• Published 29th May 2020
  • 681 Views, 50 Comments

Mothering, Someday - Impossible Numbers



Mare's Day, a tribute to motherhood. Twilight Velvet is the ordinary mother of an extraordinary family; Derpy is the opposite. They normally wouldn't cross paths, but in a town where an outsider can become Princess of Friendship, anything's possible.

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Haute Cuisine: The Dark Side of Twilight

Perhaps – Velvet thought, returning to the present – perhaps she was being too cagey. Let it all out. Let it sing.

She had one tiny bite of tiramisu left, but she ignored it.

“Derpy?” she said.

Derpy dug her head out of the depths of her sundae bowl. “Hm?”

“You don’t mind if I… don’t continue my story?”

The question was just for politeness’ sake: despite their only meeting that morning, Velvet could see the exact shape of Derpy’s answer flying down from a mile high.

“Of course, if you want to. You feel better?”

Velvet’s lips twitched with a brief pinch of satisfaction.

“No… I think…” Velvet rubbed her own nose. “Maybe I’d feel better if I did tell it.”

“You can trust me!” said Derpy, and her stiffness and serious tone could have given Shining Armor lessons. She even saluted, nearly knocking herself out.

Perhaps there was something to the idea that all pegasi were military types, deep down. Even Derpy, whose eyes could perform a pincer movement on their own, presumably heard the echoing war cry of her distant ancestors, though in her case it had to contend with a fundamental, cheery Derpy-ness that outgunned any horrible monster or conquering army. It would be like outgunning the sun.

Yet Velvet let herself down again. Confidence collapsed.

However, under Derpy’s wing – so to speak – she did end up telling a truth.

“My daughter wanted to impress everyone with her cooking skills,” said Velvet. “I don’t know why. Maybe she just felt she had to be good at any challenge, no matter what. But my son tried to help her. They were going to serve stuffed mushroom soup for the appetizer.”

Now for the rough haul.

Eventually, Velvet sought refuge in Derpy’s polite, intense stare. Shades of Twilight looked back at her.

“I guess he must have missed her doing something, though,” Velvet found herself confessing, half-shocked, half-entranced. “She wanted to make sure the soup was perfect, so in a way, she did.”

“What did she do?” Derpy murmured.

“She…”

Velvet’s mind scrambled. Bits of it collided backstage, bouncing off each other and running into props.

Something was thrust forward. She took it, then stopped and examined it for the slightest wrong detail.

Pinned between the backdrop and the looming audience, Velvet blurted out, “She put something in the soup. It didn’t go down very well. She was very upset.”

Derpy frowned trying to keep up. “You mean like a spice?”

“Yes, yes, like a spice!” Velvet seized the improvisation gratefully. “Too hot for my friends. She was upset. I calmed her down, and… we learned a lesson.”

You coward, said someone deep in her mind.

“I understand.” Derpy nodded sympathetically, screwing up her face to wring out the pain. “The poor things put their hearts and souls into everything they do.”

“Yes,” said Velvet to her tiramisu. “They do.”

“I guess she didn’t want to keep cooking after that?”

“She felt she shouldn’t.”

“Poor girl…” Derpy reached across, knocked her bowl off, yelped, grabbed it, grimaced, thumped it back onto the table, and reached across again to pat Velvet hoof-to-hoof. “Don’t feel bad, though. You did your best. I don’t doubt it in the slightest. There’s only so much one pony can manage.”

“Huh?” Velvet caught Derpy’s optimism pupil-to-pupil. She almost blinked as though caught by a sparkler.

“I have to watch Ammy do that sometimes. She puts herself out so much, and then when it doesn’t work like she wanted, she kicks herself while she’s down. She only comes to me when she’s ready. All I can do is wait. That’s all anyone can do, really.”

Velvet fiddled with the crumbs on her plate. They weren’t worth eating. The blotches they left on the plate were dark fire, suggesting shapes where none existed, yet moving without life.

She didn’t risk saying anything more. Not Twilight’s mom.

Spice? Spice? Velvet wished, over and over again, it had been anything as simple as a spice…

*

Eyes around the table pulsed as hearts.

First, there had been a lull in the chatter – something about Twinklestar’s niece taking up astronomy – and Velvet’s mind had stopped checking for files on Twinkleshine and her obsession with finding galactic nebulae through a telescope in time to notice Twilight.

Then, there had been the cooing and crowing over the steaming dishes Twilight carried.

“Stuffed mushroom soup!”

“Ooh, that looks delicious, dear.”

“What great presentation skills. An artist and a chef.”

“She must get it from her father. Poor Velvet’s never been the best at organizing things, haha!”

To Velvet’s rising worry, Twilight had been smiling, full of steady confidence.

Next, Pirouette had invited Twilight over with a beckoning hoof. “You have poise, my dear Twilight,” she’d boomed.

“Thank you, Miss Pirouette. Mother says I should always trust myself and do my best.”

Velvet had frozen under the cold word.

Mother.

Twilight always called her Mom.

She’d barely noticed the bowls going down, but even then she’d wondered if the soup had sparkled a little more brightly than mere light and ripple could account for. When Twilight had bobbed a curtsey – releasing more fluttering dove words from the surrounding coop – Velvet had risen to her hooves and followed her to the door.

“This soup is even better than I expected,” the first voice had said. “And I’d expected perfection.”

“Twilight?” said Velvet.

Twilight barely looked over her shoulder. “Sorry, Mother. Mustn’t stop now. The main course needs me.”

The conversation behind them drifted back to astronomy, cures for colds, and why Twinkleshine – lovely girl, but so stubborn sometimes – needed to spend more nights indoors like a proper child. Soup slurped. Then shots were fired:

“Yes, the mushroom juices have been thoroughly mixed into the soup. I simply must have the recipe.”

“Yes! I want more!”

“Amazing! I can’t stop eating it!”

“I need more!”

Velvet hurried faster.

“Twilight?” she repeated. She just beat Twilight to the door in time to block her exit. “Twilight, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Mother…” Twilight dodged left and right. Any second now, she’d light up a snatch of a teleportation spell – not powerful, but powerful enough to get her on the other side of Velvet.

Spoons rattled in the bowls. Pirouette began digging into her own. Her duchess grace vanished faster than the soup.

Then someone snatched someone else’s bowl. “I want it!”

“I need it!”

“You can’t have mine! Have Twinklestar’s!”

“No, I’ll have both of yours!”

“Give me that!”

“How dare you!”

“Mine!”

“Mine!”

“All mine! Let go!”

“MINE!” boomed Pirouette. Her lunge upturned the table. Crockery crashed. Wood groaned against the marble floor. The slam did nothing to beat into silence the shrieking squabble.

Velvet tore her gaze away… in time to see Twilight’s eyes locked against the horror.

“What did you do?” said Velvet, and she heard the quaver in her own voice. Any motherly fury was dwarfed by the massive shadow her own daughter could cast at any second. “Twilight, what did you put in that soup?”

“I didn’t!” Twilight curled up. “I didn’t mean to –”

The eyes.

Velvet looked back and saw the eyes of her friends.

Eyes pulsed as hearts.

I want it!

I need it!

Twilight’s horn flashed. By the time Velvet stopped blinking, her daughter had vanished.

Quick though Twilight had been, Velvet moved faster. She flung the door open in time to catch the second flash and a reappearing Twilight fleeing for the kitchen. Velvet’s mind was after her seconds before her galloping body could catch up.

And when she burst into the kitchen, she found –

Shining Armor stood over the pan on the hob, eyes pulsing with hearts.

Very slowly, almost lovingly, he spooned up more of the soup and dipped it into his mouth.

“Tastes good,” he droned. “Tastes perfect.”

*

Here and now, Velvet’s stare almost cracked the plate in front of her. Meaningless shapes floated on the brown stains of tiramisu smeared over the china, as a patch of fire tries to destroy the contours of the forest and cropland around it. Useless: even if it all burned down, the land would still be the land underneath.

She waited until the smoke and ash cleared from her body. Her insides were crackling and rising under the sheer heat of the memory. A sudden rich, roaring inferno passed; she waited it out.

The magic used had been a variant of the Want-It-Need-It spell. Not strong enough to work via sight, but strong enough – for Twilight’s age – to infect anyone who touched it. Shining Armor must have sipped a little soup to test it before Twilight served it to Velvet’s friends.

All for a bowl of soup. The soup they’d never say wasn’t perfect.

Twilight’s face. She tried to forget Twilight’s face. How much it had mirrored her own shock.

*

“CHANGE HIM BACK NOW!” shrieked Velvet, or what was left of her sanity.

“I didn’t mean to make it that strong!” The words bled from Twilight’s mouth.

“I SAID CHANGE HIM BACK!”

“I DON’T KNOW HOW!”

“TWILIGHT –” Too late, Velvet wrestled her own words down. Calmed herself.

Twilight backed into the corner. Any tighter and she’d become a pyramid compressed in dark fear.

Velvet had seen the warning twinkle on Twilight’s horn. If her daughter cast another spell through sheer fright, well, Velvet herself barely had the wherewithal to raise a spatula to defend herself.

And Velvet suddenly realized she was shouting at someone who’d practised turning ponies into pottery.

Not live ponies, not yet. Yet still a juggernaut, who’d had magical surges. Surges that could make a kitchen into a toy set, or leave her floating like a balloon on the ceiling, or shrink her to doll size, or turn her into a big puppet, or a million other things only child monsters would do.

All Velvet’s friends, turned into fighting maniacs over soup… Shining Armor, reduced to a zombie…

But Twilight, her own daughter, her charge, her baby, squeezed so tightly by walls and ceiling that the tears leaked and dribbled out of her wide eyes…

Velvet’s own eyes burned, fluxed, threatened to burst. Something cold ran over her cheek. Drops trembled along with her chin.

They both heard the rattle of a ladle deep within the pan as Shining hummed and slurped whatever scolding hot drops remained.

“Twilight, please.” Velvet’s voice cracked quietly.

“It’s not my fault! They made me do it! I had to make it perfect! I didn’t want to let anypony down!”

Please.

That was the worst part: begging. If Twilight said no, Velvet had nothing. The usual punishments – grounding, telling-off, explaining what she did wrong – meant nothing to power. She might as well have pleaded with a dragon.

Twilight didn’t say a word.

*

“And that was how Dinky became president of Equestria,” said Derpy suddenly.

Velvet nodded vaguely, before her face crystallized and crinkled under the snowfall of words.

“Wh-what?” she said, and then she remembered. The Haute Cuisine café. The other ponies chatting at the other toadstool tables. Pegasi flitting back and forth overhead. Derpy opposite, giving her what the dim-witted might consider a sly look.

How had Velvet looked just now? She’d been sitting here for a while, saying nothing.

Hastily she wiped her eyes, and to her alarm found them damp.

“Sorry, Derpy,” she said. “I-I was miles away. That was rude of me. You were talking?”

Derpy cocked her head. “I was saying how Dinky became president.”

“Er…” A joke, a clue, something weirder?

A gentle tinkling bell of a laugh eased her. Derpy stopped and then added, “Don’t mind me. I just do that sometimes to see if ponies are paying attention. Ammy always falls for it.”

“Sorry, Derpy, I was just thinking, that’s all.”

Understandingly, Derpy nodded, as though indulging a sister her little oddities. “That’s OK. Dinky gets into moods like that too. When she’s read so much it fills her up, she just sits and thinks for hours and hours. It’s that big brain of hers. Gets so full it leaks out all over the place.”

Wish that wasn’t Twilight’s problem, thought Velvet before she could stop herself.

“If you want to carry on thinking,” said Derpy meekly, “you can if you want. I’m sorry if I stuck my hoof in where I shouldn’t.”

“I wasn’t thinking of much,” Velvet found herself saying. She ignored the lurking lie there. Instead, she settled back down and stared off into the distance.

A few ponies around them beamed and laughed at various jokes they told each other. She thought she spotted the unicorn family from earlier at one table, but she wasn’t sure. Two parents, two sisters. They might just have been a coincidence, though.

She bet they didn’t have her problems. The larger and the smaller, angrily arguing over a menu, horns glowing at the same time…

*

Twilight’s horn stopped glowing. Shining Armor blinked and shook his head wildly.

Velvet hastily took him aside and whispered everything in his ear.

Just in time, she blocked the angry look he threw at Twilight with her own body leaping between them. “Shining, you know how to counter that spell?”

“Yeah,” he said grimly. “Advanced Defensive Training, Chapter 29.”

“Would you take care of my friends? I’ll handle Twilight.”

“You’re sure?”

Velvet waited until he wised up.

“Sorry, Mom. Will do, Mom.”

She let him have his salute and heard his hoofsteps die away. Only then did she peek over her own shoulder.

Twilight had her back to her own mother.

Part of Velvet wished she could hurry in the opposite direction, but the rest of her shuffled over and nestled around Twilight. She didn’t do much else. There wasn’t enough left in her to give a strong hug.

The thing that killed Velvet was that this wasn’t the first time. Four months earlier, Twilight had gotten into trouble at school for hypnotizing her classmates and – when it escalated – the teacher, the principal, and a squadron of guards sent in by neighbours who’d heard the screams. Hard to tell from the garbled accounts and Twilight’s frightened silence afterwards, but apparently, she’d been challenged by a bully who’d said she didn’t deserve… “special privileges”.

Then three months before that, Velvet had received complaints from a tutor hosting Twilight’s supplementary magic class for talented unicorns. The tutor’s office had been twisted into pieces. Twilight had claimed she’d originally snuck in to change an A- grade to an A, and then got caught, and one thing led to another.

Two months before that, Twilight’s Smarty-Pants doll had come to life and attacked a fellow student who’d insulted it. Even now, after supposedly being de-cursed, the doll had an uncanny ability to turn up in places Twilight swore she’d never left it in.

One month before that, Twilight had been told off for playing tag. Or, more accurately, for turning her classmates into… It.

Barely two weeks before, Twilight had thrown her classroom into chaos because her teachers insisted she stop reading and go outside to play for once.

One week before, Twilight had frozen half the house out of frustration. She’d been practising a new spell.

And then, all the way back at magic kindergarten, Velvet had learned the hard way – often personally and painfully – why she was useless at mothering someone who hadn’t learned yet that ponies weren’t just big toys.

Velvet’s daughter. Which made her Twilight’s mom.

After all that, what was she supposed to do?

“It’s OK, honey,” she lied. Such easy, pointless words…

“I don’t know why I did it!” Twilight rushed through her own words. “I-I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t want to make everyone mad.”

“I know you didn’t.”

“I know it’s wrong! I’m a bad pony!”

“No, you’re a good pony. You just made a bad choice.” Velvet hated the words. She had difficulty believing them herself, and a mother absolutely should not think like that.

“Will they hate me?”

“I’ll explain things to them. I’m sure they’ll understand, and I’m sure you understand too.”

“They’ll hate me! You hate me!”

“I don’t hate you at all, honey. But you know why it’s wrong to do things like that. Imagine if someone did that to you.”

Who? Velvet thought grimly. No one’s strong enough. Ah, but that wasn’t the point, was it? This wasn’t a threat. This was an attempt to get it into Twilight’s young, naïve mind what she was really doing, without spooking her into ignoring it.

“It’s all right,” continued Velvet. “It’s all going to be all right.”

“But what if Shining Armor can’t fix the spell properly?”

“You can do it. You can set it right. There’s always a chance to set things right, if you really want to.”

“I’ll mess it up again!”

“Do you want to mess it up again?”

“NO! I mean, no! No. Never.”

“That’s good. Because then you’ll learn not to. You’re learning new things, honey. You’re getting better all the time, even though you don’t think you are.”

“I just didn’t want to make anyone mad at the soup. They said they wanted it to be perfect.”

“But they didn’t want you to put a spell on them. What do you think, Twilight? Ponies might be a little disappointed if the soup isn’t great, but they won’t make a big deal out of it. Now imagine how ponies might feel if someone put a spell on them to make them like something. Which do you think is worse?”

Twilight shuffled under her grip.

Part of Velvet wished: if only Twilight had been like Shining Armor. He’d been difficult too, in his day, but he’d at least been within Velvet’s league. By the time he’d mastered the powerful spells, she’d already helped him master right and wrong. That was half the reason he’d decided to join the Royal Guard: he practically charged into duty without a second thought.

With Twilight, Velvet fumbled at the mercy of someone who she prayed, just prayed, was figuring out right and wrong as she went.

If Velvet had any pride in her parenting, though, it was in the fact that she’d never, ever say as much in front of her daughter. The day she did that would be the day she’d know she was no true mother.

Which left her digging up clichés. Safe, reliable, unchallenging clichés. Ones she’d be spouting again the next time Twilight did something.

“I know how you feel,” she whispered.

“You don’t talk to Shining like this,” muttered Twilight.

Velvet fumbled for the sudden shift. “I did. When he was younger. Not very much, yes, but –”

“It’s because I’m special, isn’t it?” Twilight spat the word.

She trembled with… fear or rage, possibly some forced alloy of both.

“I hate being special.”

Velvet didn’t dare say anything until she’d thought about it. Her own lips trembled trying not to speak.

Eventually, she said, “No matter what you do, honey, you’ll always be special to me.”

Whilst Twilight trembled ominously, Velvet refused to let go. She just hoped Twilight would get the point, in the embrace if not in her worn-out words. She wasn’t alone. She shouldn’t be alone. Even if her power made her the only sword in a world full of cheap plastic knives, she could still cut a fair slice of life for herself.

It was only later, after Shining Armor returned flustered but smiling weakly with the good news, that Velvet wondered if she’d used the wrong words.

*