by shortskirtsandexplosions

Chapter 1: Don't Complain; It Rains For You

Fluttershy's eyes reflected the gray malaise of the looming rain clouds over Ponyville. She shuffled listlessly across town, carrying Angel and a saddlebag over her flanks, until her path met up with a bouncing, pink fluffball.

"Good afternoon, Fluttershy!" chortled the fluffball in question. Pinkie Pie flipped over Fluttershy, landed on her two front hooves, and acrobatically pivoted about to stare the pegasus down. "Fancy meeting you out here!"

"Oh... uhm... hi, Pinkie Pie," Fluttershy exhaled. It took her a few lingering seconds to put on a smile. "What are you up to?"

"I just had to make a super speedy quick trip to the pony market to grab some extra bags of flour for Mr. And Mrs. Cake's latest Sugarcube Corner Special!" She giggled-snorted, then smiled with her fat dimples turning fatter. "Triple Fudge Fruitcake Surprise! We're sampling it to everypony who visits the bakery this evening! Are you gonna come try it out with the rest of the girls?! Huh? Huh?! Huh?!?"

Fluttershy giggled breathily. "But of course, Pinkie. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Good! 'Cuz I wouldn't miss it either!" Pinkie hopped in a bouncy circle around Fluttershy. "Even though I've got sooooooooo much stuff to do today!"

"You do...?"

"Mmmhmm! Mmmhmm! I gotta scrub the baking pans, glaze the doughnuts, serve the afternoon customers some sarsaparilla, put the finishing touches on Mr. And Mrs. Cake's Triple Fudge Fruitcake Surprise... and still find some time to play the Quiet Game!"

"The... Quiet Game?" Fluttershy blinked.

"Heehee! Yeah!" Pinkie bounced to a stop, winking with glistening teeth. "It's Gummy's favorite game!" She leaned in, whispering hoarsely in secret: "Only because he wins all the time!"

"Yes." Fluttershy nodded. "Somehow I... I-I believe you..."

"Well! I'm off!" Pinkie Pie zoomed off, somehow managing to balance two big bags of flour on her rump. "See you later at Sugarcube Corner, Fluttershy! Be there with bells on!" she shouted from a distance.

Fluttershy raised a limp hoof in a half-attempt to wave. Her muzzle opened as if to say something, but only a cold shudder came out. Sighing, Fluttershy looked back at Angel. She smiled gently, gave the little bunny a gentle nuzzle, then resumed her slow, slouching steps across town.

"Twilight?" Spike's voice called across the large, echoing chambers of the crystal castle. "Twilight???" He peered into room after room—at last jerking to the sound of loudly shuffling papers. He waddled two spaces down and stuck his head into the east wing study.

"Grnnngh!" Twilight growled breathily, tearing through desk after desk. "Where is it... where is it?!"

"Twilight!" Spike's voice cracked as his slitted eyes widened. "What the heck are you doing?!" He scampered into the room, frantically trying to reorganize the mess that the alicorn princess was making. "For crying out loud, Twilight! I just filed all this junk away like you asked me to—"

"Spike, somewhere amidst all this 'junk' there's an old transcription of the ancient aegagrus language, and I need to find it right away!" She paused in the middle of rummaging to glare at the dragon. "Did you put this all in alphabetical order like I told you?"

"Yeah... one or two battlefields ago!" Spike frowned, re-shuffling the messy sheets. "You know, for a pony who wants everything to be orderly, you get super disorderly when things become stressful!"

"Spike, how would you feel if you had less than a week to negotiate peace between two kingdoms that have been at a cold war with each for centuries?!"

"Why do you need an old transcription on ancient aegagrus speech anyways?!" Spike's scaled brow furrowed. "Can't you just use the Equestrian Primer? It's situated in the main library—"

"No, Spike! I can't!" Twilight growled. "Because the Equestrian Primer was written by ponies without the assistance of the two Aegagrus Scholarly Conclaves! And I can't ask the linguistic professors of the Mountain Goat Tribe to help me because they'll think I'm trying to cut a deal with the Field Goat Tribe! But if I go straight to the Field Goat scholars, they'll act just as paranoid because they blame the Mountain Goats for every agricultural blight they've suffered over the past five hundred years! And the Mountain Goats aren't helping anything because they claim that it was the Field Goats' own fault for choosing to move into a valley downwind of their arid hillside settlement in the first place! And despite all of this, Princess Celestia is still somehow expecting me to talk these two mortal enemies into shaking cloven hooves and becoming friends all by next Tuesday!" She spun and stamped her hooves. "Rnnnngh!"

The resulting bolts of magic from the Princess' horn shook the entire room, causing every loose sheet of paper to fall onto the floor. This, of course, made Spike groan heavily. "Couldn't you just... I dunno... make Pinkie Pie throw both Tribes a wicked sweet party like you always do?"

"No, Spike..." Twilight spun around with a frown. "I'm the Princess of Friendship! It's high time I owned up to that title!" She angrily trotted over to another set of shelves and began rummaging. "I can't just leave it all to Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy or... or any of the other girls! Diplomacy is my specialty, and if I haven't got anything to show for it... then I don't deserve my crown!"

"Well, crown or not..." Spike placed several sheets onto a desktop and shrugged. "...remember who's making whose own messes!"

"Spike, are you gonna help me find the aegagrus transcription or not?"

The whelp rolled his slitted eyes, hopped up onto a desk, and began searching. "If there's a vacancy open for 'Prince of Office Gruntwork,' please let me know... because I think I've earned that stupid crown five times over by now."

"Just keep looking, okay?" Twilight grumbled. "Thank you, Spike."


"Rrrrr-rrrrrrghhh!" Applejack shook, strained, then lost her grip of the plow's wooden harness. "Whoahhh—" She fell hard into the soil of Sweet Apple Acres. As the resulting wave of pain rippled through her muscles, she sat up, gnashing her teeth. "Rrrrrrgh... con sarn stinkin'... heap of junk!" She kicked the pieces of the plow with a loud grunt. "I simply ain't in the mood today!"

Granny Smith trotted casually around the corner, an eyebrow arched across her wrinkled face. She craned an ear towards Applejack's angry breaths. "Uhm... AJ, darlin'? Are ya battlin' with a manticore out here or what?"

"Not now, Granny!" the farm mare grumbled. She stood up with a frown, struggling to slap the wooden framework back to the metal part of the plow. "I'm kinda in the middle of somethin'."

"Honey, I know when yer bitin' off more than you can chew." Granny Smith looked around. "Where's yer brother? Maybe he can help ya fix that darn contraption."

"Hah!" Applejack laughed bitterly, sweating hard beneath her hat. "Hah hah! Big Mac? Oh no... Big Mac saw it fit to skedaddle on to Dodge's Junction with his new sweetheart to... grnnngh..." She struggled to lock the wooden beams into place. "...to... gorge h-himself on the carny delights of the Desert Fair!"

"Awwww... well if that ain't the sweetest thang!" Granny Smith bore a wrinkled smile. "I just know that he and Miss Cheerilee are gonna make the cutest couple—"

"Yeah, well she'd better size up a cast for his hindquarters cuz I'm gonna give him a mighty big wallopin' when he gets back!" Applejack grumbled and grumbled some more. She slipped again and the plow collapsed in front of her. "Argh!" She flung her hat off and stomped her hooves. "Dag nabbit! This is the worse timin'!"

"Now settle down, sugarcube—"

"Granny, this is the third time—the third time in a row that Big Mac's done skipped off when he had a specific chore that needs bein' done!" Applejack paced angrily around the plow, shoving the loose parts back together. "Years ago—and you know this—he and I made promises to Ma and Pa!" She squatted down low and struggled to shove the metal part upright. "Rrrrgh! I g-gave my word that I'd till the earth and make everythang grow all fresh-like! And Big Mac said he'd—rrrrghh—repair every darn farm tool and barn door and chicken coop the moment any of 'em broke down! Don't ya get it?! This here plow is his responsibility!" She leaned back, panting and wiping her sweaty brow. "Now, I dun mind pullin' anypony's weight around here when it's needed, but—heavens to betsy—I've got enough on my plate this week with all the apple buckin'! There are three markets in downtown Ponyville still waiting for bushels of fruit shipment and I'm plum behind on account of this hogwash!"

"I'm sure they'll understand, Applejack," Granny Smith said. "Dun you worry 'bout the plow. Big Mac will get to it—"

"When?! When he gets back?!?" Applejack gnashed her teeth. "When he's done makin' goo-goo eyes at Apple Bloom's teacher, he's gonna shamble off and laze the day away by the fishin' hole! I'll bet you a hundred of my very own hard-earned bits!"

"Now Applejack..."

"Granny, I've got this. I've always got thangs taken care of 'round here. I'm as dependable as dependable can be. I just..." Applejack exhaled, shuddering slightly. She gulped. "I'm just worried that someday ponies are gonna... g-gonna take advantage of that, is all."

"Now, t'ain't proper thinkin', AJ," Granny Smith said with a frown. "Reckon you need to sit back, relax, and allow yer temper to simmer just a bit."

"What I need to do is get this darn plow back to workin' order again!"

"Well, reckon I can't make ya do otherwise." Granny Smith waved at the gray sky as she trotted back towards the farmhouse. "Whatever the case, ya better fix it soon. My hip feels the rain' comin' on."

"Rain. Great. Ain't that super." Applejack glared up at the sky, frowning. "Just what I need right now!" She grunted and gave the stubborn plow an even more stubborn kick. "Who's dang brilliant idea was it to give Ponyville a thunderstorm today?!?"

"Hnnngh!" Rainbow spun and angrily bucked a tiny cloud so that it merged with an even tighter cloud.

The whole cloudbed rumbled, causing Thunderlane and Blossomforth to jerk back with a gasp. They recollected their misty vapors and shoved them back into the cloud before turning to give Rainbow worried looks.

"That's the sixth time you've let your frustrations out on the job, Rainbow," Blossomforth said.

"Yeah." Thunderlane nodded, wings flapping. "Are you going to tell us what's wrong or are we gonna have to start dodging lightning bolts next?"

"It doesn't matter," Rainbow hissed through clenched teeth. She flew around in a brilliant arc, collected mists in her expert wings, then slapped them into the thundercloud, thickening the gloomy overcast high over Ponyville. "Nothing ever matters. So why bother talking about it?"

"You know..." Blossomforth planted her hooves against her hips, frowning. "If today's weather flight has to be so darn serious, you could just do it yourself!"

"Blossomforth..." Thunderlane chided with a sigh.

"Oh yeah?!?" Rainbow spun towards them, panting, frowning. "If you wanna skip out like a bunch of losers, go ahead!" Her voice cracked, "I could make it rain on the whole continent in just a few hours! And I could do it all on my own! What's it matter to you? You get paid either way!" She huffed and puffed, flying about to collect more mists and clouds of moisture. "Some of us actually have a passion for what we do, y'know."

"Yeah..." Thunderlane frowned, his voice reaching a stern pitch. "And some of us care a bit more about our co-workers! So get it off your chest or take your sass somewhere else!"

"Rnnngh!" Rainbow threw the tiny clouds into the huge gray mix with a grunt. She hovered in place, shoulders slumped. "... ... ...it's the friggin' Wonderbolts. I've had it up to here with those bozos!"

"Why?" Blossomforth blinked, squinting. "I thought you worshiped the Wonderbolts!"

"Yeah!" Rainbow nodded, muzzle agape. "Until I friggin' joined them! I've performed every stunt, attended every ceremony, taken every stinkin' boring test they've thrown at me... and for what?! They're Tartarus-bent on keeping me on the reserve list forever!" She kicked a stubborn length of cloud back into place before it could drift off. "It's been eighteen months! Eighteen months! Ungh!" She rolled her eyes. "I swear, I'm going to be wearing that stupid, smelly rookie jumpsuit for the rest of my life!"

"We're... s-sorry to hear that, Rainbow Dash," Blossomforth uttered, fidgeting.

"But don't you realize just how lucky you are?!" Thunderlane said, eyes blinking wide. "I... I struggled to get into the Wonderbolts reserve! I gave it my all, Rainbow Dash. Just making it to training camp was an accomplishment all on its own! I'd give all my legs just to have the wings you have so I could be on their reserve team! Heck... I'd give everything just to be their official caterer!"

"You don't understand..." Rainbow heaved and shuddered. "Nopony understands." She frowned at the gray clouds hovering below them, rumbling with a thunder that matched her angry lungs. "I'm the best that there is... and if I can't earn the top spot with the Wonderbolts... then what's the use in even trying?!" With a pronounced roar, she slammed two hooves into the clouds.

The atmosphere over Ponyville resonated with a loud clap of thunder.

Blossomforth sighed, tossing up her front hooves. "Fine. Whatever. You wanna brood for the rest of your shift?" She rolled her eyes and flew off. "Do it by yourself."

"Awww... Blossomforth, come on..." Thunderlane sighed, then glared at Rainbow Dash. "Nice going, 'champ.'" And he flew after her.

"Yeah! That's right! Buzz off!" Rainbow huffed and puffed, flying off to collect more moisture. "Leave the gruntwork to the professionals." Her nostrils flared. "For all it's friggin' worth..."

"Mrmmmfffnngh..." Rarity growled. Her mane was a frazzled, unkempt mess, and a pair of bifocals rested crookedly across her powder-white nose. Nevertheless, this didn't stop her from galloping frantically between her design board and her sewing table, struggling to put the finishing touches on a flashy blue gown. "Sapphire Shores, I love you like a sister, but—I swear—you're going to be the absolute death of me!"

Several ribbons, measuring tapes, rulers, and pincushions floated in magical orbit around her, taking on desperate, weaving patterns while the mare's attention bounced from one important tool to the next.

"She knows I'm good... and I know that she knows that I'm good... but honestly!" The unicorn's teeth chattered as she spun in a frenzied circle inside Carousel Boutique. "This is why I need to start a sweatshop." Her pupils shrank at that, and she waved a dainty hoof in the air. "No no no, Rarity... you shan't join the dark side." A deep, deep breath for composure. "Just... stay calm... professional... and above all else..." She licked her lips, leaning in with a squinting eye as she strove to suture a loose hem on the dress. "...maintain your finesse."

The doorbell rang loudly.

"Unf!" Rarity exhaled, lurching forward. The silk string that was fastened to the needle snapped apart, and her cheeks turned red with frustration. "Rrrrrgh... what is it now?!" Rarity stomped angrily to the front entrance, her many-many tools flouncing through the air to keep up with her. With a merciless frown, she flung the door open. "Can I help you?!"

"Oh! Miss Rarity! Whew!" Derpy Hooves waved, smiling from where she stood in the gray light of day. "For a second there, I thought nopony was home! All the lights were out!" She dug through her maibag. "I'd really hate for your letters to get soggy from the storm! That's what happens when I put them in the mailbox, s-sometimes..."

"Miss Hooves, would you kindly—" Rarity stopped abruptly, took a deep breath, and lowered her voice to a gentle, melodic tone. "That is most considerate of you."

"I... uh... h-hope I didn't interrupt anything!" Derpy Hooves said, handing out three envelopes.

"No... no, it's... quite alright," Rarity sighed, graciously accepting the letters in a glowing magic field. She added them to the orbit of the dress-making tools. "It's most important that I keep in regular communication with my business associates. I'm very appreciative of your punctual services."

"Huh... well, s-super!" Derpy smiled, her bright eyes looping about. "Well... h-here's hoping I beat the rain back to the post office!"

"Hmmm? Rain? Oh... yes." Rarity nodded, backtrotting. "Precipitation. Yes, of course." She gave a tiny wave. "Bye, now."

The door floated shut. Rarity shuffled back towards her work station. Humming to herself, she flipped through each of the three letters. When she got to the third envelope, she paused entirely... blinking at the sender. Her brow furrowed, and she briskly levitated a pair of scissors over, opening the document in a flash. She folded out a single sheet of paper, her blue eyes scanning every line.

Rarity read and read... and then her lips pursed. The mare's ears folded back as her eyes blinked heavily.

And then—with a dull fizzle of magic—every instrument around her fell limply to the floor. The unicorn slumped back on her haunches. Muzzle agape, she rested the open letter to her fuzzy chest and gazed across the dimly-lit Boutique with ragged breaths.

"Howdy-doodley-doo, you most adorafuzzy two!" Pinkie Pie winked, balancing a tray full of bubbling sarsaparilla bottles on her fluffy head. She did a twirl, slid on her knees, and came to an expert stop right before the patrons' table inside Sugarcube Corner. "And here's some sugary soda pop to sip on, too!"

"Heeheehee!" Bon Bon clapped her hooves, smiling wide. "You're just so... bubbly all the time, Pinkie Pie! We love coming here!"

"Wow..." Lyra picked up a bottle in the crook of her hoof, admiring it with bright eyes. "You brought it here while hopping around like a cricket, and still it's not foaming all over the place!" She stared at the caterer with stars in her eyes. "Just how do you do it?"

"Heehee... silly Lyra." Pinkie stuck a tongue out and moontrotted back towards the counter. "That's a trade Pie Family secret! Locked deep inside the Order of the Hop's vaults!" She grabbed an ice cream sundae and cartwheeled over to another table, somehow balancing the dessert the entire time. "Aaaaaaaaaaand something for the handomest doctor in town!"

"Awwww Pinkie Pie..." Doctor Hooves blushed, snickering. "You flatter me too much."

"What's the occasion? Huh?!" Pinkie Pie grinned in his face. "Did you discover the Hay-Boson Particle?"

"You want to know the occasion?!" The stallion pointed to the gray clouds outside Sugarcube Corner's windows. "I made it inside from that!"

Lyra and Bon Bon giggled from afar.

"Whew!" Pinkie Pie wiped off some invisible sweat. "The pegasi sure did whip up a doozy for Ponyville today, huh? You know..." She leaned forward, whispering in Doctor Hooves' ears. "...if you count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and its thunder, then divide by five, you can guesstimate how many doughnuts the storm cloud has eaten for breakfast!"

"Heheheh..." Dr. Hooves raised an eyebrow. "And just how did you learn this amazing meteorological trivia, Miss Pie?"

"I dated a bolt of lightning once!" She leaned back, eyes bright over an even brighter smile. "I know! Shocking, right?!" She giggle-snorted.

A bell rang from the front counter.

"Cupcakes are ready to be served, Pinkie!" Mr. Cake said, smiling.

"Woohoo!" Pinkie Pie skipped on over. "Won't Table Twelve be happy! That's my favorite table!"

"This place is gonna get crowded soon from all the ponies coming in from the rain!" Mrs Cake said from the kitchen.

"I know!" Pinkie Pie nodded, picking up the cupcake tray in one swift swoop. "And I still gotta scrub the baking pans, take out the trash, serve the girls when they show up, and—duaaaah—find some time to play the Quiet Game with Gummy!"

"The Quiet Game?" Mr. Cake remarked.

"You betcha! And Gummy's on a winning streak!" Pinkie pounded one hoof into another. "I gotta get on his level!"

"My goodness, Pinkie!" Mrs. Cake shook his head, smiling over at her husband. "Just how do you find the energy to be... well... to be you all the time?"

"When I find out, I'll let you know!" She winked at the laughing couple, then bounced over towards the far side of the bakery. "Fresh cupcakes! Coming right up! With extra bouncy frosting! Heehee!"

"Oh no..." Twilight Sparkle hissed, eyes twitching as she flung the pages of her document apart. "Oh no no no no no no NO!"

"What?!" Spike gasped, looking over from where he balanced a teetering stack of old periodicals. "What what what what what what WHAT?!"

"This transcription is outdated!" Twilight pointed at the front page, nearly hyperventilating. "It's supposed to be Edition Number Twelve Point Five. Instead... what I have here is Number Twelve Point Two! This won't help me at all with the Goat Tribes! If anything... it'll just help me start another stupid war between them!" She slammed her head into the desk. "Unnngh!"

"Uhhhh..." Spike put up the stack of papers, brushed his claws off, and shuffled over to her side. "Are you sure it's an outdated edition?"

"Spike..." She frowned aside at him. "I think I know my numbers when I see them."

"Oh yeah?" He frowned back, planting his hands on his scaly hips. "And I think I know a grumpy princess when I hear one!"

"Well, can you blame me for losing my composure?!" Twilight waved a hoof. Thunder rolled beyond the crystal walls of the palace as she paced around, rambling: "My goal is to spread the magic of friendship all across Equestria! Well, that would be a whole lot easier if all the different clans and tribes of this continent didn't hate each other so blasted much! I mean... wh-what's Princess Celestia expecting from me?!"

"To do your best, Twilight!" Spike exclaimed, shrugging. "That's all she's ever expected out of you! Not for you to do the impossible."

"That may have been all well and good when I was her apprentice, Spike, but I'm a Princess now!" She stood up straight, staring out the glossy, translucent windows. "I have no choice these days but to do the best... and to be the best that I can be at it!" She gulped hard and turned back to gaze at him. "And that includes doing the impossible! Princess Celestia, Luna, and Cadance perform miracles every year! Why can't I do the same?"

"It just takes time, Twilight!" Spike exclaimed. "And they've been at it a lot longer than you have! So don't be so hard on yourself!"

"Thanks, Spike, but... but I can't expect you to understand," Twilight said, hanging her head. "I-I can't expect anypony to understand..."

"To understand what?" Spike arched a scaly eyebrow. "That life gets tough and sometimes you feel like you're bashing your head against a brick wall?"

"Meh... exactly..."

"Are you kidding?" Spike smirked, then waved a claw. "Pfft! Why... just the other night, I couldn't sleep. Then I remembered that I had two delicious slices of ruby cake just... waiting for me in the fridge. So I walked downstairs from bed, mouth watering, but when I opened the refrigerator..." He sniffled, eyes watering. "There was only one half of a slice left!"

Silence. Twilight turned to glare at the dragon.

Spike blinked, then rolled his eyes. "Oh. Fine. I see." He tossed his arms. "So I don't get to have problems, huh? Yeah, I get it." He stormed off, groaning. "See you at Sugarcube Corner tonight... if you even care about going there anymore..."

Twilight turned back to face the window. Her ears tickled from the echoes his scraping claws made against the crystal floor. By the time his footsteps had become faint, she sighed heavily, murmuring:

"I'm... I'm sorry, Spike. I just... just..." She slowly shook her head, ears folded. "This whole Princess thing. I thought I could handle it. And—y'know—with the help of the girls, I've gotten so much done. But in the end... I... I still never asked for it. Everyday, everything gets harder... like the walls are closing in and... and sometimes..." She gulped, her eyes growing misty in the gray light of the somber day. "...sometimes I wish I just stayed Twilight Sparkle... the unicorn... the student. Friendship was so much more fulfilling when it was just... friendship..." She hung her head, sighing.

Thunder rolled...

...splitting Rainbow Dash's ears drums.

"Rrrrgh... come on, ya stupid piece of sky junk!" Rainbow Dash flew into the cloud. Her body bounced off it, and the gray mists rolled back like rubber bands. "Darn it! Rain! Rain already!"

She flew into it again and again, but the moisture refused to drip loose. A task like this—with a cloudbed this huge—was far more easily accomplished with an entire squadron of pegasi, but a certain speedster wasn't about to admit that.

"Dang it... don't make me get all rainboomy on you!"

Spitting onto her hooves, Rainbow rubbed them together, flew straight up like a rocket, then came diving back down from a great height.


At last, she slammed into the cloudbed, and an errant wet splash of moisture burst out from the lower left side.

"There! That's more like it, ya butthead!" Rainbow planted her hooves deep into the gray matter and stomped on it repeatedly, shaking more of the water droplets loose so that precipitation spread from one end of the cloud bed to the other. "Hah!" She smiled bitterly, sweating, heaving. "Let's see Captain Spitfire manage this in her off-time. Ungrateful torch-headed melon fudge, I swear to Celestia..."

At last, rainwater drizzled out of the cloud, starting with the western end of Ponyville...

...and ricocheting off of the dismantled plow in the middle of Sweet Apple Acres.

"Huh?!" Applejack blinked. She stared up into the sky, then winced as drops of rainwater bounced off her freckles. "Augh! Come on... oh come on!" Red-in-the face, she stood up and snarled. "It's not even time yet! Y'all are an hour early at least!"

More drops of moisture fell, pitter-pattering off her hat, tail, and the soil around her.

"Dag nabbit! Don't you pigeon-headed pegasi keep track of anythang?!" She stomped her hoof, and the resulting vibration caused the plow pieces next to her to fall apart again. "Oh... now that's just—"

Lightning struck the edge of Everfree Forest, deafening Applejack's ears with a monumental BOOM.

"Augh! Dang it all!" Cursing under her breath, she began dragging the plow pieces—bit by bit—towards the nearby barn with her teeth. "Mrmmmff... I swear... if this darn thing rusts, Big Mac, it's gonna be yer hide! Rrnnngh—grff!"

Another roll of thunder...

...rattled the windows of the Carousel Boutique with a startling cacophony.

Rarity didn't jolt one bit. In fact, she hardly moved at all.

The mare sat in the center of her gray and dismal workplace, staring straight ahead into empty space.

A heavy sigh rolled out her nostrils. Slowly, her head pivoted, brushing her lethargic gaze across the dress designs, the poniquins, all of the seemingly disorganized materials lying helter-skelter about her domain.

The world outside turned grayer, darker. By then, the only things that stood out were the paler materials in the room that could still reflect light.

One such thing was the open letter lying before the unicorn's folded legs. Rarity took one daring glance at it, and inhaled sharply. She immediately lifted her gaze, holding a dainty hoof over a growing lump in her throat. Her eyes moistened, then just as swiftly turned dry, empty.

With a shuddering breath, Rarity stood up, placed the envelope and letter neatly on a counter, then trotted off into the kitchen. There, she opened the refrigerator, lingered slightly... then ultimately reached in. Her hoof pulled out a tall bottle of wine. With a less-than-celebratory breath, she trotted across the room and magically fished around the cabinets for a corkscrew.

With quietly padding hoofsteps, Fluttershy reached the edge of the Everfree Forest on the opposite end of town. The thunderclouds boiled ominously overhead, but she paid them no mind.

The mare came to a stop just before the thick treeline, and Angel briskly hopped off her flank. He turned and looked up at her, nose wriggling curiously.

Fluttershy released a calm sigh. She knelt down in the soft green grass. Using her nimble feathertips, she opened both pouches of her saddlebag. She pulled a garden shovel out of one side, and a tiny shoebox out of the other. With quiet precision, the mare dug a tiny square-shaped hole in the earth.

Angel watched each digging motion with innocent curiosity. He glanced aside at the small growing pile of soil, then flinched slightly once Fluttershy shoved the miniature shovel into the grass so that it would stick in place.

Inhaling, Fluttershy cradled the shoebox in two hooves. A delicate smile crossed her features—briefly—and she leaned down to nuzzle the container. Then, with icy grace, she laid the shoebox into the tiny plot she had dug in the ground. Brushing a pink bang aside, the pegasus leaned back and spoke:

"You're in your new home, now, Mr. Snow Paws. Just like I promised you would be. I know your... your eyes didn't let you see much these last few days, but trust me, all of your friends were there with you. Mrs. Cheese Whiskers was there, as well as her sweet children, Flicker Tail and Merry Breaths. Mr. Mallard gave you a gift—a flower from the duck pond, where you liked to visit on hot summer days. I've... I've laid it with you. It smells sweet, like honey. You always liked mixing a little bit of honey with your drink during tea time. Mr. Mallard thought it would be appropriate."

Angel hopped up to the edge of the grave, peering down into it. A soft hoof brushed his ears and tail, and he looked up at Fluttershy.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Snow Paws, that I couldn't... that I couldn't stop what was happening to you. But... uhm..." Fluttershy gulped hard. "I-I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that it was only a matter of time. You lived a full and healthy life, especially for a mouse, and I like to think you had your best years living in my cottage with the other animals. I remember the way you smiled. All the dinners you had with your friends. Even... hehehe... the shows that Mrs. Cheese Whiskers' children used to put on... like dorable little stage plays. You filled them with so much confidence, Mr. Snow Paws. You really did. I... I only wish that you... that e-every one of you didn't have to come and go so quickly, I..."

Angel blinked. He looked up at Fluttershy again.

The mare's muzzle hung on a lingering grimace. At last, she composed herself in time to murmur: "I'll think about you often... just as I think about every little friend I've made... and will make." She reached into her saddlebag and pulled out a colorful little wreath of flowers. "My life is enriched by each and every one of you. Really, it is. I only wish that... that with each precious parting, it didn't feel a little lonelier... and sleepier." She gulped hard, then tilted her chin up. "But... you needn't worry about that any longer, Mr. Snow Paws. You're allowed to sleep now."

She sat in silence for seconds... minutes.

At last, she reached out, grabbed the garden shovel again, and covered the shoebox in soft, pliable soil. Once the grave was filled, she padded the dirt tight, then laid the tiny wreath over it.

"Rest in peace, my friend." She leaned down, practically whispering into the fragrant flowers. She tilted her head aside, eyes squinting. Several feet away, a faded wreath of dead flowers lingered, and behind it another one, and yet another and another—an entire line of faded petals, mostly hidden in the overgrown grass—until Fluttershy couldn't tell the past from the Everfree's treeline anymore. "You won't be alone forever. None of us... will be alone forever."

Her fragrant words floated into the air, only to be drowned out by thunder.

Angel gasped.

Fluttershy didn't. She calmly tilted her head up, watching as a fresh sheet of rain descended across the lengths of Ponyville.

Twilight heard it through the walls of the Castle.

At first, it sounded like a great hush—like a giant blanket settling over the dull world. Then it grew with loud, pronounced percussion.

Twilight Sparkle raised her head, gazing across her paper-strewn table with a dazed expression. Blinking, she turned, squinting into sheet after sheet of rippling, refracted sunlight.

Listless, she stood up straight then strode casually towards the next room.

Rarity pulled the cork off the bottle with a pop.

She poured a glass a wine.

Lifting the container, she swirled it, then swiftly brought it to her lips.

Rain pattered off the stained-glass windows of the Boutique.

Rarity instantly paused, the glass frozen in place. She brought it down before she could take a single sip. Turning, she gazed with dull eyes towards the outside world.

The gray light had gained a cool blue color, bathing the windows with melancholic haze. The falling rain formed a gentle soundtrack that resonated throughout the entire studio.

Exhaling, Rarity placed the glass of wine gently on the kitchen table and trotted towards the window.


Rainbow swooped down, coiled her wings, and landed less-than-gracefully on the edge of a cloud.

She panted and panted, wiping her brow with a set of wingfeathers.

Suddenly, she paused, her ears tickled by the dull roar of water.

Poised like a bird, she tip-trotted to the very edge of the cloud, where she was afforded a small space between vaporous beds to see through. She gazed down at the Equestrian landscape, her eyes narrowing.

Soon, the mare's breaths evened out, and even her tail flicked.

Stained with flecks of mud and loose grass roots, Applejack dragged the heavy plow into the dry interior of the barn. Not that it mattered much—the metal edges of the farming tool was covered all over in streaking beads of moisture.

Nevertheless, Applejack slumped against the wooden lid of the barn entrance once her task was done. Heaving, she reached a hoof up to her hat—only to feel nothing but sopping wet mane-hair. Bright-eyed, Applejack spun in a circle, gazing all around. A bright flash of lightning revealed her missing article twenty feet away, lying outside in the mud.

Cursing under her breath, Applejack galloped back out in the torrential downpour, swooped up the hat, and came trudging to the barn once again. Once she had returned to the dry confines, she sat in a slump, grumbling, turning the hat over and over in her grasp.

The hat was soaked through and through. There was some mud on it, but not enough to be panicked over. Nevertheless, Applejack furiously went about rubbing the brown flakes off the thing.

She was halfway through the task when the chill of the soaking rain caught up with her body. Applejack shivered suddenly, and her eyes focused deeply on the hat that was dripping in her grasp. A lump formed in her throat, and something compelled the mare to stop fussing. Instead, she hugged the hat delicately to her chest. Moisture collected on the edges of her eyes. With a quivering jaw, she lifted her head, staring out into the rain with a vulnerable, foalish expression.

Lavender magic pulsed, and the mighty doors to the castle's upstairs balcony opened wide. Twilight Sparkle trotted out to the full extent of the overhang. She stopped just short of where the curtains of rainwater blew in from the wind.

Tilting her head up, Twilight gazed at the looming storm. The misty beds were dark, dismal, and brimming with lightning.

And yet, there was something gentle... tranquil, even, about the trickling sheets of rain.

This was not lost to Rarity. She gazed from the open window of her kitchen. Her radiant blue eyes followed the fresh puddles of rainwater as they collected in the soil between her and the nearest buildings of her home town.

The puddles branched off into miniature tributaries that found their way to the babbling brook that ran through the heart of Ponyville.

The river carried the currents into a lake on the northern edge of town, just beyond the windmill and its blades that twirled twice as swiftly in the storm's wind.

Rainbow watched this... all of this... from her lofty perch atop the cloudbed... the storm that she had made... that she had been allowed to make.

She observed the rain falling in sheets, like billowing curtains that swept over the sleepy countryside and covered it with a brand new gloss.

Little by little, the ponds and streams reflected a whiter sky—an eggshell color that was far more vibrant and lively than the gray haze that had shadowed the landscape before.

Rainbow's breath left her. For no particular reason, she gently slumped down on her belly, resting a fuzzy chin on crossed hooves. She stared at the rain-slick fields, the rolling valleys and looming mountains bordering the oceans beyond, and soon she was bearing a delirious smile... a smile she did not understand nor desired to.

Fluttershy galloped and galloped through splashing puddles. Angel clung to the pony, hiding in the last dry spot available beneath her mane.

Smooth white teeth chattered loudly. Thunder rolled as Fluttershy desperately glanced left and right in search for cover.

At last—in a helpful flash of lightning—she found a gazebo looming just on the edge of the town's park. She dashed up the soaked wooden steps in a blink, then huddled in the dry center of the structure, catching her breath in damp, dull shudders.

Angel hopped down, shaking his rabbit feet and tail dry.

Meanwhile, Fluttershy stripped off her damp saddlebags, placing them on the gazebo's benches. Another clash of thunder tickled her ears... and she turned to gaze out at the storm.

The ferocity had long ebbed off, and what remained was a cold blue sprinkle of moisture, spritzing the gazebo from all angles.

Fluttershy blinked. Without a second thought, she trotted lightly to the edge of the gazebo's wooden platform. Once she was at the top of the steps, she reached her front hoof straight out, feeling the heavier drops of rain as they splattered and broke against her fetlocks. But after the hard jolts of the rainwater had faded, cool moisture collected in tiny pools that ran down the length of her limb, breaking off into tiny rivulets—even tickling her.

Fluttershy couldn't help it; she was a pony.

A slight giggle escaped her soft muzzle, and she turned her hoof over, watching as a fresh curtain of droplets fell off her elbow and collected across the gazebo's wooden steps below.

The rainwater struck the earth in a melodic rhythm. The wooden support struts of the barn resonated with each impact, until it felt as though the air was massaging Applejack's shoulders from all over.

The mare managed a tearful smile. She hugged the hat tighter to her chest, then plopped back on her haunches—muddy coat and all.

With a cool sigh, she watched as the rainwater drenched the apple orchards thoroughly, giving the glistening red fruit a new, glossy coat.

Twilight Sparkle stopped biting her bottom lip, and a soft smile was soon there to replace it.

Her eyes were locked on the crystalline spires that jutted out from the castle at random angles. Somehow—in the hazy sunlight piercing through the pale clouds—the moisture collecting on the rigid ends resembled dew drops clinging to the leaves of the Golden Oaks aged boughs. She could almost smell the damp wood, along with quill pens and soft owl feathers.

There were no more short breaths.

The Princess of Friendship trotted out, standing directly in the rain. She stretched her wings out and unabashedly tilted her smiling face into the dwindling precipitation.

If there were tears, she could no longer feel them.

Fluttershy leaned back from the rain surrounding the gazebo. A long, warm breath escaped her muzzle.

A tiny sneeze alerted her twitching ears.

She spun around, blinking.

Angel huddled in the center of the gazebo, hugging himself and shivering.

"Oh Angel..." With a melodic voice, Fluttershy trotted over, scooped the bunny up, and hugged him tight. "You poor thing, c'mere." She sat on folded legs in the middle of the rain-swept gazebo, wrapping her wings around the little thing until his shivers stopped. Leaning in, she nuzzled the bunny closely, her face painted with the gentlest of smiles. "I love you, Angel. You're so precious..." She kissed him between the ears and held him close. "Everything is precious."

The rain continued in a steady trickle, adding a layer of ambiance to her humming voice as the minutes ticked by...

...and then, hours later, Pinkie Pie bounced her way towards the table inside Sugarcube Corner, carrying three bottles of sarsaparilla on a tray.

"Wowie zowie, what a storm you brewed for us, Dashie!" She grinned wide, planting the bubbly containers down. "I'm kinda surprised all of you girls made it to the Triple Fudge Fruitcake Surprise Taste Testing Party!"

"Really, Pinkie, it wasn't that big of a storm," Rainbow said with a roll of her eyes. She instantly scooped up her drink and lifted it to her muzzle. "Heck... I could make thunder cells three times as big in my sleep!"

"Oh Rainbow..." Twilight chuckled. She floated a bottle over while Rarity quietly grasped her own drink. "I think one thunderstorm a week is enough."

"I wouldn't bet on that, Twi," Applejack said, leaning back with a lazy tilt of her hat. "Them pegasi gotta stave off the dry season one way or 'nother."

"Yeah, well..." Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Sorry if I... er... we drenched Ponyville a little earlier than scheduled." She swallowed some more sarsaparilla and stifled a belch. "At least... it means we all got to show up at the party sooner."

"And how!" Pinkie Pie grinned wide. "Wait right here! I'll fetch the rest of our drinks! Bee-Arr-Beeeeeeee!" She bounced by—but paused in mid-air to glare at a baby alligator perched atop the fireplace mantle. "Gummy! Hold the fort until I'm back!" She resumed bouncing towards the kitchen. The reptile sat in dull silence, saying nothing.

"Well, to be honest..." Applejack leaned forward, tilting her hat back. "Reckon it would have been better if the rain fell a mite bit later." She cleared her throat. "I was busy tryin' to fix a busted-up ol' plow right about when the sky's dam burst."

Rainbow winced slightly. "Uhhhh... whoops. Guess I had a little bit on my mind at the time." Rainbow gulped and looked at the rest of the table. "I... uh... hope I didn't rain on any other ponies' parades."

"Oh, hardly, Rainbow Dash!" Twilight said with a smile. "I spent all day doing paperwork! It wasn't a bother!"

"Uhm... I was out on a walk with Angel," Fluttershy said. "But I knew about the rainstorm ahead of time. Besides, we found this nice, comfortable gazebo to wait it out in."

"Yeah... and from the look of things, looks like Pinkie Pie had her hooves full of gettin' ready for this here party!" Applejack smirked. "See? Everythang's right as rain! Heheh... if you dun mind the pun."

"Heeheehe... yeah, sure thing, AJ."

Rarity finished a dainty sip of her sarsaparilla. "I got a letter from my protege, Coco Pommell, in Manehattan."

"Oh, you did?" Fluttershy smiled wide.

"No kiddin'!" Applejack smirked.

"Well?" Twilight leaned forward. "What did Coco say?"

With a calm breath, Rarity placed the bottle down onto the table. "She wrote, telling me that I am a horrible friend and that she does not wish to hear from me ever again," she said in a dull tone.

The mares sat in dumb silence.

"She..." Twilight stammered, muzzle hanging wide. "She wrote all th-that?"

"Mmmmm..." Rarity nodded, gazing ahead into open space. "...more specifically, she called me 'apathetic, self-centered, and concerned with only making dresses for celebrities.'" She calmly folded her hooves together. "She cites my ignorance of her recent letters as a reason for this, along with my refusal to visit her or assist in her recent job searches."

"That... that's totally bogus!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed. "I mean, right?!" She frowned. "Coco must have flipped her rocker if she thinks she can say those kind of things about you, Rare!"

"Has she? Has she really?" Rarity took a long, deep breath. "There is some truth to her statements, after all. I have been rather neglectful of our friendship... former friendship, I do suppose." She lifted her glass again, swirling it so that she could stare emotionlessly at the bubbles. "I did, in fact, promise to help her find a new job after she quit working for Suri Polomare. But... that was many, many moons ago, and I've just been so... caught up in my clients' commissions. Then there was the whole business with Tirek and Starlight Glimmer and our new roles as agents of Friendship and... well..." She took a tiny sip, then quietly resumed. "Those are all laughable excuses at best. The fact is..." She placed the bottle down and looked squarely at her companions. "I do get self-absorbed in my work... in my ego... in everything about furthering my own career, and... and for ponies like Coco, I've simply... stopped trying. Maybe she's better off. Maybe I'm better off. Who knows. All I care is that I still can afford you as friends, and that... some way or another... you'll still be willing to help me become a better mare in... time."

"Why... of c-course we're here for you, Rarity!" Fluttershy exclaimed.

"We'd never give you up, sugarcube!"

"Sure, you might get wrapped up in your work from time to time, but that's part of who you are! And we love your boundless creativity and inspiration!" Twilight smiled. "I'm just... sorry that Coco couldn't understand that like we do."

"For realsies, Rarity," Rainbow muttered. "It's gotta suck losing a friend like that."

"Yes, well... it wouldn't be the first time." Rarity's eyes darted about. "And I doubt it will be the last."

"Please..." Fluttershy's face grew long. "Don't say that."

"I only mean that life throws many colors our way, and not all of them fashionable," Rarity said. "The best thing to do—I suppose—is be thankful for the ones we can paint with, and... work slowly on our masterpiece." She gulped. "But the first step is admitting that such a masterpiece is far from perfect."

Silence hung over the table, disturbed only by the pitter-patter of light rain against the windows.

"I... I guess I wasn't being completely honest earlier when I said that I was only 'doing paperwork' all day," Twilight said. She shuddered slightly, running a hoof through her mane. "In truth, I've been... really really stressed about this upcoming Friendship Meeting between the Mountain and Field Goat Tribes. I mean.. I know that making them become allies seems impossible, but I shouldn't let that get the best of me! After all, we've accomplished impossible things before! But instead, today, I-I got so... wrapped up in the frustration of it all." She sighed, ears folding. "I-I even took it out on Spike, the poor lil' guy."

"Bet you didn't yell at him, though," Rainbow muttered, drawing invisible, guilty circles across the tabletop with her hoof. "I got really nasty with my fellow wingponies earlier today. Just... a bunch of moody nonsense about the Wonderbolts n'all. The only reason the rainstorm happened early is cuz I drove my co-workers off and tried handling the cloud-making all on my lonesome..." She grunted out the side of her muzzle. "...like a moron."

"Bet you didn't say mean, ugly thangs about them," Applejack grumbled with a sigh. She took her hat off and turned it around in shuffling hooves. "I said a lot of mean words to Granny Smith about my brother earlier today. I mean... Big Mac ain't nearly as lazy as I was makin' him out to be. So what if he left town on a date?" She shrugged with a faint, freckled smile. "Heck... I'm plum happy he's met a purdy mare in his life. It's just... I-I dun know how well the farm is gonna do without him, if ever he's to... move on outta here. I... I-I guess it's makin' me mighty fearful inside, but instead of bein' honest about it... I-I just turned it into anger." She winced. "My folks wouldn't have wanted that. They wouldn't want any of that. I'd say the rainstorm this afternoon woke me up. I... I don't even know why I was gettin' so hotheaded anymore..."

"Uhm..." Fluttershy squirmed in her seat, hiding partially behind a lock of hair. "I... uh... buried my friend Mr. Snow Paws today."

The whole table shook.

"Whoah, h-huh?!" Dash looked up, blinking.

"Oh, Fluttershy, darling!" Rarity reached a hoof over, stroking her shoulder. "That's... that's terrible!"

"Mmmm... yes. And yet..." Fluttershy looked up, eyes blinking. "No. No it wasn't."

"'No?!'" Twilight gawked. "But... weren't you devastated, Fluttershy?"

"I never enjoy having to bury my little animal friends, Twilight. But... try as I might... I-I couldn't get myself to cry over it either. I know, that probably sounds cold." She gulped a lump down her throat. "A-and maybe it's because I've buried so many of them over the years... such precious little souls with precious little lives. But you have to understand..." She tilted her head up with a tiny smile. "All of my memories of Mr. Snow Paws are happy memories. Warm memories. And... and I would very much like for them to remain that way."

"They're warm and happy because you cared for them, darlin'," Applejack said with a reassuring smile.

Fluttershy giggled lightly. "Thank you, Applejack, but it's more than that." She looked at everyone at the table. "Doing the things that I do, and seeing the things that I see... I... I've come to an understanding. For every horrible, tragic thing in life, there is just as many beautiful, fulfilling moments. There used to be a time when I clung only to the happy stuff, because I was so fearful of feeling sad... feeling alone... feeling the cold edge of time creeping up on me everyday, as it stalks every single one of us. But... after making such good companions with you girls? And with my animal friends?" She shivered slightly, hugging herself with a warm smile. "I've learned to take the highs with the lows. Life, after all, is like water. It falls, collects, rises, and falls again, and it'd be just... unnatural to try to be like anything else in the wake of it. So I'll gladly cry when it's time to cry... and laugh when it's time to laugh. And right now, I'm very happy to be... happy with you girls." Her eyes moistened slightly. "And I'll be sad with you when the time calls for that as well, because you all mean so much to me..."

The rest of the mares smiled back. Rarity wiped a tear away and leaned in to nuzzle the pegasus.

"Thank you, Fluttershy," Twilight said with a shuddering breath.

"Huh...?" Fluttershy and Rarity looked up. "For what, Twilight?"

The alicorn's wings fluttered as she bore a tearful smile. "For reminding me of why I'm still here."

The others grinned back.

Before anypony could say anything, the front door to Sugarcube Corner opened with a howl of wet, rainy wind.

"Whew!" A little dragon whelp shook his umbrella loose, folded it, and shuffled over to the table. "Talk about a shower!" Spike said, smoothing his spines back. "I sure hope I'm not too late for the Triple Fudge Fruitcake Surprise!"

"Not at all, Spike-er-roony!" Pinkie Pie chirped, dashing back to the table with another tray full of drinks. "In fact, you're just in time for some fizzly, bubbly pop to wet your whistle!" She hoofed him a tiny bottle. "Dr. Pony! And just the way you like it, too!"

"Wow!" Spike grasped the bottle in question, his claws sizzling. "You even warmed it over the stove!"

"Heehee! Yup!" As Pinkie accompanied Spike to the table, she placed the rest of the soda bottles down. "Sorry for taking so long, girls! But I went to check on Mr. and Mrs. Cake's baking! It's gonna be a teensy weensy bit longer until the fudge is completely ready for tasting, but you're gonna love it! I promise!"

"Hey, no sweat, P-Squared!" Rainbow Dash said with a salute.

"Everything's cool so long as the gang's all here!" Spike sat in a chair beside Twilight. "Heck!" He pointed at the fireplace mantle. "Even Gummy showed up!"

The baby alligator stuck his tongue out, causing a pair of nearby lamps to rattle with a ringing noise.

"Duaaaaaaaaaah!" Pinkie Pie gasped loudly, her eyes bulging. "Omigosh! Gummy, thanks for reminding me!" She grabbed the gator. "No cheating this time!" She waved at the mares. "I gotta go, girls!"

"Go? Go where?!" Rarity exclaimed.

"Oh, don't worry! We won't be long! I promise!" And Pinkie bounced off with the tiny reptile in tow. "It never takes that long!"

"Yeesh..." Spike rubbed his chin. "Does that mare's tank ever reach 'empty?'"

"Heheheh..." Applejack grasped a bottle of sarsaparilla, smiling. "That's our Pinkie, alright."

"I don't think any day will ever be dreary for her," Rarity added with an airy laugh. "Oh, how I envy the mare sometimes."

"Pffft!" Rainbow flicked her mane back. "You and me both, girl!"

The whole table chuckled.

Spike lifted the bottle of Dr. Pony to his lips... when he suddenly felt a soft lavender cheek nuzzling him.

"Huh?" He fidgeted and fussed. "Uh... Twilight? C'mon... what gives?"

"Mmmm..." She wrapped a wing around him, snuggling him closer. "Nothing. Nothing at all."

"Then why are you smothering me?"

"Heee..." She giggled against his spines. "Just 'cuz."

"Ughhhhh..." Spike rolled his eyes.



The patio door at the rear of Sugarcube Corner closed in a blink.

Pinkie Pie plopped Gummy onto the floor and sat under the dry shadow of the patio's tiny overhang. All around her, rainwater continuously showered the dark blue lengths of Ponyville. The sun had just about fully set, and a heavy shadow stretched over the damp landscape.

"Okay! You know the rules!" Pinkie smirked, pointing squarely between the baby reptile's wall-eyes. "No noise-making! Not even a peep! The one who lasts the longest wins, and the loser has to buy him a root beer float! You ready, pal?"

Gummy stared and stared and stared.

"Good! Then bring it!" Pinkie Pie sat like a statue next to him, smiling wide. "On three! One... two... three!" Her body locked in place, silent as stone.

Gummy... did absolutely nothing.

Seconds rippled by. Minutes. All the while, the rain serenaded Ponyville in a soft, rhythmic baptism.

Pinkie Pie smiled. Her eyes darting left and right. She breathed and breathed... but soon those breaths grew slower... drawing further and further apart. At last, her bright eyes blinked, the pupils dimming slightly. She gulped, and her dimples disappeared. Her smile was a thin curve now, soft and softening.

The rain continued. Puddles splashed and muddy rivers ran on into obscurity. The wet world bled quietly into dark desolation.

The silence was deafening now, and yet Pinkie remained still—or at least tried too. Far sooner than she had hoped, her shoulders began to quake. The smile had become a thin horizon, hanging off the edge of her muzzle in tatters, until it pulled her lips into her deep grimace.

The first burst came softly—scarcely a squeak. Pinkie's shoulders shook, fighting it, but not for long. The second burst poured out of her, wheezing. She was gnashing her teeth at this point. Pinkie brought a hoof to her face, but it was shaking. She tried brushing her heavy mane back, and yet it was not enough. Her eyes curved, and moisture collected along the edges... growing thick and thicker until they dwarfed the rainwater all around. Her pupils jerked left and right, drowning in a saline sea—until, at last, the levee broke.

Pinkie sniffled. Pinkie hiccuped. Pinkie wept. Her sobs were quiet things, dull weights in the shudder of a dying day. They dragged her down—along with her shadows—until she collapsed on folded, crippled limbs. Her hooves cradled a wincing muzzle as the tears flowed down along the fuzzy edges of her nose, dribbling off to join the puddles of rainwater along the dry corners of the patio. Her eyes clenched shut and her teeth chattered. It was all she could do to keep from screaming.

And then, through the suffocating thick of it all, a tiny tongue whipped out and licked up some of the tears.

Pinkie forced her wet eyes opened.

Gummy sat in front of her, his head cocked thoughtlessly to the side. After several seconds, he slapped a tongue against her muzzle again, lapping up more tears and rain water.

Pinkie responded with a gun-burst, a high-pitched whimper that leapt straight out of her muzzle... but it was a smiling muzzle. She whimpered again, sniffling, her dimpled cheeks forcing the tears to take branching, bubbly paths towards the earth. Soon, her sobs were breathy giggles, issuing out from the core, her fuzziest of fuzzies.

"Oh Gummy... you silly gator..." She scooped him up, chuckling breathily before nuzzling the reptile close. "Mmmm..." She shook, cried, and laughed all at once. "...you made me lose again."

The alligator blinked, licked her once more, then took the full brunt of her warm, loving hug.

Pinkie Pie was so lost in the laughter that she barely registered Rainbow Dash's voice from inside.

"Pinkiiiiie?! Mr. and Mrs. Cake are serving! Where you at, girl?!"

"Don't worry! I'm coming, Dashie!" Pinkie dried her face, dried Gummy's face, then stood up—plopping the pet on her bouncy flank. "You can count on me!" Then, humming pleasantly to herself, she hopped back through the patio door, shutting it to the dark deluge beyond.

Author's Notes:

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