Tree Hugger watched her mother fret about with a resigned sigh. Yellow was feeding off red again, brightening as the other grew deep and dark; the other colors were overlaid by a dirty grey, which could only mean one thing.
She adjusted her glasses. "Momma... what do you need help with?"
The mare turned to look at her, a muddy blue color spiraling out from her throat as she adjusted the floral pattern yellow bandanna around her head. "You shouldn't worry about it, Hugger, I... I can handle this."
"But you're so gray..."
"I'm brown, dear."
The filly shook her head. "You're never brown, momma. You're usually very green, but you're so yellow now--"
"I thought those enchanted glasses were supposed to help you with your synesthesia," the mare muttered, shaking her head. "Really, sweetie, it's fine. You don't need to worry about it."
Tree Hugger pouted. "But I want to. I like it when you're green!"
A tinge of splotchiness inched into the red. "If you like green ponies so much, wait for your father. Or look in the mirror sometime!" She ran a hoof through her daughter's tangled mane. "Honestly, it's like you want to have birds nesting on your head or something."
"I'm not a tree," the filly protested. "I'm a Tree Hugger!" She suddenly snapped her forelegs around her mother. "And you're a Willow, so I'm hugging you!"
The mare smiled as her red and yellow streaks paled. The splotches faded away, and a whisper of green pushed through the grey overlay when she nuzzled her daughter. "How can you hug a Song, dear?"
"I can if it's a Willow Song."
A fond nuzzle descended onto the filly's head. "I suppose you can at that... why don't you go outside for a moment, play in the garden? I... have some things I need to do."
Tree Hugger frowned as her mother turned away. The green was swirling around for now, but the yellow started to draw from the red again, and it wouldn't be long before the green had slipped back under the gray. She had tried to explain this all so many times, but... the big ponies never believed her, never understood. Sometimes her own red bands swelled with splotches when that happened, but she never let them stay that way if she could.
With a final sigh, Tree Hugger walked out the door. There wasn't anything she could do for her mother at the moment, or at least there wasn't anything her mother would accept; she knew from experience that uninformed help could make things so much worse than better.
The garden was, as always, lovely. The grass and the trees didn't glow like ponies did, but thin streaks of deep red whispered constantly throughout, and she could see sparkles of yellow scattered everywhere. She always liked it when spring came around; the red pathways would brighten to almost pink around the cups Momma called flowers, and the yellow sparkles would buzz merrily about them before darting off into the distance. Occasionally she'd find a larger glow, headed by blue streaks yet dominated with red and orange, but they almost always darted away when she approached.
She'd found a collection of such glows surrounding one about a quarter her size once, the larger one headed by an indigo color but growing a splotchy green when it noticed her. Momma had said the big one was a mommy cat and the little ones were kittens. She hadn't come any closer, just watching them from a distance... a week later, a big brownish orange pony had come by to pick them up.
Momma said he was blue, though. After that, she'd tried to get Tree Hugger's vision corrected, but... well, nothing seemed to work.
Tree Hugger shook her head at the memory, frowning as she meandered through the plants. She decided to follow some of the yellow sparkles shifting through the grass, watching them form lines back and forth to their holes in the ground. Sometimes they would flicker with red splotches, but she always backed away from those. Red sparkles almost always tried to hurt her...
Her gaze drifted around, taking in the plethora of plants. Her parents had always worked this garden, even before she was born, tending to a wide variety of flowers scattered throughout. She'd helped when she grew old enough--well, she'd carried watering cans at first, to be honest, but she learned about other things swiftly enough. Her daddy always glittered gold when she helped out, and Momma grew green whenever she walked in.
Well... almost always. Lately, whenever the two were in the garden together, strange splotches would form in Momma's green streaks, and Daddy always looked a little brown. They wouldn't talk as much to each other, either... She wanted to fix it, but she didn't know what was going on.
Tree Hugger's eyes landed on the pink-leaved shrub in the center of the garden. Her momma had called it a smoke tree when they saw it for sale, but for a tree it was honestly rather small. Still, the filly mused as she stepped closer, it was incredibly beautiful in bloom. The plant forewent the complicated petals of its kin and instead spread soft clusters of whiskers in spherical shapes. The resemblance to smoke, apparently, had been how the plant earned its name.
But as she approached, Tree Hugger couldn't help but widen her eyes. The red channels in this plant had been broken. Already the lines in the branches were fading, cut off from the pumping in the trunk.
"No... no no no, no." The filly galloped forward. "This is not... no. Please... don't fade..."
This tree had been a gift for her on her fifth birthday, back when Momma and Daddy were still green and gold. She'd tended to it all these years, finding sanctuary in the worst of times in its shade. Tree Hugger couldn't imagine the poor thing fading....
She trotted around the trunk, trying to find the reason for this sudden wound--there. A bird of some sort, nesting inside a hole carved into the tree trunk. Momma had warned her that it was a delicate plant, but she'd never expected for a bird to be able to kill it.
Tree Hugger reached a hoof up, intent on removing the blockage.
Then she stopped, frowning. Did the bird know what it had done? To her? To the smoke tree? She couldn't imagine the creature did this deliberately... The thing didn't deserve to be forced out, not when it was just trying to make a home in the only way it knew how.
But... she didn't want to lose her tree either.
She put her hoof down, examining the channels of red beating desperately against the floor of the nest. Some did manage to go around, but not... enough. Maybe if there was another way, some sort of bypass...
Tree Hugger raised her hoof again, pressing against the side of the tree. She'd watched Daddy do this sometimes, use his earth pony magic to generate a plant really fast, but she didn't understand exactly how it worked. "Um... grow this way, tree."
The tree remained dormant, red veins ignoring her.
Tree Hugger frowned. Now how had Daddy done it? He'd turned violet for the briefest of moments, then some green had... come out, forming new red paths to guide the plant along. So what she needed to do was turn violet first?
But... how was she supposed to do that?
Daddy had said that he listened to the plants and the soil when he did what he did. Maybe she should try listening to the tree... no... trees didn't talk. They glowed and grew, but they didn't talk... Hmm.
What else had Daddy said? Something about... focusing on his connection to the world. Well, Tree Hugger knew she was connected to the world, she could see so much... maybe... maybe she had to see it all?
With some contemplation, she put her hoof down. She kept her eyes wide as she stared at the tree, but she didn't focus on it. Instead, she tried to visualize everything she was seeing: every grain on the bark, every vein in the grass, every hair on the feather of the bird's wings. She listened, too, to the rustling of the grass as the yellow sparkles whispered through and the faint clipity clop of her mother pacing in the house. Scents of growing grass and crushed ants flowed through her nose, the faintest taste of the air brushing against her tongue. A gentle breeze brushed across her back and the dirt under her hooves felt... soft. Welcoming.
As Tree Hugger stood open to the world, she began to notice a strange... whisper, if whispers were colors instead of words. It spiraled around everything, leaping from the ground and lounging in the branches. It narrowed into the bird and passed through harmlessly, weaving down the trunk of the smoke tree and into the grass where it danced across the many yellow sparkles. She could even sense some of it passing through her own body...
It was magic.
The magic of the world.
Tree Hugger was violet for an instant.
In that moment she sensed all of the garden.
Green and red surged from her body and into the tree.
And through it she channeled the magic around her making it whole again.
Tree Hugger blinked, shaking her head as she compressed back into herself. "Whoa..." she breathed.
Her eyes blinked, almost of their own accord, as she stared. The hole was still in the smoke tree, yes, but now there was a strange network of wooden arches all around it, connecting the lower trunk to the upper portion. She couldn't help but giggle as the bird flew out, perching on the lattice experimentally. Red was flowing back into the upper portion, the tree growing stronger even as she watched.
Tree Hugger turned to look at her mother as she ran into the garden, splotchy green streaks shattering through the dirty gray, and tilted her head quizzically. "You seem... unbalanced--"
The mare swept her up in a tight hug and she gave an unconscious squeak as her ribs were crushed. "There was a shining light, and, and I looked outside and your eyes were glowing and the smoke tree was, was twisting--what did you do, young filly?!"
"I..." Tree Hugger paused, trying to gather her thoughts. "It... the tree was broken, but it wasn't dead... I thought I could fix it."
The mare froze for a secocnd. Then she held her daughter out at foreleg's length. "You thought you could what?"
"Well, I just... I thought I could fix it, and I did what Daddy showed me once, except I think I did it with the whole garden instead of just one plant?" Tree Hugger smiled faintly. "It was a harmonious rainbow, Momma. Everything was flowing through me."
"I... when did Meadow Dan show you how to do that?!"
"He said it was earth pony magic."
Her mother groaned, putting the filly down. "Right, the plant growth thing... Well, I guess I can't blame him for that, you must have taken it pretty far--"
She peered at the filly for a moment.
Tree Hugger tilted her head and watched the colors flowing through her mother. A bright indigo all but subsumed the mare for a moment, then it shifted to a swirling fractal of blue. And just as suddenly the fractals exploded in green and orange fireworks, cascading through Momma with wild abandon.
"You... you got your cutie mark."
The filly blinked. She craned her neck to look at her flank, and through the swirls she could see the image of her precious smoke tree. "...whoa."
"That's just... it's so..." Tree Hugger smiled. "I get it. I get it."
"You're a master gardener!"
"No, I... I can see the flow of the cosmos." Tree Hugger nodded. "That's what it means... But that doesn't mean I don't like gardening!" she added quickly, turning to her mother. "I mean, the garden is where I learned to see it, so it's not--"
The mare chuckled warmly. "Don't worry about it, dear. I'd be proud of you no matter what you became." She wrapped the filly up in another hug, this one much gentler and warmer. "You're special... you're so special."
Tree Hugger felt something tug at her heart, and without even thinking about what she was saying she opened her mouth. "Daddy loves you, you know."
The filly shrugged. "It... it felt like I had to say that. I don't know where it came from, but it... felt like I had to say that." She nodded, nuzzling her mother. "I love you too. But not like daddy does."
The mare let her go, shaking her head. "Not even five minutes after earning your mark, and you're already trying to... well... I don't know. Listen, what's happening between me and Daddy--"
"It's not for me to know," Tree Hugger interrupted. "It's between you and him. I just have to remind you that he loves you." She smiled lazily. "It's a blessing, from the universe, you know?"