The Lessons Left Unlearned

by Donny's Boy

Chapter 1: The Lessons Left Unlearned

"The Lessons Left Unlearned"

by Donny's Boy

"I'm really, super-duper sorry."

"I know." Fluttershy smiled. "You always are."

In response, Pinkie Pie frowned. She knew smiles better than she knew almost anything except muffin recipes. She was a connoisseur of smiles, one could say, and while some ponies thought there were only one or two different kinds of smiles, Pinkie knew better. There were lots and lots of different kinds of smiles, including smiles that didn't ever reach the eyes. Smiles that hurt to look at, smiles that weren't the least bit happy. Smiles that weren't really smiles at all.

Smiles like the one Fluttershy wore right then and there, and seeing it pointed directly at her made Pinkie's stomach churn a little.

"Fluttershy?" Pinkie nibbled on her lower lip uncertainly. "Are you mad at me?"

Slowly, thoughtfully, Fluttershy shook her head. "No. I'm not angry. I'm not even disappointed, really. I'm just …"

"Just what?"

"I'm not sure I should answer that," said Fluttershy, her voice sounding heavy and tired, like a balloon filled up with ball bearings instead of helium. "I'm not sure you'd really listen."

Pinkie gasped. "But I would! I totally, totally would!"

Fluttershy sighed a quiet little sigh and got up from the table. She trotted over to her cottage's cozy little kitchen, where a kettle sat upon the stove. In silence, a silence as terrible and empty and deep as the river, Pinkie watched as Fluttershy poured still-steaming water from the kettle and prepared some tea. Finally, after a seeming eternity, Fluttershy returned to the dining area of her cottage, carrying two cups of tea along with her.

Pinkie accepted her cup without a word.

"All right, Pinkie." Fluttershy took a sip of tea, her mane falling over her eyes as she leaned down to her cup. "All right. Tell me then, please, why you're sorry."

Pinkie perked up a little. That seemed like an easy enough question. "Because I made you upset!"

Fluttershy hesitated, her brows furrowing, before at last she nodded. "Yes. That's … I'm afraid that's true. You did." Fluttershy lifted her head slightly, and her mane fell to the side, revealing her eyes. They stared across the table at Pinkie Pie with an intensity almost on the same level as The Stare. "Do you know why I was upset?"

"Because …" Pinkie paused. She fidgeted with her hooves under the table. "Because Twilight and Rarity told me you were upset?"

Fluttershy just smiled again and sipped her tea.

It was awful.

Over the course of the next couple days, Fluttershy kept on smiling, and it was never the right smile. At parties, at the spa, running errands in the marketplace-Pinkie would run into Fluttershy at least once or twice a day, and always Fluttershy would give her that smile that wasn't really a smile. Every one of those terrible smiles dug into Pinkie, like some foul tiny biting beast, and they lodged themselves deep down inside her, filling her up with their poison.

Pinkie Pie didn't know what was wrong, but she knew she was the cause. She knew it was her fault. She tried asking Twilight about it, because Twilight was the smartest pony she knew, but Twilight just hugged her and said it was something she should think really, really hard about and also maybe talk to Fluttershy about some more. Pinkie explained that she'd already tried that, explained that it just plain hadn't worked, and Twilight hugged her harder.

"Have you ever heard of something called the Golden Rule?" Twilight asked.

Pinkie shook her head as she hugged Twilight back.

"The Golden Rule means you should treat other ponies the way you'd like to be treated yourself." A pause, followed by a small cough. "But, uh, in your case, you should probably interpret that fairly non-literally."

"Okay," said Pinkie, not knowing what else to say.

Rarity said a lot of things about Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie being very different kinds of ponies, and so did Applejack. Though Applejack added some extra words about how Pinkie didn't listen too great all the time, said in that tone of voice that was almost mean but not quite exactly. It was hard finding a time when Rainbow Dash was alone to ask her about everything, but when Pinkie did, in the big field where Rainbow Dash liked to practice her tricks, Dash pinched her lips together and shook her head.

"Pinks, you know I love you. And you know 'Shy does, too." Rainbow smiled. It wasn't awful like all those times when Fluttershy smiled at her recently, but it still didn't feel the way a Rainbow Dash smile ought to feel. "But I swear, sometimes you can annoy the stripes right off a zebra. You get what I'm saying?"

Pinkie Pie nodded, even though she didn't really. But Rainbow Dash didn't sound mad at her at all, or like she thought Fluttershy was super mad at her, so nodding along felt like an okay thing to do.

She tried baking cupcakes for Fluttershy. Everypony liked cupcakes. And Fluttershy said she liked the cupcakes, and she acted like she liked the cupcakes, but Fluttershy's smiles were still wrong and awful and made Pinkie feel cold and scared and alone. She tried cookies and brownies next, but the results were so poor, she ended up canceling her plans to bring out the bigger guns, like moonberry pies and towering, multi-layer cakes.

Desperate, she went back to Twilight. She suggested maybe throwing a party, but Twilight said that wasn't a good idea. Normally Pinkie Pie would call that just plain silly because why would a party ever not be a good idea? That didn't make any sense. But this wasn't normally. Things weren't normal, not at all, and so Pinkie decided maybe she should listen to Twilight this time and not throw a party. Or maybe she'd postpone throwing a party. She'd give it another week or two, at least.

At a slow, morose trot, Pinkie returned to Sugarcube Corner from the library, the short journey taking twice as long as it usually would. Ducking her head into the kitchen, she asked for the rest of the day off. She didn't do that very often, and maybe she looked about as miserable as she felt, because Mr. and Mrs. Cake didn't argue at all. They just gave her hugs and told her to take all the time she needed. Pinkie smiled at them even though it hurt a little and, after thanking them and hugging them back, she dragged herself upstairs to her room.

She locked the door behind her and gathered Gummy up in her fore legs, carrying him over to her special thinking window. There wasn't anything different about her special thinking window from other windows, but she liked to prop her head on the windowsill whenever there was something to be pondered over. Twilight had told her to think really, really hard. Thinking wasn't one of the things Pinkie liked doing or was particularly good at doing-it required a lot more staying still and staying quiet than what suited Pinkie's nature-but this was important. Fluttershy was important.

At first, she didn't know just what she should think about, so her mind thought about anything and everything. About the Cakes and the twins and bake-offs and screwdrivers and hammers and balloons and parties and more parties and all the great parties she'd put together in the past and all the great parties she wanted to put together in the future, and by the time Pinkie realized she hadn't done any thinking about what she'd been supposed to be thinking about, the hour had grown late and the sky very dark.

Pinkie Pie let out a frustrated little grunt. This was no good at all. Frowning, she wondered what had gone wrong, and a tiny little voice whispered that maybe she wanted not to think about things with Fluttershy. Maybe all the baking and talking to her friends had been part of that, too, and maybe it was because of that cold, scared feeling that ran through her every time something reminded her about how very wrong things still were. It was even worse than the time she'd been trying to make friends with Cranky Doodle Donkey, and that had been a really-

Cranky. The thought of Cranky set Pinkie off on a whole other different set of memories. But maybe they weren't really so different? Which was a confusing thought to have, but it stuck with her, like taffy to the roof of her mouth, and Pinkie followed that thought to the next one and to the next.

By the time Pinkie was done thinking, the first hints of daylight were visible over the roofs of all the houses in Ponyville.

Fluttershy smiled her not-smile as soon as she'd opened the door to her cottage. "Good morning, Pinkie."

"Hi." Normally Pinkie would bounce or wave or sing a little good-morning song, but this wasn't normally. Instead, she scuffed a hoof along Fluttershy's front stoop. "Um. Can we talk maybe?"

A pause. A hesitation. Then, nodding, Fluttershy replied, "I'm in the middle of feeding the animals, so if you wouldn't mind, we can talk while I work."

"Sure! I don't mind at all!" Pinkie asserted, following in Fluttershy's wake as the pegasus trotted back inside the cottage. "I was thinking. Really, really hard. Twilight told me I should, and Applejack and Rarity and Dashie too, and so I did!"

Fluttershy picked up a bag of birdseed and poured it out into a wide, shallow dish. When she glanced back at Pinkie, she didn't say a word, but her smile was gone. Pinkie couldn't decide whether that was a good thing or not.

"And I ended up thinking about Cranky Doodle Donkey a lot, which was kinda weird, because you're not Cranky. I mean, you're not even a donkey!" Pinkie frowned at herself and thoughtfully stuck out her tongue. This wasn't quite what she'd wanted to say to Fluttershy when she'd rushed over from the bakery, but she supposed it was close enough. "But then I wondered if maybe I was thinking about Cranky for a reason."

Fluttershy carried the dish of birdseed over to an open window in her living room, Pinkie trailing her all the while, and set it on the windowsill. In a quiet voice, she offered, "I like Cranky. He seems like a very nice donkey."

"Oh, yeah! He is!" Pinkie nodded enthusiastically. It was comforting to have something solid and concrete like that to latch onto, because of course Cranky was a nice donkey. "And you're a super nice pony, too!"

Fluttershy blushed a bit. But Fluttershy blushed all the time, so that probably didn't mean anything. Probably. Maybe.

"But I know Cranky likes a lot of peace and quiet, and so do you, and there's lots I don't understand about Cranky 'cause sometimes he doesn't make a lot of sense to me and …"

Trailing off, Pinkie glanced down at her hooves. She'd felt a lot more sure about all of this back when she was still at home, alone with Gummy and watching the sunrise. She knew she'd already screwed up a whole bunch, and she didn't know how much more screwing up she could do without things getting even worse than they already were. Without things getting so much worse that she couldn't fix them.

"Pinkie Pie? Are you all right?"

Pinkie took a deep breath. "It doesn't make sense why you'd have stage fright, because come on, you have the most beautiful voice ever-oops, pretty sure I said that already, sorry-and everypony absolutely loves your singing, and so maybe I acted a little silly because I thought it was silly."

The only sound to be heard was the chirping of birds by the windowsill. Pinkie needed to lift her head, to see if Fluttershy was listening, to see how Fluttershy was reacting, almost as much as she needed to not see all of that right now. But for the moment, she continued staring down at all the swirls and whorls in the wooden floorboards of Fluttershy's cottage.

"Whenever I'm scared of stuff, I just laugh, and that makes it better," Pinkie continued, her voice wavering. "But … but I guess that didn't make it better. Not when it's stuff you're scared of instead of stuff I'm scared of."

"Pinkie ..."

"I still kinda don't understand, I don't think, but I want to! I really, really do! Because you're my friend, and I don't wanna hurt you like that ever again." Pinkie lifted her head. Fluttershy was staring straight at her with tears in her eyes. "And I know maybe you won't wanna because I already upset you a whole bunch, but … could you maybe help me? To understand? Pretty please?"

It started slowly at first. Subtly. Just a twitching at the corners of Fluttershy's mouth, followed by a crinkle around Fluttershy's eyes. But when Fluttershy smiled, it was a real smile, warm and beautiful and bright as the sun after an eclipse, and seeing that smile on Fluttershy's face felt better than throwing the biggest and amazingest party in the whole wide world.

The mid-afternoon sun warmed Pinkie's belly as she lay flat on her back in the grassy meadows just outside Fluttershy's cottage. It felt nice but not as nice as having Fluttershy resting beside her, as the two of them chatted. It had taken some time to work through Fluttershy's entire to-do list-there were a lot more animals in the cottage than it seemed at first glance-and their talk during chores had been interrupted by a badger here or a toad there. Not that Pinkie complained. She was happy as long as Fluttershy was happy, and even if Fluttershy wasn't exactly and perfectly happy right now, she was a lot closer to it than the last time Pinkie had come over.

"Let me think if I can come up with a good comparison," said Fluttershy, frowning thoughtfully. "It would be like … Pinkie, do you remember the surprise birthday party we threw for you? The one in Applejack's barn?"

Giggling, Pinkie nodded. "Well, of course! It was only the absolute best surprise birthday party ever!"

"Well, I'm glad you think so." Fluttershy giggled a bit, herself, before quickly turning sober again. "But you didn't think that at first. At first, you thought we were avoiding you on purpose. Remember?"

Pinkie stopped giggling, too. She remembered. She didn't want to most of the time, but she remembered. Fidgeting with her hooves, she managed a nod in response to Fluttershy's question.

"And do you remember how it made you feel? When you thought we didn't want to be your friends anymore?"

"Not good." Pinkie's ears went flat against her head. Almost involuntarily, that terrible afternoon rushed back to her, flooding her mind with all its painful memories, and she whimpered a little. "It felt really, really not good. Like I'd eaten ten bags of sour apple candy or something, and I couldn't even throw them up to try to feel better, 'cause it was bad feelings making me sick and not actually candy."

A look of mild distress, possibly disgust, crossed Fluttershy's face, but it passed quickly. "That's a, uh, a very interesting analogy. I don't eat much sour candy, but I do know what it's like to not be able to get rid of those kinds of bad feelings."

"You do?"

Fluttershy nodded. "It feels exactly like that whenever ponies laugh at me. Or whenever I even just think ponies might laugh at me."

Pinkie Pie opened her mouth-to say what, she didn't really know-but clapped both forehooves over her muzzle before she could. She couldn't just say whatever popped into her head. Well, actually, she could, and she probably would in the future, at least most of the time, but sometimes it was really important to think first about what she wanted to say. She felt pretty sure this was one of those times.

So she thought about it. She thought about having that icky sick feeling down in her stomach and about how it would feel if it came around every time somepony laughed at her. It was really hard to imagine, because ponies laughed at her all the time, but she tried anyways. She even scrunched her eyes shut tight, for maximum thinking power.

Finally, as her eyes popped back open, Pinkie quietly said, "I'm sorry I said stuff that made you feel like you'd eaten ten bags of sour apple candy."

"Thank you, Pinkie." Fluttershy reached over and gave her a hug. "I appreciate the apology."

Feeling warm and happy all over, Pinkie Pie hugged Fluttershy back for all that she was worth.

"I'm supposed to meet Rarity at the spa soon, so I have to go back home to get ready, but …" Fluttershy glanced up towards her cottage. "Well, if you'd ever like to come over for tea and to just, you know, chat like this again … that might be nice."

"Sure! That sounds great!"

Pinkie hopped to her hooves and followed as Fluttershy headed up the path that led to her front door. By unspoken agreement, they stopped at the fork in the path to say their goodbyes. To the right stood the cottage, while to left stood Ponyville. Fluttershy turned around to face Pinkie with a new and strange expression in her eyes.

"Pinkie Pie? I don't really think you have a simple little brain, and I don't really think that parties are frivolous."

"Well, of course! Parties are the best! Besides, that was a super-duper long time ago, and it's silly to still-"

Fluttershy winced, just a little, and Pinkie swallowed her next words. Then she took another gulp of air to make extra sure all those words stayed down. It wasn't silly. Fluttershy thought it was important enough to bring up, and if Fluttershy thought it was important, that meant it wasn't silly at all.

"I mean, um, thanks, Fluttershy!" Pinkie turned up the wattage on her smile, as high as it would go. Then, remembering what Fluttershy had said to her just a minute ago, she added, "I appreciate the apology."

And when Fluttershy smiled back, she knew she'd said the right thing.

Author's Notes: Story revised 2/19. In light of the many folks over on Fimfiction who pointed out problems with the section with Twi, AJ, Rarity, and Dash, I revised that to make them seem less like jerks. (I hope, anyway!) Because they are totally not jerks-well, most of the time, they're not-and I did not intend for them to come off like jerks in this story.

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