Not much can distract me from a good book.
I've read straight through thunderstorms, earthquakes, and even the occasional stampede. My mind has a tendency to filter reality out when I'm immersed in prose, and generally speaking I only look up when the passage or my own train of thought dictates it, not at the behest of external stimuli.
However, the sharp knock at the door of the library brought me out of my trance. Firstly because I was expecting it; I knew to keep an ear half-cocked for company and so I wasn't paying full attention to the book. Secondly, this was a book I was writing in rather than reading; while I can usually dictate thoughts to Spike at speed-of-thought, my own hornwriting necessitates occasional pauses to search my vocabulary.
I set my quill down next to my journal and approached the door. Normally, I would have had Spike answer, heartless taskmaster that I am, but he was in the lab making sure everything was ready. I, of course, was on damage control.
An excited ball of pink fluff raced past me, hooked left around the bookstand I had been taking notes on, and headed towards my kitchen. "Hi Twilight! We should get started right now so the first batch can cool! Where are your macadamia nuts?"
I followed, at a more leisurely pace, to find Pinkie Pie half sticking out of one of my pantries. She had a ...regard for others' personal property that a newcomer might regard as larcenous. Pinkie Pie, however, was no kleptomaniac. Rather, she just assumed whoever was being burgled would eventually regard Pinkie's plans as a good use of resources. "Pinkie, what are you doing? And I don't have any macadamia nuts."
"Every kitchen should have macadamia nuts, silly!" She yanked herself out of the pantry with an audible pop. "Rainbow Dash told me you needed my help with something, and I figured if you need my help with something it must be either baking or parties, and it can't be parties because I'm the only one crazy enough to throw two parties in a row and we just had one last week!" Pinkie fell to my kitchen floor, bouncing a bit and landing on her back. "So it had to be baking, and I know you like cookies, so of course you wanted my help to make chocolate chip cookies!"
I followed Pinkie's logic, even though I could feel the early twinges of a migraine. "So where do the macadamia nuts come in?"
Pinkie looked at me in shock from the ground. "We can't use macadamias, Twilight! Fluttershy's allergic!"
Right. I should have seen that one coming. "But why did you... ah, never mind." I shook my head. "I don't need your help with baking. Although we could bake together some time; I'd love to learn."
The two of us, alone, in the hot kitchen, with her in one of those frilly aprons... Wait, where did that thought come from? I rubbed my cheeks to hide the oncoming flush. I had too much work in front of me to be fantasizing. "No, I brought you here today to see if you'd be willing to help me with an experiment. Could you follow me to the lab?"
"Okey dokey lokey!" She bounced, somehow gaining altitude from a completely supine position, towards the downward stairs. Her hair kept time with her rebounds, retaining its poofy shape despite the jostling. I followed her down, still going over experimental procedure in my head.
My lab was kind of a mess. While the living level of my home was worth cleaning when company came over, I didn't like to rearrange things in my workspace. Spike greeted us noncommittally as we entered. Pinkie immediately gravitated towards a pile of seemingly random, non-lab-related objects in the corner. There was, among many other things, a rubber chicken, two cart wheels, and a door off its hinges. "Ooh! Ooh! Are you having a yard sale? In your basement?" She turned to me, eyes intense. "Twilight, are you having a basement sale?"
I chuckled. "No, I'm not having a basement sale. In fact, most of that stuff is borrowed for this test."
"A test? Are you grading on a curve, Professor Twilight?" Somehow she had found a pair of schoolmare glasses in the pile of random things; they certainly weren't there originally. She put them on and approached me, her eyes huge and impossibly blue through the lenses. "Is there any way I can get extra credit?"
When I was getting ready to graduate from Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns, a scandal broke involving a professor and a student in an intimate relationship. It was an older student like myself, so no laws were broken, but it was a major breach of professional ethics and made all the Canterlot papers. I was uncomfortably reminded of that as Pinkie trotted over to me. The discomfort came when I realized I was enjoying the comparison. "Pinkie, could you please take those off?"
"Okay! They made everything bendy-wendy anyway!" She tossed them over her shoulder. "So what's the test?"
"It has to do with your Pinkie Sense. You see, there's a concept in physics called causality."
"Information can't flow backwards in time!" she chirped.
"Uh, that's right. Essentially right, anyway."
Spike popped his head around one of the workbenches. "Where did you learn that?"
"I know all sorts of things! You'd be surprised what you have to know as a baker." At this point she was buried waist-deep in the pile of junk, no doubt searching for more comedy props.
"I bet I would." I used my magic to pull a small leather pouch off the top shelf of a nearby cabinet. "Anyway, causality says, essentially, that information can't flow backwards in time. But Pinkie Sense does exactly that—takes in some kind of signal from the future, and turns it into something that you can interpret."
Now Pinkie had managed to get a fishbowl on her head. She looked oddly concerned. "I thought you believed in Pinkie Sense now, Twilight."
"I do. See, last time I was studying it, I wasn't being a good scientist." Or a good friend, my statement implied. "All the evidence was in front of me, but I went in with the assumption that Pinkie Sense was false and I stuck to my belief when I should have believed the experimental data." I bowed my head apologetically. "I'm still very interested in Pinkie Sense, although I'm no longer really interested in the why—why you have this ability in the first place, I mean. I'm interested in the how. How it works, what its limits are, how you can expand it, that kind of thing. Spike and I brainstormed about the questions we'd most like to answer, and we've come up with a few testbeds."
I laughed. "Exactly. So today, I'm thinking about an application. See, Pinkie Sense is essentially passive. Sure, information is flowing backwards in time, but you're only receiving it, not sending it. I don't want to get into time paradoxes—honestly I'm still a little nervous about those—but I think we've figured out a way to send signals back in time with Pinkie Sense."
I pulled out a sheet of parchment, neatly ruled with twenty-six rows. I handed an identical copy to Pinkie. "I've been asking you for the last couple of months about different signals that you get for different events. I've finally collected twenty-six that seem repeatable enough for a test—one for each letter, see? For example, the letter P is a side-to-side movement of your left rear hoof that lasts for about three seconds, that means..."
"Somepony's mane catching fire! Like when Rainbow Dash tried to cook a few months ago!" Her eyes were intent now, more focused than I'd almost ever seen her. Maybe she was curious about the limitations of her senses as well?
"Yes. So, now all I need to do is...um...injure myself in the right ways, in the right order, and I can send a textual message back in time." I looked at her sheepishly—the plan sounded a little less brilliant once I'd spoken it aloud. I glanced at Spike for support, but he was watching Pinkie.
Her eyes filled with concern. "You shouldn't have to hurt yourself, Twilight."
I stamped one hoof resolutely. "No. Your Pinkie Sense seems to respond most strongly to comical injuries. It's like a magic slapstick detector. And if that's what I have to do to help you learn more about your abilities, that's what I'll do. It has to be me or Spike, and I volunteered. Besides," I shot her a grin, "you know I'm a fast healer."
"You could really get hurt though," she pouted. "Maybe there's another way to use my twitchy-witchy powers."
"Well, I'm not going to be sending novels anyway. In fact, the first test I had in mind only requires sending one character. Are you okay with that?"
Pinkie stared at me blankly for a few seconds, then brightened. "Well, you're the smarty scientist. HEY! That means I'm the party scientist!"
"Well, actually, if you've tried different things in your parties to see how well they work, then you are a party scientist!" I took a second to marvel at how incredibly dorky I sounded, and how quickly the cotton candy mare could sidetrack my brain. Did I usually babble this much with her around? "So, here's my idea for a test. I have here one twenty-sided die." I opened up the leather pouch that I had retrieved earlier and pulled out a single small polyhedron.
Pinkie's eyes sparkled in recognition. "Hey, that's my lucky red one!"
"Pinkie, your bard got six natural 1's in a row with this die. I'd hardly call it lucky. In fact, I almost didn't want to use it in this test because of that, but Spike ate the rest of them."
"Just had to bring that up again, didn't you, Twi," Spike muttered, crossing his arms. "You know, some things are not meant to be kept right next to my snack drawer."
"That was the best, craziest, funnest session we ever had, though!"
"I can't argue with that. Except that funnest isn't really a word." I set the die down again. "Definitely not letting Rainbow Dash play chaotic neutral next campaign," I said to myself, then realized that Pinkie hadsidetracked me again. "Anyway. I'm going to roll this die, then send back the number I rolled—A is 1, B is 2, et cetera. So, hopefully, before I roll it, your Sense will go off and predict the roll."
"Hmmm...Twilight, are you just doing this so you can cheat at casinos?" She eyed me suspiciously.
"Considering that I would need to injure myself every single time I played? No. This is just for science. So, you should receive that"—I tried to think of a better word than signal, worked my way through omen and portent, and finally settled on—"message from the future sometime soon."
Suddenly, Pinkie's left rear hoof began shuffling side to side, kicking up small clouds of dust from the unswept lab floor. "Twi, here it comes!"
"Sixteen, alright." I tossed the die onto the bench; it bounced off a book and a flask before settling with the number 7 on top. "Pinkie, I don't think it worked."
"T-t-there's more coming!" Pinkie's tail quivered and began to spin clockwise.
This was a real message, then. I took a split second to wonder why Future Me chose to break protocol, then tossed a quill to Spike. "Quick, take it down!"
She quivered, shuddered, and shook for almost two minutes, as Spike scribbled furiously. In the meantime, I grabbed my own parchment and began translating the gestures into letters, lagging behind by a few characters. By the time she was done, Spike had a scroll full of hasty shorthand, that started with "LR hoof s-s" and ended with "rear legs cross/uncross".
Pinkie looked exhausted after it was done; panting like she had just finished the Running of the Leaves. Her mane was damped down with sweat, giving her a slightly more subdued appearance than usual. "What's"—she huffed—"what's it say, Twi?"
I finished transcribing the last few characters and stared at my sheet in shock.
"Um," I said intelligently. My brain instantly vapor-locked, taking my horn control with it; the quill fell noiselessly to the ground.
"Should I be here for this?" Spike asked quietly, moving towards the door.
"You asked me out by time travel? Twilight, that's so romantic!"
Her face was close to mine, close enough to give me palpitations. The ground swayed unsteadily beneath my hooves. "Pinkie, I don't know..."
Spike left the room. Neither of us paid him any heed.
"Well, if you don't know where to go on a first date, I'll pick! Mountoni's at seven o'clock?"
I couldn't believe how loud my heartbeats sounded. "I wasn't intending to..."
She beamed, and my whole world collapsed into that smile. "That's okay, Twilight. You'll do great! Ooh, I need to go get ready..." With that, she grabbed her copy of the transcription sheet and bounced her way back out of my lab.
I stared at the wall for a minute or two, stunned beyond rational thought. Finally, though, my brain engaged again, and let me see the enormity of the problem I faced.
Somehow, some future version of me had used my derived system to send a message. Not just a message, a pick-up line. This meant two things, neither of which made me feel comfortable. The first was that at some point in the future I was going to get injured twenty-four times, and given my usual circumstances I doubted they'd be spaced out over a matter of weeks. The second was that I had a date with Pinkie Pie.
A date with Pinkie Pie.
A date with Pinkie Pie.
Not only did I not have any idea what Pinkie Pie's idea of a date was, I didn't know what anypony's idea of a date was. I rushed upstairs, leaving the pile of injury-junk right where it was.
Spike was tidying up. "Hey Twilight. How the heck did you plan all that? And why didn't you tell me?"
"Plan?" I slumped to the floor and looked up at Spike helplessly. "I didn't plan any of this! I don't even know how it happened!"
"But...Pinkie's never wrong."
"She hasn't been yet."
Spike had been my assistant/brother/friend for most of my life, and had bailed me out of more fires than I could count. He was my confidante and secret-keeper, and when I had first told him about my feelings for Pinkie his only response was "I know." But now he was at as much of a loss for words as I was, and only shook his head in confusion. "I dunno, Twilight. I guess you have a date tonight. Unless you want to ask the Princess about it."
"No, Spike." I sighed. "I need to deal with this myself."
He made a face. "You know, half the trouble you girls get into wouldn't be a problem if you just asked Celestia about it first."
Tell my esteemed mentor about my first-date jitters? And simultaneously about my long-time crush on a certain pink pony? I felt a little sick at the thought. "No. And that's final."
"Sure, sure, whatever. So what are you going to do now?"
"The same thing we do every time a problem comes up, Spike. Research."
Fortunately, I didn't requisition all the books for the library. If I had, there wouldn't have been anything that would have been of help to me. The ponies of Ponyville who had donated the books, though, had more worldly interests, and there were plenty of dating self-help books.
I levitated the whole stack of them to my reading table and dropped them with a thud. Owloysius, on his perch at the other side of the room, blinked up at me blearily and went back to sleep.
Pinkie was meeting me at seven. The clock said two-thirty in the afternoon. I had three tomes sitting in front of me, full of impenetrable dating advice. In times of uncertainty, they say, our true strengths shine.
I got to reading.
Mountoni's was a classy Istallion restaurant, the kind of place with a candle and wicker-clad bottle of Chianti at each table. There were a lot of them in Canterlot, but fewer in Ponyville. I got there half an hour early, got shown in by the maitre d', and arranged my flashcards discreetly. I didn't dress up—something told me Pinkie wouldn't either—but I did take the time to make sure my mane looked okay.
Pinkie burst in just as I was pouring myself a small glass of the wine. "Sorry I'm late, Twi! Mr. and Mrs. Cake got in a huge catering order and needed my help! Although mostly they kept sending me out for more ingredients."
"You're not late, I'm early." I took a sip and offered her the bottle, which she refused with a brilliantly white grin and small shake of her head. "Guess I just got nervous."
"What is there to be nervous about, silly?" Pinkie drained her glass of water in one long pull and started crunching on an ice cube. "We're just two friends going on a date."
"Friends?" Talk about mixed messages.
She looked puzzled. "Of course we're friends!"
"I know that, but..." I fiddled with my menu, trying to think of how to phrase it. I'd run through this conversation in my head a thousand times since I came to Ponyville, and at least a hundred more since the Pinkie Sense experiment, but no wording had ever seemed good enough. These are the trials of a compulsive editor. "This changes things between us, doesn't it?"
"You knew it would when you asked me out, Twilight! That's why I was so surprised when you did."
"So was I. I guess Future Me is made of sterner stuff."
"It's not like you're a different pony, silly! Who else would come up with such a super-duper clever way of asking me out?"
"I just hope it won't cost me too much." I remembered the long list of twitches and spasms, and how each one corresponded to some future mishap.
Pinkie just frowned. "You're the smartest pony I know. You'll think of something! You don't decode the mystery of Queen Meanie and then get flummoxed by a twitchy Pinkie!"
"I was actually too worried about the date to think about that much." Embarrassed, I lifted up the stack of index cards from where I had stashed them under my chair. "I even made flash cards."
"Ooh, let me see!" Pinkie dove across the table and snatched at the cards. She flipped through them with an unreadable expression, then glanced up at me. "Twi, you can't use this! It's all first date stuff!"
"Right. That was the material I covered the most thoroughly." For me, that meant I read it four times instead of just two. "This is our first date, isn't it?"
"But we already know each other! First dates are all..." Her face went slack and her eyes drifted slightly apart. "Uuuuuuurrr, your mane looks pretty." She canted her head back the other direction. "Durrrrr, well I think the weather is nice." (For what it was worth, I thought her mane did look pretty—even more like cotton candy than usual—but I wasn't about to just blurt it out.) "We know each other too well for that."
"So what do I do?"
"You can stop looking at the candle every ten seconds," she said. "Are you worried about the first letter?"
The letter P, of PINKIEWILLYOUGOOUTWITHME. The one that portended an accident with fire. I hadn't noticed myself looking at it, but once Pinkie had pointed it out, I remembered. I also remembered scooting it as far away from my side of the table as I could without getting it close to Pinkie. I winced a little—usually I'm more self-aware than that as a matter of habit—and nodded. "A bit."
Pinkie leaned over the table, pursed her lips, and blew out the candle with a puff of air. "There. All better!"
And with that, my anxiety drained away. It sounds silly—foalish, even—to say that Pinkie made me feel safe, but she did. In a way, her uncertain nature was reassuring. No matter how bizarre my life got, or how unsure I was about the path ahead, Pinkie was more of a mystery still.
The rest of the date went well, as far as I could tell. Pinkie and I chatted about town gossip and our friends. The topic also veered off into more esoteric areas, of which I was surprised to find Pinkie had a wide grounding. Her knowledge seemed to be from second-hand oral accounts—for example, she claimed to have a cousin working in the dragon embassy, when I asked her how she ended up with so much knowledge of dragons—which contrasted nicely with my own more academic recollections.
When the waiter came to take our order, he helpfully reignited the candle for us. Pinkie glared daggers at him behind his back and blew it out again, which made me giggle and did interesting things to my heartbeat.
By the time we left, all traces of pink and orange were gone from the western sky and Luna's moon was beginning to rise. There was a thunderhead forming on the horizon as well, the omen of a warm summer storm. It smelled of rain. I stepped out carefully and studied the sky. "Thank you for the wonderful night, Pinkie. I should probably get back to Spike."
"Awww!" Pinkie bounced out of Mountoni's behind me and pouted. "But I had something extra-super-duper-special to show you!"
"Well, I never gave Spike a definite time..." And spending more time with Pinkie sounded good right about then. "Where is this extra-special thing?"
"The edge of the Everfree!" And she went bouncing off.
I trotted after her. "Pinkie, that's nearly two miles!"
"And it's a great night for a walk!" she called back.
I couldn't argue with that, so I just followed along. She seemed content to hop through the quieting streets of Ponyville, and I was just as content to keep pace and sort out my feelings.
On top of everything that made up my emotional layout, there was a pall of fear and doubt. I'd been burned by Pinkie Sense predictions before. Sure, that was when I was being boneheaded, but who's to say I wasn't being boneheaded now, in all new and fascinating ways?
Underneath the anxiety was my ever-present sense of curiosity. There was so much going on that I wanted to know about. Was this the usual course of a progressing relationship? Given Pinkie, I doubted it, but I still wondered.
Another series of questions were reserved for the message from the future. Did my future self only send it to avoid a time paradox? I wasn't sure that could ever happen—all of the data I had collected indicated that Pinkie Sense was never a false prophecy—but it was definitely a possibility. More heartening was the theory that I would send the message, possibly with some clever way of avoiding serious hurt, to reassure my present self that dating Pinkie Pie was okay, and impress her with a time-traveling pickup line. On the third hoof, maybe it ended up being a series of complete coincidences sent by the universe to keep time from getting damaged. I wasn't used to having this little information about such a major question, and the little details kept worrying at the back of my mind.
Underneath the fear and the questions was an unusual warmth. Pinkie was a good date (not that I had any reference, but still), and she was a better conversational partner than I would have given her credit for. I was having fun, but there was a something deeper I couldn't quite put my hoof on.
Pinkie sensed (not Sensed) when I'd snapped out of my self-involved horseshoe gazing. "Hey Twilight!" She bounded over to me. "What was with the silly faces? First you looked sad, then confused, then happy! Were you monologuing?"
"Monologuing? Pinkie, I'm not a supervillain."
She gave me a level look that was all the more unusual for the fact that she was still bouncing. "You have a science lab in your basement."
"You have a point."
Pinkie nodded and went back to humming tunelessly.
We reached the edge of the Everfree soon after. The wild scent of the forest mixed with the ozone of the gathering storm. Pinkie steered me over to a spot by the treeline and sat down.
She didn't sit still, but her motions weren't borne of tension. Quite to the contrary, she seemed supremely relaxed. I realized that moving around was such a default state for her that motionlessness was as much an indicator of stress as excited movement would be to a normal pony.
As she lolled aimlessly on the velvety grass, I laid down next to her. "This is...nice." Jeez, I sounded like Fluttershy. "Are we here to watch the storm?"
"Well, it seems like it's going to hit us anyway." I disliked rain as a matter of professional obligation; the worst enemy of a book is moisture, and I had been called in to do restoration on rain-damaged libraries before. Still, as long as it wasn't threatening any poor defenseless books with its oppressive wetness, the physical sensation of rain was a pleasant one. "Are we here to watch the weather patrol break it up?"
I sighed. "Are you just going to respond in monosyllables until whatever it is we're waiting for gets here?"
"Nuh-uh is two syllables, silly!" Pinkie rolled over onto her belly and kicked her legs. "And also, uh-huh."
I tried to shoot her an irritated scowl but had to settle for an irritated grin. "Well, if we're waiting, we're waiting."
The storm had approached from the Everfree, and a cluster of multicolored dots shot out from Ponyville to the storm. From the ground, I could barely make out that one of them was leaving a rainbow contrail. "Hey, it's Rainbow Dash!"
"Uh-huh!" Pinkie exclaimed, propping up on her elbows and facing skyward.
Despite Pinkie's assurances that we weren't here to gawk at the storm, I found the patrol's method of handling it to be fascinating. Most of the weather in the central parts of Equestria was manufactured by the pegasi in Cloudsdale, but on the edges of wild places like the Everfree and the Western Ocean, weather teams had to deal with untamed storms. These pegasi worked in teams of four. One of them (and from what I could tell, Rainbow Dash filled this position on her team) would swoop in and break off a large piece of cloud, and the other three would shred the piece into ribbons before sending it off into Ponyville.
There were four teams of four pegasi attacking the cloud, and the effect was that of a giant, invisible cheese grater. As the leading edge of the dispersed thunderhead passed over Pinkie and me, a light drizzle began. It steadily intensified into a warm downpour that melted the grassy soil.
I stretched out, enjoying the feeling of the rain on my coat and the mud under my hooves. Pinkie's hair, while not indestructible, was still a lot frizzier than it had any right to be in the rain.
"So when is this big surprise?"
"Gotta give the rain time to soak in," Pinkie replied cryptically.
The storm finally yielded to the whirling buzzsaw of pegasi, who shot towards the high atmosphere to dry off.
"Reeee," said Pinkie.
"Wasn't me, Twilight!" she whispered.
There was another Reeee behind my head, and yet another a few dozen feet away.
Cicadas. More than I had ever heard of in one place. My only experience with them had been the occasional loner in the library tree, chirping away the summer nights. I had read accounts of larger groups of them making quite a racket in some parts of the frontier.
But I hadn't imagined they could sound so beautiful. I didn't have a musician's ear, but even I could tell that they arranged themselves in perfect fifths, singing in time to the syncopated patter of rain.
"So... we're here to hear the cicadas sing?"
Pinkie Pie hauled herself to her feet and stretched, but didn't answer.
A flash of movement registered at the edge of my vision, but I turned my head too slowly to catch it.
A few more flickers happened before I caught one right in front of me and realized that we were watching fireflies.
The fireflies became more frequent as we waited, me lying on the muddy ground, Pinkie standing tall in the rain. The only markers of passing time were the steadily increasing flashbulbs of the fireflies.
"Sometimes..." Pinkie turned to me, the yellow glow from the bioluminescent bugs reflecting green against her eyes. "Sometimes, I just don't want to party with other ponies, So I come out here...when there's a storm...and I party with bugs."
Her solemnity surprised me, but I was even more surprised when she started singing.
It was nothing like her usual fare; the spontaneous numbers that sounded like they came straight from a Manehattan musical. This was a freeform, relaxed tune, slow but relentlessly upbeat. At first I thought she was singing in another language, but it wasn't one I recognized, and I finally understood that she was just using whatever syllables came to mind. She danced as well, as cheerfully and aimlessly as she sang, and she left rippling eddies in the firefly clouds as the chorus of cicadas backed her up.
In that moment, I finally understood something about Pinkie Pie. She was the element of Laughter, essentially the living incarnation of happiness. But while Pinkie herself was a very social person, not all happiness was the kind experienced with other ponies. Some, like my studies and Fluttershy's animal care, were essentially solitary endeavors.
This was Pinkie's introverted side—something I hadn't even expected to exist—and it expressed every joy a pony had ever felt alone.
Suddenly, like a cluster of stars resolving into a constellation, my long-held feelings for her made sense. I wanted her. My body ached for her, my mind longed for her, my soul pined for her. Even though I wasn't so naïve as to call it undying love—even a scholar can have potent but fleeting infatuation—there was a sensation that translated into almost unbearable need.
At the same time, she was untouchable. It was almost as if she were something holy—beautiful but inviolable. I felt like a voyeur, in fact, and only my powerful fascination kept me from turning my head to give her privacy.
I'm not completely sure how long her dance went on. It was at least half an hour, and probably no more than twice that. It felt like an eternity but flew past in a blink, and when it was done there was an exhausted and slightly bashful looking pink mare in front of me. The rain had finally succeeded in slicking down her mane, and it fell in wavy cascades about her shoulders.
"Did you like it, Twilight?" she asked, the physical exertion only barely coming through as a strained note in her voice.
"I..." Even in the humidity, my throat was dry. "I liked it."
"Good! I think the bugs like it too. Maybe I should ask Fluttershy. Do you know if Fluttershy can talk to bugs? That's be so neat!"
"Pinkie, I don't think bugs can like things. Their nervous systems are—" The infatuated part of my brain caught up with the pedantic part and bucked it in the throat. "Hey, maybe you're right."
As the rain tapered off and the last bits of pegasus-processed cloud moved on toward Ponyville, the cicadas and fireflies returned to rest and Pinkie and I walked home. The streets were well and truly empty, and the village was dark as we walked through the outskirts.
"Pinkie?" I asked.
She paused in between bounces to cock her head at me, an unspoken invitation to continue.
I swallowed. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm grateful that you agreed to the date. And that you put up with my awkwardness at dinner. And showed me the fireflies."
"I was worried," she answered. "I know what ponies like in a party, but I couldn't just do the same stuff on a date. Besides, you like quiet and I'm not so good at quiet. So I showed you something that I wasn't ever going to show to anypony. I even Pinkie Pie Swore that I wouldn't show it to anypony, but I did anyway."
"Oh, um..." I glanced up and saw that we were nearing my home. The library tree had lights burning—Spike must have seen the note I left him and known I was coming home late. "I don't know what to say."
"You already did, silly!"
I didn't know how to respond to that, so I just continued on to the library. Pinkie followed me up to the stoop.
"We should do this again sometime." I said. That was straight off one of my flashcards, but truthful nonetheless.
She responded by kissing me, quickly and fiercely. I tasted a hint of bubblegum before she pulled back. "Just let me know, Twilight!" With that, she bounced away, back to the darkened storefront of Sugarcube Corner.
My knees threatened to give out on the spot, but I managed to get inside and close the door before collapsing to the ground.
Owloysius went to rouse Spike, sensing that something was wrong. Spike came downstairs shortly after, blinking sleepily. "Hey Twi. Did your date go well?"
"Glrrrn," I said.
I picked my face up from off the baseboards."Great. It went... uh... great."
"You don't look great."
"I just wasn't expecting to be kissed, that's all. I'm sure my muscles will start working again in... oh, a few weeks."
"Wait! Twi, wasn't this your first kiss?"
"Uh, I guess so. Why, is that significant?"
"Everypony always says so."
"Well, I can see why." With great difficulty, I managed to stand on my own hooves.
"I guess I just never expected it to be Pinkie," Spike said. "Even after you told me how you felt, I couldn't believe it. I mean, the bookworm and the party pony?"
I chuckled. "And I expected you to fall for a lady dragon."
Spike glared at me for a few seconds, but eventually sighed and nodded. "Good point."
"Well, I'm too wired to sleep." I picked up some books and floated them towards the stairs. "I think I'm going to clean up the lab a bit. Spike, you should go to sleep."
"Naw, I wanna stay up and help." Spike trotted along behind me. "Tell me more about your date!"
"Well, you know we were going to a restaurant, but afterwards Pinkie took me out to see the fireflies after the storm." The books preceded us down the stairs. "And then when we got back, she kissed me. That's about as much as I can process right now."
"Do you think you'll go on anoooooouuugh—" Spike yawned mid-sentence, sending forth a gout of flame in my direction.
(P- mishap with fire – lr hoof, s-s)
I lost concentration on my magic, and the books fell clattering to the ground.
(I- object falling – tail twitch)
I smelled burning hair and lost my footing, tumbling shoulder first down the stairs.
(N- accident with stairs – side flutter 4 seconds)
I dimly heard Spike yelling after me as the world spun round and round. I came down on my rear leg at a bad angle on one of the steps halfway down—
(K- leg injury, unspecified, usually humorous – ear flap, l-r-r-both)
—and everything went a little hazy. My last conscious thought was that the pile of catastrophe-junk was right at the base of the stairs, and that I was going to roll into it...
The voice pierced the black velvet of my coma, hard edges and a Southern twang. It felt like I should recognize it.
That voice was less familiar, but a little clearer. My mind began to piece together sensations and categorize them as sounds, smells, pain and numbness.
"Oh, dear. I hope she wakes up soon..."
That was Fluttershy, which would make the first voice Applejack. In a snap of clarity, I figured out that I was in the hospital, surrounded by my friends and Nurse Redheart.
"Hi everypony," I croaked. I tried to open my eyes and found that one of them was covered by a patch. I took stock of the rest of my body—one of my hooves, the one I had landed on, felt sprained. Other than that, I mostly had bruises and scrapes.
They all spoke at once, muddling each other's voices into an incoherent cacophony. Finally, Rarity's voice rose above the rest. "Darlings! Stand back and give the poor mare her space!"
With difficulty, I sat up and scanned the room. Rarity and Nurse Redheart were pushing an anxious Applejack and Rainbow Dash back, while Spike sat on a nearby chair looking guilty. Something was amiss. "Where's Pinkie?"
"We looked everywhere for her, but she's just gone," Rainbow Dash replied.
That wasn't good. Even worse was that I knew it had something to do with me somehow. "Well, uh, I'm sure she'll turn up."
"Ah'm sure she will." Applejack narrowed her eyes at me. "You're lyin'. That ain't like you, Twi."
For Celestia's sake, why did I ever try to hide anything from Applejack? "I... I'm not lying. I'm just not comfortable telling the whole story right now."
Rainbow Dash and Applejack both looked like they were going to start into me again, but Rarity prodded each of them in the side. "We've no need to sink to the level of barbarous interrogation, girls. I'm sure Twilight will tell us what happened in good time." She looked at me pointedly. "Won't you?"
That look was scarier than any bluster Dash and Applejack could have come up with. I hung my head. "Yes. I will. Once things are sorted out."
This seemed to placate everypony, and so I stewed over the Pinkie dilemma silently as my friends' well-wishes washed over me comfortingly. They filled me in on the intervening day, but other than my hospitalization and Pinkie's disappearance, there was little happening in Ponyville.
So, eventually, the conversation boiled down to pleasant small-talk and joking. Fluttershy promised to bring over some vegetables for me; Rainbow Dash and Applejack got into a breath-holding contest for reasons I wasn't able to follow; and Rarity fretted over my sling and pledged to make me a more stylish one as soon as possible.
All in all, the pain (already negligible compared to some injuries I'd sustained) drained away in the presence of my friends. Even with Pinkie Pie's absence leaving a noticeable hole in the group.
Around sunset, Nurse Redheart came around and informed everypony that visiting hours were over, and that only Spike (who, most likely by Celestia's direct influence, was listed as family) was allowed to stay. They said their goodbyes, pledged to come get me the next day when I was discharged, and filed out one by one.
Spike had been quiet when the girls were there—happy, or so I thought, but not talkative. Now, though, he pulled up a chair close to my bed and sat down, his hands folded in his lap. He looked like he would have been crying, if he'd had tear ducts. "Um, Twilight?"
"What is it, Spike? Are you okay?"
"Everything you wrote down. Everything Pinkie predicted. It all happened, in order."
"I figured as much." I shifted position a little, favoring my sprained leg. I had enough bruises and scrapes that it wasn't comfortable to lie in any posture, but there were some tolerable enough to allow me some sleep. "I mean, I was conscious for the first four characters, at least."
"I did this, Twilight." Spike grabbed hold of his tail, just like he'd used to do when he was newly hatched. I had gotten him to stop doing it as frequently, but in times of stress it was a comfort that I was inclined to allow him. "I started off the whole thing. If I hadn't yawned..."
I shook my head. "If you hadn't yawned, I would have tripped over a lit candle, or a meteor would have hit the tree, or I would have spontaneously combusted. This wasn't something you did, Spike. Whatever happened, there's some very serious magic, or physics, or fundamental universal principle, that we don't understand at work here."
"But what about Pinkie?"
Now that was a good question. "Pinkie's tied in with this somehow, but I don't think she's behind it. I didn't consciously send that message back in time, so there's no way of knowing where it came from, but I think she was just being used as a medium. In a way, so were you."
Spike brightened a bit. "Well, it looks like we've got a mystery to solve."
"More than one, but either way it's got to wait until the morning. You need your sleep, and I need to heal."
"Okay Twilight." Spike rolled over on the chair. "Mind if I sleep here? I'll try my best not to burn you again."
I picked him up with my magic and set him down next to me on the bed. "You can sleep next to me if you want."
He immediately curled up in a hollow in the sheets. "Thanks Twi."
"Sleep well, Spike."
He slept, but I didn't. I had, after all, just woken up from something resembling sleep. The shadows shifted in the room as Luna's moon tracked the sky. I wondered if Luna noticed that my library light, frequently the only artificial illumination in Ponyville in the small hours of the morning, wasn't lit tonight.
Every futile attempt at sleep only accelerated the purposeless circling of my thoughts, until I gave up the attempt altogether and just stewed.
Around midnight, something stirred at the door of the room. "Hello?" I called softly, to avoid waking Spike. "Nurse Redheart?"
A pony came in the room, but it wasn't the nurse. I had to turn my head awkwardly to see her out of my one good eye. She was a pale, washed-out pink, with long straight hair. This was the bedraggled, confused mare that Rainbow Dash had dragged in to Pinkie's birthday party, the joyless Element of Laughter. "Twilight," she whispered. Even her voice sounded grayer.
"Pinkie!" Spike stirred a bit, and I lowered my voice. "Are you all right?"
"I'm alright. I'm always alright. Pinkie the Indestructible." She laughed bitterly. "Everything bounces off of the rubber pony, nothing sticks. Except it stuck to you, all over you, deep in the wounds and the bruises."
"...what are you talking about?"
"It's luck. Bad luck. I'm like a black cat with thirteen legs made out of broken mirrors, walking under a ladder. If I hadn't twitchy-twitched out that sentence..."
I sighed. First Spike, now Pinkie. "Pinkie, you didn't do this. There's no such thing as luck."
Pinkie approached me, close enough for me to see her eyes. The tears in them shone in the dull light, and they narrowed at me. "Just like there's no such thing as Pinkie Sense?"
My heart clenched. "H-hey! That's not fair, that was an observable phenomenon that I was just ignoring. This was a specific series of events that you can't just explain by some catch-all name like luck."
"It doesn't matter what you call it, Twilight. You got hurt, and bouncy Pinkie bounced away just fine, and now I'm bouncing out of your life. I'm sorry I was so selfish to think we could be together, but it always takes me just a little too long to know when I'm only thinking of myself." She turned and headed for the exit.
"Pinkie, wait." She turned back to me and paused briefly, saying nothing. But as soon as I saw those azure eyes again, I just couldn't think of anything to say. There I was, a pony who spent her life among books, finding a shortage of words.
I didn't know if Pinkie was out of earshot or not when I started crying. I sobbed, and couldn't think of anything else to do. Spike woke up and wordlessly nestled closer to me, unquestioningly supportive as always, trying to hold me together as my world fell apart.
My friends, minus Pinkie, came in the morning to pick me up. I was bone-tired, completely drained, and sore from crying, but I still found the strength to get on my three functional feet and embrace each of them.
They weren't stupid. They saw that I wasn't happy, that my brain had given up the ghost, and their hugs lingered a little longer than necessary. Still, they respected my privacy and my promise to eventually tell them what was the matter. They dropped Spike and me off at the library with another round of well-wishes, and urged me to get as much rest as I needed.
As soon as they left the library, Spike appeared at my side. "Twilight?" he asked quietly. "Why were you crying last night?"
"Pinkie came by. Said she was leaving town." I paused a bit, forcing down the tears. "She blames herself for the whole mess, citing some superstitious nonsense about bad luck."
"She's leaving you? Just like that?" Spike was obviously confused.
"It's not like we really established anything. But she's leaving all the same." I grabbed my saddlebag off a nearby chair and floated it over to me. "That's why I'm going after her."
"But you can barely walk!"
"I'm not going to physically chase after her. That only works in bad novels." I fumbled a bit with the straps of the saddlebags, and Spike wordlessly came over to help me. "But I am going to track her down. I'd like it if you came along, but I'm afraid I can't support your weight in this condition. You'll have to walk."
"That's fine! Where are we going?"
Ponyville's bakery was just at the edge of what I felt comfortable walking on three legs without rest. My good legs were sore from favoring the bad ankle, but Spike and I got there in one piece.
There was nobody behind the counter when we came in. I glanced up and saw that Pinkie's peephole was still there, but no light came through it. The scent of pastry wafted from the back.
"Coming!" said a pair of voices in unison. A few moments later, Mr. and Mrs. Cake appeared at the counter. "Hi there!" said Mr. Cake. "Is there anything we can... oh, it's you."
The Cakes fixed me with a bitter gaze and I silently cursed myself for not seeing this one coming. Still, I couldn't back out. "I, ah...is Pinkie still...?"
"The poor mare packed everything and left this morning," Mrs. Cake said, her voice like poisoned sugar. "After crying in her room for eight hours. Crying, and calling out your name."
Mr. Cake came out from around the counter to more properly tower over me. Unlike his wife, he made no attempt to disguise the anger in his voice. "That filly's had a torch for you since you came into town. What, did you think going on one date before shooting her down would be letting her down easy?"
"It wasn't like that! I..."
"Maybe you just wanted to humor her once before telling her you're not that kind of mare." Mrs. Cake shook her head and walked back into the bakery proper.
"You're not welcome at the bakery any more," Mr. Cake growled. The effect should have been comical, coming from him, but it wasn't. "And we're not telling you where Pinkie is just so you can break her heart again."
With that, he turned and followed Mrs. Cake. Silently, Spike supported my injured side and we limped out into the street.
"It's okay, Twilight," Spike said after a heavy moment. "They don't know the whole story."
"I know. Still. There's a part of me that wants to say they're right. That I broke her heart."
"Um...I don't know a lot about this kind of stuff, but..." Spike paused, looking at the sparse crowd of ponies going about their business. "I think she broke her own heart."
I chuckled and ruffled Spike's spikes. "You know a lot more about this than you let on. Come on, let's get back to the lab. I've got some things I'd like to try."
three days later
I made sure Spike was well-fed before I started Experiment Twelve. As the experiment involved a variety of crystal amplifiers scattered about my laboratory, and my assistant was not known for his appetite control, it was an apt precaution.
"Twilight," he said, munching on the last of his smoke quartz, "you have to tell them sometime. We've barely left the lab since your accident."
"I'm convalescing. We can keep using that as an excuse for a while." I had gotten much more used to getting around on three legs, navigating without depth perception, barely noticing the slowdown as I hobbled around the lab to set the crystal foci.
"But you don't need to keep them in the dark about this."
"They trusted me enough not to ask questions. That means it's my responsibility to bring her back."
Spike just shook his head and went to put his bowl in the kitchen. By the time he came back, I was ready to begin the experiment. I pulled my magic into my horn, accumulating as much as I could within the bounds of safety. When I felt full, I carefully let it drain into the crystal in the center of the room.
The magic, purple and diffuse, spread out from the middle crystal and accumulated in the outer ones. It distorted the air, filling it with incandescent motes. With a soft whumph, a wave of violet light spread out from the library and out into Ponyville, rippling like a stone thrown in the pond of reality.
I hobbled up to the observation deck of the library. I could see the purple wave racing away from Ponyville in all directions, clinging close to the lay of the land as it encountered the surrounding hillsides. Ponies in the streets looked around in confusion as the wave passed through them.
Eventually, the citizens of Ponyville went back about their business, but I continued to keep watch, stumping in a circle around my telescope on the high platform. I briefly considered training the telescope on the horizon, but I couldn't spare the peripheral vision.
After a while Spike joined me. "I got everything cleaned up, Twilight."
"You didn't have to do that, Spike, I could have gotten it."
"You have enough to do." He hopped up on one of the railings. "Did it work?"
I sighed. "Too soon to tell."
"How will we know?"
"You know that wave that came out of the spell? There should be another one of those coming back, from where Pinkie is now. I just don't know how long it'll take."
"Well, I'll wait with you. As long as it takes." He seemed a little less certain about the second part, given his usual attention span, but I just smiled and patted his arm.
We watched another hour, Spike taking the southeast half of the horizon, and me taking the northwest. He didn't say as much, but his draconic eyes were better suited for the bright background of the sunward side. We didn't say anything, but at this point in our working relationship we didn't need to. I knew all his secrets, and he knew mine.
Eventually something approached the library, but it wasn't the blast of magic I was expecting. Rather, it was Rarity and Applejack, with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy hovering above them. They stopped at the base of the library and looked up at Spike and I. "Sugarcube," Applejack shouted, "We need to talk."
"Eh heh heh..." My voice felt strange after the silence. "What do you want to talk about?"
"We've given you time to tell us what transpired between you and Pinkie Pie, but that... whatever it was you just did...has us all wondering." Rarity's voice carried just as far as Applejack's, but somehow she sounded as if she were still in 'inside voice'.
"Told you so," Spike whispered.
"Can it wait?" I replied. "I'm waiting for something."
The four of them entered a huddle and conspired about something. Eventually, Fluttershy approached me from the ground and landed gently on the platform. "Um, Applejack told me..." She glanced down at the orange earth pony, who nodded. "She told me if you didn't cooperate, I should come up and get you. And if you struggled, Rarity said I should ask Rainbow Dash for help. So, um, it's probably better if you just listen to her."
"I suppose if Rarity and Applejack are agreeing on something, the forces are completely out of my control." I glanced at Spike. "Could you let them all in and get some tea started? I'll be down in a minute."
Spike nodded and led Fluttershy down the stairs into the library proper. I took one last futile glance around, no longer quite sure what I was looking for, before following along.
"...and she told me she was leaving town. That was the last I saw of her. The Cakes won't speak to me, all of my tracking spells are useless, and I kept you four in secrecy for days about it." I glanced down at the cup in front of me, not wanting to meet the eyes of my friends. Spike's tea, wonderful as always, helped me face my revelations a little more calmly, but I still wasn't positive how to react.
Immediately as I finished, Applejack prodded Rainbow Dash in the shoulder. "Five bits."
"Just had to be Pinkie, didn't it," Rainbow Dash grumbled. "I'll pay up later."
"Wait." I blinked. "You had a bet to see if... what? If I was into mares?"
Chuckling, Applejack replied, "We had a bet to see if y'all were interested in romance at all."
I glanced at my surroundings. "I suppose that was a reasonable doubt to have. So...you're not mad that I drove away Pinkie Pie?"
"I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding," said Fluttershy.
"When Pinkie gets that way, she doesn't listen to anything," Dash added. "I've been there."
"It was rather foalish of you to try to solve this all on your own, dear. Why didn't you just ask us for help?" Rarity finished off her tea with a single dignified pull, and Spike popped by in seconds to refill it.
I tried to think – why was it so crucial I not tell them? Sitting there, surrounded by their support, it seemed like whatever reason I might have had was just contrariness. "I was just embarrassed, I guess."
"I'll admit, I found all the time travel hooey a little hard to follow. But hon, I ain't about to blame you for Pinkie runnin' off. Both of y'all are blamin' yourselves, but far as I can see it was just coincidence."
Coincidence. Wasn't that what I had told Pinkie it was, after all? But I had said the same thing about Pinkie Sense, back when I first encountered it. But there was no coincidence in a series of perfectly timed and ordered events. I was too well versed in probability theory and statistical mechanics to fall into that mental trap. There was a flipside, too: Pinkie Sense only seemed to pick up events that fell under some threshold of importance, and the interpretation was curiously specific as well. My accident could easily have been interpreted as "an accident in which somepony gets hurt." and for that matter, why would Pinkie have detected the relatively innocuous events like me dropping a book? Surely Pinkie didn't get a twitchy tail every time anything succumbed to gravity.
All this evidence added up to something: Pinkie Sense, in some way, knew the letter-meanings that I had applied to different twitches. I still had no way of knowing what arranged the probabilities that resulted in my fall, but at least I had gained some understanding of what made Pinkie Sense tick. More importantly, it had given me an idea of what to do next.
"Excuse me, girls," I said. "I think I know how to get Pinkie back. Spike, would you mind helping me down to the lab?"
Spike managed to tear himself away from Rarity long enough to support me down the stairs. I could hear my friends trotting down after me. The high window provided enough light that I didn't need to light any lanterns, but the dimness still required a few seconds to adjust to. The crystals from the day's experiment had been put away, as Spike had said. Most importantly, the pile of borrowed junk was still there, as was my copy of the translation list. I hurried over to the table and pulled out a new piece of parchment.
Along the left hand side I wrote the letters C-O-M-E-B-A-C-K. Next to each letter I wrote the corresponding Pinkie Sense event. "I gave Pinkie a copy of the translation list. If she still has it, and she's still able to get Pinkie Sense messages, and this triggers Pinkie Sense at all, and if she's willing to come back to Ponyville, and if she hasn't gotten hurt out there..." I swallowed. That was a lot of ifs. "Then she'll come back. Applejack, I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
Applejack just looked at me. "Uh...whut?"
"I need you to hit me. As hard as you can. With this door. It's the letter C, you see?"
"Sugarcube, I ain't gonna do that. You're already stumblin' around on three legs, I'd hate to see ya on two."
"You're the only one here that I trust to have fine enough control of your muscles to hurt me without really hurting me. Sorry, Rainbow Dash."
Dash just shrugged. "I know what you're saying. AJ has more finesse than me."
"And what makes you think I can do this without cripplin' you?" Applejack began backing toward the stairs. "If you're gonna insist I do this, I'm just gonna hafta leave."
"You spend hours kicking trees just hard enough to dislodge apples without cracking the trunk in half. And I know you have enough strength to do just that, I've seen it."
"Twi, I'm not gonna hit you!"
"But this might be our only chance to get Pinkie ba—" Something blindsided me, knocking me across the room and sprawling on the floor. I raised my head and shook the stars out of it in time to see Rarity daintily setting the door back down on the pile.
"Really, Applejack," she said reprovingly as the magic faded from her horn. "Was that so hard?"
Applejack blushed and rejoined the rest of the group, not meeting Rarity's eyes. "I still say it ain't right."
"Well. Uh, thank you, Rarity." I dusted myself off, pleasantly surprised that I didn't seem to be injured any more than I already was. "Where did you get that kind of horn strength, anyway?"
"You'd be surprised how much a bolt of fabric weighs, darling."
I checked my list. "Okay, for the next letter, I'll need..." A knock sounded at the door upstairs. "Spike, could you get that?"
"Sure thing, Twilight." He hopped up to the ground floor, taking the stairs two at a time. As soon as the door opened, he came tumbling back down the stairs with a whoof of expelled air. Following closely was a sleek equine figure in washed-out pink with a stormy expression.
"How could you DO this?" Pinkie Pie said, a dark timbre in her voice. "After all I did to keep you lucky. After everything I lost to keep from hurting you. Why can't you let me save you? Why can't you leave me and my black cat alone?"
Everypony looked like they wanted to welcome her home, but none of them said anything. Rainbow Dash in particular looked like she was about to crash through the window to escape from this shadow of Pinkie's former self.
I couldn't think of anything smart to say, so I said something inane instead. "You... you got my message?"
"What message?" Pinkie asked. "My teeth itched, then my flank shuddered."
"That's..." I checked the translation list. "That's not one of our signals."
"I know," she answered. "It's what tells me somepony's doing something desperate for the sake of love."
My curiosity got the better of me. "How do you even know what that feels like?"
Everypony but Rarity glanced at Spike.
"Oh. Heh." I could feel a blush spreading on my cheeks at the comparison. Spike had done some pretty self-sacrificing things to get Rarity's attention, but I don't think he ever asked her to hit him with a door. "So you didn't get any letters, or..."
"Do you know what it's like?" Pinkie shouted, covering the distance between us in a moment. I could feel the heat of her breath against my face. "I don't know how I do any of the things I do! I gave up wondering a long time ago. I gave up wondering about anything. Then I met you, and you wonder about everything, and it got me thinking too. And I forgot to forget that I'm not right, I'm not normal, and Dashie says I'm random, but it's even worse than that, I—"
Pinkie Pie has Pinkie Sense. Fluttershy has her Stare, and Dash has her Rainboom. But me? I'm a librarian, and that comes with a special talent all its own.
Pinkie's eyes snapped open and she staggered back a step. "We're going to talk," I said. "And this time you're going to hear me out. Girls, would you mind giving us some space?" The steel in my voice felt more like lead, but I couldn't back down now. "Spike, you too."
The five of them warily retreated to the ground level of the library, leaving Pinkie and me alone in the lab. Pinkie eyed me warily.
I put on my "teacher" voice, the one I had to use all too often with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. It was an odd tone to have to take with a potential paramour, but Pinkie was always a special case. "The first thing I need to make clear is that I don't blame you for any of this." I closed my eyes and dug deep, willing myself to forgive. "Even for leaving."
Before she could interrupt, I continued. "The second thing I wanted to say is that I really want to make this work. I like you, Pinkie, and I think a relationship with you would be wonderful. More than that, I'm deeply flattered that you feel the same way." According to Mr. Cake, this oblivious mutual longing had been going on for quite some time. I tried to ignore that long dry spell of awareness on my part and continued. "But I'm not a safe pony. I'm a researcher into arcane secrets that even Celestia has only dim awareness of. I'm a close personal friend to the Sun Princess herself, and therefore a political target. Curiosity has nearly killed my cat on a few occasions, and that's not going to change. I need you to accept that."
As I spoke, a curious change overtook Pinkie's hair. At her birthday party, when she found that we cared for her after all, the sudden revelation had caused her hair to suddenly reform, like a stretched spring retaking its shape. But here the emotional shift was more gradual, and the hair along with it. I could see each strand of her hair slowly recoiling, until her hair had the chaotically wavy appearance that it had had in the rain.
"I can try," she said quietly. "But Twilight, what if..."
I stepped closer; I was as close to her as she had been to me when she started rambling. "If something—anything—happens, we can deal with it."
She looked at me; I looked at her. Indecision hung heavy in the air like smoke, and this time the choice wasn't mine to make. For a moment, I even thought she was going to change her mind and walk out the door.
Finally, though, the full frizz returned to her hair and she regained her vibrant hue. Her eyes sparkled with tears. "Silly Pinkie," she said, brightly but a little more slowly than usual. "I should have known that the smartest smarty-pants pony I know would take care of it."
She leaned forwards and pressed her lips to mine. It was a promise, an apology, a celebration, and it was over too soon. "I just realized something!" she said. "I get to throw myself a welcome back party! I'll have to go upstairs and invite everyone and tell them I'm super duper sorry for vanishing! Also I'll have Rarity say sorry for hitting you with a door!"
"Wait, you weren't even there for that! How did you..."
Pinkie winked at me before vanishing up the stairs. "See you later, Twilight!"
"Hey, uh, Twilight?"
I looked up from my book—a biography of the ancient griffon king Skandranon the Great—and saw Spike holding a broom. "Yes, Spike?"
"Isn't your date in fifteen minutes?"
"No, I still have..." I glanced at the clock, which read a quarter to three. "Fifteen minutes. Shoot, I should have been paying better attention, Spike, I'm sorry."
"Do you need help cleaning before Pinkie gets here?"
I closed the book and put it away. "That would be wonderful. Thank you."
Spike got to work sweeping and I did my best to mitigate the kind of clutter that happens whenever I'm around a lot of research material. I knew that Pinkie knew just how cluttered the library could be, but I figured I owed it to her to put in the effort. Spike had initially been reluctant to help out ("I'm not gonna help you clean, she's your marefriend") but I'd convinced Rarity that Spike was very interested in the art of millinery, and she had agreed to give him hat-making lessons on Tuesdays at three. The only challenging part had been getting Pinkie to agree to dates on a regular schedule. Once I was done with that bit of negotiation, everypony was happy with the arrangements.
The weird thing was, I think Spike was starting to develop a genuine interest in hats.
"Hey, Twilight?" Spike asked from across the room.
"Did you ever figure out what it was that...you know...got you and Pinkie together?"
"Ah, the so-called 'coincidence.' Actually, I have been putting some thought into that." I carefully carried a large stack of books through the air into an open spot on the shelves. "Here's a question: What's the most powerful magical force known to Equestrians?"
Spike's face screwed up in thought. "Princess Celestia?"
I shook my head. "No. There are some things even Celestia can't do. And when she came up against a problem she couldn't solve..."
"The Elements of Harmony!"
"Right." I looked around at the library and decided it was good enough. "Go ahead and take a break, Spike."
Spike leaned the broom against the wall and sat down on the floor. "So what makes you think the Elements were behind everything that happened?"
"When Celestia sent us to Ponyville, she was playing a long game, betting us against Nightmare Moon's return. She had done her research; she knew who and where the Elements were. But there was no way she could have gotten all five of them in one place. Sure, only Applejack was born here, but all of them came to live here of their own free will. The fact that all of them lived in Ponyville was either a massive, massive coincidence, or the kind of reality-altering magic we've never seen. Given what we know of the Elements' power, I'm guessing the latter."
"Okay, so the Elements have the power. What makes you think they'd have a reason?"
"That, I don't know. Maybe romantic love is more powerful, somehow, than platonic friendship. Maybe it's just to make sure that the bearers of the Elements are as happy as possible. I really doubt we'll ever know the reasons. Heck, I don't think I'll even be able to prove—"
A short pattern of knocks sounded from the door to the library. There was a pause as Spike got up to get the door, and then there was a much longer impromptu drum solo. I swear I heard a cymbal in there somewhere before Spike got the door open.
"Hi Spike! Helllllooooooo Twilight!" Pinkie leapt into the room, her bulging saddlebags not slowing her down in the least. "I brought the stuff! I brought too much stuff, really, but we can always make more than we need! It's not like there's such a thing as too many cookies anyway!"
Spike chuckled. "Have fun, you guys."
"Goodbye, Spike!" I said, moving to help Pinkie with her bags.
"Bye Spikey-hikey! Have fun making hats and staring at Rarity when you think she's not looking!"
"Jeez, Pinkie, do you have to say that every week?" I saw just a hint of blush on Spike's face as he shut the door.
I lifted off Pinkie's saddlebags. So unencumbered, she turned and kissed me, so suddenly that I could barely keep my mind on my magic. Fortunately, I managed not to drop anything or collapse in a lovestruck heap.
"So," I said once she broke off. "What recipe are we making this week?"
"I loaned you the cookbook, silly!"
"Ah. Right. That." I pulled the borrowed cookbook down off the shelf. "I decided that it'd be good to get some context on the recipe we were making, so I read the book from the beginning, and then I read it again, adding annotations, and... somehow I lost the bookmark that you marked the recipe with."
"Well, that just means that you can pick which recipe we make!" She stuck her head into her bags. "I think I have enough in here to make anything."
I flipped open the cookbook. "Do you even have..."
"Well...I'm still not too confident." Not to mention that I could probably milk my relative incompetence at baking for some 'hooves-on training.' "How about chocolate chip cookies?"
"Oooh! Those will go great with some macadamia nuts!" Pinkie grabbed her bags in her mouth and bolted off to the kitchen.
"Wait! I thought Fluttershy was allergic!"
"It's not like she's going to eat them!" Pinkie poked her head from around the wall. I could already see a cloud of flour forming behind her, but thought it better not to ask. "Twilight, you have weird ideas sometimes."
I glanced at one of the upper shelves of the library, at my annotated copy of The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide. It was brand new, sent to me from one of the royal libraries in Canterlot after Discord had hollowed out my old copy. I'm not a superstitious pony, but I still sent the book a mental 'thank-you' before following Pinkie into the kitchen, a little smile on my face. "You know what, Pinkie? I really do."
(A.N.: Thanks for reading! This story was inspired by the short story "Murder and Suicide, Respectively" written by Ryan North from the collection Machine of Death.)