-apocalyptic Ponyville that somehow hit home the hardest - the one piece of the Wasteland my brain just plain refused to wrap around. Cause Ponyville was home.

"With my sister." I said suspiciously. "Here in Ponyville."

"Oh good," she said." That's wonderful. So you...uh, like living with Roseluck, yes?"

"She loves me, and our cottage is my home." I said crossly.

"That's wonderful news." She put her hoof on top of mine.

I yanked it away. Tubes and all.

"Relax," said Miss Cheerilee. "I'm here to help."

"This wasn't Roseluck's fault." I said.

"No, of course not," said my rapidly more-irritating-getting teacher. "I know that. Even the doctors say it was that hoof that made you do it."

"It was a stupid mistake!" My voice cracked. "Nopony makes me do anything."

I'd been toyed with, locked up, pushed around by cloak-o's, ordered around by voices that had intruded on me from the inside of my own fucking brain. And after all that crazy crap, I finally, finally, finally do something bone-stupid all on my own - actually create my own misery for once, and overdose on herbal tea like a great big dumb-dumb - and all of a sudden Roseluck is a bad sister?

All of a sudden my hoof is to blame, like I was its slave or something?!

"Agggh!" I grunted.

"Rose, calm down."

"Please go, Miss Cheerilee." Damnit, I was crying again. "I'm not feeling well."

"Ok. Do you need me to get a nurse?"

I shook my head, and swallowed yet another scream.

"Well, okay." She said as she rose to her hooves, and inched toward the door. "Just please remember that I'm trying to help. l feel awful. The other day, I wish I could have...."

She trailed off. Cheerilee blamed herself for what had happened. I hate ponies who do that. I shouldn't have to spend my hospital time reassuring everypony.

"Just let me know if there's anything I can do for you or your family." She said.

That did it. I snapped. First she acted like this was Roseluck-the-Terrible-Sister's fault, then all of a sudden she wants to help our family? She had some nerve.

I didn't cry. I didn't scream. I just told her the truth.

"The day that I drew that picture, and you pulled me aside to have that little talk with me, you asked if there was something else bothering me. I was really, really upset and you knew it, but it wasn't about my cutie mark."

She perked up a bit, anxious to hear all the juicy details that she could be oh-so-helpful to repair.

"Diamond Tiara made Cliff Diver cry, and it was so terrible to watch, that it made me cry, so I yelled at her, and I screamed at her so hard that I bet she cried too after she got home. The whole school saw it. Every single kid had gathered around. Why didn't you come?"

She looked at me as though I had just told her the princesses were aliens. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Diamond Tiara has made every single kid in class miserable since kindergarten."

I tried to rack my brain for a list of names of her victims to rattle off, but really, it was all just a blur.

"She's mean to us. She makes us all feel like garbage and you never, ever, ever stop her."

"I can't be everywhere," said Cheerilee. "And I can't address an issue if nopony comes to me. If you two are having a --;"

"It's not me. I have bigger problems." I said frankly, lifting up the hoof that I knew would scare her.

And, to be honest, I didn't even care about Diamond Tiara anymore. But it really irked me that Cheerilee had come to me all "let me help your family" like there was something wrong with us.

She was like a single-minded diggity little badger for detail when it came to excavating "problems at home," but still totally blind and stupid when it came to the one thing she could actually fix!

Unfortunately, I didn't articulate those ideas as smoothly as I would have liked.

"You made her head of the school newspaper?" I said. "Why? That was dumb."

"Now hold it right there."

"That made us all miserable for weeks." I squeaked.

"Rose, this is getting inappropriate,"

I could see the wheels in her brain turning. Defiant kid. Clearly disturbed. Problems at home.

I didn't want to say anything else after that, so I just grunted in frustration and shut up.

"Ugh! Forget it."

She shut up too. We looked one another up-and-down.

"Well, thank you for bringing that to my attention." She said at last.

""I'll think about it over the break, I promise."

"Thanks." I said dryly.

I wasn't sure if I had gotten through to her at all, or if she was just dismissing me.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I whispered.

She waited by the doorway until Cliff Diver trotted in with the tray balanced on his back.

"Here we are!" He exclaimed with pomp and pride.

"You kids have a Merry Hearth's Warming." She said. "I'll be on my way."

Even after she trotted on her merry way, I was still steaming mad.

How was Equestria ever going to stand a chance at turning itself around? How could we pull together to overcome something as powerful as hate? Something as universal as fear? When one of the pillars of our community didn’t even have the guts to stand up to a spoiled little girl. We didn’t stand a chance.

I thought she was one of the good ones. But she wasn't. I couldn’t even be mad at Cheerilee. I was just plain disappointed.

Roseluck and Nurse Redheart were the only grown-ups left in the whole wide world that I felt I could trust. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.





* * *





At first it was really weird trying to eat. My stomach was so totally not used to solid food. It couldn't decide what to do with those first couple of bites - up or down - but it in the end, it all settled in. Well enough, anyway.

"How you doing?" I asked, mouth full of cardboard-tasting moosh.

"Fine," said Cliff. "How are you?"

I just shrugged. Wasn't it obvious?

Bananas Foster sat in her bubble reading silently as usual, or scribbling almost silently in some kinda journal. I'd gotten so used to her long periods of quiet from her, that at times, I kinda forgot she was there.

"Oh, Cliff, this is Bananas Foster by the way. Foster, this is Cliff Diver."

He turned to shake her hoof but when he got his first good look at the bubble, and realized that that wouldn't be possible, he just sort of waved instead.

"Hiya!"

It’s weird. You'd expect it to be awkward for him, especially with his track record for stepping on words, but somehow, the bubble didn't seem to phase him at all.

"Whatcha readin?"

She held up The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide. Not exactly a Daring Do novel.

"Catching up on history," she said.

"There's a lot of it." Cliff joked.

That one won a smile, but not for long. Bananas got derailed.

"Hey, wait a minute. Isn't Misty Mountain supposed to be from the future?"

Cliff turned to me in shock.

"Yeah, she's on board." I groaned.

That didn't seem to put him at ease.

"It's okay," I said. "She's a friend."

Now Bananas was the one looking at me funny. I had never really thought about it, but I suppose it was true. I considered her my friend. I had opened up to her. She knew Equestria’s Biggest Secret, and all she wanted to do in the whole wide world was to stop the zebra hate. That was enough for me.

"Misty Mountain is from the future?!" Cliff blurted out so loud that Nursedoctor poked her head in for a second just to shush us.

I was getting flak from both ends now.

"No, not exactly either." I said softly. "He kind of dreamed his way there. Like me.”

"Misty Mountain's from now?!" Said Bananas Foster

"I didn't get to that part yet!" I said.

"How come she knows more than me?" Said Cliff.

"Because we were up all night."

I was starting to get really fucking annoyed with both of them.

"And because we are friends," Foster said with pride.

She nodded at Cliff with false confidence.

"Hey! She was my friend first!" Said Cliff.

"Would you stop it? You're both my friends!"

Then suddenly Bananas Foster out of nowhere started coughing - I mean really going at it. "I'm sorry. I have to sit down," she said.

"Holy Celestia! Are you okay?"

"Oh, quit faking." Cliff rolled his eyes at her. "You're just feeling sorry for yourself."

I looked at him in shock. So did she.

This is Cliff Diver I'm talking about. The guy who shrugged in fear when I so much as asked him a mildly confrontational question. The kid who stumbled for words and never, ever, ever found them.

"You can't say that!" I whispered in awe.

"Why not?"

"Cause she's...well..."

I shouldn’t have had to explain it. He knew. He had to know.

"Because she's what? In a bubble?"

"Yes." I whispered urgently.

I looked to Bananas for back up, but she was just watching me silently. Studying my discomfort.

"Rose, seriously, stop." Cliff rolled his eyes at me.

"Me?"

What had come over him? Bananas Foster had hurled herself at her bubbly prison last night. Crying and kicking and all that. And Cliff just came along and acted like a giant dick about it.

"Me?!" My voice cracked. "Me stop?"

He folded his hooves at me.

"What?" I said. "It's...it's...it's... You who is uh... Uh...you know, uh..."

I gestured in Bananas' direction.

"Shhhh." I said.

I don't know why I shushed him. We all knew about the elephant in the room. I guess I thought I was being slick and stealthy.

"For Luna' sake, it doesn't bite!" Cliff finally snapped.

It doesn't bite.

My own words to Cheerilee about my black evil hoof. Bouncing right back to me to smack me in the face.

"What?" I asked.

"It. Doesn't. Bite. It's totally fine. See?"

Cliff tapped the bubble and little magic sparks flew off.

"And she's fine." He turned to her, pointing an accusatory hoof.

"Am not!" She snapped.

"You're not even coughing anymore. Geez!" Cliff growled at me in genuine frustration. "Can you believe this?"

"Am too," Bananas Foster shook herself out of her daze, and rose to her hooves with a fake ass wheeze.

She was shaking. Twitching with anger. Like a wild animal backed into a corner.

"Liar." Said Cliff, now genuinely pissed off.

"It doesn't bite." I whispered to myself.

Was this what I had to look forward to? A lifetime of kids whispering behind my back? Is that who I was now? The Be Glad It's Not You Girl? All cause of the color of my hoof?

I’d been a condescending idiot to Bananas Foster - and the worst part was that I’d done it with the best of intentions.

"I'm...so sorry, Bananas."

"What?!" Said Cliff.

Nursedoctor poked her head in the door yet again. "Shhhhh!"

She stared us down, and we all fell silent. Once we had shut the buck up to her satisfaction, Nursedoctor lingered just long enough to keep us all good and intimidated. After she was gone, we were left with this strange tense quiet between the three of us.

I'd looked down on that girl. Cause she was in a bubble. I'd made her a full-fledged, card-carrying member of The Apocalypse Club, but I still coddled her cause I thought she was weak.

And I was trying to be one of the good ones.

After all my thinkiness, and carrying on, and charging through mountains - all that one of the good ones stuff - I was just as dumb, and crooked, and weak as everypony else. So much for the heart's intentions.

"I'm so sorry, Foster." I whispered.

"Since when are you so sensitive?!" Said Cliff Diver, tears in his eyes, rambling at me in hushed tones.

"Huh?" I said. "What's wrong?"

"You're all, 'Oh, no we can't call her on this, she's too helpless.' But you're not making her any better."

"I-I know," I stammered.

Bananas Foster fainted at the stress of what was going on, or at least she pretended to.

"But you have no problem rubbing my problems in my face. Why? Am I not a good enough friend?" He said.

"What are you talking about?"

ThIs was getting really fucking confusing.

"Oh, come on, you know. 'Fly on out of here? Go home?'" He did his best to impersonate my voice. "How was I supposed to feel?"

Bananas Foster cracked her eye open. She was still lying on the floor, pretending to have fainted, but she broke character and spoke up anyway. Loud and clear.

"You said that?"

"Yes!" Cliff turned to her. "And I don't even know why!"

"That seriously wasn't cool." Bananas Foster rolled over and threw me the evil eye.

So now she was on Cliff's side all of a sudden.

"Yeah," he said. "Not cool."

"What's going on?"

Cliff Diver extended his wings for me the first time since I'd known him. They were all fucked up and mangled. Bent in ways no wing should ever bend. I could tell by his wincing that it must have hurt like crazy just to open them. But he did it anyway to make a point.

"As if you didn't know." He growled.

"Holy...Sweet Luna!" I shouted. "What happened?!"

Bleep-bleep.

Bleep-bleep.

Bleep-bleep.

Nursedoctor poked her head in again, ready to yell at us, but she found instead a couple of kids staring at one another in stunned silence.

So she slinked away. Put upon.

Cliff and Bananas exchanged glances, then turned to me.

"I noticed it yesterday just from a casual glance," said Foster.

It's almost as though she was enjoying making me squirm.

"You seriously didn't know?" Cliff whimpered. "Everypony knows! Why do you think I go to school in Ponyville instead of Cloudsdale?"

It was my turn to shrug awkwardly.

"I don't know. Scootaloo's a pegasus. She goes to our school."

"Scootaloo can't fly either." Cliff Diver said.

I puzzled on that for a long while. How could I have missed this?

“Featherweight?”

“Parents are unicorns.” He said dryly.

“How do you know all this?”

“Um...We’ve been going to the same school for years.”

"What?" I said. "He just showed up a few months ago."

He did. He really really did, I swear. But Cliff just looked at me like I was the craziest, stupidest, obliviousest filly in the Universe, so I let it go. After all I'd failed to notice, I was starting to feel pretty stupid myself.

“Arg!” Cliff clonked himself in the head with his forehoof out of frustration.





I was a single-minded diggity little badger for detail when I wanted to be. I'd deducted Priestess Happy Sad's entire personal history from her Pip Duck alone. I'd noticed Cheerilee's Diamond-Tiara-shaped blind spot and called her out on it. I'd made sharp guesses about Trottica, and its ponies just from cobbling together little tiny shreds of observations.

And yet, I was still so damn blind and stupid.

Every single time I had dealt with Cliff Diver at all, I was off in Rose Petal Land, swimming in thinkiness. Wrapped up in my own problems.

The only pony capable of missing such an obviously important and sensitive detail, would, by definition, have to be either a great big idiot, or a great big jerk.

I was both.

That fact was slowly dawning on Cliff Diver too. The disappointment was written all over his face.

He stopped ranting in anger - stopped fuming over what he'd thought was cruel jab at him, and just sort of grew silent instead.

"Cliff," I said. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," he whispered. "It's not your fault. I know that I can be pretty invisible when I'm at school."

"Cliff, come on."

"No. Really." He said "It's true. I don't blame you for not noticing it these last few days either, cause you've had...more important things to worry about."

The fact that he wasn’t even mad just twisted the knife further. I was hurting him more and more as we spoke and he had already fucking forgiven me.

"Darn it!" I said out loud. "Friendship is so much easier when there's somepony shooting at you!"






I felt awful. Cliff felt awful. And none of us knew quite what to say.

"So...uh...how was your day?" I said at last.

Cliff looked at me like I'd just kicked him in the gut.

"I'm sorry, okay? I'm trying. Please."

He bit his lip. I could tell he really wanted to stay mad. But his heart just wouldn't let him.

"Look," I said. "You and Roseluck. You're all I have. When I was imprisoned - when I was lost in the mines - you helped me stay sane."

"You were imprisoned?!" Said Cliff.

"Wait a minute," said Bananas Foster. "Mines?!"

"Ugh." I facehoofed.

With my big black evil hoof in my eyes, I couldn't see them, but five seconds after I buried my face in it, I heard what sounded like poor Cliff Diver sobbing.

Sweet Celestia! I thought. Can't I do anything right?!

When I opened my eyes, I found him slapping his knee with his front hoof, laughing his flank off. Bananas Foster too.

"What?" I said.

That just made them crack up all the more.

"Guys!"

Cliff was on the floor now, face drenched in tears. Nursedoctor had to come in and shush us. I guess we all just kind of snapped because, when I saw her tired face looking disapprovingly at those other two buffoons, I broke out into laughter too. It's contagious.

Cliff summoned the breath to wheeze at her, "I'm sorry. We'll keep it do--;"

But then he broke. Started giggling all over again.

Nursedoctor was about to snarl at us, but then she glanced at Foster, and found her laughing too. Not just laughing but guffawing. By the expression on Nursedoctor’s face, I reckoned that that must have been a rare sight. With a long suffering sigh, she left us alone and shut the door behind her. I guess she just didn't have the heart.

"Do you really want to hear about my day?" Said Cliff with a wicked smile. "Lemme tell you about our Hearth's Warming Eve report!"

"Now this I gotta hear," said Bananas Foster.

She flashed me an almost sadistic smile.

Oh, no.





* * *





It turns out that Cliff had started his report out like normal. Like he’d planned. It was my report too after all.

"This is the flag of Equestria. It has two Alicorns on it. It symbolizes the union of the three pony tribes. The three pony tribes were the unicorn tribe, the earth pony tribe, and the pegasus tribe. It got drawn up on the first Hearth's Warming Eve." Typical report, reading from an index card sort of stuff.

Then, to hear him tell it, Cliff looked out over all the bored faces, and fixated on the open house art display in the back of the class. Apparently, he was entranced by that eyeball of Strawberry Lemonade's. That filly hopelessly dreaming of being free.





"And then I thought of you, Rose."

"Me?"

"What's the point of being a little crazy if you don't get to have fun with it?"

He quoted my own advice to him from the day before.

“Oh, no, what did you do?” I interrupted his story.

“Yeah,” Bananas Foster said with a wicked smile. “What did you do?”

“Shut up.”

“I told them the truth.”

Oh, Luna, no.
“The alicorns, the flag, the way that the hopes and dreams of all those ponies in trouble had sent out a light for our princesses to find. I told them about it. And I could see tell that I was reaching some of them! Because they went from yawning and talking amongst themselves to hanging on my every word!”

“They didn't laugh at you?” I asked, utterly shocked.

“No, no, no, no, no.” He said all matter-of-fact-like. “That didn't happen till much later.”

He flashed me a smile that was meant to be reassuring.

“So I'm telling them, right? And they're eating it up.”

Facehoof.

“Then Silver Spoon says to me, ‘What does any of this even mean?’"

“Oh Celestia.” Double-Facehoof.

"So I turn to them, and I have them all eating out of my hoof, right? And I'm all like ‘Celestia and Luna are powers beyond our comprehension.’”

He was giving the speech like normal now, telling it to Bananas Foster and me as though we were the class. The only difference is that, had we actually been in the class, I would have stopped him.

"Now I don't want to say it's aliens…” Said Cliff Diver, grinning ear-to-ear just from the retelling of it. "...But it's aliens."

The Mother of all Facehoofs. I'd created a monster.

“Dude, you're awesome.” Said Bananas Foster.

I swear she encouraged him just as a way of fucking with me.





“Don’t worry,” he said. “I kept the part that has to do with us a secret.”

“It’s our report! It all has to do with us.”

“I meant the part about the F-U-T-U-R-E.” He spelled it out loud. You know, in case a three-year-old might be eavesdropping, and think that we were out of our fucking minds.

“Oh,” he added. “And this!”

His saddlebag was sort of just lying around on the floor somewhere. He disappeared from my range of vision to fetch it, and fuss around in its compartments. Finally, he popped up from under my bed, crumpled up piece of paper in his mouth. He dropped it on me, and watched me with eagerly.

When I unfolded it, I read the headline out loud. “Crystal Empire Reappears?”

“It's the good news I was talking about. Read it.” He said with wide, bright eyes.

I read it with him watching. It told the whole story of the saving of Crystal Empire, which I’m sure you know by now, O Book of Magical Things That Have Happened. My favorite part was when Shining Armor hucked his Princess Wife off the balcony, but I couldn't figure out what any of it had to do with anything. Anyway, when I was done, I looked up at him and shrugged.

"That's just weird."

This coming from the filly who battles actresses from the future.

“That!” He snatched the page from my hoof, and brought it over to the bubble so that Bananas could read it. “Is why the library has been closed for days.”

The page fell right through the bubble, his hoof still leaning against the outside. Cliff looked at Bananas in disbelief.

"It's not alive." She said casually and bent down to pick up the article.

Cliff looked at me, clearly expecting some kind of reaction. I just shrugged. Paper's not alive.

"Don't you get it?" Cliff's voice cracked. "An entire empire, guys! Where's it been this whole time?"

"How am I supposed to know?"

"Another world! They exist. No one can deny that now."

Bananas and I exchanged glances. She seemed unfazed. But it shook me up quite a bit. Cliff was starting to make an alarming amount of sense. All that crystal had to come from somewhere.

“You’re right.” I said

“I’m glad we agree.” He ducked down, disappearing into his saddlebag again.

A moment later, he popped back up, crudely drawn diagram in his mouth.

“So,” he said, letting the doodle fall into my lap.

I picked it up. It was a drawing of the Crystal Palace. There were arrows drawn and notes written all over it.

“How do we steal the Crystal Heart?”

“What?!”

“Relax, it’s not really stealing. We’re just gonna borrow it to stop the apocalypse for a little while. They’ll never know it’s gone.”

“What? Huh? How? What?”

“Um...Why do we need to steal the Crystal Heart?” Said Bananas.

“Duh! It's not like they're just gonna give it to us if we ask.”

Facehoof.

“What makes you think it can stop the apocalypse?” I asked, face still buried firmly in hoof.

“Cause this can’t be a coincidence!” Cliff was back to not making sense. “Rose, can’t you close your eyes and, I don’t know, ask around or something? Maybe that's your next mission!”

“If I had a mission to go steal some royal mantlepiece, I’d know, Cliff.”

“How?”

“Cause I would be full of brain hornets right now.”

“Huh?” Said Cliff.

It was Bananas Foster’s turn to facehoof. The whole thing was one giant confusing mess. I put an end to it.

“We’re not stealing the Crystal Heart.” I snapped.

Cliff drooped a little. Let his doodle fall straight to the floor. “Oh,” he sighed.

I hated bursting his bubble, but his bubble was stupid.

“But if it’s not about the heart." He picked his chin up and looked at me again. "Then what are we supposed to do? Why the connection?”

“What connection? It proves there are other worlds. That’s it. It doesn’t have anything to do with us."

"Arg." Cliff's turn to facehoof. “The Crystal Empire has been gone over a thousand years.”

“Yeah, I read the article.”

“Well, don’t you think it’s weird that it just sorta pops up - out of the blue - on the same day you find the Wasteland - the exact same day you get your cutie mark? After over a thousand years? That. Same. Day. What 's that about?”

“I...don’t know.”

“Tell me everything,” he said. "Maybe there's a clue."

It was getting to be the mantra of all my friends.

Cliff pulled up Roseluck's chair.

“No.” I said.

“But--;”

“It hurts too much,”

“But--;”

“I'm gonna do it, okay? Cause I gotta.” I grumbled. “’But not till Roseluck gets here. I’m not re-telling that story twice.”





* * *





Cliff couldn’t stay much longer. Maybe an hour. Maybe two. And Roseluck still didn’t show. But we spent our time well. Just Cliff, Foster, and me. Talking. We even forgot about the big boom for a little while.

As the time went by, Cliff got more and more apologetic that he had to split.

"If it were any other day, my parents wouldn't care." He said. "Any. Other. Day."

He banged his head against the rail of my hospital bed.

"What's so special about today?"

The sound of party favors exploded in the hallway.

"Happy Hearth's Warming Eve, everypony!" Came a cheerful voice.

It was Pinkie Pie. The mare who'd thrown all of my birthday parties since the day I was actually born. She bounced through the doorway, accordion around her neck, and velvet sack slung over her back. From the way it sagged all empty-like, it looked like we were one of her last stops.

"It's Hearth's Warming Eve?!" I said. "Now?"

"No, not really." She replied.

I sighed in relief. A dumb thought. It couldn't be Hearth's Warming Eve. Roseluck hadn't gotten back yet.

"It's more like Hearth's Warming Early Afternoon." Pinkie added. "But that doesn't have the same ring to it. I know cause I practiced yelling 'Happy Hearth's Warming Early-Afternoon' in the mirror this morning."

She looked at us seriously for a moment, and said. "It didn't work out."

"That can't be." I whimpered.

“No, really.” Said Pinkie. “I tried it. It doesn’t work.”

I looked over to Cliff, standing beside me at my right. He nodded. It looked like he was going to cry. I wasn't gonna see him for at least two days. And he knew how badly I needed him. And worse yet, there was a chance - however slim - that Roseluck wouldn’t be back in time. Judging by the look on his face, Cliff knew that too.



I mean, what if she thought I knew what day it was? And thought I didn’t care about Hearth’s Warming Eve? Hell, even I'd thought that I didn’t care about Hearth’s Warming Eve just a short while ago. I told Cheerilee as much. But the idea of actually spending it without Roseluck was unfathomable. Terrifying even.

"Wow, thanks." Bananas Foster giggled, flipping the pages of an old book Pinkie had gotten for her.

"You're welcome." Pinkie was leaning against the bubble, smiling faintly.

Then it was time to move on to the next infirm-o.

"Hoo!" Pinkie said as she stumbled over to me. "You mind if I sit down for a second?"

She lowered her accordion to the floor and plopped down next to me in Roseluck's chair.

"Singing to every mare, stallion, and colt in this hospital is exhausting."

"I imagine." I said softly, not really attentive, not really there.

I was still fretting over my sister. What if she didn't come?

"I heard about you, Rose Petal." She put her hoof on top of mine - the "good hoof" - the one with all the tubes and wires in it. "Are you okay?"

"I guess." I said.

I slowly slid my other eviler hoof under the sheets, hoping she wouldn't notice it. I had Roseluck on my mind, and I just didn't have the energy for any more hoof drama.

"I know you're probably sad," she said.

I looked up into her eyes.

"But here." She placed a small present on my chest. "Maybe this will cheer you up, just a little."

A small red box. The problem was if I opened it, she would see my bad hoof, and get freaked out. Just like Miss Cheerilee had.

"Thanks." I said nervously, and just sort of stared at it, unsure what to do.

"Oh," she said.

There was just a little bit of heartbreak in her voice.

She'd clearly expected me to be excited - to smile. That was her thing. We had even all sung about it. The whole town. But I didn't have it in me right then and there. Not with Roseluck gone on Hearth's Warming Early Afternoon.

Cliff reached for the present. "Um...Let me help you open that."

"I'm sorry." I said to Pinkie.

I felt like such a downer.

"Don't be sorry. Not many ponies in here feel like smiling." She rubbed her head. "I understand."

I nodded solemnly at Pinkie, as Cliff knocked my gift around and tugged clumsily at the ribbon with his teeth.

"I smiled!" Bananas Foster called out, waving one of the books that Pinkie had just gotten her. "Why don't you just give it all to me?" She added, half–jokingly.

Pinkie just kept on looking at me, and shrugged. "It's always worth a try."

That earned a smile from me. A genuine smile. I couldn't even articulate how, but her drive, and her mission just made me smile. One of those smiles you feel all the way on the inside.

It's always worth a try.

I smiled so hard that I started to cry.

"Thank you." I said.

She threw a smile right back at me, a little bit of her old self again.

"Here! Here!" Cliff shouted. "I got it open."

He plopped the box back down on my chest, lid wide open. I was so stunned by what I saw, that I reached for it with my evil hoof without even thinking.

"I made that just for you." Said Pinkie.

A watch on a chain.

"In case you ever need to figure out when you are." She giggled. "Get it? When you are?"

"How did you know I would need that?" I was stunned.

"No, wait!" She thrust her hoof on mine as I fiddled with the button on the top.

"Don't. Open it." She said gravely. "Not yet."

"Why not?"

"Duh! You'll ruin the surprise, silly." She said, the usual smile returning to her face.

"Um..."

"That is no ordinary pocket watch," she said. "That is the most accurate, most super-duper-mega special watch ever invented, because it was invented by me!"

Cliff Diver and I just looked at one another suspiciously.

"No matter where you find yourself, if you're lost, or confused, that watch will tell you everything you need to know about when you are."

I looked down at the watch. Her pink hoof rested on my black hoof as I clutched it. She didn't care about the evil. At all.

Just don't spoil the surprise.

"Open it only when you really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, need to."

"Okay."

"Pinkie promise?"

"Pinkie promise." I said back to her, still totally stunned.

"Do you like it?"

I slipped the chain over my neck like a necklace, and wore it with pride. Smiling. Pinkie beamed when she saw my reaction.

"Awesome!" She leapt to her hooves.

Grabbed her accordion.

"Happy Hearth's Warming!" She said. "See you next Thursday, same time as always."

Foster looked to me and mouthed behind her back, "she's always late."

"Off to catch my train!"

Pinkie Pie bounced off - instruments, present sack and all. It made a little boingy sound all the way out the door.

"Wait, Pinkie!" I said.

She elongated her neck to unnatural proportions to stick it back in the doorway.

"What's up?"

"How...How did you know I needed this?"

"Oh! I don't know. I just figured it would cheer up that whiny old pirate in your brain!"

"What?" I said

"La la la la la!"

And just as suddenly as she came, Pinkie Pie was gone.

"The pirate in your brain?" Said Foster.

"The pirate in my brain." I whispered to myself as I examined that watch further.

It was physically unremarkable in every conceivable way except that it was pink.

"Wow." Said Cliff. "That mare is so random."