"Colgate! Colllllllga- *hic* -ate!" The call came in loud and clear from the other side of Colgate's front door. Colgate groaned and put down her book in a huff. For now she just sunk into her armchair a little deeper, trying to pretend like she didn't know exactly what was coming next. Sure, she could pretend not to be home for now, but it was only a matter of time until-
"Col-whoa!" A loud thump shook her front door. Colgate winced, despite pretty much expecting that. This was the point at which she usually got up to stop the pony on the other side from harming herself (or the house) too greatly. But she had been out nearly every night this week, and couldn't understand why she could get a little peace. So maybe if she waited just a little longer than usual...
"Colgate! I know yur- oooof." The call wasn't quite coming from the door anymore. Oh no, Colgate thought. She wasn't. She wasn't really-
"Hiya Colgate!" the suddenly much louder and clearer voice greeted Colgate from her window. Colgate finally looked over, and sure enough a sloppy grin greeted her from the window, attached to a rather sloppy pony busy clambering through said portal. She hadn't expected Berry Punch to be quite this insistent, but the inebriated mare was single-minded when it came to exactly two things - booze, and getting others to drink it with her.
"Hello Berry. I didn't hear you at the door." Colgate lied, not even really angry. There was something to be said for Berry's... it wasn't exactly loyalty per say but she seemed dedicated to make sure her friends were having the same 'good time' she was apparently having. Berry grunted and huffed as she heaved herself through Colgate's half-open window. Her brilliant plan apparently hadn't included opening the window more than halfway, and Colgate had to admit the sight of the pink pony trying to haul herself in by her forelegs was too morbidly interesting to put a stop to. It was a lot like watching... well, not to be mean, but it was like watching a train wreck. You just wanted to see how much damage it would end with, and how spectacularly it would go wrong.
"Y'really need to get your boor dell unbroken, y'know." Berry scolded her, one foreleg waggling helplessly as she tried to reach the floor. Colgate briefly thought back to the day she had torn her doorbell from the frame. That had been a good day.
"Any day now." Colgate replied. Belatedly, she added. "Would you like some help?"
Berry had gotten her forelegs on the ground, but had encountered a stopping point. There was simply no way her flanks were getting through without opening the window several inches more. Tongue peeking out with concentration, Berry grunted and heaved hopelessly, oblivious to the fact that her backside firmly wedged in the window, hind legs dangling limp in midair. Colgate could only hope no young foals walked by outside her house.
"I... got it...." Berry insisted, pawing at the carpet. Colgate sighed and lit her horn. The window came wide open, and Berry suddenly fell forward as her hindquaters came free. Colgate tried to stifle a snort as Berry's face hit carpet. She completely failed to hide her laughter as the rest of Berry followed suit from the momentum, flopping over and leaving the pink mare flat on her back, only slightly more dazed than when she had begun. Colgate looked up from her snickering to find Berry trying to get herself upright. She had managed to roll on to her side, but apparently each of her legs had its own idea on how to move forward, and none of them were in agreement.
"I, huff, I gotta whatshit fer you!" Berry told her, managing to get the majority of her hooves underneath her and working from there. Colgate raised an eyebrow.
"A what now?"
"A, you know! A thing with the.... a shupurshe!" Berry smiled triumphantly.
"Like I shaid, I got....what did I shay again?" Berry blinked ever so slowly at Colgate from across the room.
"I think it involved booze." Colgate replied glibly. Berry gave a very unabahsed belch.
"No thanks, I'm good." she finished with, wiping a hoof across her mouth. She looked around, perking up as she found the front door.
"C'mon, we're going up. Through. Shidewaysh." Berry stumbled over her words, heading for the door.
"Out? And... did you just say no to drink?" Colgate asked, not budging from her armchair. Now came the fun of watching Berry battle the doorknob. The earth pony's hooves seemed to be coated in butter when it came to any kind of dextrous action, never managing to grip the device for more than a second.
"Sure! I got a... um..."
"Surprise." Colgate sighed. "Here." She got the door, just glad that Berry hadn't decided to leave the way she came in. Grunting in surprise as the door seemed to open itself, Berry Punch swayed out into the evening sun. Colgate bit her lip, considering closing and locking the door and window while she had the chance. Her inner demons (aloofness and alcoholism) were still in heated debate when Berry's head stuck back through the doorframe. Her angry scowl was diminished rather considerably by the fact that she couldn't keep her eyes straight.
"Colgate, I shaid we're going down already!"
"Not without a few more drinks for us both, I hope." Colgate replied. She finally slid off the chair and on to her hooves, knowing the battle lost. Berry turned and waited, her purple mop of a tail swishing back and forth slowly. All else said and done, there was a certain.... rhythm to Berry Punch, even when she was at her most pickled. Colgate began a little... hobby... of hers; counting. Berry's tail moved at three seconds a cycle. She could hear Berry's breathing, the mare apparently rather labored by her trek over and through the window. That moved at two-point-two seconds a cycle. Berry swayed her hips back and forth at three and a third seconds a cycle, give or take. Colgate slipped into a rhythm following behind Berry, as she always did.
Time. Colgate was accutely aware of it. She couldn't turn it off. There went a second, there went another one. She was told it was a gift. Almost all unicorn magic was, by nature, spatial. Even Twilight Sparkle seemed more comfortable with levitation, teleportation, transmutation... matters of spatial locality. Colgate couldn't manipulate time, not directly, but she could see all of it. She could see tomorrow on the horizon, and looking over her shoulder she saw yesterday. And while at first it had felt like such a gift, like when she got her cutie mark - she effectively saved her aunt's life by noticing she had no tomorrow coming, getting her to go in for a check-up mere hours before a heart attack would have put an end to her - but over time, she began to see that everywhere. There was an hourglass over everypony's head, and all Colgate could do was add a little more sand if they followed her advice. It didn't matter if her horn was lit or not, that just made it easier to see specifics. If she kept to herself, the only pony's hourglass she saw was her own. It should've been comforting how much sand was still left in it, but all Colgate could see was each second falling...
The alcohol wasn't a great solution, she knew. She woke up some mornings to find too much sand had fallen through her hourgless. But at least for a little bit, she couldn't see anyone's hourglass. It turned off, and she could enjoy herself. So she and Berry both knew that when one came knocking, the other was going to tag along. But if Colgate played this game she could pretend... she could pretend that the only reason she got together with Berry was because they were both drunk, and not because the pink mare was the only pony who had ever brought Colgate some real peace.
"Iffff y'feel like not shtarin- ah, who am I kiddin', keep shtaring, but we're here!" Berry told her, giving her trademark sloppy grin as she looked over her shoulder at Colgate.
"We're... where?" Colgate looked up. Not enough time had passed for them to be at Berry's usual haunts. In fact, the only thing Colgate could think of this time from her house...
"Here?" Colgate asked, brow furrowed as she regarded the old schoolhouse in front of them. Berry was already heading for the door.
"Cheerilee-ilee-ilee promished she'd keep it unlock-ed." Berry explained, pushing the door in. Curious, Colgate followed her inside. The one-room schoolhouse didn't even look all that different from when she and Berry had attended. There were still cubbies along the wall for students to put lunchsacks and, in the winter, booties in. Paper cutouts of the alphabet ringed the interior, doused in glitter that occasionally caught the evening sun coming in through the open windows. Colgate found her eyes going from desk to desk as she followed Berry towards the front of the room. Some things... some things time simply didn't touch.
"S'where, s'where all the important shtuff happens." Berry said, her words coming slowly as she chose them with purpose. "S'where you an' I met. S'where I last saw m-my mother..." Colgate's gaze went to the teacher's desk. It had looked so huge as a filly, and truth be told, there was still something intimidating about that desk. How many generations had passed on either side, she wondered? How many more would? Time moved forward here, yet at the same time, not quite...
"Cheerilee does her memory proud." Colgate said, her sympathy sincere. She hadn't expected this, and was trying to understand what drunk logic had brought them here on a Saturday night.
"Yeah. She does." Berry's voice held that tint of jealousy that she never managed to hide when her little sister came up. Colgate had talked to Cheerilee about it once, finding that the schoolmare knew, but it was just easier to let Berry think she hid it. So Colgate said nothing, simply watching at Berry turned aside from the desk. The pink mare looked up at the ceiling, turning around so her back was to the blackboard. Colgate's mind brought her back over a decade, watching a pink filly with a goofy grin do just as she did now.
"Your part's first." Berry said. Colgate paused, but Berry was clearly entirely serious about this. This was not the kind of drunk logic that led Berry to attempt a reverse stage-dive or steal a piano. Something was up. So Colgate lit her horn, flinching as time's ghost showed her the building's age, even some of the last schoolday, and removed a single plank in the wooden celing. Berry gave a swift kick, and down came an old rope ladder, unfurling all the way to the floor. The rungs weren't spaced very far apart.
"It's still there?" she asked, mostly expecting nothing to happen and Berry to be having some kind of episode. "It can't be safe."
"Trusht me." Berry gave a very goofy grin, obviously forcing it a little. "Miiiiiight want to take out a clople more boardsh though." Berry heaved herself on to her hind legs. Colgate moved instinctively as Berry swayed dangerously far back, but by flinging out her forelegs like she was walking a tightrope the pickled mare managed to right herself. Once her forelegs were stuck in between rungs of the ladder Berry looked... well, 'stable' was too strong a word, but the chance she was going to fall over had diminished ever so slightly. Colgate watched, somewhat in awe as Berry managed to heave herself up rung after rung. It was an act of acrobatics for the mare, but she managed.
"Berry... this is dangerous. Let's go to the Blue Mare." Colgate liked the Blue Mare. The patron had a quirky sense of humor, and gave Colgate a discount for "free advertising". Plus, it was mares only, so she felt less awkward when Berry forgot that Colgate wasn't entirely comfortable with public displays yet. Which she did feel bad about, she had to admit, after all, they had been together for...
"Oh no way." Colgate's eyes widened. How had she forgotten. How had she not realized? That was what she did. She counted. Each second, each minute. Well, 31,536,000 seconds, or 525,600 minutes, or to cut to the chase three-hundred and sixty-five days had passed since Berry Punch had dragged her out to the bar and come back home with her that first time. One year since...
"Berry..." Colgate had been lost counting and recounting the days since she and Berry had gotten together, and not noticed that the inebriated mare had made it all the way up, and even pushed aside more loose boards (Colgate could've sworn there had only been one...) to get through. Colgate heard shuffling, but no response. Swallowing hard, Colgate glanced at the rope ladder. Well, it had held Berry's weight after all.
Colgate took the steps slowly, barely able to wedge her hooves between the rungs. She distracted herself with the memories that came welling up so readily. It had taken some doing, figuring out how to get up to the loft as little fillies. But when you had as much time as the two of them found themselves with... Colgate smiled, remembering just how many of Berry's crazy schemes had ended with the both of them in detention (it was all of them). There was the great Repeatable Homework scheme, and the Sally Sunflowers Revenge caper, and of course who could forget the Day of Peanut Butter Everything. Being the teacher's daughter hadn't afforded Berry a hint of leniency either, and enough afternoons had been spent alone in this room that they had decided to make it their own. A little bit of earth pony ingenuity and filly unicorn magic, and the abandoned loft to the schoolhouse had become "Berry and Colgate's Secret Club", where they could wile away the afternoons doodling, reading, and plotting their next big school-livening scheme.
All that ended when Colgate's family moved to Canterlot, though. Come to think of it, Colgate had broken the news to her best friend here in the schoolhouse. It had been where they had said goodbye, promising they'd see each other again... and they did. Colgate had never liked Canterlot. There was a strange kind of ambient racism; nopony said it, but there was always that underlying sentiment of 'thank Celestia we live in Canterlot and not some place with earth ponies' that Colgate had never appreciated. She'd trade away her horn any day, especially if it meant she'd get a liver like Berry's (there was something to said for being a cheap drunk though). She had always wanted to come back, and truth be told, she had never really forgotten Berry, or her little sister Cheerilee. So when she was all grown up, on her own and with enough bits to her name, she came back... and found her childhood friend in tatters.
So maybe part of why she was with Berry because she felt she owed the mare. Shortly after she left, Berry's mother had died, shocking her girls since she had so carefully hidden the disease eating away at her heart. Their father hadn't been able to take it, and... Cheerilee had gotten out okay, but only because Berry had worked so hard to pick up the slack of both her parents, one dead and the other drowning himself in liquor. People looked at a wrecked drunk who didn't have the will to get herself clean, but how easy was it to sober up when whiskey was all your father offered you for dinner when you were little? They saw a wreck, not knowing that it had been everypony that left her - Colgate, her mother, her father, her foal's father - that had wrecked her. People wondered why her kid hadn't been taken away - and that was because, drunk or not, Berry would never do anything to harm little Ruby, and had more years of practice being a mother than any mare her age had right to.
Colgate thought she understood, understood why they were here, and why now. Berry knew about Colgates powers (or problems, as she put them) and didn't really ever seem to care. But she also knew time was legitimately important to Colgate. The counting could soothe her fears as much as incite them. She knew how special this little anniversary would be. Still, Colgate was a little surprised as her head poked into the loft to find Berry all set up with a picnic blanket, basket, and bottle of champagne. She was really going all out. There was a filled glass in Berry's hoof, the pink mare staring hard at it.
"I promised m'self I'd only have a little, y'know, put shome backbone in me. Haff a bottle later, and... n-no, this un's yours..." Berry put the glass down, hoof shaking. Her eyes didn't leave the glass.
"Berry..." Colgate heaved herself up. She had never seen Berry try this hard at... anything. Oh, she had talked about getting dry before, but it was always tomorrow. Deep down, Colgate was pretty sure it was her fault. Truth was, she needed the drink just as much as Berry did.
Looking around, Colgate noticed something odd as she approached.
"There's only one glass." she said. Berry nodded.
"Thought it'd shtop me an' all. I'm such a screw-"
"Hush." Colgate replied, having reached Berry and now placing a hoof over the mare's cheek. "A screw-up couldn't have got all this set up." She sat down beside Berry. The pink mare shook her head.
"Cheerilee helped me get it all up."
"But it was your idea, wasn't it?"
"Well, y-yeah." Berry admitted. "I wanted, I was thinking 'bout, how... well, you keep putting up wi' me. Drag me home at night an' make sure I get into bed. 'bout how you act like y' really care, an'.... an' like I really matter."
"Berry, you... you matter."
"Yeah, I know, I know. Fer somethin'. But even if yer just here 'cause we used to be friends, that... that's enough." Berry closed her eyes. "I think."
"That's not why I'm here, Berry." Colgate replied. Berry just shook her head, so Colgate placed a hoof on the mare's shoulder.
"I mean it."
"Yeah. Yer here because if you're drunk you don't get the whole death thing going on."
"If that was true, why'd I need you." Colgate replied, wrapping her foreleg around Berry's shoulders. "Come on, you didn't bring me here to say this, did you?"
"N-no." Berry admitted. "But... I, I ain't gonna ask until I know." she opened her eyes. "Colgate, d'we, d'we got a future?"
The question made Colgate still inside. She was almost afraid to look, but that part of her that wouldn't turn off, that part of her that watched the sand tick by... began to count ahead. Seconds, minutes, three hours passed before they would leave the schoolhouse. Colgate could see them trade a smile, and she reached over to brush Berry's mane. Two days passed, and she saw herself in Berry's living room, the widest smile she had seen anywhere on her own face as she hugged an enthusiastic Ruby tight. A year later, and Ruby was hopping up and down on Berry's bed, trying to wake... trying to wake the both of them.
Colgate held Berry tight a moment, searching the past. Truth was, all they seemed to do was go out and drink. But it wasn't like either of them drank with anypony else. Berry would get herself in to various antics and Colgate... Colgate would tag along, just like she always had. Angry bartenders replaced angry schoolteachers, but otherwise it was almost the same. When they didn't go drinking, Colgate found herself at home, by herself... thing was, Berry knew when she was going to die. In a drunken fit one night after they had gotten kicked out Colgate had yelled it at her. The next night... they went out drinking. Nothing could shake this mare's loyalty. Not to her family, and that family included - could include...
"I'm in love with you." Colgate said softly. She said those words, and as Berry looked up at her, her heart skipped a beat. A single beat, and... the rhythm broke. The counting stopped, for now at least.
"And you know what?" Colgate asked as Berry Punch moved, wrapping her arms around her lover. "Yes."
"We've got all the time in the world."