The murmurs and whispers of gossip filled Sugarcube Corner as Twilight stepped inside. With so many patrons present, she could only hope she looked better than she felt. She trotted for the counter, where Mr. Cake was busy serving a customer, and took a moment to examine her reflection in the sample window. She brushed a hoof over her mane, which did nothing for the hairs that were out of place. She didn’t even bother to adjust her wings, though she made a note to preen them sometime tonight.
If she found the time.
She looked up just as the customer turned away from the counter – giving her a polite smile and bow of the head as he did.
Mr. Cake closed the register and turned to her with a grin that faded quickly. “Good afternoon, Princess. Are you alright?”
“I’ve been better, Mr. Cake,” she confessed with a sigh. “I’d like to talk to Pinkie, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Not at all.” He gestured to the stairs with a frown. “She’s not feeling so well. We let her take a sick day. Poor thing deserves it.”
Twilight cringed at the news; it was just one thing after another these days. “I’m sorry to hear that. I won’t bother her too much, I just needed to relay a message.”
“Sure thing. Oh, and Princess?”
She paused, half turned away, and gave him a curious look.
Mr. Cake rapped his hoof on the sample counter with a smile. “When you get back down, come over and pick a little something. On the house.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” she replied with a small blush, her eyes shifting to the patrons that surrounded her. More than a few were attempting to subtly listen in on the conversation.
His smile didn’t fade. “It’s alright. Nothing picks up a bad day like a sweet treat, don’t you think? I won’t take no for an answer, young lady.”
With a sigh of defeat and a wan smile, Twilight nodded. “Oh, alright, but only if you promise to stop calling me ‘princess.’ ”
She left him and his smug smile. Although Twilight really didn’t like accepting favors, she trusted the Cakes to offer them without any ulterior motives. Besides, that Blackberry Road cupcake looked really good, and she could use a little something to ease the tension.
Things were quiet upstairs. Twilight approached the closed door to Pinkie’s room, pausing only to smile at the curious faces of Pound and Pumpkin from the door to their room. The twins giggled and waved from their crib, and she waved back before continuing past their room.
Her ears perked to the sound of Pinkie’s voice. She seemed to be having a one-sided conversation with herself, but the words were muffled by the door. For a moment, Twilight had the curious and borderline dreadful thought that Pinkie might be even more odd when feeling sick. The idea was promptly cast aside; she had no intention of trying to make sense of Pinkie, especially not with so much else going on.
She knocked on the door. “Pinkie? It’s Twilight. Are you okay?”
The door didn’t swing open right away, nor did streamers come flying in her face, or any of a hundred other things one comes to expect from a pony like Pinkie. As such, Twilight began to suspect her friend’s situation may be worse than she’d come to believe. When the door opened, it did so slowly, to the unpleasant sound of creaking.
Right away, Twilight knew the situation was serious. There was no energy in Pinkie’s appearance, and for once the frazzle of her mane didn’t seem to have anything to do with joy or laughter. Pinkie still smiled, but it was a frail thing, and her eyes were bloodshot.
“Hi, Twilight. Sorry I didn’t come to see you downstairs, but I’m not running on all cylinders today.” She gave a weak chuckle. “Which makes sense, ‘cause I’m not an engine.”
The unusually weak attempt at a joke only intensified Twilight’s worry. “Pinkie, did something happen? Are you okay?”
“I’m… fine.” Pinkie gestured for her to come in before turning away. She went to sit on the crumbled sheets of her bed. “Just feeling under the weather. I’ll be back on my hooves in no time.”
“Good to know.” Twilight closed the door behind her and sat in the center of the messy room. She looked around, taking in the familiar sights; boxes of balloons, drawing and designs all over the floor and desk, the metal box under the bed, even the party cannon peeking out of the closet. “But if you need something, anything at all, just let me know, okay?”
Pinkie nodded, her smile appearing more genuine this time. “Thanks, Twilight. So, Luna gave you a message for me?”
Twilight’s ears perked; she barely managed to stop herself from asking how Pinkie knew. She chalked it down to her just being Pinkie. “She told me you’ve been blocking your dreams. Have you?”
Pinkie cocked her head, eyes shifting so she looked at the corner of her bed. “Can you do that?”
Only a curious recognition that the question wasn’t intended for her kept Twilight from speaking.
“Huh.” Pinkie shrugged, her eyes going back to Twilight. Her shoulder slumped. “Well, I’m not doing it. It’s probably for the better, though. I’ve been having bad dreams lately.”
“Better?” Twilight gawked. “Pinkie, bad dreams are Luna’s business! It’s part of her job to protect ponies’ dreams, including yours. You shouldn’t be blocking her from that.”
“But I’m not blocking her from it,” Pinkie insisted. “I wouldn’t know how. Besides, I like when Princess Luna visits me in my dreams. She’s lots of fun, y’know?” Her expression grew firm, and she once again seemed to be looking at something beyond Twilight. “And I want her back. If some Meany McMeanypants is keeping her out, it’s got to stop.”
Rubbing her head with both hooves, Twilight groaned. “One more mystery to solve. Do you have any idea what may be causing it?”
Instead of answering, Pinkie peered at Twilight’s face. “Are you okay, Twilight?”
“Oh, I’m just tired.” Twilight waved a dismissive hoof, then brushed her mane back. “It’s been a busy week.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Or I would know what you meant if I were you, but I’m not, so I don’t know exactly what you mean, because that would require me to be…” The words petered out and Pinkie sighed, her sunken gaze on the floor. “I mean, I know what you mean.”
Twilight stared at Pinkie for a few seconds, a slight ache in her chest at the sight. She stepped forward and set a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “You focus on getting better, okay, Pinkie?”
Pinkie gave a weak nod. “I will. And… um… is Fluttershy okay?”
“She’s… Wait, how did you know?”
She cringed and turned her face away. It took a second for an answer to come. “Mrs. Cake told me about it. One of the customers told her, I think.”
Twilight covered her eyes with a groan. “Fluttershy’s… not doing so good. She took Harry’s murder far worse than AJ took Winona’s. Worse, I’m no closer to solving the case. All her animals were asleep when it happened.” She stared out the window with a scowl. “I have no idea what’s going on.”
Pinkie flopped onto her barrel, tears welling in her eyes. “I can’t even go over to cheer her up.”
“It’s alright, Pinkie Pie.” Twilight patted her head, unable to think of anything better to do. “I’m sure she appreciates that you’re thinking about her.”
Pinkie only mumbled into her hooves. Twilight gave her a light nuzzle and stepped back. “I’ve still got some work to do, not least of which includes trying something on Trixie. Get well soon, okay?”
Her friend nodded with an unfocused gaze. “Mm-kay. I’ll be all right soon.”
Twilight paused at the door and looked over her shoulder to smile. “Pinkie Promise?”
Though no smile reached her face, Pinkie still pressed a hoof to her eye. “See you, Twilight. Try to have some fun today, even if I can’t be around.”
“You know me,” she replied with a much more authentic smile. “Facing challenges is the highlight of my day.” Her smile held until the door closed, at which point her head drooped almost to the floor.
“Although I think I could have done without this one.”
Pinkie buried herself under the sheets, a tear-stained pillow held tightly to her chest.
Are we resorting to name calling now?
She squeezed the pillow and her eyelids, sniffing and wishing she could fall asleep. “Big, fat… meany.”
I have no weight. I can’t be fat.
She snorted, scowl buried in the fluffy sheets. “You’re not funny, either. Why wouldn't you let me tell her?"
The clouds in her head were calm, almost still. Likewise, the voice’s words were patient. I am sorry. Really, I am. But the faster you learn to do this, the better things will be.
She shook her head forcefully. “I don’t want to do this. I keep telling you that! Why won’t you believe me?”
I do believe you, My Dear, but what we want is seldom what is needed. Pressure began to build in her head, as if the cloud had been turned to cotton. Relax. All will be well.
She cringed, pressing her forehead to her canons with a whimper. “What are you doing to me?”
Just applying a little pressure. To sooth your mind, that is all.
The cotton rubbed against her brain. She squirmed.
“I said stop.”
Her heartbeat sped up. Her teeth chattered.
“Get out of my head. Please.”
Do not worry, My Dear.
Soon you’ll see things my way.
Pinkie tried screaming.
She found she couldn’t.