• Published 29th May 2020
  • 732 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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Derpy's Tormenting Secret

“Is there a, er, a powder room I could use?” said Velvet as she followed Derpy into the living room.

“Um, no,” said Derpy, perplexed.

Velvet stopped thinking Canterlot and started thinking Ponyville. “I meant is there a bathroom?”

Derpy gaped at her in frank astonishment. “You don’t want to have a bath right now, do you?” she said.

From the sofa, Golden Harvest piped up, “It’s upstairs, first on your right.”

“Thanks. Won’t be long.” Velvet hurried up.

The upstairs landing continued the huddled, warm, welcoming theme of the rest of the house. There were four doors, three slightly ajar, one – somehow, she guessed it must be Ammy’s – locked tight. Well, she could sympathize with the need to keep a little part of one’s life locked away from everyone else. It kept most ponies sane. Shining Armor had been like that too…

She needed a minute to herself, more than anything else. It wasn’t just the recent distressing tendency for ponies to start suddenly figuring out what her first name was. Neither was it Dinky somehow giving young Twilight a run for her money. Nor was it even the weird nostalgia she felt having a farmer around in a country-looking place again. Although none of those things did her whirlwind mind any favours, either…

So what was it?

It sounded stupid, but…

Velvet felt she didn’t ought to be welcome here. Everyone had simply suddenly become kin to her, and it hadn’t been since her school days when she’d felt that omnipresent warmth coddling her mind like soft pillows. And even that had been nothing to her Vanhoover childhood.

Suddenly, on this side of her lifespan, it seemed dangerous. Threatening. As if they were protecting her from something, and not in a way she found jolly exciting, either. It felt like they were… well, letting her in too easily. Like a trap. That, they were, protecting her, against?

No, don’t be ridiculous. She tried again.

She’d sensed too much warmth to be true, except maybe around Amethyst, who she hadn’t figured out yet…

Velvet breathed out heavily.

She hated feeling like this. It had to be the Canterlot influence, she kept telling herself. Canterlot nobles didn’t go in for warmth much, or at least were brutally honest about the terms and conditions of doing so. The only exceptions were ponies like Night Light, and once they became her family, she didn’t see them as part of the world outside her home anymore –

Perhaps it’d be politer to leave? Twilight’s appointment must be nigh by now. Just make an excuse, kiss kiss, duck out, and then leave and go and get this over with.

Yes! That was the problem. The appointment loomed over her no matter what she did. How was she supposed to concentrate with that hovering over her head?

Except… she’d clean forgotten about it, during whole stretches of today, when talking to Derpy.

Was that the problem? No. It certainly hadn’t felt like a problem at the time. She’d quite happily go back and do it all again, only with a few of the more blush-inducing bits edited out.

So what was it? Why didn’t she feel right? A few blushes hardly mattered.

Annoyingly, the tears quivered in her eyes. The thought plopped: Why didn’t she deserve to be right?

Oh, stupid! Complete nonsense. She wiped her eyes furiously. Over every little thing, too.

Without feeling any progress had been made, she pushed it out of her mind, washed her hooves, and stepped out onto the landing. Nearby, she heard the muffled thumps of Dinky’s rummaging and a few muttered complaints along the lines of: “Where is it? Where is it?”

“Lost something, honey?” said Velvet on autopilot.

“Looking for a book!” cried Dinky behind the far door. “Won’t be long! I wanna show you something!”

Wait. Honey? Had she really just said “honey”? That was what she called Twilight. This was getting utterly –

It was then that Velvet noticed the door right next to her wasn’t ajar. It was nearly wide open.

Some books. Lots of books, in fact. A reading room? Here?

Something of the daredevil in Velvet prompted her to peer in. No harm in curiosity, was there? Rumours of the cat’s death must have been greatly exaggerated.

Sure looked like a reading room: there were books strewn everywhere. They had a private reading room, just like at her home too? She stepped inside. It wasn’t trespassing, she insisted, if she didn’t take long.

Also, it wasn’t nosying around if she saw a title on one of the books. The lettering could be seen from the landing. Reading that hardly counted, even if she had to creep in to read it more comfortably.

Everyone kept guessing her secret, anyway. That had been a tad annoying for someone who felt she’d done her best to keep things on the lowdown, all things considered. About time she evened the odds a bit.

“How to Be a Good Mother,” she read aloud, but quietly; Dinky would still be nearby, and if Velvet had learned anything from her own experience, it was that foals could hear you talking through several walls. Especially when they weren’t supposed to hear the delicate things you were saying.

How to Be a Good Mother?

Velvet turned over another book. “101 Ways to Bring Up Your Baby Happy, Healthy, and Hopeful.”

She brought another one closer for inspection, and this time caught a flash of outrage. “Why You’re Bad At Parenting (And How To Do It Better).”

“Mothering Manual.”

“What You’re Doing Wrong (To Your Children).”

“1001 Parenting Tips You Must Learn Before You Die.”

“The Parenthooves.”

“Homemade Children.”

“Wife, the Universe, and Everything.”

“The 17 Rules of Perfect Parenting.”

“Do Your Children Hate You? How To Tell In 13 Easy Steps.”

Parenting guides. They were all parenting guides.

Velvet nearly walked into the bed.

There was a bed, yes, but it had the special made look of a bed that so rarely received any clients. The last time Velvet had seen bedding so perfectly nipped and tucked, Night Light had left for weeks on a royal diplomatic business trip. She wondered if this bed would feel as cold.

There was an open window overlooking it. It had bolts and locks, but right now their function was being cheerfully ignored in favour of inviting a cool breeze.

There was the desk beside it. In for a cent, in for a bit: Velvet peered over the piles of paper and one book propped open by a cracked coffee mug which said “TO THE WORLD’S BEST MOTHER” and had a teddy bear on it. A stale muffin appeared to have baked inside it. Some kind of insta-muffin in a mug, maybe.

On the topmost sheet, the points were numbered, but by someone who apparently thought “9” and “10” were followed by “101” and “102”.

Velvet picked it up carefully for closer inspection.

During her brief scan, she picked up certain repeated words. “A mother must…” and “daughter” and “love” and “efficiently”, and – for some reason – “must not disappoint” was quite popular too.

The scribbly writing seemed quite frantic, as if desperate to get all the ideas down. Some ideas had been written in twice; Velvet wondered if that had been a deliberate educational technique or just done out of nerves.

Whose room was this? Derpy’s was her first guess, but the locks on the window and the tidiness of the bed didn’t seem to fit her whirlwind approach to life, even if the window was as wide open as the door and Derpy had already admitted she rarely slept here.

Dinky was in a completely different room, so this one couldn’t be hers. Somehow, Velvet doubted Amethyst would leave this much of a mess or obsess so much about parenthood, and certainly wouldn’t leave a door so carelessly wide open. The mug suggested… No, think logically, anyone could use a mug –

Someone gasped behind her. Velvet swung round on lightning-struck guilt.

Hovering at the door was Dinky.

“What are you doing?” said the filly.

Uh oh.

Velvet suddenly had nothing to do there. Her gaze and face jumped around the room frantically avoiding anything forbidden, her body turned away from Dinky and then back and then away the other way and then back again, and she spoke and screwed up her lips so much that words refused to come out with their hooves up.

“I – There was just,” she pleaded. “Sorry. The door – Well, I saw a book loose – Got lost on my way to the bathroom – I thought I heard a noise – See, I was just curious –”

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” said Dinky. She said it blankly, as one who’d memorized the diktat from cradle up and didn’t understand it, just followed it. “This is Mom’s room.”

“Please don’t tell her I was in here!” Velvet dropped the paper back onto the desk. “I didn’t mean anything. I shouldn’t have come in here.” She glanced at the door, horrified someone might be on the landing just out of reach but not out of earshot.

Dinky just stared at her as though curious what the stranger was going to do next. “What were you looking at?”

As if stung, Velvet drew away from the desk. “Nothing.”

Now Dinky frowned. The idol worship in her face had gone to a backroom, leaving something less forgiving in charge.

“You were reading Mom’s secret parent notes, weren’t you?” she said.

Velvet wanted to bang her head on a nearby wall. What a way to behave, in someone else’s house! Her, a welcomed guest! What was she thinking? It was her stupid head agreeing to all this new stuff, she’d never have done this in front of – Wait a minute.

No longer trying not to exist on the spot, Velvet stopped and concentrated all on Dinky.

“How do you know what those notes are?” said Velvet suddenly.

Nonchalance itself, Dinky shrugged. “I’ve read them.”

“You –” Velvet drew herself up. “Now, now, Dinky. Shouldn’t you know better than to pry on other ponies’ private papers?”

Giggles. Complete relaxation. So Dinky was not entirely like little Twilight: whereas little Twilight had squirmed and worried about Right and Wrong, Dinky seemed to view them as something nice to pick up only when she felt like it.

“Look who’s talking,” she said blankly.

There was nothing for it. Dinky had her twice over now as far as blackmail material went. Velvet would have to throw herself down on her mercy.

“I didn’t mean to pry, Dinky. I’m so sorry.”

If anything, Dinky just crept cautiously over to the desk like a practised burglar – too late, Velvet realized the floorboards might have creaked down through to the ceiling below when she’d walked over them – and shuffled the papers on the desk idly. Unlike her big sister, she felt no need to stint on the magic in her horn.

“It’s OK. I can’t help myself all the time, too,” said Dinky, placing them carefully. “You’re not in trouble if you don’t get caught.”

“But you caught me…? And anyway, I shouldn’t have…”

For the first time, Velvet wondered if the way Dinky smirked at her – and the horrified respect rising like a roused but confused guard in her own chest – was exactly what Night Light experienced whenever Velvet committed the rascal crime of improvisation. It was the moment when she marvelled how someone could so joyfully do what lesser souls ought never to dare.

A bit of idol worship winked through little eyes.

“Ha, a rulebreaker mom. You’re really not like Princess Twilight Sparkle, are you?” said Dinky.

“She gets it from her father,” was Velvet’s weak contribution; she was too busy feeling steered by the wrong pony. “Look, I didn’t mean to presume. I really was just curious. Nothing was meant by it. Nothing.”

“I get it!” piped up Dinky reassuringly. “I do!”

“I don’t want to be that kind of pony. Just because I’m, well… I’m…” The wrong words kept volunteering for service: a Canterlot type, more well-known, more famous, richer, higher ranked. Those words were servants she’d inherited when she’d married Night Light and given him Shining and Twilight: she didn’t have to accept such add-ons.

She resorted to: “I’m not better than anyone. I shouldn’t be here.” Then she made for the door.

“Aha, now you’re talking like Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

Velvet stopped mid-march. “I what?”

“She’s like that too.” Dinky shuffled over – watching the floorboards – and sat herself down, right next to Velvet, with a complete lack of urgency and little breathing space between them. “She hid in the library a lot and tried to join in things like Winter Wrap-Up and stuff. I think it’s sweet.”

“Twilight was what?” Ah, but it made a kind of sense, didn’t it? Twilight had been a little smug about being Princess Celestia’s protégé, but that was about once a week, when the rest of the week was spent focused on or panicking about whatever latest test she’d been set.

Yes, Twilight had decided early on: she’d cringe and sneak around in case anyone thought she was swanking. Or in case she started using spells to prove herself.

Velvet tensed for a missed heartbeat. This, Dinky seemed to notice: she leaned away and looked up sharply.

“Did she learn that from you?” said Dinky.

“Learn what, sorry?”

“All the stuff about being kind and polite. I bet she learned it from you.”

No safer answer stepped forwards than: “We tried our best.”

Then Dinky shuffled away and picked up one of the forbidden papers from the reading desk. A criminal impulse fled her, though, because she dropped the goods and shuffled back to her post.

All those pages and pages of “A mother must…”

No! No. Velvet wasn’t going to ask.

“So,” said Dinky, voice suddenly quiet. “You know Mom’s secret too.”

Velvet felt the little head rest gently against her own side, and didn’t dare move. To find herself next to a foal so trusting… The air forgot to leave her held chest. Whatever else she was, Dinky was still someone else’s child.

Pressed against Velvet’s side, the mane scrunched as fierce eyes glared up. “Mom’s not a bad mom,” came the firm plaint.

Velvet the defendant said nothing. She hadn’t realized she was on trial.

“She’s the best mom in the world.” Angrily, Dinky pointed at the titles heaped around them. “She doesn’t need all these books. She’s good enough on her own.”

“I didn’t say she wasn’t,” spluttered Velvet under the onslaught. Honesty encouraged her to admit, “I was wondering why she’s got so many.” The realities of her place on the crime scene damned her. “It’s not my place, I know.”

Having made the opening speech, Dinky’s face ducked down and firmly pressed itself against Velvet’s side. “It’s stupid,” she muttered.

The nature of the injustice slowly wrapped Velvet’s wandering mind in chains.

Sheer weight pressed on her skin and against her ribs trying to breathe against the cold idea.

Supposing all this mother manual stuff had started when other ponies had talked? After all, Derpy didn’t look like anyone’s idea of the perfect mother. Skepticism would not hold back. Go back in time far enough and she wouldn’t have had a chance to prove herself yet…

“Derpy seems like a wonderful mother to me,” she confessed.

Furious, Dinky’s face rose from the bench again. “That’s what I said, but she just nods and smiles and then goes and reads more books! She always thinks she’s doing it wrong!”

Handling Dinky came more and more naturally to Velvet. Her own face creased in puzzlement.

“Why would she think that?” she said.

“Because she thinks she does everything wrong!” Dinky’s voice cracked in that one. Her face pressed into Velvet’s side, muffled, murmuring, “It’s stupid. Stupid.”

Derpy, who knocked things over and got her letters wrong and wasn’t good with numbers. And had funny eyes.

Huh, yes, and Velvet was always Twilight Sparkle’s mom.

Still, this filly pressing up against her as naturally as if she’d known Velvet all her life was not her child. Velvet fought years of motherly impulse, which urged her to hug the little unicorn whose face was starting to leak into her coat.

Carefully, she settled for putting a gentle hoof on Dinky’s shoulder. Two smaller ones instantly wrapped around her waist. She patted the tousled mess that was Dinky’s mane, wishing they weren’t locked together like this.

“Er, Dinky?” said Velvet after she felt the little one had done enough crying to get it out of her system. “I think the others will want to know why we haven’t come downstairs yet.”

Tear-streaked cheeks looked up to her for guidance.

Velvet couldn’t help herself. She tutted – but gently – and wiped them as best she could.

“Come on, now,” she soothed. “You don’t want to show that damp face to everyone, now do you?”

She stopped with the job half-done. As expected, Dinky wiped the rest off herself and backed off a bit.

“You love your mom very much,” Velvet continued. “That should prove to Derpy all this stuff is just silly.”

“Yeah.” Dinky sniffed and wiped her muzzle on the back of a hoof. “But I’ve always loved Mom – lots! – and she still reads the dumb books.”

“I wish I could help you there…” said Velvet.

She recognized the signs, though. Her friend Twinklestar had been like that: constantly convinced there was something hidden, something fundamental she was doing utterly, catastrophically wrong to her children, despite the envy of her friends and the happiness of her own kin.

That sort of thing could tear a mother from the inside out. Unfortunately, it was just one of those things that infected a mind with a dark canker and then, despite all the happy speeches and loyal friends and shed tears, remained stuck there for months and years.

Velvet had kept up the happy speeches, rallied the loyal friends, and wiped away the shed tears, of course. She had to. She couldn’t just let her friend get on with it and call herself a friend in turn. Sometimes, she hoped the talks kept the other mothers, if not healthy, then at least sane enough to face their families again for another week.

And Derpy had more evidence to point to, she’d bet, as excuses for why she was a Bad Mother, despite the fact that here was her little one crying over such rot and swearing it wasn’t true. Sometimes, the darkness of the mind didn’t need a reason. It just turned up uninvited, like funny eye conditions.

Darkness was darkness. How it got there was just one thing it’d be nice to know, but it wasn’t everything. The important thing in Velvet’s mind was to face it and dive right in.

The same thought struck Dinky: her face shot up. “You could help her! You could tell her how good she is! I bet she’d listen to Twilight Sparkle’s mom!”

Velvet barely winced. She mustered a more helpful smile instead.

“It’s sweet,” she said, “but Dinky, I don’t think it’s my place to cure everyone’s problems.”

Confusion and the hurt of betrayal tortured Dinky’s face.

“Well,” spluttered Velvet, “if you can’t convince her, how can I?” The thought held Dinky’s tongue at bay for long enough, so Velvet hurried on: “Look, I’ll see if I can sort of bring the talk around to… something like it, OK? I know she’s a wonderful mother. She’s a wonderful pony in general. And we’ll say no more about sneaking into her room, shall we?”

Dinky shocked herself back to life. She skipped out of reach and sidled up to the door.

“OK,” she whispered, then she beckoned Velvet to follow. “Come on, I’ll say I was looking for my book, and you can say you needed the bathroom for a long time or something –”

What do you think you’re doing in there?

It was Amethyst’s voice. It snapped like hoofcuffs.

Dinky leaped a foot in the air.

Velvet didn’t move. She wasn’t visible from the landing, maybe she’d left the bathroom door shut –

Both of you! Get out right now!

Velvet groaned and followed Dinky out.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to –”

Then she noticed Amethyst held a gemstone levitated between them. Aimed like a crossbow.

The unicorn’s horn didn’t give off a particularly impressive light, but one look at the vibrating chunk of polished emerald strongly put Velvet in mind of concentrated lasers. One in particular, aiming at her eye and not remotely apologetic about blinding her.

Fury shifted: Amethyst tutted and relaxed. The gemstone lowered itself. So, Velvet thought, she uses magic in an emergency.

“I heard the hoofsteps through the ceiling,” announced Amethyst – Dinky gave a very silent moan – “For pity’s sake, I thought there was someone up here that shouldn’t be! You can’t just waltz into whatever room you like as if you own the place!”

“I know, I know, I should’ve –”

“It’s my fault,” piped up Dinky suddenly. “I wanted to show her something. Blame me. She didn’t know any better.”

Velvet did not hide her astonishment in time. Amethyst must have spotted it in that split second. They were looking right at each other. Even if they hadn’t, Amethyst’s eyes burned in complete disbelief.

She’d never seen so much hatred held in tight check. Thin lines crossed Amethyst’s face like harsh restraining cords, as if her glare, bared teeth, and slit nostrils had been expertly sliced into place. Against the barely controlled, unkempt mane, overall there was the suggestion of a wild panther behind bars.

“That’s Mom’s room,” Amethyst snarled. “No one goes in there except her and me.” A crashing thought bent and weakened the bars. “Did you read anything in there?”

Too late, Velvet’s frightened silence was a confession in itself.

The panther pressed harder against the restraints. “If you so much as breathe anything you saw in there to anyone –”

“Ammy, knock it off!” Dinky held on to Velvet’s leg, tight enough to seriously threaten the blood supply. “She’s a good pony. It’s not her fault the door was wide open.”

Amethyst brought a hoof to her face. Had she possessed the requisite fingers and thumb, she’d have pinched the bridge of her nose.

“I have nothing but complete respect for your mother,” said Velvet, no longer bothering to pretend. “I’m sorry I invaded her privacy. It was a moment of weakness. I won’t do it again.” Especially not if it means staring down the wrong end of a blaster gemstone again, she thought.

From downstairs, Derpy shouted up, “Ammy? Dinky? Velvet? You all right?”

Without looking away from her suspects, Amethyst shouted down, “Just peachy, Mom!”

“You’ve been up there a very long time!”

Velvet and Dinky held their breaths.

“We’re enjoying the view, Mom!” Amethyst shouted.

It was such a palpably sarcastic bit of nonsense that Velvet had to choke back a laugh.

After a curious pause, Derpy shouted in reply, “Okie dokie! Come down soon!”

Growling, Amethyst swung the emerald and – in a bit of astonishing jiggery-pokery – the thing disappeared behind her back as though a holstered handgun. Then she stepped aside to let them pass.

“Dinky: you know the drill,” she snapped. “Miss Velvet: you want me to keep treating you like a trusted guest, you can persuade me by acting like one, got it?”

“Er…” Velvet flinched at the fresh round Amethyst loaded into that wrinkling muzzle. “I mean, yes, yes! I’m sorry.”

“Hey,” grumbled Dinky, but not quietly enough, “you can’t talk to her like that. She’s a guest and she’s Mom’s friend and she’s Princess Twilight Sparkle’s mom.”

“She’s also on our territory,” said Amethyst. “And that means she’s under our rules.”

Your rules.”

Mom’s rules, with my input.”

Aha. Velvet’s brief insight into the politics of the Derpy household quickly pretended it hadn’t heard anything when Amethyst glared at her.

Then Amethyst leaned forwards so only Velvet’s nearest ear could hear. “And I don’t care if you’re the mother of Princess Celestia herself. Nothing gives you the right to pry on Mom’s stuff.”

“I won’t say a word about it,” said Velvet. “I promise.”

Less gruffly, Amethyst added, “You’d better. Don’t let it happen again, got it?”

Velvet almost made a sharp remark about her tone of voice – this was a kid talking to her as if she, Velvet, were the out-of-control teenager – but then she kicked herself back in line, just in time. After all, supposing Shining had caught a strange guest rummaging around his parents’ rooms?

She glanced sidelong at Amethyst’s black Arctic pools for eyes, and saw a quiver of hurt gleaming back. Could she blame love pricked into a harsh attack?

So instead, Velvet whispered back, “I understand. I really do.”

“Hm.” Amethyst snorted, but the worst of the wind had gone from her lungs by now. Her heart certainly wasn’t in it.

On the way down, though, Amethyst did use their thumping hoofsteps as cover to say to her, “At least Dinky likes you, Miss Velvet.”

“Oh? How do you tell?”

“For one thing, she tried lying through her teeth. In front of me.” A mock laugh broke ranks. “You must’ve really pushed a button, Miss Velvet, because that’s some suicidal devotion, all right.”