• Published 28th Sep 2012
  • 4,786 Views, 62 Comments

How Sweet It Is - Cranberry Muffin



Derpy is having major anxiety over her turn at snack duty...And it's Thunderlane to the rescue?

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Cranberry Muffins

“There are going to be some changes in the team meetings.”

It was a simple statement, but it had a huge impact on the congregated pegasi clustered together outside the library. They’d been chattering amongst themselves, laughing, joking and discussing –of course- anything other than work.

The team meetings were regarded by most of the weather crew as something of a joke. Nopony -not even Rainbow Dash, who had organized them- took them seriously, but rather viewed the meetings as nothing more than semi-regular get-togethers for the weather ponies, which revolved around stories, snacks and an hour-or-more takeover of Ponyville’s library.

Rainbow Dash’s statement, however, was enough to silence everypony.

Almost collectively, they turned to look at their leader where she stood in the door of the library, somehow managing to still look larger than life in such a mundane setting.

“We have to step it up if we want to be recognized as the best weather crew in Equestria.” Rainbow Dash continued, gaze scanning across the crowd in a bid to make sure everypony was paying attention, “From now on, we’ll be meeting regularly, each week, at the beginning of the week. During these meetings, we’ll talk about the upcoming week’s weather schedule and I’ll pass out weekly assignments. You’ll have time to talk with the other members of your team and make sure everypony is on the same page about the task.”

A ripple of agreement and head nodding spread through the assembled weather ponies; this indeed sound like a good plan. There had been some awkward mishaps with the weather lately; nothing serious, but things like wayward clouds and unscheduled sunshowers that caused Rainbow Dash no small amount of embarrassment. For the most part, these problems had occurred due to confusion over who was supposed to do what when and Rainbow Dash was beginning to suspect their “meetings” needed improvement to eliminate such problems in the future.

“In addition, we’ll stop mooching off Twilight Sparkle.” It had been Twilight herself who helped Rainbow work through the improvements to the team meetings, helping her hash out a solid agenda and purpose for the meetings, citing statistics and numbers and creating a plan to bring glory to the Ponyville Weather Crew --- A plan Rainbow had eagerly embraced. “We’re going to find our own meeting place to serve as a base of operations, where you can also meet with your assigned team or check in after completing a task.”

It was a lot to take in and Rainbow Dash knew it, but the enthusiasm she felt over these changes seemed to be catching, if the excited murmuring of the crowd was any indication. Bolstered by their apparent support, she grinned, plowing forward with the final change to their agenda.

“And you’re all going to be taking some responsibility for our meeting’s snacks. I know you ponies like treats as much as I do…But it’s not fair for me or Twilight to be providing them all the time, just ‘cause I organize the meetings and she offered the use of her space. We’re going to have a snack rotation and everypony is going to be expected to bring enough to share on their night.”

This was met with outright cheers. Many of the town’s pegasi were show-offs, though not on the grand scale that Rainbow Dash herself was. And given the abundant assortment of goodies and ingredients available for purchase around town, there was no limit to what a creative pony could do in the face of snack duty. The group had silently come to one conclusion: Snack duty was to be a competition to see who could bring the tastiest, most impressive treat.

It helped that they all also really liked to eat.

Flying required a good amount of energy, after all.

Rainbow Dash’s announcement ended as the smaller groups of friends and companions broke into excited chatter. Ponies who were constantly paired together for the same task were eagerly exchanging ideas and tossing around plans for the weeks to come. Some were already bragging about recipes they were going to try and how awesome it was going to be –Everypony knew that the only way to go about this was from scratch. Buying something would be a copout.

Only one pony stood alone in the crowd, forgotten and unenthused about the last part of this new plan.

More regular meetings? Sure, that would be awesome. Consistent knowledge of what task you were scheduled to complete and who you were to work with? Even better. A cool pegasus hangout? The best yet.

Having to cook for the entire Weather Crew?

Derpy knew she was doomed.

-

“What’re you going to do, Derpy?”

The meeting had ended almost abruptly, with little knots of pegasi drifting off to get dinner or relax or continue their plans for their upcoming duties. Rainbow Dash had wandered back into the library and anypony lingering in the vicinity could hear her crowing victoriously over the positive reception of her announcement.

Derpy headed off alone, ambling in the direction of home, head lowered, both eyes –for once- fixed on the ground beneath her hooves. She was lost deep in thought – How could she possibly pull this off? Half the time, she could barely manage to make a meal for herself without setting things on fire, boiling something over, or making a gigantic mess. There was no way in Equestria she was going to be able to cook or bake something that tasted good in amounts enough to satisfy the entire Weather Crew.

It was the sound of approaching hooves that brought her back to the present more than the question and one eye swiveled up towards the sound of the voice.

Thunderlane had fallen into step beside her, a not uncommon occurrence after the sporadic meetings. It wasn’t because they were particularly good friends or anything, but rather due to the fact that she rented a small attic bedroom from Thunderlane’s family.

They got along well enough, though, probably due in part to their shared reputation as troublemakers. It was no secret that everypony thought Derpy was a clumsy screw-up. It was also no secret that Rainbow Dash thought Thunderlane was lazy, despite the fact that he’d been legitimately sick during hurricane duty. He was a somewhat meek stallion, one who didn’t particularly like drawing attention to himself, even though he was a fabulous flyer and an expert at implementing scheduled thunderstorms.

Perhaps it was just because he wasn’t as big a show-off as the rest of the pegasi that left everypony willing to believe that he was lazy, Derpy wasn’t sure. But whatever the case, she could easily sympathize, since she wasn’t quite what they all thought either.

“I dunno…” She sighed in response to the question, finally lifting her head to look as fully as possible at the stallion trotting at her side. “Everypony already thinks I can’t do anything right. This is just gonna make it worse.”

“Maybe it won’t be that bad?” Thunderlane ventured. And for him, it wouldn’t be. He was no great cook either, but he was fortunate enough to still live with his parents and his mother knew her way around a kitchen. And he had his little brother Rumble, an enthusiastic partner in any adventure, from cloud chasing to chocolate chip cookie baking.

Derpy gave him a bit of a cross look, a look that was foiled by her own lazy eye. Instead of looking stern, she just looked silly. “Maybe it won’t be that bad.” She replied flatly. “Didja forget what happened when I tried to make that cinnamon apple cake for your mom to thank her for when she looked after me when I was sick last winter?”

“Oh yeah…” Thunderlane winced at the memory of exploded batter all over the interior of the oven. Derpy had been really disheartened by that mishap and it had taken hours to scrape all the semi-burnt goo from the oven walls. And though she had tried not to let it show –Derpy had meant well, after all- Thunderlane knew his mom had been pretty annoyed over the mess in her kitchen. “You could just buy something. Nopony would have to know, right?”

“Somepony would know.” She wasn’t even mad at him for suggesting it; she knew he was just trying to help. And he wasn’t really like a lot of the others, who teased her for things she couldn’t help and made fun of her kind of lopsided flying. “It’s a small town…And you know somepony would say something to one of the other Weather Crew members and then everypony would just laugh at me more.”

“Hey.” He nudged her gently when her head lowered again, “Don’t worry too much about it. We’ll figure something out.”

She didn’t look up, but one eye did again stray in his direction and a small smile, obscured by her mane, flickered across her face.

There was something reassuring about that “we.”

-

As it turned out, Derpy wasn’t scheduled to bring a snack until some weeks in the future. She wasn’t sure if Rainbow Dash had put her so late in the rotation by accident or design, and she was equally unsure if she was feeling relieved or more worried by the fact that she had time to stew over the problem.

If she’d been one of the early snack ponies, it would be over and done with and she could get over the humiliation of failure that much quicker. But now, she had time to agonize and sort it all out in an attempt to not fail at the task, though she doubted that would happen.

Thunderlane had been scheduled early on and managed to produce a decent snack: glazed carrot chips. He’d surprisingly refused his mother’s help, stating that he could do it himself and show Rainbow Dash he wasn’t lazy, and only a few of them had gotten burned.

And, well, maybe he hadn’t really done it entirely by himself; he’d dragged Derpy –protesting all the while- into the kitchen to help peel and slice the carrots.

She had argued with him, stating that he wasn’t really doing anything himself if she helped and making several attempts to escape back to her teeny little room, one of which resulted in honey spilled over the side of the counter and pooling on the floor.

She’d stopped at that, sighing down at the mess, shoulders sagging in defeat. And as she fetched a damp rag to clean up her mess, she quietly agreed to help.

-

Later, she was curled up on her bed, hooves tucked neatly beneath her, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in…?” Her inflection made the simple statement a question. She didn’t get many visitors; there were few ponies in town she was friendly enough with to bother inviting them over, so the list of possible guests was a short one. And yet, it still came as a surprise when Thunderlane poked his head into the room.

“Hey…” He offered a small smile, stepping in, but not shutting the door behind him. “I’m sorry I kind of forced you to help me…” He offered sheepishly, scuffing one of his front hooves against the wooden floor, “But, um, you do realize you helped cook something without burning the kitchen down, right? And the only thing you cut in the process was the carrots.”

There was a moment of silence that was broken by a grin spreading across her face, followed by her excited exclamation of “you’re right!” And it was true; nothing had been broken or caught on fire. Nopony had been injured. And, aside from the honey spill, there had been absolutely no mishaps. “I can do it.”

At her excitement, Thunderlane’s smile grew. “And it really won’t be so bad.”

-

The following day was her scheduled day off and Derpy was determined to practice making something, just to be sure she really could do it.

Bolstered by the previous day’s success, she had wandered into town, armed with a recipe torn from a cooking magazine. Scanning over it and perusing the list of ingredients, she came to the conclusion that it seemed easy enough, making muffins herself.


All she had to do, after all, was follow the recipe. Simple, right?


Except for the fact that the recipe had been hastily ripped out of a tattered copy of Cooking Made Simple and she wasn’t especially good at ripping things straight -- Some of the ingredients and subsequent instructions were, therefore, missing.

After completing her shopping, she returned home, saddlebags bulging with ingredients for chocolate chip cranberry muffins.


Glancing over the recipe, she preheated the oven –was that supposed to be a three or a five?- then set about setting out the ingredients and gathering the necessary kitchen gadgets.

Everything was laid just so on the counter and she once again glanced at the instructions, then began dumping things into the bowl, all the while humming cheerfully. Half the measurements were gone, left behind in the torn center of the magazine, so she just fudged it, guessing what the numbers were supposed to be. Or –after some confusion and internal debate- deciding whether the recipe called for tablespoons or teaspoons of salt, vanilla and did that say baking soda or baking powder?


The batter came out a little lumpy and she completely missed the part where she was supposed to grease the muffin tins before filling them, but still. Derpy slid the pan into the oven, smiling proudly as she set the kitchen timer.


She had done it.


And now, the rest of the weather crew! They would be so surprised! When it was her turn to bring snack to the team meeting, she would show them all that she wasn’t as hopeless as they all thought and she could do things without totally screwing up.

She had surprised herself as well, that things had gone okay, aside from the lumpy batter. Derpy had learned early on that the kitchen likely wouldn’t survive her cooking attempts, though she was never quite sure why – Didn’t she do exactly what the cookbooks said?


Sort of.


Sometimes she was impatient and rushed things.


But not that day! Not that day at all and the muffins would be perfect and--!


The smell of smoke jolted her back to reality.


The muffins were on fire.

Leaping into action, she grabbed a pair of oven mitts and yanked the charred baked goods out of the oven. One of the mitts had a small hole in it and she yelped, dropping the hot pan on the floor.

Fortunately, it landed upside down, forcing out the small tongue of flame still smoldering atop one sorry lump of muffin.

And Derpy plopped down on her haunches, sticking her throbbing hoof in her mouth and sighing.

So much for that endeavor.

-

“I can’t do it.”

She wasn’t prone to whining, or giving up, either, and Thunderlane knew it. But this was a block she just couldn’t get past and it was beginning to wear on her.

Derpy had tried living up to the old adage “practice makes perfect”, but it was turning out to be quite difficult. After the first failed attempt that left both the muffins and the pan a smoldering mess, she’d tried several more times.

The second try had resulted in her forgetting to hold the mixing bowl and batter all over the kitchen.

The third time, she’d completely overlooked a key ingredient and the resulting muffins were rock hard and shriveled.

The fourth time, something had gone terribly wrong and Derpy was left wondering how something could possibly overcook and undercook at the same time.

And the most recent attempt…Well, she didn’t even want to think about it, but the look of abject horror on Thunderlane’s mom’s face at the sight of her kitchen would be forever seared into Derpy’s mind.

She had tried her best.

And she had failed miserably.

It was on the tip of Thunderlane’s tongue to contradict her, but the dejected look on her face stopped him short.

They had duty together that day, checking the park for damages after a hail storm the previous day. Hail was not a scheduled weather pattern, but it did come part and parcel with a particularly nasty thunderstorm now and again, and it usually left a lot of damage in its wake. Nopony really enjoyed being part of the clean-up crew, which mostly involved wandering the park and clearing out debris.

Derpy didn’t mind it, though; it was an easy task, one that was hard for her to goof up. Sure, she tripped on branches sometimes, but other than that…It wasn’t so bad.

Thunderlane, however, hated it, because it involved a lot of physical labor and he preferred the before jobs, not the after ones – He loved making it rain, but usually grumbled his way through clean-up.

“Maybe baking isn’t the way to go about it.”

At Thunderlane’s comment, Derpy glanced up from the haphazard pile of broken branches and limbs she’d been working on collecting from beneath a weathered oak. “What do you mean?”

There was a moment of silence as he just looked at her, taking in the thoughtful frown tugging the corners of her mouth downward, the one amber eye fixed on his face, the other wandering off to look upon the sky. He was polite enough to ignore the fact that she very rarely looked completely at him and the way it took her a little bit longer than every other pony to figure things out; those were things, in fact, that made her very much herself and he genuinely enjoyed her company.

“I mean,” He finally continued, “there’s no reason you can’t make something else to bring for your snack night. It doesn’t have to be baked goods. I didn’t really bake anything and everypony liked it. Well, I mean, the carrots did get baked, but they weren’t, like, cookies or anything.”

She nudged another branch into the pile, considering the suggestion. It wasn’t really a bad one and it was true as well. While most of the others did bring cookies or muffins or cupcakes or even the occasional pie, there were the occasional trays of sandwiches or fruit kabobs and somepony even brought pumpkin soup on a chilly day.

Those snacks had been well received.

But she wasn’t really popular enough to pull off something less than spectacular, was she? She had to make it good, or everypony would just laugh at her, like always.

“I dunno…” She looked away again, gaze wandering anywhere but Thunderlane’s direction. This whole business was giving her more anxiety than anything in her life ever had and it was beginning to wear her down. “I just don’t want anypony making fun of me.” They had plenty of reasons to pick on her as it was; it wasn’t like they needed another one. “And if I mess this up…”

“Nopony will make fun of you.” Thunderlane had continued with his work, calm and steady. He was raking up clumps of wet leaves knocked loose by the storm and stuffing them haphazardly into a sack for disposal. It was one of the worst parts of clean-up; anypony with that job usually wound up damp and chilled by the time they were finished.

He had volunteered to do it, letting her have the easier task.

Derpy just looked at him for another long moment, trying to figure him out. Thunderlane was a decent friend, though he wasn’t usually this helpful or confident. And besides, what he said didn’t make any sense; most of the other pegasi hardly needed an excuse to laugh at her. She was not a strong flier; sometimes, she was directionally-challenged and her up and down got confused. She crashed into things a lot, usually breaking something, or at least damaging herself. There was an unspoken pecking order among the weather pegasi and she knew she was low in that order.

Thunderlane knew it too, which is why Derpy was peering at him intently, waiting for him to elaborate.

He didn’t look up, though he paused in his work, giving his wings a gentle rustle. “…I won’t let them.”

And because his gaze was riveted on a soggy mess of leaves, he completely missed the look of wide-eyed surprise and the gentle blush that crossed her face.

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