• Published 6th Aug 2018
  • 1,092 Views, 73 Comments

Sugar and Spice - Pearple Prose

Saving the damsel in distress is less impressive when you're the one who ruined her life in the first place. Pony Joe is going to try anyway.

  • ...

Doing Some Chores, Now It's All Restored

It wasn’t actually Pony Joe’s day off tomorrow.

Honestly, Joe rarely had days off – he was married to his work, even if it wasn’t the happiest of betrothals. But the look on Saffron Masala’s face had silenced any complaints he might have had.

Well. There was one issue, which hit him at the same time the door did that morning – he was not a morning pony – and that was the fact that it was probably better for him if he was at least somewhat inconspicuous. Cuckoo Capone probably wouldn’t like it if he was seen, y’know, undoing all his own handiwork.

Or maybe he would? Joe paused in the middle of dressing for the day, shirt dangling off of one leg.

At some point, Joe figured, one of Cuckoo Capone’s gang was going to come and lay down the law for the Tasty Treat. They probably wouldn’t make it too pretty, considering their track record.

But what if Joe did that for them? He was in their good graces at the moment, at least, based on their attitudes since he’d done the dirty deed.

Or at the very least, he could just look like that was what he was doing.

Slowly, his eyes trailed up from the white shirt in his hooves, his favourite shirt, his iconic shirt, and settled on the black tuxedo hanging in his wardrobe.

“Oh, who cares,” he said, out loud. Might as well go out in style.

Turns out that saffron is really hard to clean up, thought Saffron, bitterly. It had a way of just getting everywhere when it was thrown, jar and all, straight onto the floor.

She sighed, blowing some of her dangling strands of hair around a bit. She hadn’t bothered to do her mane up nicely that day – because, really, who had the time? – and so it hung down the back of her neck in a messy ponytail.

She wasn’t wearing any of her usual clothes either; she didn’t feel like getting any of them dirty when she was spending all day cleaning up a ruined restaurant. Her eyes drifted from the saffron-y carpet to the various stains that coated the fine drapery and tapestries, the smashed paintings, and the incongruous mess that was the kitchen.

Then her ears perked, and she looked up in surprise. There was a knock at the door.

“Coming!” she sang, and began to step neatly over the detritus that coated the floor towards the front door.

It took her a while. Long enough that there was another loud series of knocks resounding throughout the dining area when she finally made it to the door. “Yes, yes, yes, I know, I am–” Saffron paused, door slung open, with her hoof clutching the handle. Her jaw was hanging open.

Pony Joe was standing there. He was not wearing his usual baker’s hat, or his old apron, or his iconic white shirt.

Instead, he was wearing a crisp, white dress shirt, a smooth black tuxedo, and it was all held together with a tiny red bowtie at his neck. The outfit probably would have looked a little better if it didn’t all seem to be a couple of sizes too small.

Joe tried to smile, but it came out as a vague baring of his teeth. “Hey. C-Cleaner’s here.”

The last time Joe had worn his tux, he’d been almost a decade younger and attending his brother’s wedding. He’d been catering the whole affair, and learned that trying to flirt with mares with that as his icebreaker was not nearly as effective as he’d hoped it would be.

Turns out that running a diner for several years isn’t great for your figure, to top it all off. Who knew?

“Are you sure you’re not… too warm?” Saffron asked, looking more than a little bit concerned. “That does not look very… Comfortable.”

“Naw, it’s fine,” said Joe, mopping his brow with a hoof. “I’m pretty, uh, sensitive to the cold, see.” He settled his saddlebags full of cleaning supplies on one of the (mostly untouched) tables and began to squeeze out of his black coat. The little pink rose in the chest pocket fell out and disappeared into the thick rug at his hooves. He didn’t notice.

“If you’re sure,” said Saffron, seeming amused. “You Canterlot ponies are quite interesting, do you know that?”

Joe looked at her over his shoulder and smirked. “Psshaw. You’re telling me. I’m from Manehattan.”

Saffron squeaked, slapped a hoof to her face, and cursed in something musical and foreign. “Ah, yes, of course. Please excuse me. I am very new to all of this.”

When a response wasn’t immediately forthcoming, she opened her eyes, and looked at Joe. He was staring at her blankly, mouth open slightly. “Um. Joe? Oh, I am so sorry! I did not know it would offend you so greatly!” She turned away, blushing in embarrassment.

The movement made Joe blink, and shake his head. “No, no, sorry. You just... “

He hadn’t seen Saffron without her clothes before. It wasn’t such a strange thing, really, but there was a smoothness to the curve of her neck that he hadn’t noticed until now, and the lack of eyeliner made her eyes seem brighter, more alive, in spite of the tired rings around them.

Joe shook his head again, and forced a laugh. “You didn’t offend me. I was just thinking about it, and, honestly? I’m probably more a Canterlot pony now than I was ever a Manehattanite.”

After a moment, Saffron looked back over one shoulder, eyebrows raised. “Is that true?”

“Oh yeah!” Joe laughed again, and began rummaging through his saddlebags for cleaning supplies. “I haven’t gone to Manehattan in years. Been too busy, really.”

“Oh. That is sad. Do you not have family there?”

“No, I do. Folks live there, down by the docks. My dad – big earth pony fella, y’know the type – used to haul stuff off of boats back when boats were, y’know, a new thing. Didn’t pay diddly squat, but it kept us all afloat.”

“And your mother?”

“Mom just used to look after me. Sometimes we couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill, and my dad would spend all day down at the docks working overtime to make up the slack. My mom would sit with me in the dark, wrap us up in blankets, and we’d read books and stuff.”

“Oh… That is so very sweet.”

“Hmm. Yeah. Honestly, though? I didn’t really understand my mom for a long time.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, she was a unicorn, born and bred in Canterlot. Went to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, real big rich-pony place, ya heard of it? Held in the highest regard. She had her life all set out for her. Top of every class. Magic out the wazoo.” Joe paused, and stared at a crooked painting, thoughts elsewhere. “Coulda been great.”

“What happened to her?” Saffron looked up from a particularly difficult stain, and gasped. “Oh, ye gods, tell me she didn’t have an accident!”

“Worse.” Pony Joe laughed. “She met my dad.”

The rest of the day passed… nicely. Nicer, Saffron admitted quietly to herself in her heart of hearts, than she’d ever expected it would go.

There had been a clamp pressing down on her heart – a great and evil pressure that blocked out the light and sucked the warmth from her bones.

But every time Pony Joe seemed to show up out of nowhere, he brought with him a bit of relief. A distraction. Blessed, blessed distraction.

She peeked across the room and saw him, tongue out, working out curry stains from the carpet. It was not a dignified pose by any means, but she felt that Pony Joe had enough dignity in him to make it work regardless.

The thought of food lit up a lightbulb in her head, and she squealed – just a little bit – with excitement.

Maybe there was a way she could try to repay him, after all.

Pony Joe, as much as he smiled and he laughed and he joked, was not having the best time of it, if he were being honest.

For one, as much as he made it look easy, cleaning was not exactly something he enjoyed doing – especially when, instead of the smooth countertops and plastic furnishings of Donut Joe’s Diner, there were only thick rugs and entangling drapery and annoying little flimsy wooden–

He took a deep breath. Okay. Keep it cool, Joe. You got this.

He was sure it was a lovely place to dine, when it wasn’t covered in weird-smelling stains and broken pottery and glass that had poked holes in everything pokeable – including him, more than once. But it was really hard to appreciate that when, every time you lingered for too long, memories of breaking in, finding the nearest smashable thing, and just throwing it to the ground, biting down hard as you pulled those stupid draperies from their stupid

Pony Joe groaned, clutched his head. Yes, he was the worst pony in the world. Yes, he should keep reminding himself of that.

Tears began to poke at his eye. Oh, by Celestia, was he really going to start crying now?

And then the smell struck him. It was sharp. Spicy. Made his eyes sting a little bit, and fuzz over with tiny tears. He blinked, and stood up, smelling the air.

Joe~!” came a sweet, singsong voice from the kitchen. “Dinner is ready!”

Pony Joe’s stomach growled, and he realised just how long he’d been bent over cleaning. Must have been several hours.

Joey needed food.

“Coming!” he called, getting to his hooves. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his dress-shirt at some point, and the spatters of various foodstuffs on the ruffled white material didn’t really faze him beyond a deserved eye-roll. He stepped over towards the kitchen – noticeably much easier now that they’d gotten rid of all the broken porcelain and suchlike – and poked his head in through the doorway.

Saffron Masala was there, and she was in her element. He caught her just as she finished slicing and dicing various vegetables on an old cooking board, humming all the while, and sliding them into a large pot that was trailing delicious, spicy steam into the air. The bags under her eyes, Joe noticed, seemed to have vanished, at least for the moment.

She looked nice, Joe thought. She looked really nice.

He cleared his throat. Saffron looked up from her dish, eyes wide, and she gave him a big grin. “Please! Take a seat!” She flicked her tail, casually, elegantly, at the little table in the corner of the cosy kitchen. The motion made his heart flutter in his chest.

“Yes, ma’am.” He sat down, feeling inelegant and… rotund, in the little chair. He frowned. He needed to get in shape…

Saffron walked over to the table, two plates hovering magically around her head, and slid one of them in front of Joe. “It is served!” she said.

Then, when she sat down with her own food, she closed her eyes and raised a hoof, and sang something in her native tongue, something long and sweet. She pressed the hoof to her chest and was silent for a long moment.

When Saffron opened her eyes, she caught Joe looking at her with a bemused expression. “Oh!” She laughed, a light blush playing across her cheeks. “My deepest apologies. I was just saying ‘thank you’.”

“Oh.” Joe smiled. “No problem, Saffron.”

“No!” Saffron pressed a hoof to her lips, then sighed in frustration. “I mean, yes, thank you. Of course. I am very thankful! But I was thanking the Lady of the Lotus, just then.”

Pony Joe raised an eyebrow. “Uh. Okay. You mentioned her before.”

Saffron looked at him. Confusion played across her features for a moment, until she gasped in realisation. “Oh! I do not suppose you… know of her here?”

“‘Fraid not. Is she nice?”

Saffron nodded her head excitedly. “Oh yes! Good graces, where to begin…” She looked around the room, then pointed at a picture hanging over the doorway to the kitchen. “There! That is she.”

Joe turned his head and glanced up to where she was pointing.

There was a painting, there, of a beautiful pony – an alicorn, Joe amended – with a pristine golden-white coat, and hair that shone in a myriad of colours, and a very long and fluted horn. Magenta eyes stared out from under long, curved eyelashes. A soft, knowing smile played across her lips, and golden jewellery hung around her neck and across her brow. It took a moment for Joe to realise she was sitting on an enormous lotus flower in the middle of a great blue ocean, with more lotus flowers floating serenely in the background.

“She is the Lotus Lady,” Saffron explained. “She is who Father and I give thanks to, in everything we do. She brings good fortune, and wealth, and prosperity, to those in her good graces.”

“Huh,” said Joe, after a minute or two. “Looks just like Princess Celestia.” He turned back around, and found Saffron staring at him with astonishment. “What?”

“That…” Saffron tilted her head. “Princess Celestia looks like her?”

Joe frowned. “Yeah. Almost exactly, actually. Haven’t you seen her Highness before? How long have you been in Canterlot?”

Saffron shrank a little, in her seat. She tittered – and suddenly, Joe didn’t think so badly of mares who tittered – and she said, “Um. I must confess to you, I have not been here very long at all. I see the statues, and sometimes she is in the newspapers, but I have never seen her in the flesh. I do so dearly wish to, though!”

Pony Joe chuckled. “Ah, it’s no biggie. Summer Sun Celebration ain’t too far off now, and she’ll be on display for ya right there.”

Saffron looked at him. Excitement sparkled in her purple eyes like stars. “We must go to this Celebration,” she vowed. “Together!”

Joe’s heart thumped in his chest. “Um. Sure, yeah.” Then he smiled. “Yeah, together. Oh, uh, one question.”

“Ask away, my friend!”

“What the heck is this? It looks delicious, mind you.”

“Oh! It is aloo baingan.”

“A-who now?”

“It is a dish made with potato and eggplant.” Saffron rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. “It is the best I could do with what I had left, I am afraid.”

“Well, it smells good!” Pony Joe scooped up a forkful and shoved it into his mouth. “Mmm. Tastesh good, too!”

Saffron squeaked in delight. “Oh, I am so glad you like it! Though, ah, you might want to slow down a little bit.”

“Why’sh shat?” said Joe, cheeks bulging. “It’sh delishush!”

Then he stopped. He felt something odd.

“...Ish it getting hot in here?”

To his credit, Saffron admitted, he managed to swallow it all without making a mess.

She was just glad she was prepared for this sort of thing.

“Mmm.” Pony Joe was, currently, lying on the ground, shirt crumpled with sweat, and holding a glass of yogurt-y liquid in his magical aura. “This is… Much better.” He exhaled, slowly, cheeks glowing pink. “What’s this called?” He sloshed the drink around in his grasp and poured the rest of it down his gullet.

Saffron giggled to herself. “It is called lassi. It is very good for this sort of thing.”

“I will name my firstborn child after it,” Joe intoned, voice deep and trembling with emotion.

Saffron’s giggles evolved into outright laughter. “Oh, you silly Equestrians,” she said, with a note of whimsy. “You are all so very, delightfully odd.”

Joe climbed back to his hooves, wiping down his forehead with a napkin. “Yep. Rolling around on the floor after eating just a little bit of potato and eggplant. Pinnacle of high society, right there for ya.”

“Oh, if you thought that dish was hot…” Saffron chuckled to herself, and put on a far too innocent look. “Well, suffice it to say, there are things that grow in my homeland that could shed the scales from a dragon.”

Joe pondered that for a moment. Then he frowned at her. “Are you sure? ‘Cause, like. One time this dragon I know ate a stone-baked pizza oven.”

Saffron fixed Joe with a intense glare, and prodded him, three times, in the chest. “Not. Even. Exaggerating.”

“No, I mean, they took the pizza out and ate the oven–”

“Do you want to know what dragons have under their scales?” Saffron asked, casually, and without waiting for a reply she leaned in and whispered something into his ear.

Joe’s eyes went wide as he processed what Saffron had just told him. Saffron leaned back and looked very smug.

Joe started breaking out into a sweat again, even though the spicy taste in his mouth had long since faded. “You know what?” he said. “I think I’ll just stick to donuts.”

Joe didn’t notice the sun setting until it was only a very distant splash of gold and purple on the horizon, eclipsed only slightly by the edge of Mount Canterhorn. At some point, though, the day had come to a close, and the moon had risen, and with it came all the myriad constellations, great and small and bright and dim and everything inbetween.

He noticed this not too long after he noticed that they were…


Saffron blinked, a word dying on her lips – Joe had started telling her about all those times that Equestria had very nearly but not quite been destroyed, and had inadvertently given rise to a whole saffron field’s worth of questions – and she turned around, swept her eyes across the spotless floor, the repaired draperies, and the polished tables.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly…

“Wondrous!” Saffron pressed her hooves to her cheeks in delight, flopping back onto her haunches. “Oh, Joe, you are a gift! A blessing is you, you lovely pony!”

Pony Joe fiddled with his shirt collar, which had been stuck up at odd angles for the last hour or so – he’d abandoned the bow tie eventually, because it was exceptionally uncomfortable, as predicted – and grinned at her. The smiles came easier now, Joe reflected.

He hadn’t found it so easy to smile since he’d been a little colt, pretending to be a hero.

“Thanks, Saffron,” he said. “It’s all in a day’s work.”

Saffron ran over to him, reached up, and kissed him on the forehead. Then she jabbed him in the chest with a hoof, and she fixed him with a stern glare, and she said, “You, Pony Joe. You will be forever welcome in this place. I swear this upon all the gods.”

It took Joe a little while to respond – ain’t every day a mare ran up and kissed him of all ponies – but when he did, it came out hesitant, stammering, like this: “O-Oh. That’s. Um.”

And he felt warmth rising up into his cheeks. “Thanks.”

Then Saffron started yanking him towards the door with her magic, bouncing on her hooves as she went. “We must celebrate! Father returns, soon, and so we must buy the finest Canterlotian wines, and we will all drink, and we shall–”

Then she stopped. “Oh.”

“What? What is it?” Joe stumbled back a bit as her telekinetic grip faltered, releasing him. He dusted off his shirt, and looked at her, brow furrowed. “Is somethin’ wrong?”

Saffron sighed. “I am afraid we are not yet finished with the cleaning,” she mourned, looking towards the door.

“Oh?” Joe followed her gaze. “Oh.”

Right. The graffiti.

The two trudged outside and stared at it – Pony Joe’s pièce de résistance, the crown jewel of his vandalism: Cuckoo Capone’s calling card.

“Well, uh.” Joe rubbed the back of his head. “I mean. Some soap and a brush and some water and that should come right off,” he said, trying to sound optimistic, more for his sake than Saffron’s. “Right?”

Saffron nodded, but she looked downcast. “Yes. Yes, I suppose it is not much work to remove. But… What is it? I do not understand this.”

Joe stared at it. “It’s uh. It’s a cuckoo. I think.”

“A cuckoo?”

“Yeah. It’s a bird.”

“Yes, I am aware.”


“But… Argh!” Saffron grabbed her head with her hooves and clamped her eyes shut. “But why?! Why would somepony do this? Why a cuckoo?” She opened her eyes and stared at Joe, frightened tears threatening to run down her cheeks. “Is it... Is this the mark of some foul demon? The cutie mark of a pony possessed? Are they going to come back again and undo all our hard work? Was it all for naught?”

Joe stared at her. Pony Joe, this time. Not Con Mane, with all the snappy quips and the hero’s winning smile. Not Donut Joe, ready and waiting with a box full of donuts, always listening, always patient.

Just Joe.

Joe wasn’t very good at lying – at least, not directly, and not to other ponies. He remembered, with clarity, a time in his foalhood when, hungry and lonely and miserable, he’d snuck into the kitchen and eaten up every last crumb of his mother’s birthday cake, something he and she had spent an entire day baking together.

Joe was miserable often, and often he didn’t understand why, but he knew that eating helped. Or at least, put it away for a little bit. That, at least, had stuck with him, like Con Mane never had.

His father, normally patient, always reserved, had shouted at him. He knew, even though Joe had insisted otherwise. The cake had been expensive – a treat, for a beloved wife.

It hadn’t been the cake that made him shout, though. Just the lies.

“Cuckoo Capone,” said Joe. “Cuckoo Capone did it. Was behind all of it.”

Saffron stared at him. A single tear ran down her cheek, plinked against the cobblestones, but it was forgotten.

He told her all about Cuckoo Capone. He told her all about the dirty deals, and the blackmail, and the manor house, and the stallions in suits and hats who sat amongst his customers.

He did not, however, mention who was responsible for the vandalism. He did not mention the worst day of his life. Maybe, he assured himself, he would reveal all that to her, later, when this was all behind them. It would be just be a joke then.

Just a story.

Saffron did not say anything for a little while after he finished. She stared at him instead, looking equal parts awestruck and horrified. Then, eventually, “That is… I still do not think I understand.”

“You’re a target, Saffron,” Joe said, holding her gently by the shoulders. “He wants you in his ledger, like everypony else on Restaurant Row.”

Saffron stared at him. Then, quietly: "Then what am I supposed to do? Should I tell the guards?"

"It won't work," Joe said, voice hard. "Do you realise how little ever happens in Canterlot? All Cuckoo has to do is say a few kind words and move some gifts around and it'll all be forgotten about soon enough." He paused. "And it's not as if we have strong enough evidence, anyway."

And in Joe's mind, memories of the stallions in black sharing coffee and donuts on a morning with golden-armoured stallions flooded in. Smiling. Whispering.

She was frowning now, chewing at the inside of her cheek in thought. Something occurred to her.

“How… How do you know all these things?”

“I… What?”

“These are secrets, yes? Cuckoo Capone, he appears to be not such an evil pony to everypony else. But you whisper to me of these dark, secret things.” Saffron pushed him away. She looked upon him with new eyes, arms crossed, glaring suspiciously. “So. How do you know? Why should I believe you?”

Uh oh.

What in Celestia’s name was he supposed to say to that?

Pony Joe began to sweat, profusely, as the heat rose in his collar. He felt like he was choking on spicy food. Again.

He couldn’t tell her who he was. That he was one of Cuckoo’s lackeys. That he had him and his diner under his hooves. How could he look her in the eye after that?

He was panicking.


What would Con Mane do?

“Alright,” said Joe, breathing out, slowly. “I’ll tell you. But…”

Saffron raised an eyebrow.

“You have to promise me you won’t tell anyone.”

The eyebrow was raised higher. “Joe.”

“Promise me.”

“Tell me, Joe.”

“I’m a secret agent.” Joe hated himself. “I work for Equestrian Intelligence.”

There was a long, long pause. The other eyebrow followed the first, connecting somewhere underneath Saffron’s tangled mass of purple hair. “...Secret agent?”

“Yes.” Joe cleared his throat, fixed his posture, swept a hoof through his mane. “I’m under orders, straight from the top. Princess Celestia herself. It’s a highly important, highly confidential mission.”

Saffron tilted her head.

The lies came easy, as if they’d always been there, bubbling away in their own little voice at the back of Joe’s head. “Cuckoo Capone is a very, very valuable target. He’s built an empire, see, got all of High Canterlot in his pocket. He’s got a strong front going: everyone loves Uncle Cuckoo, even if he’s a bit crazy. The Guard have been trying to nab him for years, but he’s…” Joe blew air out between his teeth and shook his head sadly. “Elusive, to say the least.”

Saffron tilted her head the other way. Joe looked back at her, met her gaze with his own.

“That’s why they called me in,” he said, pulling on his smooth, black, tuxedo jacket. “I’m the best they’ve got.”

He saw something twinkle in those purple eyes, like stars.

“Ye gods,” Saffron breathed. “This is…”


“Incredible! Oh, by the gods, Joe, you are a hero!” Saffron grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him once, twice, and began to fire off more questions than a single stallion can reasonably keep track of.

Joe felt himself want to crumple up and go to sleep. But he weathered the storm.

No, Pony Joe was not his real name. Yes, he’d saved the world. Yes, more than once. Yes, he had all the gadgets. No, he didn’t have them with him. No, he couldn’t speak seven different languages. Yes, he’d had tea with Princess Celestia. No, he was not an Element of Harmony… Or rather, that was all he was allowed to say.

Joe was proud of that last one.

“Look,” he said, plugging up Saffron’s mouth with a hoof. “I get it. I’m kind of a big deal. But we don’t have time for this. Cuckoo Capone’s boys could strike at any time, and we need to get going now.”

“We must go? Go where?” Saffron said, voice bubbling over with excitement. “I can come with you?”

“Yes.” He flashed a winning smile. “I trust you, Saffron. And I need your help to save Equestria.”

The look on Saffron Masala’s face just then nearly – almost – made the whole thing worth it.