(Pony Permutation Project: Episode 10)
Twilight Sparkle awoke with a start, going from lying down to sitting up in her bed in the space of a second.
She looked around. Her room was dark, and the view outside of her window the same aside from a large, full moon and hundreds of stars dotting the sky. A cool breeze blew in from the window, ruffling her mane in contrast to the warmth of her covers.
She checked her nightstand's clock.
It was time.
Casting a violet light from her horn as a guide, Twilight slipped out of bed as quietly as she could. She tiptoed past Spike, who was sound asleep in his basket, and mumbling something about Rarity. Or jewels. Or Rarity being turned into a jewel, perhaps? In the end, Twilight decided it was best not to think about it too much. She continued out of her bedroom instead, and went downstairs.
Her scarf, a pink-and-white striped fabric strip custom-made for her by Rarity, was already waiting on a hook by the front door. She levitated it off of the hook and wrapped it around her neck, taking a few moments to bask in the immediate softness and warmth it provided. Finally, she opened the door, walked through, closed it so as not to make a sound...
...then galloped away from her house as fast as she possibly could, giggling the whole time.
Success! Sweet success! At last, she could indulge to her heart's content.
Ponyville was deserted in every direction Twilight looked, which was exactly what she had been counting on. After all, a task as huge as Winter Wrap-Up certainly called for sleep breaks to regain one's energy. With the populace doing just that, it was the perfect opportunity to revel in something she had to make sure Spike didn't see, because he always, always teased her about it.
That being, she could never resist looking over her own handiwork.
She took a slow trot around the peacefully silent town, observing the snow around her, yet smiling as she felt soft grass crunching under her hooves for the first time in months. Small patches could be seen scattered around wherever snow had managed to melt--flora in Ponyville had a habit of growing quickly and at a moment's notice.
Continuing her tour showed animals sleeping in trees, under ground-based plants or in caves, without a care in the world. She resisted the urge to pet any bunnies or raccoons she passed. If their positions were reversed, after all, she would have liked the same courtesy. Besides, Fluttershy would lecture her afterwards. She looked to the cloudless sky, which allowed the moon and stars to bathe Ponyville in a celestial light show, and in the back of her mind wondered just how Princess Luna ever could have tired of such peace during her nightly reigns.
With things at ground level looking fine, Twilight knew it was time for the best part of any post-project ritual. With a second's concentration and another glow of her horn, she disappeared from where she stood, and reappeared atop Ponyville's clock tower.
Nopony to interrupt her. She could analyze for as long as she wanted. From her vantage point, she could see that while the entire territory might not have been processed yet--there was still much to do around the town's outskirts--the main streets and grounds were clean, organized, and in all shaping up quite nicely. Barring no other snafus, winter would be wrapped up in just one more day, which was wonderful given the three-day schedule she'd planned out at the start.
I did this.
The words echoed through Twilight's mind she glowed inwardly with accomplishment. Well, I suppose all the ponies doing the physical work helped, but still. Maybe I really am cut out for this. Maybe I-
Her horn lit and pulsed--an early-warning spell she'd cast right after leaving the house to let her know if anyone was in a certain range. Being so high up must have heightened the spell's effectiveness, Twilight reasoned. She concentrated in the direction of the pony she sensed, and was rewarded with strings of light, airy notes.
She transported herself back to ground level, and followed. As she did, the notes turned from a soft hum to actual words put to an age-old melody:
"Fake squirting flowers and cute rubber chickens,
Parties so fun you might have to buy tickets..."
Not even an early-rising farmhoof like Applejack would normally be out at this time of night. Who could possibly be up at this hour, and singing, no less?
As she got closer, however, the lyrics gave her a much better hint:
"Cakes of all sizes, covered in frosting,
These are a few of my faaaaa-vorite things..."
She was now exactly 98.72% sure of the pony's identity.
She quickened her pace, her horn leading her to one of the ice lakes near Ponyville's limits. Sure enough, once she arrived she could make out view of a single pink pony moving around atop the frozen water.
"Pinkie Pie," Twilight said.
In hindsight, she wasn't sure why she'd expected anypony else.
As Pinkie Pie hummed the song's chorus, her blue winter coat and blue-and-white striped scarf could be seen flapping in the breeze. Upon reaching the middle of the frozen lake, she skated a figure eight over the ice, then closed her eyes and leapt into an effortless pirouette.
Twilight ran towards the lake, but stopped short at the edge, backing away with a nervous shiver at the sight of the frozen water. Comfortable with her position at the lake's bank, she called out. "Pinkie?"
No answer. Pinkie Pie appeared content to simply keep skating and humming. Twilight called louder. "Pinkie Pie!"
Her words echoed across the lake, and the earth pony perked up at the sound. "Huh?" Her head darted around at top speed, left and right, up and down, until she finally found its source. "Twilight?... Twilight!" Pinkie skated over to the bank, took off her skates, ran off of the frozen lake and wrapped Twilight in a huge smiling hug. "It's so great to see you! Especially since I didn't expect to! Are you brushing up on your surprise-techniques like I suggested?"
"Uh, yeah, sure." Twilight laughed and returned the hug, then nudged Pinkie to foreleg's length. "What are you still doing out here? Didn't you already weaken this lake's ice during today's Winter Wrap-Up activities?"
"Nah, that was another lake. About a mile down that way." Pinkie gestured with a hoof in one direction. "Check your map--there's bunches of these things. Besides, it's fun! And fun doesn't care what time of day it is!"
Twilight grinned. "Just like you, huh?"
Pinkie giggled. "What can I say? We're flexible." She paused. "But why are you out here? It's gotta be half past..." She checked one foreleg, then the other, then looked up at the moon, then back to Twilight with a sheepish shrug. "...really late?"
Twilight's expression was just as flustered. "I, uh... like to check on the results of a job once it's finished. Or at least close to it."
"Mmm-hmm." Pinkie's muzzle curled into a sly smile. "Came out here to pat yourself on the back, huh?"
Twilight froze, then groaned. "Am I that transparent?"
"No, but you are pretty easy to see through."
Twilight started shaking. Slowly.
Pinkie, meanwhile, walked along the bank of the lake, motioning for Twilight to follow, which the latter did. "I don't blame you, though. I saw you go through a whole lot today, and I'm really glad you were able to find your place in your first Winter Wrap-Up." She paused, then added, "Reminded me a lot of mine."
That got Twilight's attention. "Really?"
"Oh, totally." Pinkie's head bobbed up and down. "You think you had trouble fitting in today? My first Winter Wrap-Up went even worse than yours!"
"But you're an earth pony." Twilight blinked, confusion crossing her face. "I can understand that whole the 'no-magic' rule giving unicorns trouble, but..."
"No, that's just it." Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes. "Earth ponies are supposed to be 'hard workers,' right? Well, try telling that to a pony whose cutie mark's been a bunch of balloons all of her life." She sighed. "Having Applejack's example to follow didn't help either. Even though we both came from farms." Picking a grassy spot in the still-melting snow, Pinkie sat down, with Twilight joining beside her.
"I had no idea," Twilight said.
Pinkie giggled. "Neither did I, back then. When it comes to turning frowns upside down, no one works harder than I do. But I guess that only goes so far when you're trying to change the seasons by hoof. Applejack and I... well, let's say we didn't really get along about the whole thing."
"I can imagine. So what'd you end up doing?"
"Everything I could, just like you. First I tried waking up Fluttershy's animals, but I was way too loud, and it turns out the only thing angrier than a bear who's just been woken up by a five-piece polka is a Fluttershy who has to deal with the aftermath."
"Yeah. When that didn't work out, I tried making sweets for the other pony workers. But I kept getting bored while waiting for ponies to eat them, so I would just eat them myself."
Twilight blinked. "I've seen you bake, Pinkie. How long did you give the other ponies to eat your sweets?"
Pinkie's face turned a shade darker than usual. "Um... twenty seconds?"
Twilight's hoof hitting her face was the second sound to echo across the lake that night.
"What? That's the longest I've ever waited! I thought I was being nice! Anyway, after that I tried to help out in the sky, but the weather team just couldn't interpret my cloud-spotting interpretive dancing at all. Sure, Rainbow Dash then told me to just use words, but do you know how many super-long words pegasuses have for different types of clouds?" Pinkie threw up her hooves. "A lot. And they all start with 'C'!" She pointed to individual stars in the sky as she counted them off. "Cirrus, Cumulus, Cirrocumulus, Cirrostratus, Cumulonimbus, Cucumberlonimbus, Cookiemangas-"
"Stop!" Twilight cut Pinkie off with a wave of her hoof. "I get it. I get it so much it's almost given me an aneurysm." She rubbed her head, then perked back up. "Wait. Did you try snow-clearing?"
"'Course I did. Got the best idea ever, too, to turn all the snow into sculptures so they wouldn't take up so much space! Unfortunately I only made it as far as one Princess Snowlestia before Applejack said she just wanted the stuff off her farm, pronto. I think her patience had finally run out by then." Pinkie gave a long sigh. "I still remember that sculpture. It was huge. And I'd made it really accurate and everything." She looked over to Twilight. "No headache? Wow."
"Actually?" Twilight held back her own blush. "Kind of wish I'd been there for that one."
"So do I. Would have been nice to have a pony backing me up." Pinkie put a hoof behind her head and chuckled. "But yeah. No matter what I did, I kept getting lost in the fun parts of the work over and over again, and that's what got me in trouble. Gosh, I'd never seen Applejack so mad at me. But while she was chewing me out I got mad back, and then the animal team got mad because we were busy being mad at each other instead of clearing the ground, and the weather team got mad because they interpreted one of my 'mad' gestures as 'more snow over here, please,' and then Mayor Mare got mad because spring was going to be late again and..." Still in her sitting position, Pinkie wrapped her forelegs around herself, her face shifting into sadness in the space of seconds. "...yeah. That day was pretty much the total opposite of fun."
Twilight gasped upon noticing Pinkie's swift melancholy change, and wrapped her own forelegs around her friend in a hug. "I'm so sorry."
Pinkie blinked, her sad expression replaced with complete blankness. "How come?"
Twilight let go. "W-well, you just said-"
Pinkie shook her head, her smile partially returning. "Oh, Twilight, think about it. Since you moved here, have you ever seen me and Applejack not being super-happy nice-nice around each other?" Twilight opened her mouth to answer, but Pinkie cut her off by adding, "Aside from the caramel apple incident. Nopony could have seen that one coming."
Twilight stifled a giggle. "Well, okay, then no."
"Then duh. Don't worry--this story does have a happy ending."
"R-right, of course. I knew that." Silence ruled the next half-minute--with Pinkie looking up at the stars with a happy sigh, and Twilight stewing in her own insecurity--until Twilight finally said, "So, uh... are you going to finish it, or not?"
A satisfied smile crossed Pinkie's face, prompting a low groan from Twilight which Pinkie ignored. "Well, the next day I asked Applejack if I could talk to her in private, and I told her the truth. Her cutie mark told her to stay on her farm. Mine told me the opposite. There was really no way I was going to be able to change, even if I wanted to! But I still wanted to help out.
"So we put our heads together. Turned out there was a job all the other ponies hated--breaking the ice over all the lakes. Everypony was scared of it, but I could find the fun in it. I mean, compared to the danger of setting off rockslides back on my farm? This is nothing--at least you can see and hear the ice weakening below you all the time! Applejack was totally impressed, and that's how I became lead ice scorer!" Pinkie looked up at the stars once more. "That was when we first learned to really understand each other. And we've been friends--best friends--ever since."
"Wow," Said Twilight with a nod of her head. "That is a happy ending."
"Yep! So yeah. Applejack might've worried about you, mainly 'cause she worries about everypony, but I didn't. I knew it'd all turn out okay." Pinkie's smile was now nearly as big as the moon overhead. "Who'd've thought your winter talent would be to not do any work at all, though?" She laughed.
"H-hey, now!" Twilight fought through the embarrassment. "Delegating is plenty of work! You've got no idea what it's like to keep that many ponies on task!"
"I know, I know," Pinkie said, her laughter subsiding. "I couldn't even think of keeping all those ponies under control. I'm usually the one asking everyone to go crazy! You did a really awesome job, Twilight."
Twilight said nothing, but allowed herself a silent, flattered blush this time.
"There's got to be more you can do to celebrate than just looking around at all of this nothing, though," said Pinkie. "Hmmmm..." She put her hooves to her chin in thought, then clopped them together with a gasp. "I know! Victory skate party!" She tossed Twilight her skates, got up on her hind legs, grabbed Twilight's hoof, set her sights on the lake, and pulled. "Let's go!"
Twilight resisted, pulling back. "Ohhhhh, no you don't."
Pinkie kept pulling. "C'mon, it'll be fun!"
Pinkie pouted in response, still pulling, still looking towards the lake. "C'moooooon! Seriously, this'll be great!"
"Pinkie!" said Twilight, an edge creeping into her voice despite her best efforts. "I already tried this, okay? You were there! It ended badly, so I'm not-"
Pinkie's voice was soft, but several orders of magnitude firmer than Twilight had ever heard from her fun-loving friend.
She stopped pulling. Pinkie did as well, turning back around to allow them to see each others' faces. To Twilight's amazement, Pinkie's was... serious.
"Remember when I told you about my twitchy tail and I said you had to believe and have faith? This is different. I'm asking you to trust me."
"I..." Twilight's thoughts swam in a confused muddle. "Pinkie... Pinkie, I want to, but-"
"You're afraid of what might happen. I know. But you can skate, Twilight. If I didn't think you could, if I had a single doubt in my heart... I'd have let go of you by now."
Twilight looked at her hooves. Sure enough, Pinkie was still keeping the best grip she could on them. Getting the message, she stopped resisting entirely, and levitated herself long enough for her to slip the skates on. "All right," she said with a sigh.
"Woo-hoo!" Pinkie led Twilight towards the lake. "You won't be sorry, I promise! Not one teeny-tiny little-widdle itty-bitty-"
"I get it already!"
The second Twilight's hooves left the snow and went out onto the ice, however, she wasn't so sure. Her legs stood stock still at first, then wobbled as she tried to keep her balance.
Just like last time. Honestly, why was Pinkie being so insistent about this? For that matter, just how much of the lake had been scored so far? Images of herself skating onto a weak part of the ice and falling through flooded her mind. Wrap-Up or no, Winter wasn't fully over yet, and the water under the ice would be deathly cold-
Twilight snapped out of it. "P-Pinkie?"
Pinkie, now back on the lake with a new pair of skates, stared straight at Twilight from beside her. "Stop thinking."
Twilight did a double-take. "What?"
"Stop. Thinking." Pinkie shook her head. "You're always thinking."
"And you're thinking right now about how to prove me wrong even though I'm right. You're always thinking! And you're great at it, you really are! But right now if you don't stop being so great at thinking, you're going to be terrible at getting anywhere! Okay?"
Pinkie waited until Twilight was completely silent, which didn't take the surprised unicorn long at all.
"There. Now, isn't that nice? I bet your head feels a whole lot better with all that weight off of it!"
Twilight rolled her eyes. "Well, sure. Because... well, because now it's empty."
"Now that's a switch! Twilight with an empty brain." Pinkie smiled. Twilight simply glared. "Look, all I'm saying is that now you can go about doing and learning new things because there's none of that boring old stuff in the way. You know, like fear."
"Or ice-death statistics."
"You're thinking again." Pinkie paused. "Look, we'll do this together, okay? All I want you to do is to stay close to me, and think of just how much fun being able to skate would be. Nothing else but that."
"Okay, okay." Twilight sighed, moving her legs in the same manner she saw Pinkie move hers. "I already know it'd be fun, Pinkie. But getting there is the hard part."
"Well, duh. It was tough for me starting out too. It's tough for anypony who tries it." Pinkie's firm, emphatic voice was back. "But I can do what I can do because one day I just stopped asking myself, 'What if I can't?'"
A circumstance she'd genuinely never considered. Twilight's eyes widened, and her brain screeched to a halt--for real this time. "Pinkie, I..."
Pinkie skated directly in front of Twilight's path. "Falling isn't fun, Twilight. In skating, in parties, in life. I know you know that too. My answer to when I feel myself falling is that so long as I don't want to, I won't. And then I find my balance again. By the way, we've skated across half the lake and you haven't wobbled once."
Twilight looked down to see, wonder of wonders, her legs perfectly level and moving just right. The second she realized this, the wobbles began again, on cue. "Wh-wh-whooooaaaaa!"
"Twilight!" Pinkie called out in alarm.
"I-I know, I know!" Twilight said through her shakes. "I-I'm thinking a-again!"
"Just keep trying until you stop! I know you can do it!"
But, thought Twilight, thinking is what I do! It's what I've always done. My life, my happiness, my regrets... if I don't keep myself occupied with something, anything...
She looked at Pinkie, skating about, hardly looking where she was going, sometimes with her eyes closed...
...then I'd have to face the moment, wouldn't I?
Books could wait. Celestia could wait. Even the rest of Winter Wrap-Up could wait. She cleared her mind, except for a single mental voice, and pushed off with one hoof.
Pinkie lives in the moment, completely. I can't be her all the time, but maybe I can still learn from her.
She pushed off with another hoof and was happily surprised to see herself glide across the ice for a few seconds, until she wobbled and fell again. She levitated herself back upright, undaunted.
Stop thinking. Don't even think about skating, just do it... just go!...
She pushed off again. The second she felt herself wobble, she made sure to quickly remember how her legs were positioned when they were last stable. To her delight, her body adjusted her legs for her, and she pushed off yet again, one hoof, then the other, then...
...then she was near the other side of the lake. She leant her body to the left, executing a slow, wide turn, back to Pinkie who was still in the middle of the ice, then past her. On and on Twilight went, happy and laughing.
"Pinkie! I can ska-..." Twilight caught her breath amidst her laughter. "Pinkie, look!" she called out.
"I see!" Pinkie called back. "You can totally smile!"
Twilight skidded to a stop. "Huh?"
Pinkie skated up to Twilight. "Well, I just realized... I really like seeing you smile. Probably 'cause I don't see you do so all that often."
"Hey! Twilight recoiled, a shocked expression on her face. "I do too smile!"
"Only when you're in your comfort zone. Nose in a book, giving a lecture or orders, or casting magic. Not when you're trying something new and scary that you know you're not an expert in. But that's where the best smiles come from."
There was no suitable retort Twilight could think of. All of that made far too much sense. "Thanks, Pinkie."
Pinkie nodded with a sage smile. "You should thank yourself, too. Learning to skate just now couldn't have been easy!"
"Not in the slightest! But yes, I get it." Standing on her skates, Twilight held out her front hoof. "Shall we, then?"
Pinkie looked puzzled. "Huh? But you don't need my help anymore."
"No, I don't." Twilight Sparkle's smile widened. "I just think it'd be a lot more fun to skate with one of my best friends."
Pinkie Pie giggled, and took her position beside Twilight with a wink. "Looks like she can be taught."
Wearing twin smiles, the two of them coasted over the ice.