Happy Birthday, Dear Twilight

by Pascoite

Chapter 1: Happy Birthday, Dear Twilight

Twilight Sparkle shouldered her way through Sugarcube Corner’s front door, which ended up leaving her jammed uncomfortably close to the pony in line ahead of her. At least it got her out of the cold.

At the counter, Pinkie Pie rushed back and forth to fill each order. No surprise that a hot, fresh-baked treat would draw quite a crowd today, but the Cakes must have had some other engagement that necessitated leaving Pinkie in charge. She could handle it, though. She always had, and it meant that she didn’t have to miss greeting a single customer, since she waited on them all.

“Thank you, and please tell your grandma I said hi!” Pinkie called after Junebug, who could only shake her head. With the way these things usually went, Pinkie must have met her grandmother once about ten years ago and still remembered not only her name and appearance, but probably what kind of cupcake she’d picked out as well.

And on to the next customer. “Great to see you, Lily! How’s your new oven working out?”

“Only you, Pinkie,” Lily responded with a chuckle. “It’s going great. I’ve already got a couple pies under my belt—”

Pinkie hopped onto the counter and peered sidelong at the strap from Lily’s saddlebags. “Really? Where?”

Lily only laughed harder, and Twilight had to join in. Yes, only Pinkie. “It’s just an expression,” Lily said, patting her stomach, “though I suppose you could say it’s true, in a sense.”

“Ohhhh!” Pinkie’s eyes widened. She rolled back off the counter, landing with a crash behind it, but her head soon popped back up. “You gotta try our new maple cookies they’re so amazing you’ll love them!” She stood there panting.

“Um… okay.”

“Yay!” Pinkie shouted as she scooped a dozen into a paper bag and tossed a hoofful of confetti over the crowd. “Tell your friends! Whisper sweet somethings to them!”

The bell jingled as Lily trekked back out into the snow, and Raindrops took the last step up to the cash register. “Isn’t that ‘sweet nothings’? And you wouldn’t exactly whisper those to somepony who was just a friend…”

“Oh, no, no!” Pinkie braced her forelegs on the counter and glanced back and forth as if she expected swift retribution for heresy. “If you have nothing, it can’t be sweet! Could you imagine a world without cookies?”

The act went on. Normally, Twilight might have called it a routine, except lately… Pinkie’s eyes didn’t have their customary crystalline glint. She wasn’t the first to laugh at her own jokes anymore. Twilight had stood in line for ten minutes already, and Pinkie hadn’t eaten a single thing. Worse yet, she’d been acting this way for weeks now.

Twilight glanced around at the crowd—another half-dozen ponies had stepped in after her, so no chance for privacy. Not soon, anyway. But if one thing was worth the time, it was a friend. With a little nod to herself, Twilight left her spot in line and sat at one of the small tables by the window. Only an hour until the afternoon lull, and then she could get Pinkie alone.

She pulled a book out of her saddlebag and read as she waited.

Pinkie didn’t like the way Twilight had been watching her. Not today, not yesterday, not last week. Pinkie gave the same smile as always, at least she thought so. But Twilight didn’t believe her.

She could have handled it quickly—Twilight would have made it to the head of the line, made some small talk, bought her usual oat bran muffin, and left. But now she’d grabbed a table and sat there as still and as quiet as Gummy.

But she only yawned, chatted with a few of the other customers, tapped a hoof against her chair, and paged through her book. She didn’t stare. She didn’t watch like Opal would with her toy mouse, just before she pounced.

Twilight didn’t know yet. She knew something, but not enough to hate Pinkie yet. Not yet.

“And a freebie for the little one!” Pinkie said as she slid an extra mini-muffin in the bag with Derpy’s order. Derpy beamed back and stuck her nose in to take a deep sniff. “No fair eating them before you get home. You share those!”

With a giggle, Derpy snapped a smart salute. “Yes, ma’am!”

“Make sure to tell Dinky that Auntie Pinkie Pie will have her birthday party ready next month, too!” Derpy chuckled and waved good-bye. Everything as it should be. Except Twilight over there at her table. The only thing worse than not having any fun was someone else watching her have no fun.

It had all started with those dreams, but… not dreams. They wouldn’t go away, and Twilight knew, she could tell. Pinkie choked down a whimper and focused on her next customer, then the next and the next. Almost the end of the lunch rush. She glanced back toward the kitchen—as if she didn’t know this place forward and backward already!—to plan a quick escape, for when Twilight’s voice was the only one left.

But Pinkie had gotten distracted by something shiny outside and trying to remember all five ponies who had birthdays tomorrow. Then the bell on the door tinkled for the last time, and nopony walked up to place an order. Pinkie’s eyes widened.

“Are you okay, Pinkie?” Twilight said. She stayed in her seat—maybe Pinkie could still get away.

No. Twilight hadn’t done anything wrong. No need to act like a grump. With a sigh, Pinkie poured a cup of hot tea—Twilight’s favorite flavor. She grabbed the handle in her teeth and brought the mug to Twilight’s table. “Why do you ask?” Pinkie said, her mouth now free. Two sugars, wedge of lemon—good old Twilight. Good old predictable Twilight.

Her horn aglow, Twilight plopped the two sugar cubes into her drink and squeezed some lemon in. “It just seems like you’re going through the motions lately. Like your heart’s not in it.”

Something about Twilight’s voice always made Pinkie smile. Maybe because of the way she’d say that everything would be alright. It left her with no doubt. Maybe because she had a different tone for every one of her friends. With a title like Princess of Friendship, of course she cared. “Sorry for being the party pooper pony lately. But it’s nothing.” Please don’t ask, Twilight.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Twilight blew over the edge of her cup and gingerly took a swallow.

Yes! Yes, yes, pretty please! “I… I can’t.” An easy smile greeted her. She might as well have been talking with Granny Pie. It didn’t matter how serious the subject got, just an attentive ear and an appreciation for her silliness.

Her cup hanging in midair, halfway back to the table, Twilight frowned. Her eyes did, too, as if looking out at a rain-soaked town on a restless afternoon, but more than that. She hurt, almost as much as Pinkie did, just knowing that she knew but didn’t know.

And she didn’t, or she would have hated Pinkie. But she levitated her mug down anyway, leaned forward, and hugged Pinkie. Only Twilight could do that. Only she could make Pinkie feel like the most important pony in the world without saying anything. And then when she did speak…

Twilight pointed out the front window, where a few passersby scowled at the ground. “You remember what happened when I—” she sighed “—switched up your cutie mark? When you’re not right, nopony around here is.”

Pinkie pulled back and worked her mouth into a taut line. Just above Twilight’s right eye, some kind of nick or scratch… a little trickle of blood wound its way past her ear and down her cheek. But Pinkie blinked, and it was gone.

“I hope you’ll find somepony you can talk to,” Twilight said.

Pinkie nodded, because she should. And Twilight—she’d learned so much since moving here. She didn’t ask anything more, because she shouldn’t. So she finished her tea in silence, holding Pinkie’s hoof the whole time. And then she gave it one last squeeze, flashed a not-smile, and quietly walked out.

“Princess Twilight!”


Banging at her door… What time was it?

“Princess Twilight, please!”

Twilight rolled out of bed and staggered to her door. Her bedroom door. She never locked the castle’s main gate, so ponies could come up and get her any time they needed. And somepony seemed to have taken full advantage of the offer. She swung the heavy door open and squinted into the hall’s torchlight. “Mrs. Cake?”

The poor mare stood there shaking. Twilight took her hoof, then pulled her into a hug, as much to get her own nighttime breath away from Cup’s face as to comfort her. “What’s wrong?”

“Pinkie, she shouted out your name, then started crying. I can’t get her to come out of her room!”

Immediately, Twilight trotted for the stairs, pulling Mrs. Cake along with her. “Don’t you worry. We’ll get all this sorted out.” At least Mrs. Cake drew a long breath and steadied herself. But could Twilight actually do that? Pinkie had something tearing her up inside, and they hadn’t started unraveling it. If Pinkie would even tell her…

Before Twilight knew it, she stood at Pinkie’s door, still waiting for a response to her third knock. “I’m coming in, Pinkie,” she said as she lit her horn and prodded her magic around the lock’s mechanism. A soft click sounded, and Twilight took a deep breath. Calm, controlled, decisive. Not a time to be timid. So no peeking around the door jamb or asking first. She stepped inside.

Pinkie lay face-down, her snout stuffed in her pillow. Every few seconds, a quiet whimper sounded. And Twilight’s heart skipped a beat. What could she do? What good was she when her friend couldn’t even confide in her?

Twilight held a hoof to the ache in her chest, then strode over to the bedside and knelt down, her chin propped on the mattress. “What is it, Pinkie? Can you tell me?”

With a sniffle, Pinkie rolled over to look at her. The moonlight glistened off her damp cheeks. Pinkie scanned Twilight’s face two or three times, swallowed down something, and coughed. “Just… just a dream.”

Nightmares? That bad? Twilight curled a foreleg over Pinkie’s withers and spoke softly. “All this time? Why haven’t you asked Princess Luna for help?”

Pinkie shook her head. “N-no. It started like that, but only once or twice.” Her lip trembled, and she winced from Twilight’s touch as if it might burn her. “Not a dream anymore.”

“But isn’t that what woke you up? A bad dream?” What to do? Pinkie didn’t seem to want to be touched right now, but she sure needed a hug.

“No, I… I haven’t been sleeping much.”

At least Pinkie leaned toward her again, rather like a cat, arching its back to be petted. So Twilight touched her withers another time, and when Pinkie didn’t flinch, Twilight took her in an embrace. “So… Luna can’t exactly help. But somepony can. Will you please try?”

Pinkie didn’t answer.

“For me? And for all your friends?” Twilight thought she felt a little nod against her shoulder. She’d take it.

“I… I’ll show you. In the morning. I’ll show you then. Cross my heart, hope to—” Pinkie buried her face in the pillow again. “Just please don’t leave me alone. Not tonight.”

Twilight’s chest nearly split in two, and all the things she wanted to say couldn’t find a voice. So she gave Pinkie a squeeze and lay her head on the mattress, right up against that limp pink mane.

Twilight’s breathing had slowed, and her hoof now dangled loosely over Pinkie’s neck. In the moonlight, Pinkie watched her.

She’d try to explain. When the sun came up, she’d try to explain, try to give Twilight a reason to think of her as a friend still.

It helped, it really did, having Twilight there. So warm against her, breathing, alive! Not fun, but right now, she’d even settle for boring. Boring had never sounded so wonderful. The purple horn next to her, nicked and scored from years of use. The foreleg, with a little scrape near the elbow, a small patch of scorched hair further down. What had Twilight gotten into?

No. Pinkie shook her head, but Twilight stirred a little, so she held still, as still as she could.

Warm. Nice and warm, from the sleepy body snuggled up to her, the breath teasing a bit of curl back into her mane. Even the thought that this mare would spend the night holding her when she needed it… And in the morning, that might all end.

Few could live in the moment like Pinkie, though. She’d have gone nuts long ago without that. So she let herself sink into her bed, heard a few mumbled words from Twilight, and smiled. She actually smiled.

Maybe she’d even get some sleep tonight. She nestled into Twilight’s side, yawned, and cleared her mind. A few hours of sleep might have her feeling better, sure as sugar. She yawned again and listened for Twilight’s breath. Just listened, and her eyes… she… only now. No morning, only now.

And her eyes closed one last time.

Twilight sat across the breakfast table from Pinkie, who’d barely spoken a word all morning. She didn’t even object when Twilight had asked her to fix some oatmeal. At least she’d gotten something for herself, too, even if it was chocolate cake.

But the more morning that slipped by, the more Pinkie didn’t bring up the subject hanging over their heads. Would she avoid it altogether, have a convenient lapse of memory? Or gather up her courage and take that leap? The Cakes had thankfully left them undisturbed.

The last spoonful of oatmeal down, and still nothing. Twilight watched the clouds drift by outside, and from the showroom through the door, she could hear the occasional customer. Already past nine o’clock, so the coffee-and-donut crowd was dwindling by now.

“I…” Pinkie finally said. Twilight nearly jumped. “I guess I should keep my promise. It wasn’t a complete Pinkie Promise, but…” She pressed a hoof to her eye with a humorless chuckle.

Twilight only nodded. She needed to let Pinkie go at her own pace.

“I don’t know, though.” Pinkie bit her lip and frowned at the basement door.

Back to silence, long minutes of it. Maybe a little prod wouldn’t hurt. “What don’t you know?” Twilight asked.

Pinkie let out a long breath and drooped her ears. “Should I go down first? And… and try to explain? Or let you go, make your own impression, and… answer your questions, I guess.” She stared into her lap.

Her jaw set, Twilight sat still and waited. Her forelegs tensed to wrap her dear friend in a hug, but just like last night, it might not be the right move. Where were her books that could coach her through this? Yes, friendship had proven to be a formidable power, but… why couldn’t it behave itself, follow a set of rules, like science? Why did so much of it have to hinge on gut instinct and on-the-fly judgment?

And why did Twilight have to have her name blazing across everypony’s minds as such an expert on it? She’d do that for Pinkie anyway, but fail at it and—

No. She wouldn’t fail. Not for anypony, she’d hope, but definitely not for Pinkie.

“You go down first. Into the basement,” Pinkie said. “Okey-dokey-lokey.” Not a question, Twilight noted.

As if dragging a bag of lead bricks across the floor, Pinkie trudged to the door, opened it, and flicked the light switch. “That way you can have your own honest—” she flinched at that word, for some reason “—opinion before I say anything.”

She wouldn’t look Twilight in the eye. She only stared at the tiled floor and wiped at her nose. Slowly, Twilight rose from her seat and walked over. She paused in front of Pinkie, who looked further away. And so Twilight started down the stairs.

“Just… call me when you’re ready,” Pinkie said as she shut the door behind Twilight.

A single bulb illuminated the musty room, but Twilight couldn’t see much of it yet. She ducked down below the joists for the ground floor and glanced around, but nothing unusual caught her eye.

Actually, it was rather more sparse than she’d expected. A business like this would need plenty of dry storage, and there was a shelf covering one wall completely. She squinted at the labels on the jars and cans arrayed over the wooden planks—mostly hoofwritten and declaring a date and contents. Vegetables, jams, preserves, honey… and all apparently for private use. Not the bulk ingredients they used for the business—those mostly came from Sweet Apple Acres or one of the other farms outside town.

Twilight walked the rest of the way down the stairs. The other stone block walls didn’t have much more to offer: a small stack of empty suitcases, a lid for a rain-catch cistern, a tool chest, a few pieces of old furniture, and a couple of narrow windows up near the ceiling. Sunlight streamed in through them, and hooves trod by as Ponyville went about its day. What about any of this had Pinkie so upset?

Twilight tried the suitcases, but as she tapped on each, they rang hollow. The cistern next—under the cover, a dipper hung in a clasp. Twilight scooped up a sample of water, sniffed it, tasted it. Nothing wrong there. She put it all back the way she’d found it.

The furniture was only a few simple tables and chairs, nothing that might conceal a secret. And the food all had a good layer of dust on it. A few empty spots stood where they’d needed something or other, but none of these had been touched since they were first put here months ago, long before Pinkie had started acting funny. Tools, pretty much the standard ones anypony had. A little rusty, but none the worse for wear.

And that was it. Standing in a shaft of daylight, she shrugged. “Pinkie?”

Pinkie pricked her ears in case she’d misheard, but Mrs. Cake continued on with her conversation in the next room. Nothing involving Pinkie. So it was Twilight who’d said it. Pinkie shuddered.

She opened the door, slid through, and closed it softly behind her. The basement—the only place Pinkie could go where nopony could hear her cry. Each step creaked under her weight, and she didn’t realize how much she needed that noise until she stood at the bottom and waited for Twilight to say something else. She waited for Twilight to tell her they couldn’t be friends anymore and that Pinkie needed to go away, far away.

Only the rumble of wagon wheels outside broke the silence. Pinkie wiped her cheeks dry and finally looked up. Twilight shrugged at her. She must not understand. She didn’t understand how Pinkie could do this to a friend, and she wanted to know that first. Twilight always wanted to know things.

“What did you want me to see, Pinkie?” Twilight’s stare cut into her like a blade—Pinkie even glanced at her own forelegs to see if it had drawn blood.

Parents did this all the time. They made their children say it all themselves. She guessed it made them take responsibility, made them show they knew what they’d done. They couldn’t just stand there and listen, but had to take part. They had to say it.

With a gulp, Pinkie walked past Twilight, over to the tool chest and the workbench in the shadowed corner on the far side of it. “I’m sorry,” she said as she smoothed Applejack’s forelock down.

Applejack took an unsteady breath and grimaced. She held a hoof to the ugly purple bruise across her ribs, and then she coughed and cried out as her body clenched and—

Pinkie held in a sob and leaned over to kiss Applejack on the forehead. “I didn’t mean it. I really didn’t mean it.”

“I know, sugarcube.” Applejack opened her eyes. Well, the swollen one would only open halfway. But she smiled back. “It’s not your fault. You couldn’t help it. I know that.”

Her friend. Her friend. Lying there, rough breath echoing. Pinkie covered her mouth with her hooves. Just upstairs, in the medicine cabinet, they had bandages, disinfectant. She could clean up the cuts on Applejack’s legs and wipe the blood away from her mouth. She could bring down a sponge and a pail of water and wash the matted dirt out of Applejack’s mane. She could even ask Twilight to help tie a splint to that broken leg. All of this, she could fix it. But she couldn’t fix how they’d hate her now, every one of them.

“Pinkie, please tell me,” Twilight said. “What didn’t you mean?”

“She’ll understand, too,” Applejack said, tilting her head back toward Twilight. “You can trust her. She’s good people.”

“But… I didn’t want this! I didn’t want any of it!” Pinkie slammed a hoof down on the wooden surface, and… no, Applejack winced at it. No!

Pinkie hung her head and buried her nose in her friend’s filthy mane. It smelled like mud and iron and… apples. Just a little. “Don’t be scared of me. Please.”

“I’m… I’m not,” Twilight said from behind her. Pinkie could practically hear the arched eyebrow.

With another cough, Applejack forced a smile. “I’m tryin’. I really am.”

“I know.” Pinkie wiped her eyes against the dirty blonde hair, leaving faint reddish streaks on her face. “I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to, I really really didn’t want to hurt you. I love you! You’re one of my best friends!”

Pinkie curled a pastern tightly and clenched her teeth. She raised her head up and pressed her nose to Applejack’s. “But it won’t leave me alone. For weeks now, I see it all the time!

Again, Applejack shied away and tried to roll toward the wall, but Pinkie moved with her and stroked the top of her head. “Shh. It’s alright. Shh. You’re safe here. I won’t let it hurt you. I won’t hurt you.”

“I—I know, sugarcube. I said that already.” With a trembling breath, Applejack tried to sit up, but it only opened the wound on her shoulder.

“I’ll make it right,” Pinkie said, “even if you don’t like me anymore.” She hugged Applejack, but only barely—no more pain. Pinkie wouldn’t cause any more pain. “I really do love you,” she whispered into Applejack’s ear. “And I think I’ll like myself better this way, if I tell. But I’ll be the only pony who does.”

She let out a sigh and turned to face Twilight, but she patted Applejack’s hoof one last time. Applejack managed a weak smile. She believed. She really believed that things would get better now. If only Pinkie had the same faith.

“Okey-dokey-lokey?” Pinkie looked Twilight squarely in the eye. A blank stare met her. Deciding whether to run for it? Or whether to yell at Pinkie and tell her what a horrible monster she was?

Twilight opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She angled her head to see around Pinkie, to look into that dark corner. And then something lit up in her eyes. Something clicked into place, something added that last spice that changed the whole morning’s flavor.

“Pinkie, who were you talking to?”

Twilight levitated a pair of teacups onto the table in her study and took the seat around the side of it from Pinkie’s. Not too near, not too far, and not looking directly at her. Pinkie needed to feel comfortable right now. For about an hour during the afternoon, Twilight had carefully arranged the furniture to make the place as inviting as possible.

And she waited. The tea wouldn’t cool any time soon, she’d cleared her schedule for the afternoon, and she’d brought in Pinkie the back way, so nopony would see. But she had to wait, until Pinkie was ready.

Well, until she could talk about her problem. But before that—

“Pinkie, I really wish you’d see a professional. I have books on the subject, but I’m not trained.” She already knew what answer she’d get, but she had to say it anyway. Not that Pinkie would really listen.

“I don’t want anypony else to know.” Pinkie just watched her tea. Her eyes followed the little ripples over its surface and gazed at her reflection, as if she saw some better world through it. “It’s bad enough you do, but I trust you. Applejack told me to trust you.”

Quickly, Twilight fought the frown off her face. “You mean this morning, in the basement?” No answer. “She’s fine, Pinkie. See?” Twilight said, pointing out the window toward the marketplace. In the distance, the little ballet of carts and wagons, hawkers and customers, money and merchandise twirled over its stage. And right near the middle of it all stood a smiling blonde pony next to a stall overflowing with apples. Pinkie didn’t look.

Pinkie took her cup in her forehooves and just did manage to keep it from spilling as she lifted it to her lips. “Thanks for talking, Twi,” she said.

Twilight might not get any more of a cue than that. “Okay. I’ll start with what I know. It began as nightmares, but they only lasted a couple days. After that… hallucinations? And they won’t stop?”

For a moment, Pinkie’s teacup rattled against her teeth. “They won’t. But not hallucinations. I’ve had those before, after a really bad sugar rush. They’re different.”

“What then?” Twilight had her talking, finally. Good.

“Daydreams… I guess?” Pinkie took a drink, wrinkled her nose, then set her cup back down and added three scoops of sugar. “You know how your mind wanders sometimes, even when you don’t want it to? Like when you don’t want Rarity to feel bad, and you try not to, but you keep looking at the frizz in her mane on a hot day?”

Twilight cracked a smile, but under the circumstances, she banished the image from her mind. “Yeah, I have. I know what you’re saying—a song you can’t get out of your head, for example.”

Instantly, Pinkie sat up straighter. “Yeah! You get that, too? I always seem to have ‘Happy Birthday’ running in my noggin!” she said.

“Does that ever bother you?” Twilight asked. A basic strategy, but maybe Pinkie hadn’t thought of it.

“Not much, but it gets in the way if I’m trying to remember my shopping list.” Pinkie tapped her forehooves together. At least she’d perked up. A little smile, and she bounced in her seat.

So Twilight let her enjoy herself for the moment. She deserved it, as long as this must have been bothering her. Eventually, Pinkie settled down and took her drink again. “When that happens, what do you do?” Twilight asked.

“Happy birthday, dear Twilight…” Pinkie hummed to herself. She watched the little swirls of tea dancing around in front of her snout and the brown-tinted Pinkie who peered back at her. The same smile, the same muted wave. Did that Pinkie’s friends like her? “Huh?”

“I asked what you do when you can’t get that song out of your head.”

Pinkie looked up; Twilight watched out of the corner of her eye. And below that eye, a narrow cut, one little drop of blood gathering at the end. “I… I try to think of something else. But I don’t always like what I think of.”

“Then what? How do you stop that?” Twilight shifted sideways in her seat, but it must hurt to bear her weight on a split hoof like that. Pinkie stared, but… oh yeah. Twilight was waiting for an answer.

“I sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself,” Pinkie answered.

Twilight’s mouth formed into a thin frown. Something had made her unhappy. Maybe Pinkie should cheer her up. Twilight had a lovely smile, the way she’d cock her head just a bit. It always made Pinkie feel that her whole day had led up to that point, when she could wrap herself in that minute and stay there forever. If only Twilight could smile like that now, but that bandage on her chest definitely needed changing. “Happy birthday, dear Twilight…” Pinkie sang under her breath.

“Try something new,” Twilight said, pointing out the window again. “Look how happy Applejack is out there. Picture her selling apples. I gather that she was part of your unpleasant… vision, but you never really told me what—”

Pinkie snapped her gaze back to Twilight, who held a hoof to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” Twilight added. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

Applejack propped against her wagonload of apples. Rainbow Dash napping on a cloud. Rarity sketching a new design. She could try. And Twilight’s adorable smile.

In one swift motion, Pinkie gulped down her tea and hopped right in front of Twilight. No blood, no injuries. Pinkie kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Thanks, Twi!”

“Um… I’m not sure it’s quite that easy.” Silly Twilight. Of course it wasn’t.

With a hop, a skip, and a jump, Pinkie left an open-mouthed princess behind. She paused in the doorway. “I’ll come back when I need to talk again. Okey-dokey-lokey?”

Twilight wrinkled her forehead. She hated it when she didn’t understand something, but she would, soon enough. There was a Pinkie Promise involved, after all. “Y-yeah. Okay,” Twilight replied.

“Happy birthday, dear Twilight…”

If not for the Pinkie Promise, Twilight would have expected her friend to avoid coming back for as long as possible. But the next day, there she sat in the study, in the same chair as before. She fiddled with her hooves and kept rubbing one at her shoulder, though. Apparently that visualization hadn’t worked after all.

“I still have to keep my promise. I said you’d understand,” Pinkie said to the seat cushion.

Twilight couldn’t speak. Not that Pinkie would renege, but… for her to bring it up herself? “How did it go? Yesterday afternoon, I mean.”

Pinkie drew her eyebrows together. “Okay, as long as I didn’t have anything else to do, but then the babies woke up from their nap, and three of the oven timers went off at the same time, and… I couldn’t concentrate.” She leaned forward over the table; the plate of cookies mere inches from her hoof remained untouched.

“Does it really bother you that much? I ask because there’s something else you could try, if you think you’re up to it.” Pinkie nodded, but about what?

She gave a weak laugh and peeked out the window, toward Applejack’s market stall. “What is it?”

“Have you heard of OCD before?” In a madhouse like Ponyville, who didn’t have that?

Pinkie frowned, but a glimmer soon returned to her eyes. “Orange Cookie Disaster? Once, around Nightmare Night a few years ago. But I don’t think Gummy would ever do that again.”

Only Pinkie could make Twilight laugh at the strangest times. No way of telling whether to chalk that up to Pinkie being Pinkie or a stall tactic, though. So she allowed herself a quick smile. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When ponies can’t help doing something they don’t want, even to the point that it disrupts their lives. Psychologists may recommend performing that behavior even more. You’ll make yourself so sick of it that you overload and don’t do it anymore.”

Pinkie flinched. “I don’t know.”

From the little bit Twilight had figured out, that didn’t come as much of a surprise. She saw something ugly, something revolting. To see even more of it… Twilight shook her head. “I’m sorry. How bad is it?”

Twilight reached out for her teacup, but she jerked her hoof back when she heard—when had Pinkie ever whimpered before all this began? Pinkie crossed her forelegs over her stomach, doubled over, and flopped onto her side.

“Happy birthday, dear… Twilight…”

Pinkie blinked away the tears in her eyes and glanced up. Twilight didn’t look too bad. A bloody nose, a few scratches on her leg, a scraped knee. Not enough. More, Twilight had said. More. An open cut above Twilight’s eye seeped over her cheek and dripped on the floor. “It’s not your fault,” Twilight mumbled through her swollen lips.

It wasn’t going away. More.

Twisting away from her, Twilight cradled her ribs and took a wet, rasping breath. “I don’t blame you. You can’t help it. But I want to help you. Please.” No way her shoulder should be at that angle.

Still not stopping! More!

Twilight’s eyes wouldn’t focus right. She tried to smile, but her shivering shook it loose, and it dripped down her chin with the rest of… rest of the…

In fits and starts, Pinkie’s foreleg lurched up, and she stumbled forward, looming over Twilight. The purple coat, stained in patches, scorched in others. Still, her friend smiled at her. “I just want you to be happy, Pinkie. If this will make you happy…”

Pinkie twisted her head sideways and glanced at her own hoof. When had she picked up a knife? Where did she even get it? By the looks of her fr-friend, she’d already used it—h-her friend. Her friend.

The knife clattered to the floor.

“But I don’t want to!”

No more. She couldn’t do more. Maybe Twilight was right, but… no, still there. The heaving in Pinkie’s chest eased. Less now, only a few slashes across her shoulders. Her heart wouldn’t stop thudding, and she swallowed hard, but she’d gotten it under control again. They wouldn’t go away, but at least the worst of it had disappeared. Back to normal.

Pinkie shuddered and uncovered her eyes. She sat in her chair, as she had the whole time. And Twilight in hers, eyes closed as she sipped at her tea. Only a couple of minor wounds on her forelegs. Pinkie let out a long breath.

“It… it’s my friends. Hurt, bleeding. Not asking me to stop, though. They tell me they understand, that I can’t help it, that they’re sorry.” Who could do that to a friend, even in her head? They’d hate her. They’d all hate her!

She sniffled. Twilight already did hate her, but how long would it take the rest to find out?

Twilight’s mouth hung open as she fought for words, but eventually, she gathered her forehooves in her lap and took a deep breath. “First, Pinkie, it’s not unusual for ponies to have these violent or scary impulses at times. The problem comes when you act on them. But just seeing them—us—injured doesn’t mean anything on its own.”

Pinkie hadn’t even heard her approach, but there Twilight sat next to her. Right there, with her head cocked and that adorable little smile. “Like you said, it’s a nightmare. It made a big impression on you, and you can’t get it out of your mind right now, but you will.”

“But I’m the one doing it! I’m hurting my friends, and I can’t stop!” Twilight didn’t back away. She should have, but she didn’t. So selfish of Pinkie, but with that shoulder right there, she cried into it, into the purple hair and the scent of old paper.

“You don’t want to do it, though… right?” Twilight said in a small voice.

No!” Pinkie backed away and took Twilight by the shoulders, careful to avoid the bruises. “I don’t! But what if that changes? What if I get used to it and it doesn’t bother me anymore and I start to like it and…” She couldn’t finish. Into Twilight’s shoulder again, and she could smell the blood, but she let it all out, shaking. “I don’t want to be a monster! Please!

Twilight curled a hoof around Pinkie’s back. “You won’t.” That hoof, rubbing up and down Pinkie’s spine. How could Twilight let her get this close? Didn’t she know how dangerous that was? “Tell me what you see. Tell me how it makes you feel.”

“Horrible.” Pinkie nearly gagged. “And now everypony will hate me. Like they should.”

Her lips pursed, Twilight gave Pinkie a squeeze. “I’m certainly not going to tell them, but even if they knew, they wouldn’t hate you. They’d feel awful to see you in pain like this.”

“The things I did to Applejack, Rarity, Dashie… to you...” Pinkie gulped.

But Twilight raised an eyebrow and squinted at her. “Not Fluttershy? Why n—?”

“Oh, no! No, not her! I couldn’t, not somepony that fragile!” Pinkie couldn’t even begin to think about it. Fluttershy, on that workbench in the basement. Just sleeping peacefully. Pinkie ran a hoof over Fluttershy’s mane and pulled a blanket up, tucking it in around her. Fluttershy stirred a little but didn’t wake. She’d keep Fluttershy safe from anything, even her.

“That… that’s right. You wouldn’t let Rainbow Dash prank her!” Twilight’s eyes glimmered the way they did when she started a fresh checklist. “Pinkie, when you start to imagine somepony like that, change them into Fluttershy. You can’t do that to Fluttershy!”

Pinkie’s brow creased. No, not to Fluttershy.

“Look at me.” Twilight waited for Pinkie to obey. “Tell me what you see. Again, I mean. Is it different?”

Her face, legs, chest. “A few small cuts and bruises. Not bad right now.” She traced a hoof along Twilight’s cheek, then her withers, to mark the spots.

“Now imagine I’m Fluttershy, sitting here with you.”

Pinkie’s hoof still rested next to one of the bleeding… No. The yellow coat, unharmed. Pink mane, no trace of dirt in it. She pulled Fluttershy close and hugged her tightly.

Pinkie cried. She cried, and she smiled for real, the first time in weeks. Not such a pristine yellow coat anymore, now wet with tears. But Fluttershy wouldn’t mind. Fluttershy was her friend. They were all her friends, and she loved them dearly.

Twilight checked off each guest as she strolled through Sugarcube Corner’s entrance. Keeping track of only six ponies didn’t actually require that level of attention, but Twilight liked to indulge once in a while.

Six boxes, six check marks. She’d scratched out her own name long ago, of course, since she’d shown up first to help get everything ready. Streamers and bunting, balloons and pinatas. Maybe those weren’t such a good idea, but Pinkie had insisted, and at least they didn’t resemble any of the girls. Or any other pony, for that matter—just generic shapes, like stars and flowers.

“Love the hat, Rarishy!” Pinkie said, making her rounds of the room. “Try the fruit tarts, Appleshy!”

In turn, she gave them each hugs. And she didn’t wear that empty smile today. Twilight grinned along with her. Good for her! She’d made such steady progress over the last few weeks, and maybe they finally had the finish line in sight.

“Cool trick you tried out this morning, Rainbowshy! Shyshy, you should have brought Angel with you!” Leap by leap, she bounced around and grabbed a hoofful of cake each time she passed the refreshments table.

Rainbow leaned toward Twilight and muttered out the side of her mouth. “What’s her deal? All this ‘Shy’ stuff…”

Shrugging, Twilight said, “I don’t know. Another one of her temporary flights of fancy, I guess. Just roll with it.” With any luck, Applejack wouldn’t ask her the same thing. She could never lie to Applejack.

Rainbow shrugged as well, then frowned at her cider mug. Seriously, she’d only drunk it about a quarter of the way down, but she already glanced at it like it was a flashy necklace, and she’d accidentally wandered to the seedy part of town. So she camped out by the keg, right in the way of anypony heading for a refill of their own.

By then, Pinkie’s orbit had taken her back to Twilight. “I’m glad everypony could get together. You really deserve this,” Twilight said in a low voice. “Are you happy?”

Pinkie held a hoof to her mouth and rolled her eyes up. “Almost,” she said as she popped up in the air one more time. “And that makes me happy!”

Twilight caught her in a hug when she landed. So nice to feel her friend’s warmth against her and not have to watch that grayness in her eyes. So nice to see her laugh and dance and sing—Twilight heard faint humming. Was that “Happy Birthday”?

Poor filly. All this excitement must have eroded her self-control a little, so Twilight hugged her tighter. Just a nice, calm, quiet moment between them, enough to get her settled again.

Pinkie had gotten to where she could go a few hours sometimes without having to surround herself with Fluttershys. Today hadn’t gone so well, but Twilight was right. Things had gotten much better. She finished humming her song. Time to get back to the party, then, but Twilight drooped her ears and gave a tight-lipped smile.

“Where is it?” Twilight asked.

On her neck, a few nicks and scratches, but only one bleeding. She touched it, careful not to hurt her friend by pressing too hard. “Just… everything’s okay, Twishy.” That yellow coat, not a mark on it. “I-I don’t want to do this.”

Twilight lifted Pinkie’s chin and raised an eyebrow, like somepony scolding a child. “I know. And that’s why you’re a good pony. That’s why you’ve always been a good pony. And my friend.”

More and more lately, she’d come to believe it, that they could think of her as a friend. Years and years of friendship before, and she had to earn it back now. But with Twilight’s help, maybe she had. Why did it have to be so hard, though?

“I’m so proud of you, Pinkie,” Twilight said, her head cocked in that adorable way. “We might be able to cut back to two sessions per week soon.”

Pinkie chuckled at that. Nice of Twilight to say it that way, but… she still went over to the castle all the time. Every other day, for now, they had long, dedicated discussions. The rest of the time, they just shared some tea and cookies, and if… it came up, then it came up.

She pulled Twilight into a hug. “I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve any of you.”

“Yes, you do. Remember what I’ve told you.” Twilight had to keep saying that. Not that Pinkie forgot, but she had to concentrate on it, so that it made sense, seemed real. “They love you, and it hurts them—hurts me—to see you in pain. No matter what.”

Of course they did, because they didn’t know. But Twilight also kept saying that it didn’t make a difference.

“Now, why don’t you have some fun?” Twilight twitched her nose toward the other girls, all chatting and smiling and grabbing cookies and punch. Fun. Things actually had started being fun again.

“Happy birthday, dear Twilight…” she sang softly. Twilight’s ears drooped a bit around her questioning glance. So Pinkie squeezed her eyes shut and touched up everypony’s yellow coats and pink manes in her head. It wouldn’t control her. She’d have fun, she’d love her friends, and they’d love her back.

But before she stepped away, she whispered in Twilight’s ear. “Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye. I promise by your birthday, that song will only mean happy things.”

Twilight nodded back and grinned. With her friends’ strength supporting her, no way Pinkie would break that vow, if she could help it. Of course, she couldn’t really promise that, as much as she wanted to—it depended on a lot of things, but Twilight understood. Pinkie took a deep breath and didn’t force a smile. One came on its own.

Cake and cider and pinatas and pin the tail on the pony? Time for fun!

Return to Story Description


Login with