Mr and Mrs Cake were well worked as a business couple, feeling most at home as they tag teamed whatever pastry or baking currently was happening in their shop. The afternoon sun found them taking a rare chance to stroll through the town by store fronts and homes that passed without any certain direction. The familiarity of Ponyville was disconcerting when there was no pressing need to rush a namesake here or a bundle there, so likewise the couple pondered the rare break with uncertain optimism. Their resident employee, whom they loved as a daughter, had asked to have the shop to herself. Naturally the pair gave her full welcome, and she’d often enough had to manage the shop on her own during business hours. Mrs Cake window shopped idly while her husband made polite small talk with the local mail pegasus.
What tickled at the Cakes’ comfort was the nature of the request. Their profoundly pink party pony had asked without her usual passion for opportunity. If not exactly concerned, Pinkie Pie had been contemplative and unsure as if handling delicate glassware, little of which found a use in the bakery.
“Who’s the party for this time?” Mr Cake remembered having asked Pinkie, the blonde and gray pegasus blissfully ignorant of his thoughtful distraction. Mrs. Cake scrutinized hedge pruners in in the window.
“Well, it’s not exactly a party, but it sort of is, but sort of isn’t.” Prying no farther than that, Pinkie was left from whatever need compelled her to evade the question. The Cakes had known her closely, loved her as their own for a long time. It’d been curiously deferential statement from her, but at the time the interest was little more than flour to be dusted from the apron of business. Trust between Cake and Pie was explicit.
“…muffins,” the word wrapped around Mr Cake. It’d been the swishing tail end of her monologue, the flick of intonation at its very tip having caught his attention. Even so, he’d lost the thread of everything else, the one expectant word hanging temptingly over his head like a, well… like a muffin.
With a bustle honed to fine edge by years of working by the clock and the unmerciful burning of goods into bads Mrs. Cake stepped in for the recovery, words already forming on her lips.
“That’s very kind of you to say. My husband and I always do appreciate the comments of our customers, especially one as well known to Sugar Cube Corner as you. We’ll have the regular shipment brought out to you bright and early at the regular time.”
With words aplenty cooking now, Mr. Cake set the sweet icing. “Yes, thank you. A pleasure talking to you. I’ll have them as fresh and moist for you as ever.” A great fissure of a smile sprawled across the mail pony’s face, lighting up the conversation with her joyful anticipation of those sweet, sweet muffins. With quick nods she took wing, leaving the Cakes to muse.
“What a lovely dear,” Mrs Cake said approvingly.
“Yes, honey-buns. She’s always so cheerful when she brings in the mail. Very faithful to her favourite food.” It was true. Even so, both Cakes, with all the delicacy of souffle, avoided any mention of those great wobbling orbs.
The light suffusing into Sugar Cube corner was thick with the suggestion of flour. For once the curtains were drawn most of the way shut, so that what shafts of direct light there were fell solemnly to the floor despite the warm atmosphere inside. Galaxies of flour swirled lazily through the bands of light, whirling to intricate stellar dances with the slightest disturbance in their ethereal medium.
Pinkie Pie found herself watching them with aimlessness she was unaccustomed too. Always her mind was on exactly what she was doing in the moment, with a rapt fascination and exuberance that lead to her very successful party planning and execution.
Today was different. Quite different. For reasons she couldn’t define she felt she needed to tone down her radiant expressiveness. She was nervous enough to not need to try very hard at that.
She’d been so certain she’d known every pony in Ponyville. A spectacular party had been thrown for Twilight Sparkle the very night of her arrival, and from there Twilight had become one of her closest friends. There was Spike too, and though he was a dragon, he was practically a pony as far as Pinkie was concerned. He could be so funny sometimes! He got so flustered with Rarity.
Snorting giggles diluted as they jumped and jarred across the store. The drawn curtains, the cleaned and prepped displays, nothing found it particularly funny. It fell short, then into silence.
Pinkie had met Princess Celestia too, though she didn’t actually live in Ponyville. Even Princess Luna. That had been a great party, it had been so exciting to celebrate an old princess made new again. She wondered idly if perhaps Luna needed more parties in her life. A thousand years without seemed an awful long time to be off the party wagon. She’d have to organize that party sometime soon.
But not today. As much as Pinkie had thought she’d known every pony, there had been one to slip past. One who fell through the short ends, one she’d missed entirely. A pony she’d met only just recently. Pinkie Pie was nervous, the worry creeping up along her frizzy mane and tail like a determined zombie hair straightener. Was she going to come at all? Today was just for the two of them, after all.
Seconds passed in their militant apathy. Minutes drilled back and forth. Sidling nervously through the throngs of time, the pony waited upon arrived.
“Hey you’re here, hi!” Pinkie Pie cheered out her natural, pent up trickle of excitement. The elusive visitor flinched back from the blaring welcome.
“Hi. I’m here,” she replied in a carefully even tone. The afternoon sun cascaded over the barriers of blinds, the silent interplay of light and shadow claiming a pony apiece.
“I’m so glad you came, I was worried you wouldn’t but then I thought to myself, Pinkie Pie ‘are you crazy?’ because of course every pony comes to a Pinkie Pie party-”
“I don’t.” Pinkie Pie’s energy crashed against stoicism and scattered upon the rocks therein. Pinkie Pie wasn’t sure what to say in the face of truth. Honesty was one thing and she knew Applejack well enough to bounce with that, but this was rigid and cold truth.
“I have never been invited to a party,” the tone lacked what accusation there could have been heavily ladled onto those words, but Pinkie Pie felt it all the same.
A catch caught, bolstering her self-assurance. “No silly, I invited you for this today!” She swung her hoof in a sweeping gesture across the room. There was a total lack of party paraphernalia to be seen in the it.
“This isn’t a party, Pinkie Pie. I do remember what they’re like,” the visiting pony said with tried patience.
Pinkie sighed, dejection spilling down her muzzle. “I know that. And you know that this isn’t like that time.”
A soft smile settled like snowflakes by moonlight upon the shadow shrouded pony. “I’m alright. Please don’t be sad, it doesn’t suit you. I really am glad you did this.” The pony stepped from her place across the room, the light beams she stepped into peeling back a thin layer from the bleakness which occluded her tones of dusted fuchsia. Equally dim coloured hair hung straight and leaden down her side.“So don’t worry about me. I’m not a very nice pony.”
Frizzled hair swung a great arc from Pinkie Pie leaping up rigidly. “That’s not true! You’re a nice pony! You are.” The flour dust which had plumed upwards in disturbance slowly fell back down through light and shadow like snow in early morning chill. As if its weight immense, Pinkie sank slowly under its touch.
“No, I’m not. I thought all our friends turned on me, when really it was the other way around. I can accept that. It’ll be easier for me if you do too.”
“You’re not a bad pony, and I don’t want to hear you say that you are, so stop it.” The words squeezed out under Pinkie Pie’s breath came from somewhere between insistence and growling.
“No, because you need to hear this.” A pained smile crossed a pursed jaw, under eyes heavy with melancholy.
“You don’t have to be alone,” Pinkie mumbled. There was no enticing this pony to celebrate. How could she get her to understand? “Our friends should meet you. They’re really good ponies, every one of them. Especially Fluttershy.”
Straight hair hung listlessly as the visitor averted her eyes from sight. “Everyone already has, remember? I don’t think they liked me much. I don’t blame them.”
“They will too like you if you give them a chance.” Some of the flour tweaked Pinkie’s nose enough to make her sneeze.
The feeble smile crept up again, only to slink away. “No. I’m not going to, and you can’t make me.”
Pinkie Pie marshaled her thoughts carefully, brow furrowing as she considered everything as best she could. “Are you scared?” She threw her brightest, warmest smile of reassurance. Normally not self-conscious, the effort seemed awkward now to Pinkie.
A whinny of shock and aversion made Pinkamena Diane Pie step back. Her eyes flickered a glare to and away from Pinkie’s, back and forth while a play of emotions struggled across her face. Resignation stole over her, drowning the others.
“Yeah. I am.”
Fear was something Pinkie knew how to solve. Laughter, her element. What could she know better than that? She chortled out loud, calling on reserves of humour that always filled the back of her mind. She hoped, expected even that her muted companion would join in. Things would be better then.
Instead Pinkamena looked hurt, her posture turned stand offish. Pinkie was entirely confused. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Giggle at the ghostly?” This time the words she spoke were laced with sharp accusation.
“I’m not laughing at you!”
“Aren’t you? Am I just a ghost, so I can linger and be forgotten? Lie to me and laugh? I shouldn’t have come.” The hanging tail swished limply, scoring a gash across the dust settled on the floor in her turn to leave. Pinkie Pie squinted her eyes with the want to cry. This was going so wrong. She had to think of something, quickly.
“You’re not a ghost. You don’t want to meet any of our friends again. But you know what? I’m your friend too.” Turned away and steeped in shadow, the dark pony at least stopped in her tracks. She said nothing, and the weight of that attentive listening crushed down upon Pinkie’s lungs with expectation even as she scrabbled to find more words.
“Please don’t go,” Pinkie whimpered. It was all she could manage, and fear tore through her that it wasn’t enough.
It was, but only just. Pinkamena turned back, letting her face fall low with exhausted resignation. Likewise her rump dropped unceremoniously to the floor.
“I’m sorry.” She said nothing more for a long minute, while Pinkie stalled for words. With terrible slowness they coalesced in her head.
She started with the simplest. “Me too.” The harder bits needed a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to laugh at you, and I didn’t mean to leave you alone, but I didn’t even know about you before, but I should have. I’m a wrongy wrong long-pants. I don’t really know anything about you, but you know me. I’m sorry.”
The hunched over pony began to heave slightly, and despite her hidden eyes nothing could hide the quiet sound of wracked sobbing. Pinkie’s own eyes were tearing up. This wasn’t what she’d wanted at all. She’d never made a pony cry before.
“You’re crying?” Never had Pinkie’s voice been so soft or so fearful.
“Yes,” the word stuttering across the broken glass of sniffles. “It’s alright. I’m just happy.”
Pinkie cried openly too now, great bawling, wrenching cries. “Happy? How can you be happy? You’re crying!”
Pinkamena raised her gaze enough to meet Pinkie’s rapidly blurring eyes. “So are you.” The distinctive pained smile emerged once more.
This wasn’t fair. All Pinkie’s previous delicacy fled. “You started it! It’s just so sad to see you cry!” Her words ceased, but her loud moans of woe continued strong. She slunk over to the loneliest pony in Ponyville, pulling her close with a tight hoof. Pinkie wept freely onto the darker mare’s coat, despite meaning to be the shoulder to cry on. The little smile grew and sharpened, even as more tears welled in Pinkamena’s eyes.
The fuchsia pony could appreciate the irony as Pinkie could not. They let seconds and minutes soldier their way around them, a long while passing with the steadily sinking sun in which nothing was said.
Long after the sobbing stopped they sat, Pinkie curled against the flank of Pinkamena. Pinkie had nuzzled herself deeply into the warmth of that flat mane, her forehead kept from sinking low by Pinkamena’s shoulder. Pinke wiped her eyes dry with the soft, straight hair unceremoniously. At least she hadn’t needed to blow her nose.
Pinkamena listened intently, letting the sense of sound take prominence in her mind behind closed eyes. Both ponies’ breathing had settled to deep, steady breathes. Everything she’d been though before was conflicted and confused. Just sitting here in dim light with another to hold her heart warm let all the rest just slide away. She could stay like this forever. Even as the thoughts bloomed gently in her, Pinkamena knew she couldn’t.
If in such thinking she had given some queue to speak, she didn’t know what it was. Even so, Pinkie’s voice spilled over the quiet, a thin veneer of thought for the emotions spun around the two.
“Feeling happy now?” The words mumbled more by fact of Pinkie being folded tightly against the dark mare’s side and mane than whatever dregs of bleakness she’d been yet to cry away.
Pinkamena’s smile reassured. Her neck had no protest against lifting her head from Pinkie’s side, stretching as if coming from a deep and restful sleep. She looked affectionately down to see those wide eyes peering up at her with a worry to them that saddened Pinkamena. Her own eyes softened. A pony whom nigh endlessly sprung as a well fount of light and joy into others’ lives shouldn’t be made to ever feel so down.
Gloom’s familiar sting lit deep in Pinkamena as she delicately patted the unsure length of the pink pony’s cacophony mane.
It must be nice to be Pinkie.
Yet I make her sad, even as she’s trying to make me happy. The bitter irony drew the curl of a lip’s corner askew.
She’s so caring.
I’m just taking her happiness from her, even while I pretend to myself that I’m meaning the best.
I’m so selfish.
Eye contact lingered. In Pinkie’s eyes she saw hope, and fear, but both bound to incomprehension greater than either. With soft and assertive pats, she pressed Pinkie’s head back down against her side, her hoof reassuring the pink pony as a mother might for her foal. The gentle swirl of kaleidoscopic emotions within aligned to an understanding that at Pinkamina’s heart, despite its ache, she knew was right.
I can’t stay.
I’ll only hurt her and through her, everyone she cares about.
It’s so nice to have her believe I’m not bad, but I know the truth.
I’m distrustful and vindictive.
I failed everypony and will only do so again.
At the very least, I can try to protect her from me.
She offered up prayer to whoever might pay heed to someone so undeserving. Let me at least get this right; let me leave her to her good life.
I can bear the loneliness, just please don’t let me ruin this for her.
As long as I know she’s happy, I can bear this.
The happiest moments Pinkamena had ever known came next and in their tracks, the saddest. Pinkie had fallen asleep against her, peaceful and content in her belief that things were better between them now. There were no words and no worry from her. For a time as the sunlight sank lower Pinkamena held Pinkie Pie close, cherishing the warmth of love. Even as she smiled, she cried for the knowledge of what must come next.
Deep breathes steadied her, though a lifetime of them would not have braced her to do what she must. Steeling herself, she delicately slid away from the pink pony’s sleeping form. It took every ounce of will to not fling herself back to Pinkie, to wake her and beg to stay with her, to promise that she could change. Simply turning her head away was an act enough to bring agonizing desolation crashing down atop her. She bit her lip painfully against the utterance of any sound, even as whimpers escaped her. That pain did nothing to distract her from what she felt inside.
A hundred mountains bound with a thousand chains weighed against that first step. Yet she managed, and in it the links snapped free. She gasped under her breathe from a sudden tearing, rending emptiness that stripped the colours of her embittered cutie mark from her flank. Then the next step came, and the following ones. Pinkamena almost risked looking back, but dared not test her resolve.
With every step she felt more and more insubstantial. The world dimmed about her until it was devoid of all things, the only guiding certainty she had left was that it was better this way. Nothing else was clear. Clarity of thought muted and dulled, and every sense faded as Pinkamena walked away into shadow.
Am I even real anymore?
Was I ever real?
Please… take good care of Pinkie.
Have mercy on me if you will, but I beg, be good to her.
Let me keep the memory of this today just for myself.
I can carry away the sadness I bring once and for all.
Afternoon slipped away to evening, every colour curling in on itself for the coming night. The few shops that remained opened only did so sleepily, and what ponies there were about clustered together for the society and conversation of gentle evening activities. Along the side of the street Mr and Mrs Cake walked back to Sugar Cube Corner, some small saddlebags filled with odds and ends from the day’s casual passing.
It had been nice. All the same, they were eager to be back to check in, their curiosity unfazed by the simple commotions of the last few hours. They rounded one last corner to see their shop and home partially silhouetted against the hues of dusk. It was good to be certain that it was still in one piece. Not that they doubted Pinkie Pie in anything… but strange things could happen.
One such strange thing was the minute of jangling keys required by Mrs Cake to open the door. It was unusual to see locked doors at any hour, anywhere in Ponyville. The last time the shop had been locked she could recall was when they’d left town for two days to go visiting relatives. Even at that, the only real reason behind doing so was to let any potential customer know they were closed before accidentally wandering inside.
What had Pinkie been up to? They flicked the lights on to illuminate the darkened store.
Sleeping, apparently. The Cakes exchanged confused looks before Mrs Cake nudged the curled up form of Pinkie with her hoof. The usually exuberant pony woke slowly, coming too with half formed mumbles as she blinked her bleary eyes awake.
She wasn’t too sure what had happened. She remembered clearing up to prepare for the party that wasn’t and… and had been waiting, but she couldn’t remember who for. It hadn’t been for her friends, had it? She didn’t think so, but couldn’t figure out why.
“Are you okay, dear?” Tones of concern and care resonated in the cooking couple’s voices and expressions. At first Pinkie was too muddled to be sure of much, but with some practical assumption on their part, a likely story was pieced together.
She’d probably locked the door cleaning and forgotten it. Then she’d fell asleep for being well, being tired, and had forgotten to actually invite anyone, or even set up decorations for that matter. They all laughed aloud at the silliness of her simple, but massive oversight. Mr and Mrs Cake felt a twinge of guilt in the laughter. They did work Pinkie’s seemingly boundless energy quite a bit these days. They should have expected she’d crash under trying to keep up with work and play.
Mr and Mrs Cake had an order of muffins to prepare before they were done with the day anyway. Mrs Cake made Pinkie a hot chocolate before hoof.
“I’m sorry your party didn’t happen dear.”
“It’s okay. I’m alrighty-lighty now. Muffins? Oh, let me help!”
“Sure thing, if you like.” Mr Cake called enthusiastically across the room as he gathered ingredients. If she was happy enough to help, there was little point in saying no.
“Okie-Loki.” She’d gulped down the nigh scalding deliciousness just in time to help with the batter, excitably throwing herself into the fun task at hoof. “I’m glad there was nopony to feel left out, with me sleeping on the floor like a silly-filly!” Pinkie’s rich laughter was hugged between the good natured chortling of both Cakes as they worked away in the warm, aromatic bakery, bright despite the night fallen outside.