• Published 29th May 2020
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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 Bright Side of Twilight

While they waited for their desserts in silence, pegasi zoomed across the rooftops. It was so sudden and loud that Velvet looked up at once. No one else even stopped eating.

She didn’t see any cloud-moving up there. The pegasi looked like they were flying simply for the adrenaline boost. Some did loop-de-loops and aileron rolls as they flew.

Different. Canterlot had its pegasi, of course, but usually they acted like another kind of servant: sidling in, doing their duty, sidling out again. They didn’t flash and bang like fireworks. If they had, they certainly would have attracted attention, mostly of the harsh-tongued and stern-eyed variety.

“Pretty, aren’t they?” said Derpy, but not with much enthusiasm; Velvet noticed her droopy eyes and upturned smile handing in its resignation.

“They’re fascinating,” said Velvet, watching a pair spin round each other. While she had noticed Derpy’s defeated head leaning on a hoof and elbow over the table, Velvet couldn’t help herself: the brushstroke rush of colours, the ear-twitching swoosh, the blink-and-they’re-gone speed of the pegasus ponies.

Thus, Savoir Fare delivered their desserts so silently that by the time Velvet looked away from the sky, she was greeted by her own coffee-brown delicacy and whatever mountain Derpy was now munching her way through. Silent and efficient. Ah, that was more like a Canterlot servant…

Then again, perhaps he hadn’t wanted to break her concentration. She’d watched the flying ponies so avidly, hadn’t she? She couldn’t help glancing, even now.

“How about your daughter?” said Derpy, cream-splashed head peeking over the peak of Mount Multicoloured Scoops. “She cook?”

Velvet’s focus bumped back onto the ground, almost cracking.

“She… did. Once.” Velvet rushed for refuge. “Back then, Shining – I mean, my son –”

“Congratulations!” boomed Derpy. “A son and a daughter? Two little ones! Twice the fun!”

“Thanks, but…” Velvet flashed her a smile. “Anyway, my son didn’t do a lot of cooking. He wanted to go into the Royal Guard, which meant learning how to handle rations and make do with whatever he found out in the field.”

“Did he ever get in? To the Royal Guard?”

The idea of Shining Armor, Captain of the Royal Guard and one of its most instantly recognizable and famous members to the public after his massive royal wedding, being brought up in this conversation made Velvet’s thoughts block themselves temporarily.

Too obvious! It’d blow her cover! For once, could she just be Twilight Velvet, and not Shining Armor’s mom or Twilight Sparkle’s mom?

A few hasty scene changes went on behind the curtain whilst her mask of a face waited blankly.

“He did… well,” was all she felt honest enough to say. If only Velvet had felt happy lying, she could have tossed out a random rank and have done with it. Looking at Derpy’s keen face, though…

“What rank was he?”

“I don’t remember –” Stupid! Stupid thing to say! “Corporal!” she hastily added.

It had got out before Velvet’s inner manager had okayed it. Why!? Why did Derpy have to ask!? No, don’t blame her! Why didn’t I get a better grip on an answer first!?

Velvet scrambled for a new script, but the hushed shock spread in horror backstage, however much the show tried to go on. She’d lied. She’d outright lied.

Anyway he didn’t cook much is my point.” Throwing out the words, she immediately rushed to another spotlight. “Still, he liked to help around the kitchen. Well, you know how it is with children. Monkey see, monkey do. See, I was helping – I was helping my daughter do her homework in her spare time…”

*

In another room among many, where from floor to ceiling the walls were bricked up with books, Velvet curled up on the rug before the fireplace. Nestled between her forelimbs, she held a stiff-backed, upright Twilight, as fiercely silent as the slight crackle of hungry flames.

Velvet watched, spellbound, as the little horn flickered and sparked.

And the hoof-sized clay model of a pony – if ponies were squat, fat, and had pencil-poked holes for eyes – popped.

A small bowl stood in its place.

“Ta da!” Twilight broke out of her mother’s grip and gestured wide, bared teeth hungry for the oil of applause.

Velvet did not disappoint. “Wow! Bravo, bravo! You’re so talented, honey. I knew you could do it.”

“Wanna know the best part!?” squeaked young Twilight.

Giggling, Velvet cast her gaze over the bowl. “Go on, then. What’s the best part?”

“That’s a college-level version of Star Swirl’s own amniomorphic spell. No one as young as me has ever done it before. The record-holder was a whole year above me.”

“Well… well remembered, honey.”

Despite her brief nod and encouraging smile, Velvet found herself frowning at the bowl, in memory of the small clay pony that had once stood there.

She couldn’t really say that she didn’t like the idea of the amniomorphic spell. Transfiguration spells – OK – were just magical tools; she understood that much. And if some of them could be misapplied to… to things other than what was acceptable, like… like living things, then that was just a matter of who was casting the spell, surely? The fact that the amniomorphic spell had been invented as a weapon, or a sort of intimidation tactic… that was by-the-by…

Which was ridiculous, anyway. It was only a clay model. The thing hadn’t even been lifelike; magic or no magic, Twilight’s artistic skills left a lot to be desired.

Still –

No, it was only clay, for goodness’ sake. In fact, hadn’t Twilight explained that bowl transfiguration was easier when you started with clay than with… than with anything not-clay?

Velvet put the encouraging smile back. Lot of nonsense, said one half of her thinking. The other half curled up under the onslaught.

“Very good, honey!” she gushed. “You’re so talented, it’s leaking out of your ears.”

“Does that mean you think I could get into Celestia’s school!?” The question leaped out of Twilight to tackle her.

So much shone in those wide eyes, but Velvet barely faltered. “Absolutely. Is there nothing my special little girl can’t do?”

Yes, Celestia’s school felt like safer ground. For now, it was a distant dream, a long way away. Not that she doubted her daughter would get there; it was just that everyone could agree it was Twilight’s dream, and one day she’d get there. With her talent? No doubt.

A knock at the door. A hesitant white face – bigger, much more robustly built than Twilight’s – edged round the frame. It was Shining Armor.

“Sorry, Mom, Twily,” he said. “Didn’t want to disturb you, but –”

“Ah!” Velvet jumped to her hooves at once. “They’re here?”

He nodded once. “Er, I mean, sir yes sir!” He saluted.

Typical Shining Armor: he did take the training so seriously. “Shining, you don’t have to call me ‘sir’.”

“Standard military protocol! All superior officers are addressed as ‘sir’, sir!” Shining caught her eye. “Oh all right, Mom. I’ll drop it. It’s just best to stay in character as much as possible.”

“Even off-duty, Shining?”

“I really don’t want to get caught out.”

“Well, you can remember not to do it to me specifically, and we’ll call that an extra challenge. How’s that?”

“OK, OK! I get your point, Mom.” Less like a cornered son and more like a dutiful guard, he continued, “Your schoolfriends are all here. I advised them to reconnoitre – I mean, I sent them into the drawing room, as you ordered – as you requested – I mean, as you asked me to!”

He stopped himself in mid-salute, sheepishly lowering his maverick leg.

“Good boy.” Velvet gestured to Twilight, who’d been staring in rapt concentration at the bowl. “Keep your sister occupied, OK?”

“Sir yes sir!” He caught her eye. “Sorry, Mom. Yes, Mom.” Hurrying to get away, he went straight for his sister. “Hey hey, Twily! Got a new trick to show your big brother?”

“Better than that, B.B.B.F.F.!”

Big Brother Best Friend Forever. Velvet wondered what had been unleashed when Night Light had introduced their children to the wide world of acronyms.

“I got two tricks to show you!” piped up Twilight’s voice behind the closing door. “I can change ponies into bowls, and I can change them back. Watch!”

“Awesome! Wow me, S.S.B.F.F.!”

Small Sister Best Friend Forever.

Rolling her eyes, Velvet clicked the door neatly into place, satisfied that all was right in the world –

*

Velvet stopped.

She’d realized something.

She was telling this story to a virtual stranger.

On the half-remains of the Rainbow Sundae to Share, Derpy’s syrup-splattered face stopped chewing.

“Sorry,” said Derpy, ears feinting. “If I’m too disgusting, I can eat slower.”

“No, no, you eat how you feel comfortable,” said Velvet. Then she stopped again to get her bearings.

Lost for anything safe to look at – not the suddenly alien ponies, not the mismatched café, not the imposter town reminding her too much of Vanhoover’s countryside – she ended up staring at the pegasi racing overhead.

What was she doing? This was worse than revealing she was Twilight Sparkle’s mother. This was revealing dark sides of her heart even her schoolfriends shouldn’t know about. And for whom? Derpy was nice – in a “rabid sparrow, perky puppy” kind of way – but she wasn’t family.

“Velvet?” said Derpy, ice cream completely forgotten.

Velvet’s watch of the pegasi vanished under Derpy hovering over her.

“Can I do something to help?” said Derpy.

“It’s nothing,” said Velvet. Why she’d bothered, she had no idea. That excuse had never worked on herself, not when Shining had struggled, hating himself, through the academy, nor when Twilight had crumpled under the tons of advanced homework. Judging from Derpy’s thin lips, the pegasus had heard her share of it in her own time too.

Derpy didn’t settle down, either.

“I changed my mind; it’s not a very good story,” Velvet lied, hating the corrupted impulse. Tuts of disapproval broke out backstage. She’d done it again!

Derpy moved aside and sat back down; Velvet watched her the whole time, dreading the question and dreading the silence. No amount of freewheeling pegasi could distract her anymore.

After someone on another table laughed at an unheard joke, Derpy folded up her wings again. “That’s a shame,” she said. “You looked so passionate when you were telling it. But I understand.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Sometimes, I don’t think before I say things. Ammy’s always telling me not to do it, but I’m not that smart.” Kindly, she pointed at the untouched tiramisu. “That looks tasty.”

Velvet, veteran of many an awkward family conversation, knew an out when she heard one. The tiramisu joined her tongue, giving it something more palatable to do. Remembering in time, she hummed her appreciation, giving Derpy the signal to log out and resume deconstruction work on her rubble of ice cream scoops.

What Velvet was dying to explain to Derpy was pushed aside. Perhaps something to tide her over, then?

“See,” said Velvet nervously, eyeing the story up ahead, “there’d been my schoolfriends…”

*

Five of her friends in all, crowded at one end of the long table, because even fashionable ladies of Canterlot know bloomin’ stupid furniture design when they sit at it.

Velvet had hugged and kissed and babbled over each in turn. The leader of the herd was Pirouette, who’d been born for a ballerina’s life and had sternly told fate, “Not flipping likely! I’ll have proper meals and wear sensible horseshoes like anyone else, thank you very much.”

“It’s so gratifying to see you all again,” said Velvet, turning up the Canterlot mannerisms a tad.

“Charmed to see you too!”

“Likewise.”

“Ditto.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Bliss, Velvet,” boomed Pirouette, a contralto deep enough for an elephant matriarch to wallow in. “Absolute bliss to join you again. It has been too long.”

Even having known each other since they’d giggled and chatted during class, Velvet had to suppress an urge to curtsey. Pirouette was a drawing room of duchesses all by herself.

“And how is your youngest?” boomed Pirouette, glancing around. “Your daughter’s the talk of all the fashionable ends.”

“Oh. Sh-she is?”

“Ever since you told us last spring about her astonishing progress… We simply had to tell ponies, what! Many have speculated – you’ll be delighted to hear, you wonderful old thing – she might even be the first to pass the unique Draconian Test entry supplement for Celestia’s School. Jolly exciting, what!?”

“Yes? Yes! I mean, very exciting.”

“You’re very blessed to have such a talented young unicorn in the family.”

“Two,” corrected Velvet, but quietly. Shining’s honour notwithstanding, Pirouette’s control over a conversation had the unstoppability of a grand locomotive.

There were coos and squawks around the table. Foals were a kind of shared family jewel, and no unicorn mother here would pass up the opportunity to inspect their collective treasure. Velvet too had memorized the names, likes, dislikes, hobbies, and childhood dreams of all theirs.

Why not share a mother’s pride, then?

“Let me show you.” Velvet turned to the far door. “Twilight! Twilight, honey! Would you come here, please?”

Distant scampering hooves, the door bursting open, then a panting blur skidded to a halt beside Velvet and became an out-of-breath pair of suddenly cornered eyes.

All voices rose, a flock of songbirds having spotted their favourite gardener carrying a fully seeded birdfeeder. Twilight found herself surrounded by a confusion of flapping, twittering, delicately darting fuss.

Velvet resisted the desire to say anything. They’d back off soon.

When they did, Twilight uncurled slightly. Pirouette, the grandest and most stately of all the birds, shaded her with peacock regalness.

“Ah, my little enchantress.” Pirouette’s horn gave a subtle shimmer; a small box slipped out of her gown, and out came a small wrapped candy. “I hear someone’s a special little pony?”

Twilight’s voice was a scattering of dots. “Thank you.”

Velvet hesitated, but then where was the harm? “Honey, why don’t you tell Pirouette what you did today?”

Craning, the two grown-ups heard the mumble: “Amniomorphic spell.”

“At your age?” Pirouette beamed down at her. “What a hard-working child you are. And so very polite.”

“Your lucky stars were shining when she was born!” opined one of Velvet’s friends. “I wish our little one had those talents.”

“Hear, hear!” said another. “And the dedication to match!”

“Good luck entering the school, little madam!”

“You’ll do your parents proud, Twilight.”

Pirouette donated an embrace to the cause of Twilight’s praises. “Celestia herself would deserve to have you at her prestigious school. Well done, Twilight!”

Yet Velvet watched her daughter taking all this as a naughty child might endure a tirade of angry abuse. Something flickered, agitated, in her own chest.

Pirouette handed over the candy, accepted a tiny “Thank you,” and awarded Velvet the magnificence of her joy. “Every inch her mother’s daughter. You and Night Light have done a wonderful job on her.”

“We… do our best,” said Velvet. Modestly? Doubtfully? Nervously?

Besides, part of her hated the phrasing. “Done a wonderful job on her.” Her daughter wasn’t a household chore.

Still, she knew Pirouette. The mare had meant nothing by it. It was one of those things all Canterlot mothers said, though Velvet – she furiously tried to push this observation out of sight – heard it more often than most.

“Thank you, Twilight,” she said, noticing the filly frozen to the spot. “You carry on.”

Twilight scurried to the door, but not fast enough –

“Is she really doing the cooking today?” squeaked one of Velvet’s friends.

Twilight slowed on her way out, ears cocked.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Velvet. She was about to say, “She wanted to. Begged me to let her try it this one time,” but that was because Shining had done it a few times before and it had looked fun…

“Ooh, that’ll be something to look forward to! I can’t wait to try anything she’ll cook! I don’t think my mouth could handle a perfect dish!”

“Though your mouth’s perfectly capable of dishing out more than we can handle.” The other friends tittered amongst themselves.

Velvet barely felt like chuckling. Her Twilight looked back, and for a moment Velvet saw the panic. Then the shoulders slumped, steeled themselves: Twilight slid out the door.

Whilst her friends settled in for the latest fashionable gossip, Velvet left them a hastily dropped “Excuse me one moment,” and hurried back to the kitchen.

“Oh, hey, Mom!” said Shining Armor, dressed in a pink apron that he’d long since stopped being embarrassed by. “We were just about to stuff the mushrooms.”

Instantly, Velvet spotted Twilight examining the cookbook. The intensity of her gaze.

“At least,” added Shining in an undertone, edging closer to his mother, “we were. Then she came back and started reading the cookbook. She didn’t even look up when I asked her how it went.”

“I know,” Velvet whispered back.

“You think she’s nervous?”

“Maybe. Help her relax for me, OK?”

“Sir yes – Sorry, Mom. Got it.”

“I’ll have a word with her.”

Leaving Shining to pile up the cheese, Velvet drew close to Twilight, peering over her shoulder. She gently held her daughter, one hoof either side of her head, as if to massage the throbbing veins.

“Don’t worry, honey,” said Velvet. “We know how shy you can be. No one thinks any the worse of you if you don’t say anything.”

“I won’t let you down, Mom,” said Twilight firmly.

Alarm bells rang in Velvet’s head, but tentatively. The ringer had seen fires that never burned. On the other hoof, the ringer had failed to spot fires that blazed. Magical surges in a young unicorn were bad enough, but magical surges in a unicorn like Twilight were responsible for a few personal nightmares.

Hence it had been hard to keep her talents secret for long.

The filly in control of such power, though…

“You don’t have to impress anyone,” Velvet assured her. “Just do what Shining does. Have fun and do it because you love it.”

Then Velvet let herself down before she realized she’d spoken again: “I mean, if you can make a good dish, sure…”

She felt Twilight tense. Very slightly. Too slightly for anyone to notice, unless they were this close and touching with a mother’s touch.

“I will,” insisted Twilight. “I promise.”

“You promise? Deary me, there’s no need to go that far.” Velvet tried a laugh.

That’s what worried her, though. In this mood, Twilight didn’t hear those reassuring words when Velvet spoke them. Conversation rapidly narrowed down to those bits that told Twilight’s head: Do something. Do it right.

“You’re always special to me, no matter what you do,” Velvet whispered.

She could tell Twilight wasn’t listening. The filly still had her deadly gaze on the book, defying the recipe to fail her.

She’d been like this ever since that one Summer Sun Celebration, when she’d seen first-hoof the power of the Princess of the Sun. Princess Celestia, who could raise the sun as easily as most unicorns could raise a stress ball.

Sure, the family had shown off its share of amazing magical feats: Night Light could write calculations on a hundred books at a time and get them right to the decimal point; Shining Armor had mastered shield and laser spells so well he could defend the entire mansion single-hoofedly. Velvet… hadn’t had much occasion to show off. She’d preferred subtler magic.

And sure, Twilight had found her own niche within that family. She wasn’t yet particularly skilled at any one spell, but she’d mastered so many that even Shining couldn’t keep up with the list. She’d smiled and played her part in magical games like Hunt the Sun Bunny Eggs and Pin the Stars on the Constellation Map.

Then she’d seen Celestia’s miracle. Suddenly, games vanished. Books multiplied. Twilight became intense in a way that made Shining’s military fussiness look quaint.

Velvet turned to Shining. She mouthed, “Help her out, OK?”

“Gotcha,” he mouthed back.

She reached out to stop him saluting. He apologized via grin.

As Velvet left the kitchen, she still saw the hunched figure of Twilight, staring at the cookbook as though her life depended on it.

*