Chapter 1 – Loneliness and Marzipan Houses

It was a frosty evening in the middle of winter and Fluttershy was by the lake with a loaf of bread, kindly offering pieces to a family of pleased ducks that quacked happily upon her arrival. She smiled cheerfully and broke off several bite-sized portions, dropping them gently into the edge of the lake. The young ducks ate their meal and quacked a small 'thank you' in return.

This was where Fluttershy felt the most comfortable, when she was helping animals and basking in the glory of mother-nature. As fascinating as the natural world was, she knew that it could be cruel and terrifying. She'd witnessed poor, defenceless creatures die in her hooves and would often find the remains of a once cute, furry little animal strewn across the forest floor. When she first discovered her love for animals; the stark realisation of the circle of life and all that it entailed had scarred her. It took her many years to get over her fears, instead remembering that it's the joy that you can bring animals while they're alive that matters most.

As she dished out the last of the bread, the younglings paddled their way to their parents. The duck couple waved with one wing and Fluttershy waved back. "Don't forget to keep warm this winter!" she called out. The ducks nodded and went on their way, the family huddling together and looking as happy as could be.

The yellow pegasus watched them and felt a hint of sadness grasp at her heart. She had tended to so many animal families over the years, and in a sense she felt that the animals she kept as pets were her family, but she knew that it was stupid to think in such a way. She yearned to have a family of her own. Ponies had often made comments about how she'd make a great mother, and while she'd taken the compliment with a smile, part of her just wanted to break down and cry.

She'd never been romantically involved with a stallion before. In fact, she'd barely spoken to stallions at all, and especially not in an effort to pursue a relationship. She had never really spoken to her friends about meeting a stallion either. Rarity had once offered to set her up with a client of hers, but she was far too embarrassed to even talk about it. She simply didn't know how she could ever form a bond with a male pony, and the idea of physical intimacy made her feel weak. It seemed like a lost cause. Sighing to herself, she trotted away from the lake with her head held low, ready for another night spent alone.

"No peeking, now! You wouldn't want to ruin the surprise!"

"Uh… sure thing Pinkie…"

Pinkie had blindfolded Mr and Mrs Cake and was shuffling them towards Sugarcube Corner's kitchen. It was something that they'd grown used to over the years, but they were never really sure what to expect. Ever since she'd revealed the infamous 'exploding donuts' they had been especially wary. Pinkie's heart was always in the right place, but it didn't mean she couldn't cause unwanted misery.

"OK, just a little further… Now stop!"

Mr and Mrs Cake stopped in their tracks. Pinkie whipped off their blindfolds and gestured towards her crowning achievement. The Cake couple smiled weakly in unison as they looked over what lay before them.

"Wow, Pinkie," Mr Cake said, not quite believing his eyes. "You've built a gingerbread house. A really, really big one."

"Oh, no, no, no!" Pinkie chirped excitedly, hopping over to the colourful house that took up almost half of the entire kitchen. "This isn't just gingerbread. It's everything! I used marzipan for the roof tiles, icing for the window frames, taffy for the doorframe, milk chocolate for the walls, even cotton candy for the smoke coming from the chimney! And look!" The pink mare pulled open the house's door. "Rock candy for door hinges!"

"But Pinkie," Mrs Cake trembled, taking a closer look at the sugary behemoth. "Where are we going to put this? And how did you get all the ingredients for something this big?"

"You can leave it right here! As for the ingredients, you may need to restock the cupboards. Anyway, I thought this would be a great playhouse for Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake! They can play in it, and if they get hungry, they don't even need to get out!"

As the speechless couple shared a sigh in unison, their will to argue spent, Pinkie skipped past them and began sorting through a stash of streamers, balloons, banners and various other bits and bobs in the clearly marked, 'Pinkie's Party Pantry'. She decided on cool, wintery colours like blue and silver to line the edges of the room, setting aside some glittery tinsel. She wouldn't be able to start decorating until the following evening, but she wanted to have everything planned to the finest detail because this would be her best party ever! Of course, this is what she always strived for with each new party, but this time was going to be different.

Pinkie glanced over her guest list, a picture of each pony next to a ticked box to signify that she'd delivered their invitation. There was of course: Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy, Applejack and Rarity. Spike had been invited, but she didn't expect him to be there. Twilight had only said that he would feel uncomfortable being there and nothing more, but Pinkie knew that it must have something to do with Rarity. It always had something to do with Rarity where Spike was concerned. There was also Derpy Hooves, Colgate, Lyra, Bon Bon, Berry Punch, Vinyl Scratch and Octavia. Pinkie felt that in order to make her parties even better she had to expand her horizons beyond the other elements of harmony. Also, she was curious about Bon Bon's 'voices' and what Derpy would be like after a few drinks. Vinyl Scratch would take care of the music, which meant one less thing for her to worry about.

Pinkie finished categorizing her party decorations, ended her night with a mug of hot chocolate and went to bed. As much as she wanted to sleep so that she could see tomorrow sooner, she fidgeted in her bed for nearly two hours, gleefully imagining the amazingness that her party would achieve. She could see Twilight and Octavia chatting intelligently about scientific music and musical science. She could see Vinyl Scratch teaching Rainbow Dash how to be a DJ, and Rainbow failing miserably. She just knew that this party would be her greatest achievement, even better than the marzipan playhouse she'd made! Eventually, the hyped-up mare drifted off to sleep, dreaming of all the fun that they were bound to have.

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Fluttershy was awoken by her pet cockerel that stood proudly atop the roof of her house. She rubbed her eyes and stretched. Normally she was the type of mare who could get up and go without any trouble, but today wasn't the case. Dwelling on her misfortune had only exhausted her. She began to wonder if every morning for the rest of her life would be like this – No pitter-patter of a foal's hooves against the wood flooring and no handsome stallion led next to her, whispering "Good morning," into her ear with each new day. Instead, she only heard the loud thumping of an impatient rabbit with a growling stomach.

"OK, Angel. I'll make breakfast right away."

It was a pleasant enough morning, with a virtually cloudless sky and the harmonious chirping of birds beyond the window. Fluttershy diligently whipped up a salad for both Angel and herself, then got to work on feeding the rest of her animals. It was an arduous, time-consuming task, but after so many years she was used to it.

With the animals fed, she slumped onto her sofa gracelessly. There was plenty of housework to do; she'd promised to help Rainbow Dash with her pet tortoise, Tank, and there was Pinkie's evening party to look forward to. None of these things were particularly note-worthy as far as her life was concerned. As much as she loved helping animals and partying with Pinkie, the unwavering routine of her life was beginning to get her down. It had been a long time since she'd had any kind of crazy adventure with her friends. It had been far too long. Even though she was shy, timid and often cowardly, it didn't mean that she didn't crave excitement. If she was busy saving the world or travelling to faraway places then she wouldn't be left mulling over her pathetic existence. The pegasus sighed and grabbed a duster. The house wasn't going to clean itself.

"Now Pinkie, make sure you don't let anypony go anywhere but the main shop floor and the bathroom."

"You've got it Mr C!"

"And don't be too loud."

"Understood!"

"And make sure the party is over by eleven at the latest. I don't want Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake getting disturbed."

"You betcha!"

"And… and Pinkie?"

"Yuh-huh?"

"Can you not balance a cupcake on your nose while I'm talking to you?"

Pinkie flipped the cupcake into the air and caught it in her mouth with ease. "Mmm hmmm!"

Mr Cake sighed and muttered something under his breath before wandering upstairs. Pinkie quickly gobbled up her cupcake and began pacing up and down the room in anticipation of her friends' arrival. There was a buffet already laid out with cupcakes, muffins, sweet-rolls, punch, salad, cheesecake, trifle, jelly, crisps, pretzels and an assortment of other snacks. Most of the cooking had been done by Pinkie herself, with a few things that were bought with the money she'd earned from pulling extra shifts.

It was nearing 6 o' clock, and Pinkie was beginning to get anxious. "Where could they be?!" she said aloud, pulling back the curtains and peering out the window. Just as she did so, there was a knock at the door. Feeling a sudden burst of energy, she leapt to the door and opened it excitedly. Stood outside was white unicorn with a spiky blue mane.

"Wazzup, Pinkie Pie!" Vinyl Scratch cheered as she entered, levitating a portable turntable and some records.

"Welcome! Oh, and nothing's up. Oh wait, you mean my party! In that case, everything is um… up!"

"Sweet as sugar," Vinyl replied casually as she set up her decks at the side of the room. "Octavia will be here later. She's just spending the best part of a decade sprucing herself up with makeup. Hey, do you have anything to drink? Something strong would be awesome."

"Oh, Mr Cake has a secret stash of rum in the kitchen. I could get some of that if you wanted."

"Sounds good. It's been way too long since I got hammered. It's been… like… a week."

Pinkie rummaged through the compartment at the back of one of the cupboards and presented a bottle of Griffonian rum to Vinyl Scratch. As the eccentric DJ roguishly took a swig straight from the bottle, the party pony danced giddily as she saw Twilight and Rarity approach the bakery. This would be the best party, ever!

Fluttershy clicked off the lights, sighing weakly as her silhouette was cast across the cottage floor. The empty cottage. The lonely cottage. She stroked back her mane and took a deep breath, curving the corners of her mouth into a smile, the same smile she'd practiced in front of the mirror for the past few years. Vaguely satisfied, she closed the door and began her flight to Sugarcube Corner. Hopefully, being with her friends tonight would take her mind off things.