She was so nervous that she was pacing. In public. With dozens and dozens of ponies around to see. And only one of them paid her the slightest attention.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” came a serious-sounding voice from behind her. Twilight turned and saw a frowning pegasus guard glaring at her. She recognised him. His name was Eagle Eye, and he had a reputation for watchfulness. “Are you alright? Can I help you with something?”
“No, that’s... That’s okay, I’m... I’m fine,” she said, slightly nervously.
“You don’t seem fine. It’s unseemly to pace around like you own the place, ma’am,” he said. “This is the entrance plaza of the Palace, you know. A lot of important ponies here.”
“Oh, I’m s-s-sorry,” Twilight managed, now starting to sound very nervous indeed. There weren’t so much butterflies in her stomach as griffons. Flocks of them.
“Are you alright?” the guard asked again, expression softening slightly. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you seem upset.” The expression hardened again as his training overrode his solicitude. “This is a public plaza, but it’s still part of the Palace. And you’re acting suspicious.” His eyes narrowed.
“I’m just... I’m waiting for a... a f-friend,” she said, almost whispering the final word. She was starting to sound moderately terrified.
She wasn’t terrified about the guard at any rate - she had no reason to be. She was perfectly within her rights to be doing what she was doing - she could do anything she wanted, after all - though it might give the guard a heart attack if she pointed out exactly who she was. She was nervous, and yes, a little terrified, because he wasn’t here yet and she didn’t know if it was because he was late or she was early. She genuinely could not remember what time they were meeting each other.
“Okay, ma’am. Sorry to sound so rude, but would you mind waiting for your friend in a slightly less obtrusive manner? As I said, this may be a public plaza but it’s still the Castle, and you’re not Royalty.” He should know. He knew every Prince, Princess, Lord and Lady that lived here. This young earth mare was certainly not one of the seven earth Princesses, nor one of the two hundred or so earth Ladies that lived in the vast Ponytopia Castle and Royal Palace.
“I, uh, sure. Sorry. No problem,” Twilight said. She turned and trotted shakily off the main concourse and took a seat along one of the walls. The guard had resumed what had to be his patrol route, but he was shooting her glances every few seconds.
Where is he? Is he late? Am I early? Did he say eight or eight thirty? It’s seven past eight already, good grief, how will I even recognise him? He might already be here and looking for me too, why didn’t we tell each other how we were going to disguise ourselves -
“Hi,” said a green earth pony as he sat down next to her. The stranger had spoken in Starburst’s voice.
“How did you recognise me?” she hissed as she shot to her hooves. He followed suit, backside having hardly touched the low seat. “I was starting to get worried, I thought you were late and then I thought I was early -”
“I don't know,” he said. “I couldn't remember if I said eight or half past eight, so I thought I'd get here early just in case, I saw you talking to that guard, I knew it was you, well, I thought it was you,” he said in a rush, looking at least as nervous as she felt. “I didn’t know until I got close, but I can recognise you.” He grinned awkwardly.
She looked closely at him. She’d never seen this stallion in her life, but now that she was actually looking... He was there. In the way he stood, in the shape of his smile, how he held his head...
“That’s amazing,” she said. “I never realised before just how well I know you.”
“Same here. You’re damn right it’s amazing, you don’t look like you at all, but you’re still you,” he said, gesturing along the plaza towards the enormous Castle gate. “Shall we? Our supper awaits.”
“So where are we going?” she asked, barely managing to keep the excitement out of her voice. She felt so young. She felt like a giddy little filly on her first date.
This is your first date, you giddy little filly.
“You grew up in Ponyville, right?” he asked.
“Canterlot. Well, no, sort of.” Her inexplicable wooziness was making her sound like a nutcase. She shook her head and tried to explain. “Well, I was born in Canterlot, and I grew up there. But I did most of my real growing-up in Ponyville. You know the story, I was sent there when I was eighteen to do that little job for Celestia, and I somehow ended up staying for three hundred years.” A slight frown creased her brow as she remembered the reason she’d left. She shook her head again, putting Rarity’s funeral from her mind. Tonight was not the time for that kind of reminiscence - it only reminded her about how Starburst was going to die one day, and how she never would, and how damned unfair that was - not to him, to her. She wasn’t going to let thoughts like those spoil this night.
The frown vanished and she smiled quizzically at him as they trotted through the Castle’s main entrance and started down the sweeping walkway to the street. “Why do you ask? Not that I mind,” she added hastily. That was odd. She’d just second-guessed something she’d said to him. She suddenly didn’t want to sound like she was giving him orders, something she’d never done anyway.
I’m so nervous! Calm down. Get a grip, Twilight.
“I’m just curious,” she finished.
“I thought I’d take you to Ponyville for dinner.”
Twilight actually managed a laugh. “That hole? It doesn’t deserve the name,” she said. They’d eaten there before and neither of them had been impressed with the fare. Of course, the one time they’d been there, it was an official function that she’d been invited to, followed by an official dinner. Far less important than tonight. Then, they’d celebrated some noblepony’s fiftieth birthday and then just had dinner. Just an unimportant dinner. Then, they weren’t... going to dinner.
“No, no,” he said. “Not that awful restaurant. There’s a park, way over in the Forest Quarter. It’s called Ponyville Park, probably named after the old village too. It should be pretty much empty this time of the evening, and there’s this nice little row of picnic tables. I made dinner,” he said sheepishly.
They hopped into one of the magically-powered carriages that waited at the stands on Royal Junction Way. Twilight took a seat on the back bench, and Starburst popped down facing her on the front one. The carriage started trundling off towards the tram depot.
At the same moment, they both realised that they were each looking everywhere but at the other. They laughed.
“This is crazy,” Twilight said. “We’ve known each other for years and suddenly we’re too embarrassed to look one another in the eye!” They both laughed again.
They immediately resumed looking anywhere but at each other.
The ride didn’t take long. In all of five minutes they were walking into the Royal Quarter cross-city tram station. Starburst started into a slow trot as he looked at the trams.
“This one’ll take us there, c’mon, quickly, it’s about to leave!” he said, trotting onto a tram carriage with ‘TREETON’ emblazoned on its destination sign. Twilight cantered along behind him, eyes taking in the sights. She didn’t often get to walk around in public and even though she’d helped to build this station, she’d never been inside it. “The park’s pretty close to the tram station too,” he said, taking a seat on one of the long benches that ran down each side of the carriage. Twilight sat down next to him as the tram started off with a jolt, moving out of the station and up onto the leafy vine-like overhead wires and curving tree-shaped supports that comprised Ponytopia’s citywide public transport system.
Twilight stared out the tram windows at her bustling city. She’d never really seen the city like this. Celestia and Luna liked to amuse themselves by occasionally wandering around incognito in public, but she’d never done so before. These were her subjects as they really were. Not bowing and scraping, not half-terrified out of their wits at meeting a Princess. If she were to drop her disguise right now, she knew there’d be a literal riot on this carriage as ponies fought to be the first one to get down on their knees in front of her.
This disguise idea was brilliant. She planned to use it a lot from now on.
To be a normal pony for a day...
“I thought this would be much better than just teleporting,” Starburst said. “And besides, I couldn’t have taken you along, and you don’t know where the park is. Sunny told me that you could teleport other ponies even when you were a young mare.” They’d agreed not to drop any names in case they were overheard. For the last few generations since the building of the city, a resurgence in Royalistic pride made ponies feel that naming their foals after one of the three Princesses was in bad taste, and perhaps even insulting to the Royals. If he’d said ‘Celestia,’ there could be only one pony in the world he could possibly have been talking about. And even though there were only half a dozen other ponies in this carriage built for fifty, and none of them particularly close, there was no reason to take risks.
“‘Sunny’ would get a kick out of that nickname,” Twilight grinned. “I’m going to start calling her that. What about Big Sister? Moony?” she asked with a grin.
“Loony,” he offered, smirking.
They both laughed, then she turned wistful. “The teleportation thing... My translocation's always been unusually powerful, ever since I first set hoof in that ancient room that held the Element... I think the Element did it. It started to magnify my magic, until it magnified it too much for a unicorn to handle. Hardly anypony ever learns to translocate. I think I’ve met, what, three? Three that I remember who could. Apart from myself and my Sisters,” she added. Then she grinned. “Three, heh. I meant four, of course. I forgot to count you.”
He looked embarrassed. “I can only go a couple of miles, you know. You can go to the moon. You could probably go to the sun. Heck, you could probably visit the stars. And I certainly can’t take other ponies along with me.”
“You never know,” she said. “Magic is your talent, and your magic is still getting stronger every day. You constantly amaze me with the spells you come up with. This disguise, for example. I can do it. My Sisters can do it. But no other pony could possibly perform such a powerful illusion spell.” He was blushing as she went on. “It’s flawless, it’s perfect. Your blush even comes through,” she teased with a grin. “I can’t see through it at all. It’s just your mannerisms that let me recognise you. Nice job on the horn, too. It’s hard enough to cloak yourself in a magical skin that changes your appearance, but quite another to make a body part invisible.”
“I could say the same about your wings, you know,” he said, grinning himself yet again. She smiled back at him, and his knees started feeling wobbly as long, strong, unseen feathers gently stroked his own invisible horn. “Yeah,” he managed. “That’s a really good bit of magic right there.”
They got into another road carriage at Treeton Station. After telling the unicorn attendant where their destination was - it would have looked a bit fishy if two earth ponies started magically directing their own carriage - their freshly-spelled ride bumped and wove its way through a mile or so of charming tree-strewn roads and covered walkways before stopping at the roadside entrance to a small park. There were a few swings and slides set up near the entrance, but the rest of the park was nothing but trees, bushes, grass, gentle hillocks and slopes, and a few benches set up near a stand of elms.
“‘Built on the historical site of the ancient village of Ponyville’,” Twilight read aloud off the sign by the entrance. “I should get that changed.”
“Yeah,” he said. “No idea who thought Ponyville was here. The Castle’s right on top of the old place, right?”
“My old home... Well. A certain tree that I’m extremely fond of had the Royal Memorial Garden built around it. It’s right at the back of the Palace inside the Castle grounds, that’s where... That's where all of this started. Maybe we should get that sign changed, but maybe we shouldn’t. Nopony remembers anymore...” She shook her head, banishing old memories for brand-new ones that were happening right now. “Sorry. I’m sorry. Let’s have dinner,” she said, a genuine smile on her face as she walked alongside her - she giggled inside as she thought the word - coltfriend.
“This is kinda cheating,” he admitted as they sat down facing each other. He looked about. Nopony. Nopony about, nopony who could possibly see what he was about to do, and somehow the secrecy just made everything all the more exciting. A reddish glow appeared above his head, and a checked picnic cloth flashed into existence on the table, along with a wickerwork basket. Twilight looked on, impressed, as he pulled stacks of sandwiches and bowls of salad out of the basket, along with a small bottle of wine and two earth pony mugs. “It’d be a bit tricky to explain if somepony came wandering through the park and spotted two earth ponies levitating glasses,” he explained. She grinned, picking up her mug with her hoof and waggling it at him.
“I know how to handle one of these. This looks lovely, Starburst. I’m starving. And thirsty.” She put the mug down next to his own.
“Well, tuck in. It’s not much,” he said, pouring two mugs of wine - badly, as it turned out, his nerves making his unicorn hooves slightly unsteady on the bottle - “but if I say that I slaved all day over the dinner, will you enjoy it more?”
“Did you?” A quirky smile, a raised eyebrow.
“Ten minutes’ work before I put on my disguise,” he admitted cheerfully. She laughed, not seeing through his little fib. It had taken him all day, hours and hours of stress and worry to make sure everything was perfect.
And everything, amazingly, was perfect. They ate. They drank. They talked. They admired the peace of Ponyville Park. They smiled at each other a lot.
The atmosphere in the carriage back to the station was unexplainably awkward. They weren’t saying anything, and they both looked nervous, embarrassed somehow, and sheepish. They’d both been relaxed in the park, so what was different now? Twilight decided that there was some ice here that needed to be broken, ice that hadn’t existed until yesterday when he’d asked her out. She decided to break that ice. Even though she was easily as nervous as she’d ever been, she somehow overcame her jitters and took the initiative.
She hopped off her cushioned bench, moved forward, and sat down on the facing seat right next to Starburst. He seemed to tense up for a moment, then relaxed. She was pretty damn tense herself.
“I didn’t say it before. You look really nice tonight, by the way,” he said, unconvincingly.
“Thanks, I heard ‘dull brown earth pony’ was in this season,” she said flatly. He laughed. “It’s really funny, not to be recognised.” She paused, thinking for a second or two. “I like that.” And then she did something that briefly terrified them both. She shifted over on the seat and leaned gently against him, closing her eyes and attempting to relax against his side. After a few moments, her heart started beating again and she managed to find her voice. “I like this, too.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, neither of them moving at all, just gently swaying back and forth with the motion of the carriage. Her ear must be pressed up against one of his blood vessels or something, she realised, because she could hear his heartbeat. Her hearing was better than the average pony’s, but not that much better. His heart was really going for it, beating both fast and hard. It was like a set of drums. Then she realised her own heart was beating at about the same speed and with the same amount of force. The realisation made her want to say something, but she didn’t know what. Finally, a topic occurred. “Dinner was lovely. Thank you. The park was beautiful. Lots of trees, beautiful old trees. When did you first go there?”
He couldn’t answer. His mind was in overdrive. Here he was, a very famous unicorn in his own right, sitting in a public carriage with not only one of the three greatest ponies in Equestrian history, but a universally-admired-and-loved immortal goddess leaning against his side. And she was asking him about a park he’d been to once as a colt, and again this morning for all of two minutes to make sure it was just as he remembered it. And he hadn’t paid the slightest little bit of attention to the park during dinner. Her warm, gentle weight was making his heart go slightly crazy - he wouldn’t be at all surprised if he suffered a heart attack right now. He blinked at the rear wall of the carriage, moved his mouth soundlessly for a moment, then looked to his left.
He’d always been astounded by just how powerful Twilight’s magic really was. It was so much deeper and wider and far more profound than his own sizeable abilities, and here was yet another example. He’d changed the colour of his coat and hair, hidden his horn, and disguised his cutie mark, but he still looked like what he really was - a thirty-year-old stallion. Twilight, however... Twilight looked like a young earth mare barely out of her teens. This made her slightly shorter than him. Her head was there, leaning against his shoulder, her eyes closed, one of her ears twitching slightly, the other pressed flat against his neck. Her faintly-smiling mouth was barely three inches from his own. He didn’t think. He was, at this moment, totally incapable of thought. It happened completely automatically. He leaned his head down slightly.
Their lips met.
Twilight’s round green eyes flew wide open, and she found herself staring into a sky-blue pair that were almost as wide as her own. She didn’t recognise the eyes at all from their physical appearance, but she could see Starburst gazing out at her from behind them, boring into her with the most intense gaze she’d ever felt. The gaze was cut off as he slowly closed those eyes, those stranger’s eyes that were still completely his own, familiar as her own face in the mirror.
She opened her mouth to say something - what, she had no idea - and realised that she’d only be able to mumble with his lips pressed to hers. Suddenly, though, she found that she didn’t need to say anything at all. A soft moan began in her throat as she closed her own eyes. This was, possibly, the only thing in the world that Starburst knew more about than she did. She almost gasped as she felt his tongue slide gently out of his mouth and hesitate, briefly, at the point where their lips met. Her own tongue, somehow, almost against her will, slid gently forwards to meet it. She moaned again, feeling the most incredible sense of ecstasy that she had ever felt, felt it grow in her chest, felt it spread throughout her entire body, right down to the tips of her hooves, marveled as it left every inch of her feeling warm and comfortable. Her invisible wings started to ruffle at her sides as she became vaguely aware of faint movements and quiet shuffling sounds.
Starburst must have moved around on the seat to face her because she now felt his hoof sliding gently up the right side of her face. His touch was so very gentle, so wonderfully tender, it was almost like it wasn’t there at all. She felt like she was melting. Her hooves started trembling slightly and a strange ringing started in her ears, more of a sensation than a sound. She wasn't breathing. It was no big deal if she was deprived of oxygen, her magic would just take over in such a case, but something wasn’t working right. She started to get dizzy and lightheaded as she felt his other hoof gently stroke the other side of her face. If heaven existed, she was there.
She had waited one thousand nine hundred and forty six years for her first kiss.
It was well worth the wait.
But it ended about a billion years too quickly.
The carriage bumped to a halt outside Treeton Station. Twilight blinked dazedly as their lips parted. She saw that his own eyes were still closed as he moved his face gently back from hers. Then she noticed that one of the station attendants was opening the carriage door, and she jerked upright and made to scramble to her hooves.
It didn’t work. Her front hooves didn’t want to move, and her back legs spasmed on the seat. Crying out in surprise, she went tumbling, face-first, onto the floor of the carriage. She heard several surprised voices, felt several pairs of hooves pick her up. She couldn’t really see properly, everything was swaying and blotchy, millions of little pinpricks of light were popping in front of her eyes. And she couldn’t stop smiling.
“Twilight! Oh, damn! Sorry! Twi’! Twi'! We’re in public! Please, Twi’, try to pull yourself together!” The hissing voice she heard, faint and indistinct at first, sounded urgent and full of panic.
“You okay, lady?” a gruff voice barked.
“N... no... no, I mean yes, I’m okay... I’m just... I need to sit down...”
She felt herself being helped to all fours by several pairs of hooves. She blinked, shook her head clear, and realised where she was. They were on the curb by the tram station, and she’d had something of a brain meltdown in the carriage. Starburst was helping her into the station, murmuring hasty thanks and apologies to the ponies that had come to her aid. Her vision was still wobbly, but she could see where they were heading. A row of chairs mounted to the station wall was getting progressively closer. She felt herself being gently lowered onto one of them.
“How’re you feeling?” Starburst asked.
“We’re in public,” she whispered.
“Why are we still in public?” she nearly moaned.
“Huh?” he repeated. He was completely taken aback. “What do you mean? We’re at the tram terminal. We’ve got” - he looked up at the large departure signboard - “about three minutes until the next tram back to the Royal Quarter. You’re sick, I should get you back to the -”
“Why, why are we still in public?” She really did moan this time.
“Uh, Twilight... Your disguise is still fine, I mean, I can tell it’s you because I know you so well, but nopony’s going to recognise you... Why are you worried about being in public?”
“Because if you don’t kiss me again within the next five seconds, I’m going to scream!”
His eyes opened wide. “Okay, a little help please?” She looked up, confusion entering her smoldering gaze. “So we’re not seen,” he prompted.
She looked around at the crowds of ponies in the station. Quite a few of them were still looking in their direction from the small scene she’d just created. She couldn’t possibly teleport away or cast an invisibility spell while they were being watched. She let out a small, frustrated sigh.
“We don’t really have to take the tram home,” he pointed out.
“No,” she agreed, earnestly, breathlessly.
He appraised the arrivals and departures boards on the other side of the station. There was nopony near them, just a line of information kiosks below that were closed at this time of the night. “They’ve got insurance,” he said quietly. “And they’ll get an anonymous donation for the repairs at any rate, right?”
Twilight nodded madly.
A flickering red horn-shaped glow appeared in the air above Starburst’s hornless head. There was a creak, then a pair of sudden ringing snaps as two of the three large supporting braces holding the arrivals board to the wall gave way. There were gasps from the crowd as the large board ground its way in an arc down the wall, bending the remaining strut. The board began to glow, first one colour, then several, then a literal rainbow of auras as the many unicorns present all tried to magically grab hold of it to stop it from falling. He saw that there was no chance of that happening, at any rate. The third support strut was bending but it was far too strong to break. Nopony would get hurt, no matter what else happened. And most importantly, not a single pair of eyes was on them any more. He looked over at Twilight, stared straight into her hungry gaze. The intensity of that gaze took him completely aback, but he found his voice regardless.
Her invisible horn flashed, and then they were in each other’s hooves, rolling on the stone walkway behind the parapet that ringed the base of the spire atop Twilight’s Palace tower. With a faint popping sound and a flash of reddish light, the green-and-white earth pony seemed to evaporate like mist. The brown earth pony followed suit a moment later. Their disguises gone, Starburst and Twilight were locked together, eyes closed, whimpering moans coming now from both of their throats.
They rolled over again, and Starburst found himself on top of her. He planted his hooves firmly on the flagstones and ignited his horn. Without their lips parting, he magically slid her up from the walkway to rest with her back against the tall pointed spire that topped the tower. There was a fire in his deep-purple eyes, a fire that was reflected and amplified by the burning in Twilight’s own. Their tongues began to explore again as Twilight wrapped her hooves around him and pulled him to her. Then her wings opened, and they, too, embraced him.
He broke the kiss, but immediately kissed her again, on the corner of her mouth this time, a hot, strong kiss that he again broke before he kissed her cheek in the same way. A gasp escaped her lips as she closed her eyes and leaned her head back, the tip of her horn tapping the gilded brickwork of the spire. He was moving down her neck now, the kisses like fire on her skin. Another gasp, then a moan as she felt warmth explode within her chest as he moved slowly and tenderly over it. She had never felt like this, had never imagined that such physical and emotional pleasure could possibly exist in the world. Right at this moment, she wasn’t thinking about his mortality, wasn’t thinking that one day he would die and leave her all alone, leave her with her heart torn to ribbons. She was only thinking of now. She was thinking that she would never feel any greater ecstasy in her life, no matter what she did or how long she lived.
She was mistaken, as she was about to discover, by quite a large degree.
As Starburst’s trail of kisses took his lips down, lower and lower, over and then below her tight and trembling abdomen, her eyes snapped very wide indeed as she suddenly learned just what the very heights of ecstasy could truly be. Running her hooves through his mane, head thrown back in rapture, she now knew she would never feel anything greater in her life.
She stopped thinking completely as her emotions overwhelmed her, leaving her lost in the highest bliss she was sure she would ever experience. A few minutes later however, she found out that she was mistaken again.