There Will Never Be a Last Laugh

by Pascoite

Chapter 1: There Will Never Be a Last Laugh

With a light step, Princess Celestia strode into Sugarcube Corner and made her way past the showroom and kitchen and on to the living area. She averted her gaze from all of the beautifully frosted confections; now was not the time for such distractions. A door closed upstairs with the kind of muted thump she knew well—the sort that provided a reassuring separation from what lay on the other side. And seconds later, Pumpkin and Pound appeared at the top of the staircase, heads leaned together in hushed conversation. Halfway down the flight, they noticed her, stiffened, and braced against the wall to bow on the uneven footing.

“Rise, my little ponies,” Celestia said while beckoning them down.

“Princess,” Pound and Pumpkin both murmured through forced smiles as they came the rest of the way downstairs, their eyes downcast.

“How is she?” asked Luna. She joined her sister in the hallway and held up her hoof to forestall yet another bow.

Pound’s ears drooped. “Not well.” When he looked up, he cocked his head, and his bloodshot eyes roved up to Celestia’s smile.

“Then I think we have come just in time. Is she awake?” Celestia said, already moving toward the stairs.

Pumpkin nodded, stood aside, and extended a hoof toward the stairs, and the princesses trotted up to Pinkie Pie’s door. Knocking gently but getting no answer, Celestia swung the door open.

She closed her eyes softly for a moment at the threshold, held a breath, and restrained her pace. She didn’t need to hurry; there would be time enough for everything.

Bundled under several blankets, Pinkie lay with a sweet smile on her face, her chest rising and falling in steady rhythm. Celestia continued into the room, around the bed, and sat down beside it, Luna taking the other side. After gazing down at her peaceful expression for a moment, Celestia brushed a hoof across Pinkie’s cheek. “How are you feeling?”

Pinkie didn’t open her eyes, but she did laugh. And not anything polite or forced—her shoulders bobbed as she gave a warm grin with a thousand private jokes tucked behind it. But just as quickly, it faded, and she winced, holding a hoof to her side. “In the pink, as usual! Hehe!” Pinkie finally opened her eyes at the sound of chuckling next to her, then gaped when she saw Princess Luna as well.

“Have you seen everypony you wished to see, Pinkie?” Celestia asked. She stroked Pinkie’s gray-streaked mane.

Pinkie drew her eyebrows together and shook her head. “Not yet. But... I can’t, really.”

A tinkling wind chime of laughter escaped Celestia lips. “All in good time, Pinkie. I think you’ll rather like what we have planned for you.”

“Ooh, a surprise?” Pinkie’s ears pricked forward. “I love surprises!”

“Well, only good surprises, I’d hope,” Luna replied with a raised eyebrow.

“I always think they will be. You have to have faith. The best is yet to come, right?” Her eyes closing again, Pinkie beamed.

Luna chuckled, picking at a few out-of-place hairs and smoothing them back into Pinkie’s mane. “If you are ready, then... I think I have a good idea of where we should go. I just need you to visualize it for me.”

“Go?” Pinkie puffed out her lower lip. “Why?”

“Unfinished business, Pinkie Pie,” Luna replied. “A chance to resolve your lingering regrets. Think of it as a reward for a life well lived.”

Pinkie nodded as Celestia lay down beside the bed, and a soft glow from Luna’s horn grew to envelop all three of them. Celestia’s eyelids instantly sagged, and her head sank to the mattress before she could even think of resisting. Not that she wanted to resist, of course, but without Luna’s magic, she’d be far too excited to sleep.

As the blackness overtook her vision, she could see Luna holding a hoof over Pinkie’s eyes and whispering in her ear. The last thing she sensed was Pumpkin’s voice from downstairs: “Could I get either of you...?”

When Celestia opened her eyes again, she was standing by herself in a grassy field with a stream nearby. The scattered wildflowers bent and swayed in the gentle breeze, and each gust disturbed butterflies from their fragrant perches. Swirling in eddies as it babbled among the rocks, the water laughed on its way to whatever faraway destination awaited it. It actually laughed.

Celestia raised her muzzle toward the sky and chortled along with the creek, then spread her wings to soak up the warm late-spring sun before shaking them out. She knelt in the grass and stretched her head back to each wing in turn, smoothing her feathers back, running her lips over them to dislodge any debris, and plucking any that were badly askew. Giving her wings one last rustle, Celestia then folded them back against her sides and breathed in the glade’s earthy scent. That was enough indulgence—the brook was laughing for a reason, after all.

Celestia took off at a gallop, following the stream’s course through the field—into the forest and on until it grew to a roaring belly laugh and spilled off a cliff face to the pool far below. She launched from the precipice and snapped her wings out, gliding downward in circles through the cool spray and riding the rising thermals off the sun-baked rocks on the shore below. She chuckled along with the stream, its mirth coalescing into Pinkie’s echoing laughter.

“Sister!” Luna shouted. “I was afraid that we would have to come looking for you.”

With a final wingbeat, Celestia touched down lightly beside Luna. “I found my own way. I just had to follow the sound, really.”

Celestia cast a glance back toward the musical giggling. Every wrinkle and trace of gray erased, Pinkie frolicked in the water with Gummy and hopped after him like a giant frog.

With her last leap, Pinkie landed right on Gummy and wrapped him in a hug. “It’s soooooo good to see you again!” He slipped out of her grasp, scrambled onto her back, and clamped his jaws onto her mane. All the squeezed-out water ran down her face, and Celestia tossed her head back at Pinkie’s exaggerated pout.

“Here, chew on this,” Pinkie said, pulling a balloon from her cutie mark and puffing it up as big as her head. Gummy immediately latched onto it and went floating around while Pinkie chased, headbutting it to keep him airborne.

Luna lay down by the stream bank and watched, her eyes very clearly sparkling at anything but Celestia. “Enjoy yourself, did you?”

“Yes, I rather did,” Celestia said, regarding her sister out of the corner of her eye. Of course, nothing here escaped Luna’s notice.

Luna snorted quietly. “Good.”

Finally, one of Gummy’s bounces carried him farther than Pinkie could follow in time, and he rolled over by Luna with Pinkie in hot pursuit.

“I don’t understand,” Celestia said with a thin frown. “What possible loose ends did you have with your pet?”

“I was always so busy!” Pinkie said between two gasps for air. She tackled Gummy in a hug. “I had work, party planning, babysitting, work planning, party sitting, plan babying, sit working…” She blushed and hid her muzzle behind a hoof before adding, “And eventually, baby planning.

“I always worried that I wasn’t making enough time for Gummy. But just look at him!” Her shoulders hunching up, Pinkie poked a hoof toward Gummy’s vacant stare. “He says it’s fine! Waiting’s what alligators do best, after all. It kept his hunting instinct razor sharp,” she added with bared teeth.

Celestia raised an eyebrow. From what she could read on his face, Gummy’s interests began and ended with a particular far-off tree.

Pinkie ran up to Celestia and giggled in spurts while catching her breath. Bouncing in place, she beamed at Luna. “Thank you! This means a lot. Do you do this for everypony?”

“Not all,” Luna answered, shaking her head. “That would be impossible. But for as many as we can, yes.” With all of them gathered, Luna wrapped a wing around each, covering their eyes.

“So soon?” Celestia asked, her mouth bent into a frown.

“We already had quite a bit of fun before you arrived,” Luna answered, a playful lilt in her voice. “It is not our fault you were late to the party.”

“Time to go back?” Pinkie asked through her sigh.

“We are not finished. As you said, dear Pinkie, the best is yet to come.” Luna bent her head down to Pinkie’s ear, but Celestia couldn’t make out the words over the stream’s continued merriment.

Celestia stood in Ponyville’s spa next to her sister. Pinkie was reclining in the hot tub with Rainbow Dash and Rarity, each engrossed in a book. Within seconds, Aloe and Lotus ran up to the tub, dumped in a bowl full of dried herbs, and laid out robes and warm towels. When they noticed the princesses off to the side, they blushed and bowed.

Aloe grimaced. “So sorry—we didn’t see you there, Princesses.”

“Think nothing of it,” replied Celestia. “We’re here for Pinkie Pie. But... a nice rub-down does sound good...”

The twins nodded and wrapped Celestia and Luna in robes before leading them to a pair of massage tables. Celestia climbed on and let her wings droop over the table’s edge. Just another immobile lump among the pillows, she pricked her ears toward Pinkie’s conversation.

“Whatcha reading there, Rarity?” Pinkie asked, leaning toward her.

“Oh, a divine murder mystery!” Rarity answered, a hoof drawn to her chest. “A dashing young starlet about town discovers her beau poisoned, and she finds herself wrongfully accused.” Her smile growing, Rarity tossed her mane. “She must descend into the city’s seedy underbelly and cast her lot with some rather”—she flicked a hoof toward Pinkie—“unsavory characters. I’m getting close to where the perpetrator will be revealed, and our heroine can resume her rightful place in the limelight.”

Pinkie raised an eyebrow and rubbed a hoof at her chin. “Sounds, um... good?”

Rarity’s eyes glimmered, and, gazing up at the skylight, she took a deep breath. “I don’t know what it is about this book that’s so... enticing, but it certainly speaks to me.” She grabbed an errant strand of mane with her magic and weaved it back into her curls. “There! How about you?”

“I’m reading a super-cool second-person adventure!” Pinkie chattered. “I’m up to the point where I break two eggs and stir them into the flour and baking powder. I wonder what I’ll do next?”

Rarity arched an eyebrow and stared back for a minute. “You do know that’s a cookbook, right?”

“Of course, silly filly!” Pinkie replied through her fit of giggles. “But I like it to be exciting. You have to make the little things fun, too. What do you think this will be when it’s done?” she asked, pointing at the page and gasping. “Oh! Maybe the next chapter will be about cinnamon!”

Her disbelieving stare finally cracking, Rarity shook with laughter. “I suppose that makes... some manner of sense, dear.”

The hooves drumming on Celestia’s back paused for a moment until she stopped snickering. The hoof Luna poked at her ribs hadn’t helped, of course.

Pinkie peered across the tub and through the cottony wisps of steam. “Dashie?”

“Hm?” Rainbow turned her head toward Pinkie but kept her eyes on her book while they ratcheted their way to the bottom. With no other immediate task lined up for them, she flipped the page and looked up at Pinkie.

“What’s your book? Another Daring Do adventure?”

“Heh. No.” Rainbow stuck her tongue out at Pinkie. “It’s a reference book about bath herbs. I was curious what they all do, as long as I agreed to be here. This blend is supposed to help relax you. I wonder if it’s working.” She frowned and held still for a moment. “Nah. Still feels normal.”

Pinkie’s eyebrows scrunched together into one as her eyes searched her friend over. “For real?”

“Duh.” Rainbow rolled her eyes and held her book up so Pinkie could see the cover. “Daring Do and the Tasmaneian Devil. Just came out yesterday. It’s awesome!” she shouted as she gave her wings a flap, sending a splash of water at Pinkie.

“Water fight!” Pinkie screamed, leaping across the tub and doing a belly flop that soaked both Rainbow and Rarity.

Rarity’s lower lip trembled, and she patted a hoof at her waterlogged mane. A sly smile crept across her face. “Oh, you are going to rue the day—” She charged her horn and sent a wave crashing against Rainbow and Pinkie, spilling over the tub’s edge, and catching Aloe, Lotus, and the princesses in the spray.

Rarity stood up on her hind legs, bowed as low as she could without dunking her head, and raised a hoof to her gaping mouth. “I-I’m sorry, Princesses! I didn’t think—”

Celestia’s mouth wrinkled into the kind of grin she usually reserved for foals that have misbehaved in the cutest possible fashion. She gave a dismissive wave. “No need for formalities, Rarity. We’re not here in any official capacity. This is Pinkie Pie’s moment.”

Luna shook some of the wetness from her mane and opened her mouth to speak, but as Aloe dabbed some fragrant lotion onto her forelegs and began rubbing it in, the princess let her shoulders slump back into the table’s softness.

A few moments later, Rarity’s eyes finally shrunk back to their normal size, and she settled into the water again. “So... what do you want to talk about, Pinkie? There’s no reason we have to sit around reading.”

“Hm?” commented Rainbow without looking up.

Rarity directed a knowing grin at Rainbow and shook her head. “Princess Celestia is right, Pinkie. This is your moment.”

“Weeeeelllll... okay!” Pinkie splashed her way between them and locked them both in a hug.

Almost losing her grip on her book, Rainbow set it down on the ledge behind her. “Heh. Yeah... nice to see you too, Pinkie.”

“So, what would you like to talk about?” Rarity asked, smiling and cocking her head.

“I... I don’t know really. I hadn’t thought about it. I just want to be with you!” A small giggle bubbled up in her throat, and soon it had grown to full-blown laughing, infectious enough that Rainbow and Rarity couldn’t help joining in.

Wiping a tear from her eye, Rainbow was the first to regain her composure. “So, tell me about your day, Pinkie. What’d you do?”

“Well, I got to play with Gummy so far, and this”—she waved a hoof at the water—“was a nice surprise. There might be more, but I’m not sure.” The brightness faded from her face, and she stared out the window. “I-I’m here because…”

Celestia’s ears pricked up, and a thin smile crossed her face.

Pinkie hugged both friends to her again, and her voice came out in a squeak. “I never got to say good-bye.”

Wearing a small frown, Rarity tut-tutted and brushed the tears from Pinkie’s cheeks. “I know, and it was difficult for us at first, too. But we knew we’d get to see you again, dear. I felt worse for you.”

Pinkie ran the tip of a hoof over Rarity’s coat, rested a cheek against her shoulder, and inhaled deeply. “Soft… warm… and I can smell your perfume. It’s really you, isn’t it? It’s really really you?”

“Yes, Pinkie,” Rarity said while Dash rubbed a hoof on the back of her neck and chuckled. “We’re here. No need for good-byes. We’re here.”

Pinkie’s cheeks tensed. “I can finally say it—” a giggle erupted through her tears “—but it’s time to say hello now, right?”

“Yeah, Pinkie,” Dash said. “It’s good to have you here. And I’m not mad that nopony got to say anything final to me. I’m just glad I went down in a blaze of glory. Heh. I bet ponies are still talking about it.”

Pinkie’s mouth worked silently to voice a response until Rarity finally cut in, her eyes regarding Dash with a half-lidded stare. “What she means to say is that both of us had rather—” she circled a hoof in the air “—unforeseen circumstances. It’s perfectly reasonable that you couldn’t have bid farewell to us, and it wasn’t going to be a permanent separation, anyway. It wouldn’t do to dwell on it, Pinkie.”

Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes at the spa’s proprietors—they were still busy with the princesses, and Celestia’s knotted shoulder in particular enjoyed the attention. Dash gave Pinkie a quick hug and released her just as rapidly. “Don’t feel bad, Pinkie. Really, it’s not like it was bothering us. And if you tell anypony I did that, I’ll deny it,” she added, shielding her mouth with the back of a hoof.

Her cheeks still damp, Pinkie nodded and latched onto both of her friends for a long hug. “I needed you to hear that. I knew you wouldn’t be mad, but I still needed to tell you—I don’t know why. Maybe I just needed you to know that I didn’t forget—that you were important to me.”

“Well, I hope we’ve put your mind at ease,” Rarity said, nuzzling Pinkie’s neck.

Pinkie sniffled and angled her head toward the princesses. “I think... I-I’m supposed to go with them. But don’t you fret!” she said, her face brightening. “I’ll stop by again and talk to you later.”

“Don’t let us rush you,” Celestia said. “Take your time. I think Luna is rather enjoying herself—we’re in no hurry.” Luna levitated the cucumber off one eye and raised her eyebrow, making Celestia chuckle.

“It’s okay!” Pinkie shouted as she hopped out of the tub and over to Luna’s table. “Where are we going next? Huh? Huh?”

Luna stood, shrugged off her robe, and responded with only a smile. She once more hid Pinkie’s and Celestia’s eyes with her wingtips and softly spoke into Pinkie’s ear.

Celestia stood on the straw-covered floor of a barn. Bunting hung on all the walls, streamers swooped down from the rafters, clusters of balloons bobbed from any convenient anchoring point, and a giant four-tier cake sat on a table in the center of the room. Overhead, the hayloft doors had been flung wide open, letting bright sunlight flood the normally dark interior. Celestia couldn’t help stepping a little higher on her way to attend Luna. Her sister had such a knack for scenery, but that was no surprise—certainly a barn was nothing compared with millions of pinpricks of light.

“Turn around,” Luna said as she tapped a gaping Pinkie on the shoulder.

Pinkie swiveled toward the open doorway to see her parents standing there and marveling at the decorations. She gasped and glanced quickly at Celestia. “They’re real, too?”

Celestia curled her warmest smile. “Of course, Pinkie.”

In an instant, Pinkie had scooped her parents into an embrace. “I’m so glad you could come! I didn’t get your RSVP, but it doesn’t matter. This’ll be the bestest, most funnest party you’ve ever seen!”

Celestia started up the phonograph and set the needle on the record, sending a loud scratching noise over the loudspeaker, but soon, a lively polka tune blared throughout the barn.

“C’mon!” Cloudy Quartz said, breaking into a wide grin. Igneous Rock turned toward her and gestured to the open area behind the cake. She smiled, nodded, and led him to the dance floor.

Pinkie clapped her hooves together and bounded out to join them for a dance. Wedging herself between them, she hooked a foreleg around each one’s shoulder and started a line dance. They shuffled back and forth, occasionally kicking out or separating to do a turn. At the end, Pinkie’s parents both took a minute to catch their breath, then Igneous gave Cloudy a tight-lipped smile and kissed her on the cheek.

Pinkie’s grin grew the entire time, and it was enough for Celestia just to watch, though she did catch her hoof tapping along with the beat more than once. When the song had ended, she strode in from the entrance. “Pinkie, do not forget about the cake!”

“Oh oh oh! How could I?” Pinkie knocked herself on the head with a hoof. “Imagine that! Me! Forgetting cake,” she said in breaks between giggles. She bounced over to the table, grabbed the knife in her teeth, and slashed madly.

Celestia winced, primarily to keep any of the flying frosting from hitting her in the face, but the prospect of a hyperactive Pinkie wielding cutlery was none too settling, either.

Five huge slabs of cake lay on individual plates, and Pinkie doled them out, finally eating her own piece in a single bite. She plopped down next to her parents as they ate, her mother pausing to ask, “So, how have you been, Pinkie?”

“Good.” She held a hoof up to her chin. “Let’s see—what’s big that you wouldn’t already know? Oh! Oh! I got married!”

Cloudy’s fork clattered down to her plate and her eyes shot wide open. “Really?”

Her gaze falling away from her mother’s face, Pinkie murmured, “I love to see you two being affectionate. I know we were never that close as a family, but... I still feel like I betrayed you.” She glanced back up for an instant. “But I’ll get to that in a minute.”

Cloudy cocked her head and patted Pinkie’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry. We’re a little less bound by things that used to seem so important. Family is family. Nothing else matters.” She leaned back, crossed her forelegs, and grinned. “So, tell me about this significant other of yours.”

“Oh! Orange Sherbet,” Pinkie answered, nodding vigorously. “He’s so sweet. Hehe! You’ve got two grandchildren! Puff Pastry runs a shop in Fillydelphia, and Lemon Meringue works at the bakery with me. He’s got a little one on the way, too. My first grandchild!” She smiled as big as Celestia had ever seen and bounced in her seat.

“Oh! Do you have pictures?”

“Yeah! Right here—” Pinkie looked down at her sides and frowned. “Oh. I’m not wearing my saddlebags today. But it’s okay!” Her smile resumed as she giggled and waved a hoof. “I’ll show you next time I see you!”

Cloudy put a hoof on her hip and halfway glowered at the nonexistent photographs, but a grin won out. “Well, at least tell me about them!”

“Hm. I met Sherbet at a trade convention in Fillydelphia. I had the booth next to his, and he kept staring at me. On the last day, we were packing up, and he kept making lame come-ons, like how great ice cream and pie go together. Can you imagine?”

Cloudy snorted and shook her head. “Just the curse of being a gorgeous mare in this family, dear.”

“Hehe! He was sooooo cute, and I just had to give him credit for trying. So I agreed on a date.” She rolled her eyes upward and sighed. “He’s a little shy, but he’s really sweet. Puff Pastry is just like him. When she grew up, she moved near Sherbet’s side of the family to help with their business, and she runs the main shop there now. And Lemon Meringue is definitely from this family. Hehe! He’s a stubborn thing, and an assistant manager at Sugarcube Corner. He’s got good business sense, but—” she leaned in toward her mother’s ear “—he’s a bit on the serious side.”

A hoof held up to stifle her laugh, Cloudy glanced back toward Igneous, but he showed no reaction. Mother and daughter shared an identical eye-roll, perfectly synchronized, right down to the same click-of-the-tongue punctuation.

Celestia’s cheeks burned like a blacksmith’s forge with the effort of holding in her laughter. A red-faced Luna didn’t appear to be faring any better.

“Of course, he married one of the Apples,” Pinkie added with a half-lidded stare. The flat line of her mouth soon broke into a grin, though. “He and Honeycrisp have a little one due in a couple of weeks. I just wish Sherbet was still around to meet her. I guess… I won’t get to, either.”

Tears danced in Cloudy’s eyes, and Pinkie leaned in for a hug. She glanced up at her father, too, but his expressionless face afforded only a brief nod. “Don’t mind him,” Cloudy replied, following Pinkie’s gaze. “He’s proud of you, and you know it.”

Pinkie let out a heavy sigh. “That’s part of what made me feel guilty all these years.”

Celestia shut her eyes and nodded faintly.

“Rocks are the family business—everypony’s named for them. Except me.” Pinkie folded her ears back and rolled her eyes up at her mother. “I think you knew I’d be different somehow. I left home, moved in with the Cakes, and became part of their family, too. It always scared me that it would offend you, living with them, learning the trade…” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Forgetting where I came from...”

She blinked away tears, and her lower lip quivered. “I kinda took on their tradition of names—not just cakes, of course—and now my granddaughter’s gotten blended with the Apples, too. I wanted to show my appreciation to all them and include the job I love, but I didn’t want to disrespect you. I’d thought about that long before I even got married, and by the time I got brave enough to ask if it was okay... you’d gone…”

Cloudy shook her head, reached a foreleg around Pinkie’s neck, and pulled her close. “Pinkie, there’s a time to keep tradition and a time to let it go. You didn’t abandon anything—you only changed it, and you’ve done wonderfully with your family. Did you think we were always rock workers? Goodness no! That only goes back a few generations. Before then, we were any number of things. Times change.” She ran a hoof through Pinkie’s mane. “We couldn’t be happier with the new branch on our family tree.”

Pinkie shuddered. She leaned in front of Cloudy and flung her hooves around her father. His eyes shot wide open, but the glacier soon melted, and his slouching shoulders said what his voice couldn’t. “I love you too, Dad. I’m glad I got another chance to see you both.”

Celestia let out a long breath, and the last bit of tension eased out of her muscles. She watched Pinkie sink into her seat as well, a burden released. True freedom. If only she could give that to everypony.

“This is the last stop, right?” Pinkie asked, wiping away her tears and popping her ears back up. “That was my last regret. Somehow, Princess Luna knew, but that’s it. I’m staying here, so we have all the time in the world to catch up,” Pinkie said. She glanced over at Princess Celestia. “And I’ll see my parents and Gummy and everypony else anyway.”

Princess Luna set aside her half-eaten cake and walked up to Pinkie. “Sister?”

“One moment,” Celestia replied through another mouthful, her eyes laughing for her otherwise-engaged mouth.

“That cake is not real, you know,” Luna said, an amused smile on her lips.

Rolling her eyes, Celestia levitated her plate over to the table and stood to join her sister. She shook her head—she so very much enjoyed a bit of verbal sparring with her sister, but she had to stay on topic. Today was Pinkie’s day. “To answer your question, Pinkie, we have one more errand.”

Pinkie frowned and let her ears droop. Beside her, Cloudy Quartz patted her hoof. “It’s okay. Go with them. You’ll see us again soon enough.”

“Remember, Pinkie,” Celestia said, breaking into a large grin, “the best is yet to come. That is always true. Whenever you’re ready...” Pinkie hung her mouth open and looked back and forth between Cloudy Quartz and Igneous Rock. “Oh, don’t worry, Pinkie. We’ll return you to everypony. All in good time. But first, we have something special planned.”

“Even more special?” Pinkie asked as her eyes widened. She squealed and hurried to Celestia’s side. “Super-extra-special? Where is it?”

“Somewhere from my memory,” Luna said, tapping a hoof on Pinkie’s nose before she reached her wingtips around Celestia’s and Pinkie’s faces again.

Celestia knelt on the edge of a rich, royal-purple carpet. Up the shallow steps from her, Luna reclined on the throne. The grey stone walls receded into the shadows, and only a single torch near Celestia cut into the darkness; the palatial stained glass windows shimmered faintly, black and glossy like oil in the flickering light. No guards stood at any of the posts. In fact, none of the usual noises echoed through the corridors and passages.

Celestia stood just a few paces from Pinkie. She drew a deep breath, rose to her hooves, and walked over to Pinkie, speaking quietly. “You see, Pinkie, the Elements of Harmony were originally the stones themselves. They contained all of the power and only required somepony with the knowledge and magical ability to activate them.” Briefly, Celestia glanced toward the throne behind her. “We were able to wield them together against Discord. But later, things changed. When we... When I...”

Swallowing against the lump in her throat, Celestia let her gaze drop to the floor, then wander off into the shadows. She blinked hard a few times and opened her mouth to speak again, but the words caught in her throat. Soft hoofsteps descended from the throne, and Luna appeared beside her.

“When I was foolish enough to force my sister into using the Elements against me,” she finished as she wrapped a wing over Celestia’s back.

Celestia’s eyes opened wide as she managed a timid smile and faced her sister. She returned the gesture with her own wing. “It wasn’t your fault...”

Letting out a sigh, Luna closed her eyes and nuzzled Celestia before angling her head toward Pinkie, who sat stock-still. “Oh! I... apologize, Pinkie. This is supposed to be your day, and I do believe I promised you more than to be burdened with my own troubles.”

“Aw, that’s okay!” Pinkie chimed, tilting her head and grinning. “All that baddy-waddy-saddy stuff is looong gone!” she added as she joined in their hug.

Nodding, Celestia took another breath and continued. “After... Now, the Elements are ponies. The stones still exist, but they are merely focusing devices for the power that the Elements themselves possess. That you possess.”

Pinkie’s eyes sparkled, and she beamed at the princesses. “Then... it’s not just giving my stone to somepony else. That means...”

Celestia watched the new dawn on Pinkie’s face—certainly more beautiful than any other she’d ever created. Her heart raced as fast as she imagined Pinkie’s must be at that moment.

“Yes, Pinkie. That power will go on. You will be the first pony to pass it down.” Celestia placed her hooves on Pinkie’s shoulders and looked her in the eye. “It is an exciting time!”

Pinkie held a hoof to her mouth and gasped, but her smile soon turned to a frown. “What about Rainbow Dash... and Rarity... Are their Elements...?”

Shaking her head, Celestia ran her hoof down Pinkie’s cheek. “No, Pinkie. Rarity had passed before Luna and I devised this little ritual. And of course, we weren’t present when Rainbow Dash was taken from us unexpectedly.”

“Ohhhh! Yeah, I remember...” Pinkie pursed her lips and looked down at the carpet.

“So neither was afforded this opportunity,” Celestia continued as she raised Pinkie’s chin back up with a hoof, “but their Elements will still live on. The transition was just a little more... impersonal.”

“Impersonal?” Pinkie knit her brow.

“Pinkie, the Elements choose their own bearers,” Celestia said. She knelt next to Pinkie, all that wonderful knowledge reduced to a trickle through the floodgate. She could share so much, but better to let Pinkie piece it together on her own. “It simply wouldn’t do, of course, if Kindness manifested in somepony with no mercy in her heart, if Honesty materialized in somepony who takes no joy in the truth, or, to be blunt, if Magic became somepony who may well epitomize the quality but doesn’t want to serve that function. Laughter chose you as an Element not only because you are suitable, but because you are willing.”

Pinkie’s blank stare dissipated, albeit slowly. Another clue, then. “We’ve managed to track down the new Element of Loyalty, but so far, not the Element of Generosity. All in good time, though—we have no reason to spoil that moment of understanding for them. But because we’re together, here and now, when the transition happens…”

Pinkie’s breath caught in her throat, and one corner of her mouth twitched upward, but still she frowned and studied the carpet. Almost there.

“We can follow it, Pinkie. Already, the connection has formed. In fact, Luna and I discovered several days ago who would inherit it from you.” Even in the dimness, Celestia’s eyes gleamed.

Pinkie’s own eyes danced, and her ears pricked forward. “I-I get to do it m-myself? I get to give my Element to her?”

“Yes, Pinkie.” Celestia’s own smile grew along with Pinkie’s, and Luna’s wings squeezed them both a little tighter.

“This is so super-duper spectacular!” Pinkie shouted as she broke free and bounced in a circle around the princesses. “When can I start? When can I start?”

Finally relaxing her rigid posture, Celestia couldn’t hold back her laughter. “Right away, if you like.”

Pinkie nodded so hard that she almost fell over. “Where are we going? Where are we going?”

“Somewhere new. In many senses of the word,” Luna replied as she attempted to nuzzle a moving target.

Pinkie stopped and squinted up at Luna. “You’re not going to describe it to me this time? No hints?”

“No. You have never been anywhere quite like this. At least not that you would remember.” Luna smiled, her wings obscuring their vision one last time. “And this place is real.”

Celestia blinked into the endless blackness around her. A soft light glowed nearby, but did little to penetrate the gloom; if not for its glint off Luna’s crown, she might not have been able to see her sister beside her at all. In the middle of the faint luminescence sat Pinkie, the wrinkle of her forehead increasing while she waited for something to happen. For just a moment, muffled voices could be heard, as if through cotton-stuffed ears.

“...Feel that kick?”

“...Not long...”

Quiet hoofsteps echoed from the shadows and grew steadily louder. Pinkie moved to shy away from the sound, but Celestia’s calm smile kept her in place. Step by step, Pinkie’s eyes widened, even as her body shrank into a ball. Another dozen footfalls, and she began to shiver. And then, just at the edge of the circle of light, the first suggestion of motion, like the swirling tendril of fog that betrays a thief’s flight.

A perfect double of Pinkie Pie emerged from the gray limbo and sat directly in front of her, its eyes searching her face.

“She... looks just like me!” Pinkie said, her brow knit. She reached a hoof toward the new arrival but drew back as it continued staring at her.

“She has never seen a pony before,” Celestia explained, her smile growing by the minute. “You are the first, so it isn’t surprising that she’d assume she should look like you. In time, she will learn. In time, she will learn a lot of things.”

Pinkie took a hesitant step forward, then wrapped her double in a hug. The copy squealed and cooed.

“She doesn’t know laughter yet, either. She will need somepony to teach her.” Celestia felt the same surge through her chest that her charge must—Pinkie gaped and practically vibrated. “Yes, you will give her the stone, but more importantly, you’ll give her Laughter.” Both princesses joined the two Pinkies, and Celestia bowed her head down to whisper in the new arrival’s ear.

“You are the new day, little one.”

“Day?” Luna asked, her mouth formed into a mock pout.

Celestia smirked. “Does the day not begin at midnight?” Luna snorted.

Turning back to Pinkie, Celestia continued, “Pinkie, do you know how much we love you? You, and her, and every last one of you? You’re all a part of us.”

Her eyes brimming with tears, Pinkie finally gained her voice again. “I’m starting to.” She hunched up her shoulders and closed her eyes. “It feels so... heavy. And light. At the same time. Like when I was just a silly filly and would lie on the rug in my room, in the sunbeam, during winter. So warm and still and just blending into the softness.”

Celestia stifled a laugh as she nodded. “Yes, Pinkie. I think you have it.”

Taking her double in her hooves, Pinkie picked her up and squeezed her a little tighter. “Now, you listen to Pinkie Pie. Where do I even start? There’s your basic giggle. Hehe! Then a snicker, a chuckle, a great big belly laugh... Oh yeah! And a guffaw! Those are fun! And chortling. How could I forget that? Oh, and then there are the advanced ones! Hybrids, like a snuffaw... double takes... Ooh! Ooh! Spit takes! And the whole milk-out-the-nose thing! Hehe!”

The double cocked her head and wrinkled her brow, a thin stream of drool running down her chin.

“We’ll get there, little laugher. But you’re right. We should start at the beginning.”

The princesses exchanged a warm glance, and Luna angled her head toward the darkness. “Perhaps it is time to go,” she said.

“Not yet!” Pinkie shouted. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you yet.”

“Not at all, Pinkie,” Celestia replied, bowing her head. “In fact, thank you. This has worked out wonderfully.”

“I know, but you don’t realize what this means to me.” Pinkie’s throat worked to keep up with her mind, and whatever barrier was holding it back finally burst. “I’ve always heard that ‘she who laughs last laughs best.’ But the best is yet to come. Don’t you see? There will never be a last laugh, and I get to make it happen! You gave me that. How can I ever repay you?”

Celestia glanced back over her shoulder, her own musical laughter echoing in the quiet. “Pinkie, you’ve brought more joy into the world than any pony I have ever known. You owe us nothing.”

Pinkie wiped a few tears from her cheeks and rocked back and forth on her hooftips. She might even overflow, but Celestia had one more treat. “Another surprise awaits you yet, Pinkie—one that will make all this even more rewarding for you. But you’ll have to figure that part out on your own.”

The waves of love and contentment Celestia felt radiating from Pinkie’s shaking body might have even raised the sun, had they been outside. In truth, it took little more than that.

Pinkie hugged her lookalike to her chest and squeezed her eyes shut, but she soon became still again. “After this—that’s it, isn’t it?” Celestia nodded. “What’s it like?”

Facing Pinkie fully once more, Celestia grinned broadly. “Pinkie, it is wonderful. The best is yet to come.”

Nodding sharply, Pinkie smiled, hesitated a moment, then asked one last question. “This isn’t good-bye... is it?”

“No, Pinkie. With my sister’s help, I visit.”

Turning her full attention back on her double, Pinkie set her down. “Okay now. We’ll work on the ‘why’ later, so first is the ‘how.’ Lesson number one. Repeat after me: ha!”

The copy merely stared back, open-mouthed, and drooled some more.

“Like this!” Pinkie reached a foreleg around her and gave a soft squeeze.

“Uh!” the double grunted as a little air was forced out of her lungs. Her eyes popped wide open. “Uh!” she repeated on her own, followed with a squeal.

Pinkie stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth and crossed her eyes. “Hehe! You’re getting it!”

Holding back her own laughter, Celestia touched a wingtip to her sister and beckoned her away from the warm glow, away from the most interesting lesson she’d ever seen, away from the culmination of months of planning. Nothing to do now but let it happen.

Up ahead, only a featureless black. Celestia kept her wing pressed against Luna’s back, now that she couldn’t see her anymore. Light and dark, night and day—more important than what she couldn’t see was what she could: nothing and yet everything. If the day revealed truth, the night fostered potential—at least she’d always seen it that way—and this place held so much potential. Night. Celestia squeezed her sister’s shoulder, and maybe Luna leaned against her a little.

They both walked silently into the darkness.

“...A cup of tea?” Pumpkin finished calling from downstairs.

Celestia jerked her head up and off the mattress, her eyes snapping open. Across the bed, Luna smiled and nodded back at her.

For a being as patient as Celestia, she rarely let the possibility of using temporal magic tempt her. And so Luna smirked at Celestia’s fidgeting hind leg.

Celestia rolled her eyes. Patience had always served her well, and it would continue to do so. She slowly got to her hooves, then leaned over Pinkie and kissed her on the forehead. “We love you, Pinkie. And as I promised, this is not good-bye.”

Luna stood as well, and they both left the room and descended the staircase.

“But... you just arrived!” Pumpkin said as she glanced back down the hall toward an old clock.

“Yes, it must seem that way.” Celestia walked up to her and hugged her, this pony that she’d met a half-dozen times at best. She wondered if Pumpkin knew how much Celestia loved her. “Is Lemon Meringue home?”

“No, he and Honeycrisp are at her checkup. Little Candy Apple’s due date is almost here.” Her frown growing, Pumpkin fixed her gaze on the kitchen doorway, where Pound had poked his head out.

“Ah,” Celestia replied. “You two have an important duty. Make sure Candy Apple knows what a special mare her grandmother Pinkie was.”

“Is-is she...?”

Celestia shook her head. “Not yet. Keep her comfortable. But she won’t awaken again.”

A sob escaped Pumpkin’s lips, and the wooden spoon Pound had in his mouth clattered to the floor.

“No, no, don’t misunderstand!” Celestia said, wrapping her wings around Pumpkin. “She is so very happy now. If only you could share her joy...” Her eyes sparkled as she held Pumpkin’s shaking form and focused on a horizon only she could see.

A warm glow enveloping her horn, Luna approached and touched it to Pumpkin’s forehead. Through her tears, Pumpkin giggled, in random spurts at first, but growing into a continuous peal that left her breathless. Holding a hoof to her chest to still her heart, she sank to her haunches and broke contact with Luna.

When she had finally caught her breath, Pumpkin wiped the tears from her cheeks and faced Pound. “It’s alright. It’s alright.” She inhaled deeply once more and grinned. “It’s alright.”

Pausing in the hospital’s hallway, Celestia and Luna peered through the crack in the slightly ajar door, but all they could see was an empty chair against the wall and the wispy ends of a green tail trailing off the foot of the bed. From inside, they heard soft cooing and the harsh rasp of a rattle.

“Do you like that, Candy? Huh?” asked a masculine voice. The coos turned to squeals in reply.

Then a mare’s voice: “She’s reaching for that ball, Lemon. Could you get it for her?”


“Honeycrisp! Did you hear that?”

“Oh, it’s probably just gas.”

“No, I gave her the ball, and I swear she giggled!”

Luna’s mouth gaped open, and Celestia smiled broadly. “You were right,” Celestia whispered. “I believe this will turn out beautifully.” Luna closed her eyes and nuzzled her sister.

A hollow, ringing sound echoed through the room as a ball bounced across the floor, followed almost immediately by hoofsteps. First one way and then the other, a pale-yellow stallion with a white mane crossed the narrow strip of the princesses’ view.

“Honeycrisp, watch this. I’m going to hold it up to her again.”


“See? She’s laughing! Only two days old, and she’s already laughing!”

“Perhaps we should come back later,” Luna said, angling her head down the corridor. Celestia watched for a few more seconds, then nodded.

“You might be right. She’s got your mother’s eyes, too. Are you gonna be a silly filly like your Granny Pinkie was? Huh? Yes you are! Yes you are!”

The sisters made their way down the hall, each with a wing over the other’s back.

Another eventful day. Her morning court session having just concluded, Celestia sat on her throne and awaited the chime that would indicate that lunch was being served. In the silence, she let her eyes wander toward one of the large stained glass windows.

The original six Element Bearers stood arrayed around a central magic burst, and she stared hard at them, her eyes going out of focus. Soon, the leaded lines between them blurred, sharp corners rounded, colors slowly shifted. Rainbow Dash and Rarity began to move, just perceptibly at first, then more rapidly, more fluidly. Approaching each other, they nuzzled, then turned to the magic radiance above them, which shattered into millions of shards. Each piece took on its own shape, a unique hue, an individual color, a distinctive voice as they swirled around the pair, casting their own light over Rainbow’s and Rarity’s smiling faces.

So many ponies. So much affection. If Celestia closed her eyes, she could feel it. She pricked her ears forward and tuned out all of the palace’s little indigenous noises. She could hear every one of those tiny voices if she listened hard enough. Finally, one sound drew her attention: a faint sigh at a great distance, as if echoing through a ravine.

Celestia opened her eyes again and watched Pinkie’s image slowly stretch and yawn. “Sister!” Celestia thought as loudly as she could.

Seconds later, Luna teleported to Celestia’s side, followed her gaze up to the window, and gasped. One of the guards also looked up, shifting bored eyes toward what must appear to him to be the same unchanging scene this view had always afforded him.

Glass Pinkie stood up, glanced around, and galloped over to Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and the multitude of other ponies. Closing her eyes again, Celestia concentrated on finding that particular voice once more and smiled when she’d located it.

“It’s Candy Apple, Rainbow Dash! It’s my own granddaughter! And I got to teach her, Rarity. Oh, I have to tell you all about it!”

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