The wedding was a lavish spectacle, very beautiful and adored by all that was lucky enough to view it. Those who doubted Twilight was a miracle worker before sure didn’t after she managed to reorganize the wedding and the reception just a few short hours after the changelings ravaged the city. And considering the traumatic experiences leading up to it, the entire population of Canterlot agreed that such a lovely ceremony was needed.
With the ceremony ended, and the reception about to begin, Twilight popped back into her suite for readjust her dress, which was a bit disheveled from the festivities. Despite being there for only a moment, when she turned to leave she found her five friends standing in the doorway, each with a solemn expression on their faces.
“Twi, sugar...we need to talk,” Applejack said.
The unicorn arched her eyebrow, tilting her head in a confused manner. “About what?”
“About what?” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, as if her friend had just declared the sky was purple. “About the way we turned our backs on you!”
“You really needed us to have faith in you, but we just...assumed the worst out of you,” Pinkie said slowly. Even she was devoid of her usual bubbly attitude.
Twilight, now realizing what they were referring to, slapped her hoof on her forehead. “Are you still worried about that? I told you, the only one to blame here is the Changeling Queen. She fooled everypony!”
“Except you,” Rarity said quietly. “Darling, we...”
“No,” the unicorn said firmly, putting her hoof down. “I want all of you to listen. You had every right to think I was wrong. I should have gotten some evidence, or gone to Princess Celestia in private and explained why I was worried. I just...got a little crazy when I saw her brainwash my brother. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Trying to call her out in the middle of the rehearsal...not my proudest moment.” Her voice was wavering a bit now, her ears beginning to droop. “In fact, I’d rank it right up there with the Smartypants incident as one of the worst decisions I’ve made.”
She shook her head, regaining her composure. “If one of you had acted like that, I probably would have thought the same. I sounded like a filly throwing a temper tantrum. I don’t blame you one bit for not believing me. You guys didn’t let me down. If anything, I let you down when I lost my head.”
“Twi, don’t you dare think that!” Applejack said firmly. “We ignored you! After you went to Tartarus an’ back for us fightin’ Nightmare Moon, an’ Discord, an’ everything in between, we ignored you when it was our turn to support you. We let you down! Again! We...”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Twilight interrupted, managing to silence her friend. “What do you mean, 'again’?”
The five ponies looked at each other, guilt crossing their features. Surprisingly, it was Fluttershy that managed to speak first. “Um, well...we feel like...we haven’t been very good friends in general...I mean...”
“What?” Twilight shouted. It took a lot to get her mind to stop functioning properly, but the yellow pegasus’ claim had managed to do just that. “Wh...how...where did you get an idea like that? You guys are great friends.”
“No, we’re not!” Rainbow yelled, sounding like Twilight wasn’t getting something that was incredibly obvious. “Remember when you got these tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala? We nearly drove you into a breakdown fighting over who got to go with you! The first thing we did after becoming friends was drive you crazy! And when we finally all got to the Gala, we ruined it for you!”
“Well, it was mostly me and Pinkie...” Fluttershy admitted, not looking up from the floor.
“And then later, when you were actually having a breakdown, we just pointed and laughed at you!” Rainbow continued, “You needed our help and we just blew you off!”
“Or when we pressured you to show up Trixie, or when me an’ Rarity wouldn’t get along that night we were sleepin’ over...”
“Or when I took Philomena without Celestia’s permission...”
“Or when I tried to get out of going to your birthday party just to mingle with those upper class snobs...”
“Or when we let Discord get the better of us and made you...”
“That’s enough!” Twilight’s voice managed to reach over her friends guilt, effectively silencing her comrades. She had listened to them dumping on themselves long enough, but she drew the line at Pinkie’s claim. “You’re blaming yourselves for what Discord did. Now look, you’ve all been great friends…”
“No, Twilight, you have,” Applejack said, her voice quivering enough to halt her friend’s ranting. “You’ve always been there for us. When my sister caught the Cutie Pox, you didn’t care if I woke you up in the middle of tha’ night, you went right to work helpin’ me find a cure, an’ when the Flim Flam Brothers tried to drive us out of our home, you found that loophole that let y’all compete.” A lump formed in the earth pony’s throat. It was becoming hard to speak.
Rarity came in, though it was clear she was having trouble keeping her wits together as well. “You dropped everything to come rescue me from the diamond dogs…you did the same for Spike later, when he went off to be with dragons. You’ve always been there for us, but it seems every time you need our support, we just…”
“After that incident with my birthday, I promised to never assume the worst from my friends again. But…really...I actually thought you could really be that petty, that’s just...” Pinkie couldn’t finish. Ordinarily, Twilight would have been stunned by anything managing to silence the perky earth pony, but right now she was barely noticing it.
Twilight was choking up herself by this point. She racked her brain, trying to think of something to say. “But guys, I’ve let you down before too. My little stunt at the Winter Wrap-Up, that time Rarity made us those dresses for the Gala, and when I didn’t listen to Pinkie about the parasprites...in fact, remember when Gilda came into town? Pinkie told me she was trouble, and I assumed she was just being jealous. See? I did the same thing you guys are beating yourselves up over.”
“But at least you’ve always tried!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “You’ve always at least been there. Even the dress incident, you got us all together to fix our mistake.”
Pinkie sighed. “Even when you didn’t believe me about Gilda, you still talked to me about it. You were there to help me through it. I didn’t do that today...”
Rainbow Dash continued. “We can always count on you to at least try and help us. But…you can never count on us.” The pegasus let her normally proud head fall. “We ignored you. And for what? So we could get a chance to put on a royal wedding? We were so caught up in what we got to do that...we just threw you out.”
“Face it, Twi,” Applejack said sadly. “The Princess sent you to Ponyville to learn about friendship…but I think we’re the ones who needed lessons.
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. Nopony knew what to say. Twilight racked the brain she usually prided herself on, trying to come up with something, anything she could say to her friends to snap them out of their guilt.
“Well,” she said at last, “that…well, I understand that was hard for all of you to say, and I appreciate that you’re so concerned.”
Her five friends lifted their heads, all looking anxious to hear what she had to say next.
“But most of it was a load of horseapples.”
Her five friends all widened their eyes with shock. “But...” Applejack stuttered, utterly flabbergasted by Twilight’s dismissive nature. “Everything we just said...”
“...Was said because you’re not thinking clearly.” Twilight said simply but firmly. They all went silent. This was the tone she took whenever she was taking the unspoken leadership role the group had given her, and they instinctively quieted to listen.
“You’re mad at yourselves right now, and because of that you’re only looking at the bad parts of our friendship. You’re not even stating the truth! Rainbow, you said the ticket incident was the start of our friendship. It wasn’t. It was when we defeated Nightmare Moon, when you all willingly followed me into the Everfree Forest. I hadn’t known you a day, but you still went into a place you were all scared of for me.
“And remember when Future Twilight appeared? I didn’t believe it when I saw it with my own eyes, but you all believed me without hesitation when I told you. You put aside all your efforts to helping me prevent the disaster. And yeah, I was more understanding about Pinkie accusing Gilda, but she didn’t have an outburst as bad as mine.”
“And really? You’re blaming yourself for not being able to resist Discord? A spirit so powerful that the Princesses still fear him? Remember, I let Discord break me too, and Celestia had to bring me out of it. You did no worse than I did.”
She took a moment to examine her friend’s faces to see if her words were sinking in. They all seemed to be processing her arguments, so she went on.
“And yes, you have let me down before. But you’ve all tried to fix your mistakes too. You’re doing that right now, even though I don’t think you’ve done anything that needs forgiving. You even stood up to the Princess for me after the Smartypants incident, and that was after I brainwashed your sisters. I thought you’d kill me after that.
Applejack managed to speak then. “Under other circumstances, I woulda. But this was right after Discord. We were all still a bit loony after all that.”
“Indeed,” Rarity added. “We were all behaving like parodies of ourselves, trying to regain some normalcy. I’m surprised we didn’t all go mad like you did. Besides, Apple Bloom and Sweetie turned out okay, no harm done.”
Twilight gave a small smile as they continued. “We can wield the Elements of Harmony for a reason, because we’re friends. Good friends, who’ve had a lot of good times. You’re not seeing it now because you’re only thinking about the bad times. Yes, there have been a lot of them, but there have been plenty of good ones too. Every one of those incidents you’re blaming yourselves for had a happy ending, because you were great friends.
“Like I said, I acted foalishly today, especially after lecturing Pinkie on doing the same thing during the dessert competition. Even I thought I was wrong before the Changeling Queen revealed herself. I might have been believed if I had just gone to the Princess and calmly explained what I had saw. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why you guys thought I was just jealous. It wasn’t for any selfish reason, like you guys are trying to convince yourself it is.”
“But, Twilight...” Fluttershy began.
“No buts,” Twilight said sternly. “I made a mistake, and maybe you’re right when you all say you made one too. But that’s all they were, mistakes. Nopony’s perfect, even the Princesses, even though ponies tend to forget that. None of us are bad for making them.
“Remember what I told Discord, just before we turned him back to stone? ‘Friendship isn’t always easy, but it’s worth fighting for.’ Well, this is one of the times when it’s not easy, and I’m not about to let all of you give up just because it got hard. So come on, now, this is a wedding. It’s supposed to be a happy occasion.”
There was silence for a moment as the five friends stared at Twilight with stunned expressions.
Then, suddenly, Twilight was in the front legs of Rainbow Dash, her body shaking from the sobs she couldn’t hold in anymore.
“You...why...” she was struggling to say something. Before she could, the others joined in the group hug, each tearing up as well.
“Guys, come on, I...”
“Why aren’t you mad?!” Rainbow Dash shrieked.
Twilight blinked at the angry question. “What?”
“Why aren’t you mad at us? Why aren’t you yelling at us for letting you down? That’s what you were supposed to do! Why did you have to show us how awesome you are! To show us how much we don’t deserve to be your friend!”
Twilight was silent, just holding the sobbing pegasus while her friends also surrounded her, each crying their own tears of regret. Finally, the unicorn magically lifted a handkerchief from the dresser across the room and brought it to Rainbow Dash’s face, wiping her tears away.
“If I’m so awesome, then obviously I know how to pick friends. And I know you five are some of the best I’ll ever have. What I said before is good enough for me, and since I’m the one being apologized too, it should be good enough for all of you.”
There was another silence before Applejack spoke. “Twi...we’ll make it up to you, I promise...”
“No.” The answer was so blunt that her friends pulled themselves out of self-pity to look at the unicorn with shock. “Don’t ‘make it up to me’. Don’t keep score. That’s what you’re doing now, and look what it’s doing to you. Just be my friends. That’s all I ever wanted.”
Another silence. Then, Rainbow’s eyes began watering again, and she renewed her embrace on her friend, her sobs coming out anew. The others soon followed suit.
They lost track of how long they remained that way before there was a knock at the door. “Twiley? You guys in there?” Shining Armor’s voice came from the other side of door.
They pulled themselves out of their jumble and composed themselves a bit before answering. “Yeah, we’re here.”
The door opened, and Twilight’s older brother walked in. “There you are. Why are you all hiding up here? Come on, you’re not getting out of singing,” he said with a sly smile.
Twilight returned it, grateful things were back to normal between them. “You got it,” she began trotting to the door, turning over to call to her friends. “Well, let’s go!”
Despite the instruction, the other remained where they were as Twilight left, thinking about what had just happened.
“We have to throw her a party when we get back to Ponyville,” Pinkie said simply.
Rarity looked at her. “But, she just said we shouldn’t try and pay her back.”
“We’re not doing it to pay her back,” Pinkie assured. “We’re doing it because Twilight’s a super awesome friend.”
As Rainbow Dash wiped away the last of her tears, she responded in a soft tone. “Yeah...I think I can live with that.”
For the first time since returning from her thousand-year banishment, Princess Luna was beginning to wonder if soundproofing her chambers had been a wise idea. Of course, with all the noise made in Canterlot during the day it would be impossible for the alicorn to get any sleep otherwise. But it was rather alarming waking up for the night shift to discover that the entire city had been overrun with an invading force, and she had slept right through it. No guard was able to activate the alarm she had installed to warn her of such a thing due to the threat materializing seemingly out of nowhere.
Indeed, from what details the Princess of the Stars could gather, only Twilight Sparkle had seen through the Changeling Queen’s disguise. She had overheard some of the guards talking about Princess Cadence’s unusually short and cold attitude, but every one of them had dismissed it as pre-wedding stress. Now, those same guards were kicking themselves for not noticing what was clear in hindsight.
As the reception started up, Celestia took Luna aside and explained the situation to her. She listened intently to the story, never interrupting once. Finally, once she finished wrapping everything up, Luna spoke.
“Dear sister, I thought you put the Elements of Harmony behind a door only you could open. How did you expect Twilight Sparkle and her friends to get them without you?”
“They wouldn’t need to open the door,” the Princess of the Sun explained. “If they just got close enough, the Elements would have activated themselves and traveled to them.”
Luna nodded in understanding. “You know, before I flew down here, I went on my early evening patrol. I passed by the tower where Twilight Sparkle’s suite is located. I overheard them apologizing for not believing her, and she was quick to forgive them.”
Celestia put on a relieved expression. “At least that’s settled. We can still count on them to wield the Elements.”
“Indeed,” her younger sister agreed. “Now I must ask, I do not know Princess Cadence very well. She has been busy outside of Canterlot for most of the time I’ve been free.”
“Yes,” Celestia said slowly, wondering what point her sister was trying to make was.
“I was merely wondering, what about our niece’s behavior got Twilight Sparkle suspicious and not you?”
Celestia bowed her head, looking away from her sister. “I guess...I was distracted,” she sighed. “Luna, could you watch the reception for me? I have to...I’m just tired after today.”
The younger sister blinked. “Of course. I’d imagine you are weary after the day’s events. Take your leave and rest up.”
Celestia needed no second bidding. She flew off towards the castle.
Instantly Luna’s mind began racing. Something was bothering her sister. She contemplated following her, but realized the folly of that plan. As she was now, any attempts to try and talk with her would likely result in her resistance, which would likely mean that the conversation they needed to have would be unlikely to take place until long after it would be effective. She would wait an hour, maybe two, for her sister’s anger to subside, then she would attempt to speak with her. For now, it appeared to be her duty to oversee the Royal Wedding.
Two hours passed, with Vinyl Scratch having gone through half of her playlist. Currently the dance floor was filled with couples slow-dancing, Princess Cadence and Shining Armor right in the center. Seeing that everything was in order, Luna silently slipped away, heading to her sister’s bedchambers. As she neared the giant double doors, a pair of Celestia’s personal guards blocked her way.
“The Princess has requested to remain undisturbed, even from you.”
Luna’s horn glowed, and suddenly the guards found they could make an exception. They pushed the doors opened, allowing the dark alicorn to trot in.
Celestia lay on her bed, her head down and her eyes closed. Upon hearing her sister’s entrance, she looked up. Her usually beautiful eyes were puffy and bloodshot, her cheeks moist with tears.
As the doors closed, the Princess of the Sun spoke first. “How did you get in?”
Luna shook her head. “Please, dear sister, do you really have such little faith in my magic? If the Queen of the Changelings could brainwash the captain of the Royal Guard, surely I can plant a quick suggestion into somepony’s mind.” She walked over to her sister, lying at her side. “Now, tell me, what is troubling you?”
“Do you really have to ask?” the older sister asked sadly. “I let my kingdom down. I let a plot to harm my subjects be brewed right under my nose, and as a result two ponies who I care deeply about were hurt in the process.”
“You blame yourself for the changelings?”
“I blame myself for allowing their queen to fool me for so long,” she sighed, lowering her head back onto her pillow. “She did a poor job mimicking the real Cadence. She was so cold, so distant…nothing like my darling niece.”
“The guards are all talking about the same thing,” Luna tried to assure, “a bride is under much stress and…”
“No!” Celestia snapped. “Cadence is a princess, and unlike Blueblood, she does more than just lounge around the palace all day, drinking in the celebrity lifestyle. I’ve seen her take on any number of stressful duties, and never lose her warmth and kindness. I should have suspected something was wrong. If you would have seen the preparations made directly after we chased the changelings off, you would understand. We had only three hours to get everything ready, and she took it all with grace…as did Twilight.”
“Dear sister, she is a member of the Royal Family,” Luna calmed her. “Not blood-related, of course, none of your so-called nieces and nephews truly are, but it is understandable you would not wish to think ill of them.”
“Luna, the last time I thought that way, it was with you. I noticed your jealousy and assumed it was nothing, that it would pass in due time. It cost me and you for a millennium. One thousand painful years separated from you. Apparently that wasn’t punishment enough, because I made the same foalish mistake, only this time it would have cost me every one of my subjects. And even though we won, Cadence was trapped for days in those horrible caves, and Twilight got her heart broken, all due to my neglect.”
“Dear sister, you must remember that Nightmare Moon is my sin, my burden to bear, you should not concern yourself with it. As for today, Twilight Sparkle acknowledges she acted foalishly as well. She harbors no ill will to the other Bearers, and I’m sure she bears none to you.”
“She should,” Celestia answered weakly. “Honestly, I’ve always referred to Twilight as my most faithful student, but when she needed my faith the most, I didn’t give it to her.”
“You had faith in her that she could free me from the taint of Nightmare Moon and bring me home. You had faith she could face Discord and resist his sadistic games…”
“Yes, I have faith in Twilight to be my loyal little attack dog,” the alicorn answered in a bitter tone. “To put her life on the line for my kingdom and my subjects. To face Discord without the benefits of the Elements to heal her afterward.” She sighed, regretting that those wielding the Elements of Harmony couldn’t share in their touch, the one that made every other pony who felt it to suddenly remember Discord’s cruel actions as nothing more than a nightmare, something they could easily forget. It still burdened Twilight and her friends, a burden they carried without complaint or ill will to their princess, and which nearly had disastrous consequences on the sanity of her beloved student.
“I trust Twilight to do as I say. But I proved today that I have no faith in her intelligence and compassion.”
“Enough of this!” Luna ordered sternly, slipping close to her Royal Canterlot Voice. “I know that to be a fallacy. If you had no faith in her compassion, you would not have sent her after the Elements of Harmony to begin with, and had you no faith in her intelligence, you would not have trusted her to overcome Discord’s tricks. You have plenty faith in her.”
“I didn’t today,” Celestia silently whispered.
“That is merely because she sounded like a foal while making the accusation. You had good reason to believe she was being selfish.”
“Would you have believed her?”
Luna was silenced. She was hoping that question would not be brought up.
“…Perhaps,” the Princess of the Stars admitted. “She was the one who never feared me on Nightmare Night, so willing to approach me and give me a second chance. Several of the ponies did respect her enough to listen. She did not strike me as the type to judge somepony.”
Celestia merely sighed. “Another example of her worth that I had forgot today.”
“I may be biased,” Luna tried to assure. “Twilight Sparkle is the first friend I have made in a thousand years…”
“And that’s because she’s so wonderful,” Celestia said. “You know, I’ve always envied Twilight’s parents. Because no matter how much Twilight might love me, adore me, and strive for my approval, they will always hold the place in her heart that I want.”
“You love her that much?”
“Like a daughter,” she admitted. However, at this her head dropped down again. “But I had forgotten that today, apparently.”
“No mother expects her child to be perfect...”
“Luna, quit trying to justify my actions!” Celestia yelled. Luna stopped. Even angry, Celestia rarely raised her voice. “I’m a princess! I’m supposed to care for my subjects! To keep them safe and free of harm! I was supposed to be on my guard! I noticed the signs. Cadence’s magic was off, I sensed it. I noticed her cold and distant attitude toward everypony except Shining Armor. And honestly, I taught Twilight personally! I should have known she’d know the difference between a brainwashing spell and one to cure headaches! Even as hysterical as she was, I should have at least checked. But no, I tore her heart out and left her alone, then went off planning a wedding and left her once again with the burden of keeping my kingdom safe.”
She sighed once more. “I’m unworthy of my crown, or the love of my subjects.”
Luna shook her head. “Dear sister, you are making the same mistake that many of our subjects make.”
“And what’s that?” Celestia challenged.
“Forgetting that we are not gods,” Luna answered simply. “We are powerful, yes, but not omnipotent. We have our failings, our shortcomings, though ponies tend to forget. A mistake makes you no more unworthy than any other pony.”
“But...all those signs I missed...”
“Seem obvious now,” Luna said simply. “Everything appears obvious after it has happened. You are forgetting that.”
Celestia looked into her sister’s eyes for a moment, her expression unreadable. Then, she looked away with a mournful look. “Everything you say has logic to it...but it does little to soothe me.”
Luna gave a small smile. “The burden that comes with love, I suppose. Perhaps I should summon Twilight Sparkle here. You two could...”
“No!” Celestia said. It wasn’t angry, it was pleading. “Please, I don’t think I could face Twilight right now. I don’t think I have the right.”
Luna looked surprised, but bowed her head with sad resignation. “If that is your decision,” she said, rising to her hooves, “I will do what is best. I’m sorry to leave you like this, dear sister, but the night is my domain to guard. I must return to my duty. Please, try and sleep. I will see you come the morn.”
Celestia nodded, resting her head back on the pillow. She closed her eyes, praying her exhaustion won out over her guilt.
Twilight and her friends laughed at Spike’s antics as Princess Cadence and Shining Armor’s carriage became a mere dot on the horizon. After such a harrowing day, a fairy tale ending seemed quite the appropriate reward for the loving pair.
“Well, now that that’s over,” Twilight began, “I think I’ll head back to my suite.”
“You’re turning in this early?” Rainbow Dash said in disbelief.
“I nearly lost all my friends, got trapped in some forgotten caves, fought off a bunch of changelings, and put together a wedding all in one day. I’m exhausted. I’m surprised you guys are still going.”
“Oh come on, this is a wedding, the ultimate party!” Pinkie exclaimed.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Twilight yawned. “I need some rest.”
“Well, if you’re sure...” Applejack said.
“I’m positive. Nothing is going to stop me from just...”
At that point, something did stop her, namely, Princess Luna flying in and landing directly in her path.
“Twilight Sparkle, I have something I must discuss with you.”
Celestia had managed to drift off into sleep, but it was uneasy, and wrought with nightmares. Terrifying images filled her mind. First, of her sister, once again transformed into the terrifying figure of Nightmare Moon, sneering at her older sibling, telling her that her incompetence had hurt the kingdom once too often, and that she was taking over, no longer wanting the embarrassment of having to share her rule.
Then a cocoon of slime, similar to the one she had been trapped in hours before. It split open, and out emerged Cadence, though she was a twisted parody of her former self, holes in her legs, sharp fangs and insect like wings, a black and twisted horn, and a dirty and matted coat and mane. She looked at her aunt, tears in her eyes, and begged her to give her the reason why she had failed to stop this, why she had let this happen, all while the Changeling Queen stood behind her, laughing that Cadence was now her princess.
Then Discord appeared, giving his malicious smirk. At his side was Twilight, her coat now a darker shade of purple, her eyes wide and wild, and her mouth twisted into an insane grin. The draconequus laughed, thanking her for sending her beloved student through so many horrors, which twisted her mind so effectively. She was his now, his own little Queen of Chaos.
The five figures advanced on her, with angry ridicule, desperate pleading, and insane laughter filling the air as Celestia shrunk down, desperately trying to drown out the sounds of her failures.
The Princess awoke with a start, her nightmare shaking her to her core. She was sure she wasn’t crying only because her tear ducts had long since been run dry.
“Princess?” a voice said in the darkness.
Celestia lifted her head up in surprise. Out of the shadows of her room, Twilight emerged, looking in concern at her princess.
“Twilight? How did you get in here?”
“Princess Luna got me in,” she said calmly, walking over to the centuries old mare.
“What? But, she promised not to tell you...”
Twilight shook her head. “She promised to do what was best,” she reminded. She was now in front of the bed.
“I suppose you’re here to try and convince me that I wasn’t at fault, right?”
Twilight sighed. “I don’t think that’s possible. I can tell my friends still feel guilty about what happened today, no matter how much I tried to calm them down.”
“Then...why have you come in here?”
“To be here for you.”
The answer was so simple, so blunt, that for a moment Celestia wasn’t sure she had heard it. After a moment, she spoke. “Could you stay with me tonight?” she asked softly.
Twilight smiled. “I was expecting you to ask,” she said.
Minutes later, Twilight was curled at Celestia’s side. It reminded them both of when Twilight was a filly, after completing some particularly exhausting magic exercises, she would fall asleep at her side, clutching her Smarty Pants doll. She became a soothing presence while the Princess went over paperwork and did any number of small, boring things to keep the kingdom running. It was a nostalgic feeling, one both of them were grateful to feel again.
“I’m sorry, Twilight,” the alicorn whispered softly. “I promise, I won’t doubt you again.”
“Please don’t feel guilty,” Twilight pleaded, “I already told my friends, I understand why you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I still should have been more understanding,” Celestia sighed. “But I suppose it’s as Luna said, it seems obvious now. I’ve accepted that what has happened cannot be changed, I had to when I was forced to banish Nightmare Moon.” She lowered her head back onto her pillow, though it was less out of depression. “Let’s not worry about right now. Just get some sleep.”
The unicorn obeyed, setting her head on her own pillow and closing her eyes.
“You know,” Twilight said softly, not even opening her eyes, “the night before I came to live in the castle, my parents joked that they were worried you’d like me so much, you’d snatch me up and keep me all to yourself.” She smiled. “Guess they were right to be worried.”
Celestia did something she could not remember doing in centuries: she blushed. But she smiled just the same.
“I love you very much, my most faithful student.” And that was the last thing either of them said before they drifted off to sleep.
The reception was just starting up, with Twilight first on the microphone, singing a tune to celebrate her brother’s union with her favorite foalsitter.
Rainbow Dash had to stop in awe at her friend’s excellent voice. No wonder Shining Armor was so adamant of her singing the opening song.
The pegasus sighed as she made her way through the crowd, looking at all the happy couples hitting the dance floor. The wedding had been much less stuffy than the Grand Galloping Gala, but it was still far from her usual tastes. She was still here merely to make sure her damaged friendship with Twilight wasn’t broken anymore. Despite the unicorn’s insistence that all was forgiven, that she felt no ill will to the other Bearers, guilt still tugged at her heart.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” a voice sounded from in front of her.
She jumped, having been so caught up in her thoughts that she had failed to notice the stallion standing in front of her. He was out of his usual uniform, but the pegasus recognized him regardless.
“Soarin?” she asked, more than a hint of glee in her voice.
Indeed, the second-in-command of the Wonderbolts stood before her, for once not wearing his regulation flight suit. He tilted his head in a friendly manner. “So now you’re a bridesmaid at a royal wedding. You’re just full of surprises, aren’t ya?”
A slight blush crept onto her face as she kicked her front hoof awkwardly. “Well, my friend Twilight was the groom’s sister, so I got lucky.”
“I see,” he laughed, his eyes moving up and down to take in the unusual sight of the tomcolt in a dress, with flowers in her hair. Realizing she was being looked over, Rainbow blushed and looked away, while at the same time hating herself that she was acting more like Fluttershy than herself.
“I usually don’t dress like this,” she explained. “Heck, I hardly wear clothes at all. But...well, you can’t really worm out of it for an event like this.”
The stallion smiled. “Well, don’t feel embarrassed about it, you look very nice.”
Rainbow Dash’s face turned the same shade as the top of her mane.
“Don’t tell me you’re still star struck,” Soarin said, actually looking disappointed. “You know I’m still a regular pegasus, you don’t need to...”
“No, it’s not that,” the mare assured. “It’s just...stallions don’t usually give me this kind of attention.” She looked away, embarrassed to admit this. “I mean, my friends Rarity and Fluttershy have no problem...well, Fluttershy wouldn’t if she’d just grow a backbone and...”
“Would you like to dance?” Soarin asked suddenly.
Rainbow turned and looked at one of her heroes with surprise. “Wh...wha...”
Now Soarin was blushing. “I mean, it’s just a shame that you get that dressed up and not get to dance with a handsome gentlecolt. And since I’m the closest thing around, I thought I’d make the offer.”
“Um...I really don’t know how to dance. I mean, not like Canterlot ponies...”
Soarin just grinned. “Neither do I.”
Rainbow Dash offered no further resistance as the Wonderbolt pulled her into the crowd, eventually coming to a stop. They then began to dance. Well, calling it dancing might have been generous. It was more making jerky movements which, if one squinted right, could have been seen as being in rhythm with Twilight’s singing.
Fortunately, by this point the bride and groom were dropping formal dancing as well, and beginning to let their happiness intoxicate them. As a result, none of the guests noticed the two pegasus Ponies making complete foals of themselves.
As Twilight finished her song, the two broke apart, laughing like school foals at their own antics. A second number started up, this time with Pinkie taking the microphone and singing out her own tune. They went back to making jerky movements some more, which seemed to fit with anything the pink earth pony sang. Another song, this one passed back to Twilight, resulted in another dance.
Finally, the microphone was passed to Octavia, who turned out to have quite a lovely singing voice to go with her skills on the cello. However, she sang a slow song, so Rainbow Dash and Soarin excused themselves from the dance floor, heading to a table.
“Well, that was fun,” the pegasus mare was giggling. “I think I was only slightly more horrible than Twilight’s dancing.”
“She’s that bad, huh?”
“You should have seen her at her last birthday party. Really freaked out the upper class,” she said as she took a seat.
“Well, now that we’ve successfully embarrassed ourselves at a high society event, how about a drink?” her companion offered.
“That’d be nice.”
“Great. Wait here, I’ll be right back,” he assured, excusing himself over to the buffet table.
Rainbow Dash sat back as she took in what was going on. She was on what could possibly be considered a date with one of her idols. Even though he was only about a year older than her, Soarin had risen through the ranks of the Wonderbolts to become Spitfire’s number two. The fact that someone so powerful was being so friendly with her was beginning to sink in.
She took a few deep breaths. She couldn’t go into fan girl mode again. Soarin clearly liked her, so there was no need to try so hard. All she had to do was relax and be herself.
“Rainbow Dash?” a tiny voice asked.
The rainbow maned pony turned to see Scootaloo standing at her side, looking excited. “I saw you dancing with Soarin! Are you guys on a date? Is he your special somepony? What’s he like?”
Rainbow Dash racked her brain, trying to think of a polite way to get rid of her number one fan. “Well, kid, you see...”
Then she stopped as a certain thought entered her head. You already let one friend down today...
“Actually, yeah. We danced together, then he went to get me a drink. Why don’t you stick around and meet him? I’m sure he’d love you.”
The younger pegasus’ eyes went wide, her mouth grinning so wide her mentor was sure her head was going to split in half. “Really? I get to hang out with you and a Wonderbolt?!”
Rainbow just grinned. “Sure, why not? Come on, have a seat,” she said, motioning to one of the empty chairs. The young filly practically tackled the chair her idol had motioned to, looking as excited as if it were Hearths Warming Day.
At that point Soarin returned, carrying two mugs of the Apple Family’s Quality Cider. The family always saved some to ferment in case of a special occasion, and it didn’t get much more special than a Royal Wedding.
“One drink for the lovely lady, and...” he trailed off as he saw the wide eyed filly. “Well, what do we have here? Weren’t you one of the flower girls?”
“You’re a Wonderbolt!” Scootaloo exclaimed, apparently not having heard the question.
“I am?” Soarin said in mock surprise. He looked down at the medals on his uniform. “Well, what do you know?”
Instantly Scootaloo went into the kind of excited babbling she usually reserved for talking about Rainbow Dash. “Oh my gosh this is so cool! How fast can you fly? Was it hard getting in the Wonderbolts? When are you letting Rainbow Dash join?”
Rainbow Dash cringed, afraid that this attitude would put Soarin off, but he just laughed, putting a hoof on the bouncing filly’s head. “Easy there, remember to come up for air now,” he joked, getting her quiet down. “Well, I wasn’t told I’d be treating two lovely mares tonight,” he said with a grin, causing Scootaloo to blush. “Wait here, I’ll get another drink for her.”
“Uh, wait,” Rainbow started, but Soarin knew what she was going to say.
“Relax, non-alcoholic, I promise.”
As the blue pegasus took off for the buffet table, Scootaloo couldn’t contain her glee. “I don’t believe it! You were right, he really likes me!”
The older mare just smiled. “Was there ever any doubt? You’re a real cool kid.” After giving her number one fan a chance to soak up the praise, she spoke again. “Hey, Scoots? I owe you an apology.”
The young filly looked at her hero, confused. “For what?”
“For how I acted during the whole Gabby Gums thing.”
Now Scootaloo was truly puzzled. “What do you mean? We were wrong to gossip about you, you had every right to be mad.”
“Yes, what you did was wrong, I’m not saying otherwise. And it’s good you learned your lesson. But I loved Gabby Gums before it was my turn to be gossiped about. All of us did.” Except for Twilight, she thought, guilt rising in her heart.
“I really had no right to be as angry with you as I did when I was laughing at everyone else before.”
“Oh, well, it’s okay. But why are you bringing it up now?”
The elder mare sighed. “Just…everything that happened today. Don’t you worry about it, pipsqueak, it’s something between me and my friends.”
The orange filly tilted her head in confusion, but nodded. “It’s okay, Rainbow Dash. The whole thing was really our fault anyway.”
Rainbow smiled, rubbing her head affectionately. “It’s forgotten.”
At that point, Soarin returned to the table with another mug. “And one mug of apple juice for the little mare,” he said affectionately, passing the mug to the young foal. Scootaloo muttered a quick “thank-you” before taking the drink and having a sip.
“So, what, are you RD’s little sister?” Soarin asked.
The older mare laughed. “She wishes. This is Scootaloo.”
“I’m the president of the Rainbow Dash Fan Club!”
The Wonderbolt lifted an eyebrow in amusement. “Fan club?” Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but blush.
“Yeah! She’s the coolest! She’s always flying around and doing cool things in the sky, and she’s always helping the ponies in Ponyville! She saved it from two dragons, and helped defeat Nightmare Moon, and Discord, and now the changelings!”
At the last name, a pain shot through her heart. She knew her “help” had amounted to ignoring a warning until it was too late, then of getting caught by an army just a few feet away from their goal.
“Yeah, I know the last parts, but…”
“Wait, you do?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking at her idol in shock. “Most ponies outside of Ponyville…”
“Yeah, I know,” Soarin said, the distaste in his voice obvious. “Most ponies in the Canterlot upper class don’t worry about anything beyond social standings. They barely noticed anything about either of those guys, even though we were right near Equestria falling.”
It was true. Since Nightmare Moon had only show up in Ponyville, to many of the citizens of Equestria the night had only lasted a few extra hours. During Discord’s short reign, the mad god had been fully concerned with breaking the Bearers of the Elements, and as a result focused most of his efforts on Ponyville. His only other action being to trap Celestia and Luna within their castle to make sure they couldn’t ruin his fun. To many, the day was merely an inconvenience at not being able to access the castle.
Soarin shook his head in disgust. “It just ticks me off the way nopony around here seems to know who you guys are.”
The mare shrugged. “Eh, I don’t really care what a bunch of prissy ponies think of me.”
Soarin nodded in approval. “Still, you defeated two dragons? Was one of them that dragon that Spitfire and the others went to stop while I was busy in Cloudsdale?” he said.
The cyan pegasus blushed once more. “Uh, no, not really. I mean, I tried to stop them both, but the credit for those goes to my friends Fluttershy and Rarity. And yeah, the Wonderbolts came to try and stop the second one.”
“Ah, I see. Well, aren’t they both part of the team that stopped Nightmare Moon and Discord with you?”
Rainbow Dash nodded, then turned to Scootaloo. “You need to remember, as cool as I am, I don’t do everything alone.”
“I know, but you’re still awesome! You’re the best flyer in Equestria!”
“Well, yeah,” the cyan pegasus agreed, in a bit of a smug tone.
Soarin arched an eyebrow. “What about the Wonderbolts?”
“Oh, you guys are cool too,” Scootaloo assured, “and you’ll be even cooler when Rainbow Dash joins.”
“You say that like there’s no doubt,” Soarin said with amusement.
“And you say that like you doubt me,” Rainbow challenged right back. “Is there really any doubt I’ll be joining the team one day?”
The Wonderbolt just grinned. “I like your confidence,” he said, taking a sip of his cider.
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“Very perceptive,” Soarin agreed. He turned to Scootaloo. “I know plenty about Rainbow here. What about you? How’s your flying?”
“Oh, um,” the filly stuttered, caught off guard by the Wonderbolt’s question. “I kinda haven’t learned how to fly yet.”
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Rainbow couldn’t help but ask. “I mean, by your age most pegasi usually have at least some basic skills down. Haven’t your parents taught you anything?”
Scootaloo shifted, obviously looking uncomfortable. “Um, they’re…busy,” she said slowly.
“Too busy to teach you how to fly?” Soarin asked incredulously.
“Um…yes?” the response was more a question than answer.
The two older pegasi shot each other a quick, but clear look. Something was up.
“Well then,” Rainbow Dash said slowly, putting a hoof on her shoulder. “How about I give you a few lessons when we get back to Ponyville?”
“Uh…that’s okay…you don’t have to.”
Rainbow’s eyes opened in shock. Scootaloo looked for any excuse to be around her, and now she seemed most unwilling to take a golden opportunity.
Apparently Scootaloo noticed the look on her idol’s face. “Uh, well, thanks for the drink,” she said quickly, getting up, “but I think I’ll go see what Apple Bloom and Sweetie are up to.” With that, she dashed off before either of the older ponies could question her.
There was a stunned silence from both of them. Finally, Soarin spoke. “I take it that seemed weird to you.”
“It did,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “She was hiding something. The way she ran off like that…she was panicking.”
“I think so too,” the stallion agreed. “A pegasus parent too busy to teach their kid to fly? I have heard of it before, but still...”
“Her dad works for the mail service in Ponyville. He mostly does the out-of-town stuff, but given that Derpy does all the express, no-stop deliveries, I doubt he could be that busy. Besides, from what I understand her mom just stays home.”
“Have you ever met them?”
Rainbow shook her head. “Never. Applejack and Rarity have…their little sisters are her best friends, I learned everything about them from them. They both said they seem alright, though they haven’t seen them much.” She paused, thinking a moment. “Come to think of it, she’s never talked about her parents in front of me before.” Concern had crept into voice. “You think they’re what’s making her act that way?”
“I don’t know,” Soarin admitted. “But something’s bothering her.”
“I can tell. And I’m going to find out what. Tomorrow, when we get back to Ponyville, I’ll see what I can find out.”
“I really hope this turns out to be nothing,” Soarin sighed. “But if it is, she’ll have you, right?”
Rainbow’s response surprised the stallion. She dropped her ears and lowered her head. Then she tilted her mug of cider to her mouth, emptying its entire contents in one gulp.
“Are you okay?”
Rainbow Dash looked at the stallion with sad eyes. “Can we go somewhere private to talk about it?”
Both pegasi rued the fact that a sunny day had been scheduled for the wedding, meaning there were no clouds for them to rest on. Instead, they had opted for Rainbow’s suite at the castle. Lying down on the Queen-sized bed, they both spent a moment examining the bed’s canopy. Finally, Soarin spoke.
“Alright, what’s up? Why are you so depressed?”
Rainbow Dash just sighed. “I let down a friend today.”
Soarin blinked. “Who?”
“Twilight. You know, that pony who came in with the real Princess Cadence? She had seen right through that overgrown bug’s disguise and tried to warn us during the rehearsal. And none of us believed her. We just told her off, then left her alone while we let the Changeling Queen get more powerful.”
Soarin looked unsure of what to say. “Well, if it’s any consolation, when she busted in during the first ceremony I thought she was just some crazy mare until the real Cadence walked in.”
“Yeah, but I know Twilight!” Rainbow shouted. “It wouldn’t have been just me blindly believing her. She’s gone to Tartarus to keep Equestria safe. Literally! She lured Cerberus back there when he got out! And she’s always been there for us, and we let her down.”
Soarin was quiet for a moment. “Is she mad at you?”
“No,” Rainbow Dash answered, her voice trembling. She rolled on her side, her back to the stallion. “That’s the worst part. She forgave us all easily. She even told us that we had every reason not to believe her with how she accused the fake Cadence. She may be right about that, but that’s not the real problem.”
Soarin looked at her like she had just sprouted an extra head. “But…okay, maybe I don’t follow small town logic very well, but I don’t see how that’s bad. What’s the real problem?”
“I wanted her to yell at me,” she said. She was close to crying. “I wanted her to call us idiots, for her to tell us that we let her down. To make us move mountains to earn her forgiveness. Because…that’s what I would have done.”
Very carefully, Soarin put a hoof on the shaking mare, who continued:
“After her outburst at the rehearsal, we all talked about what to do about it. I kept arguing that she really messed up, that she needed to learn her lesson, that she had to do a lot to earn back our respect. Then when she busted in with the real princess, I felt like a complete jerk. We all did. That entire time we were running for the Elements of Harmony, we were praying that they’d still work. We were all worried that Twilight had lost so much faith in us her Element would be useless. Then, before the reception, we went up to apologize. All of us were expecting to have to beg for her forgiveness, but she just brushed if off like it was no big deal.”
To Soarin’s surprise, Rainbow Dash turned over, wrapping her front hooves around the stallion and pulling close to him. He was momentarily taken aback, but soon returned the embrace, hoping to calm her down.
“I’m supposed to wield the Element of Loyalty. But today I turned my back on a friend for someone I’d just met. And then that friend proved that she was more loyal than me. I thought I knew what loyalty was, but now...”
Soarin was quiet for a moment as he let his date cry softly. When the sobs had slowed enough, he spoke. “It sounds like…it sounds like you’re embarrassed by how you acted.”
“I am,” she choked.
“Well, that’s all the proof I need that you’re a good friend.”
Rainbow pulled away, looking at him. “Wh-what?”
“I wouldn’t trust anyone who was never ashamed of anything they did. It means they’re not learning anything. A terrible friend would be pinning all the blame on Twilight and none on herself.
“Look, think of it as your flight training, because I know you’ve trained for the Wonderbolts. You’ve crashed when you were trying to perform some of the more advanced moves, several times, I’m guessing.”
“Of course,” she answered.
“It didn’t make you a bad flyer to make those mistakes, it just meant your technique needed work. Now look, you can do the Sonic Rainboom on command, if your performance after the ceremony was any indication. Well, your friendships work the same way. Today you crashed, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend. It just means your technique needs a little work. Does that make sense?”
Rainbow Dash was silent for a moment. “…Yeah. I don’t feel much better though.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to. The only place a few words can completely heal somepony up is in fantasyland. It takes time.”
“Unfortunately for me,” Rainbow sighed, sitting up. “I’m sorry, our first time really talking and I’m dumping all this on you. Must be the cider.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m pretty sure PTSD is a good excuse for a bad first date,” Soarin assured, sitting up as well.
“First date?” the mare asked, hoping to sound coy, but her hope crept into her voice.
“Well…yeah. This was a date, wasn’t it?”
Rainbow Dash blushed once again. “Um...yes?”
Soarin grinned. “How about I drop by Ponyville next week, we’ll get lunch?”
“Really! Ye- I mean, yeah, that’s cool, whatever.”
Soarin just smirked, seeing right through her attempts at being smooth. “So, you wanna just stay here for a while? You know, hang out and talk?”
“I would,” she said, “but I need to get back to the reception to see the bride and groom off. I owe them that much. But...I wouldn’t object to another dance.”
The stallion smiled. “It would be my honor.”
As the pair flew back toward the reception, Rainbow Dash’s thoughts turned back to Scootaloo. The image of the little filly squirming in her chair, afraid to tell her idol something, lingered in her mind.
A month ago, she had made her and her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders come crawling to her with an apology for making her the subject of the gossip that she had previously enjoyed. Seeing Twilight so readily forgive her for a much bigger mistake filled her with shame.
But now she saw a chance for redemption. Scootaloo had a problem. It may just be one of those trivial little things that school foals let themselves get worked up over, or it could be something truly important that she was keeping from everyone for a foalish reason.
If it was the former, she’d help her understand that it was nothing to worry about. If it was the latter, she’d help her through it. Exactly how depended on the circumstances, but she’d figure something out. And then, hopefully, a chance to make it up to Twilight, regardless of her insistence, would present itself.
She looked at Soarin flying beside her. For now, she’d enjoy the evening. And after it was over, she had work to do.
Rarity had to be careful, very careful. If not, it could be the second worst thing that happened during this entire trip, after the horrible way she had treated Twilight. It could spell certain doom for her.
After all, Prince Blueblood was standing not five feet from her, and if he turned his head just a few inches to his left, she’d be spotted.
Slowly she backed away, thankful the spoiled unicorn was too absorbed in Twilight’s singing to notice her. Unfortunately, she ended up backing into the side of another pony.
“Ah, Rarity, so good to bump into you again,” Fancypants chuckled. “Though I must admit, I wasn’t expecting it to happen so literally.”
The white unicorn blushed, turning to face him. “Oh, Fancypants, I’m so sorry...I was distracted, you see...”
“I did see,” he assured. “Attempting to avoid Prince Blueblood. I take it you’ve had a personal encounter with him?”
Rarity gave a weak smile. “Yes, the last Grand Galloping Gala I attended didn’t quite land me the dream date I was hoping for.”
The unicorn stallion simply grinned. “Yes, I heard of that, it made me regret having to miss the Gala that year. Reports of a cake covered mare really letting the Blueblood have it were all over Canterlot. Many agreed it was worth the event being destroyed if it meant seeing that twit get his just desserts. But I didn’t know that mare was you.”
Rarity felt the blush creep back onto her face. “I didn’t exactly want it advertised. I was grateful he didn’t recognize me at any of the events I was invited to back when we met.”
Fancypants nodded understandingly, adjusting his monocle. “Believe me, even Jet Set and Upper Crust believe he’s too self-absorbed. Well then, perhaps he won’t bother you if he sees you dancing with a handsome gentlecolt. May I?”
The purple maned pony blushed. “Won’t Fleur be angry?”
“Oh don’t worry,” the stallion assured. “Fleur won’t mind me dancing with a friend. Besides, the poor dear was feeling a bit under the weather, so she remained home.”
Rarity smiled. “It would be by honor.”
The pair was out on the dance floor before Twilight’s first song was over, both of them moving with flow and grace to the end of the song, through Pinkie’s rendition of “Equestria Girls” to Twilight once again taking back the microphone. Octavia then stepped up with her slow songs.
The musical earth pony got through three songs of slow dancing before Vinyl Scratch interrupted one of them midway through by switching to a more upbeat tune. Octavia glared at the unicorn, who only gave a wicked grin while bobbing her head up and down. Finally, she rolled her eyes and stormed off, leaving the deejay to have free reign over the stage.
At this point, the pair decided they had had enough dancing and excused themselves from the dance floor. Stopping to get two mugs of cider from the buffet table, the pair had a seat at one of the tables.
“Well, I must say your dancing is quite lovely.”
“You flatter me,” Rarity replied. Now having her wits about her, she didn’t blush at his compliments, she merely batted her eyelashes flirtatiously.
Fancypants smiled coyly, taking a sip of his cider. “So, tell me what happened at the Gala.”
Despite all his high-class training, Fancypants was finding it difficult to suppress his laughter. “So you actually smashed your glass slipper?”
“Well, had I been thinking clearly I would have simply picked it up, but the thought of seeing Blueblood again made me panic. Honestly, how does he merit an invitation to so many events?”
The stallion just sighed. “He’s a prince. One who will hardly do anything beyond his basic duties, but a prince nonetheless. Having him in your parties is good for any of those social climbers that make up most of the elite,” he noted, some clear disapproval in his voice. “I swear, if they didn’t contribute so much to my philanthropic pursuits, I wouldn’t associate with them either.”
Rarity nodded understandingly. If Fancypants wasn’t a prince, he might as well be. His constant charity work had greatly influenced a good deal of Equestria, to the point where Princess Celestia had commended him publicly.
“Well, would you look at that,” Fancypants commented suddenly, looking up at the sky.
Rarity turned in that direction, and gave a little gasp. After all, seeing one of her best friends flying off with a Wonderbolt was not something that happened every day.
“Rainbow Dash?” she asked out loud.
“Ah, yes, that’s one of your friends, isn’t it? She’s a lucky mare, Soarin is quite a gentlecolt.”
“You know him personally?” Rarity asked, a bit surprised.
“Yes, he’s a regular contributor to my charity events. He’s not much for the high life, so he doesn’t attend unless I request a show for the events. Still, he’s a good stallion, your friend is in good hooves.”
Rarity couldn’t help but put on a sincere grin at her friend’s fortune. “After the day we’ve had, I think she deserves pleasantries,” she couldn’t help but muse.
“Yes, the changeling invasion was quite harrowing. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling after being in the middle of the whole thing.”
The unicorn mare sighed. “It’s not so much that...” she began, but stopped, unsure if this was something to bring up to an acquaintance such as him.
Fancypants noticed his date’s hesitation. “You can tell me,” he assured. “You’ve been at the epicenter of the three biggest threats to Equestria in recent memory. Oh yes, I am aware of your accomplishments, even if most of the elite are not. After all you’ve done, the least I can do is listen.”
Rarity was briefly taken aback by the fact that a pony outside of Ponyville was actually acknowledging her heroism before sighing. For the next few minutes, she told the upper-class stallion what had happened earlier that day. How Twilight had seen the problem coming, how all of them had coldly ignored her warnings, how they had left her to face the Changeling Queen heartbroken and alone, and how she had been so quick to forgive them after such treatment.
“She does admit she acted irrationally while trying to warn us, and that we were justified in not believing her. I can’t say I don’t see her logic, but I can’t help but feel awful.”
Fancypants nodded. “Well, that’s understandable. Twilight sounds like a good friend to have, it’s quite natural you’d feel bad at having hurt her.”
She sighed. “Do you remember that dress she wore at the garden party?”
“I do indeed, it was very charming.”
“That wasn’t the dress I intended to make for her. I had a whole ensemble planned with glorious feathers, and enough shining sequins to make Sapphire Shores jealous. But I chose attending all those events you and the others invited me too instead of finishing it.”
“Something you’ve regretted I’m guessing.”
“I do, and it wasn’t the only mistake I made. Looking back on that design again...it was all wrong for her. Glittery, frilly, a hat that covered her horn...she prides herself on her magic, you see...I wasn’t thinking about her. I was thinking about showing up ponies like Jet Set and Upper Crust. When she saw that simple thing she was wearing, she loved it, because it was so simple and practical.” She shook her head. “And when she found out I was skipping out on her birthday to attend your garden party, she let me go with her blessing, she understood it was important for my business.”
“A good friend indeed,” Fancypants agreed. “And I take it the day’s events have made you feel that guilt all over again?”
Rarity nodded sadly. “Indeed. But it’s quite a bit worse than that.”
Fancypants put on a puzzled expression. “Go on...”
“Twilight’s a dear, really...she’s put up with a lot from us. My horrid mistake was just one instance. There have been other times when we’ve let her down. And every time, she’s been quick to forgive us. Even today...when I made the same mistake I made months ago.”
“You feel like you let her down for the sake of your business again?”
“Exactly,” Rarity said simply. “It’s what we were all thinking. I wanted my dresses to be worn in a royal wedding to generate more business. Applejack wanted the food grown on her farm to be tasted by the elite, to boost sales of her produce. Rainbow Dash wanted to perform her flying to get more notice from the Wonderbolts. Pinkie Pie wanted the honor of planning the reception, and perhaps was interested in the commission as well...she’s a party planner for the bakery she works for, you see...and Fluttershy wanted to let the birds she trained perform before royalty. Twilight tried to assure us that we had every reason to doubt her, but I can’t help but feel she’s giving us too much credit for how badly we hurt her.”
She stopped. Even with her usual composure, it was hard to stop herself from sobbing again. “If you had just seen her face, you’d understand. She looked as if we ripped her heart out. Honestly, when we went up to apologize, we were all bracing ourselves for an absolute volley of insults. I actually brought up a cough drop because I expected the poor dear to yell at us until her throat bled. But she was so calm and dismissive. Honestly...it made each and every one of us feel even worse.”
“I see,” Fancypants nodded. “Well, from what you described, I’d say the average pony would be a bit less forgiving. But considering that there are other factors here that weren’t present when we first met, must you really be so hard on yourself? She herself acknowledges her shortcomings.”
The mare nodded. “That has occurred to me, but it’s not a thought that soothes me very well.” She paused, wondering the best way to put this. “I’m the one who holds the Element of Generosity, so I guess I simply feel like I betrayed myself...though I guess a lot of us did today,” she gave a bitter chuckle. “Rainbow Dash has the Element of Loyalty, yet she turned her back on a friend in favor of somepony she’d just met. Fluttershy’s the Element of Kindness, yet she coldly broke Twilight’s heart along with the rest of us.”
“Hmmm...” the stallion rubbed his chin in thought. “So, you think the others feel the way you do?”
“I know Rainbow Dash does,” she replied. “With how emotional she became during our apology, it has to be that. She usually puts on a façade to toughness, you see, really hates getting emotional. I’m not sure about the others at the moment, but I know they all still feel guilty, regardless of their reasons why.”
“I see,” Fancypants nodded. “So I assume you’re going to tell the others of your thoughts, then sit down with them until you manage to talk this out.”
“I really don’t see what else I could do,” Rarity confirmed. “We need to fully let everything out. No pony goes through this kind of guilt and heartbreak and comes out with no emotional baggage.”
“I should say not. But tell me, you said that Twilight believes she herself was responsible for not being believed. Do you think she might be harboring some guilt the same way as you are?”
Rarity opened her mouth to give her answer, only to stop when she realized she had none. “I…I’m not sure. She seemed so calm, but…”
Suddenly, she wanted to kick herself all over again. “How could I…” she trailed off in frustration. Forgetting her upper class manners, she lowered her head against the table. “Oh, I don’t believe myself! I was so relieved at being forgiven…the poor dear must be hurting thinking of how she lost control. Oh, how could I miss that?”
“Don’t feel bad,” Fancypants assured. “You’re close to an emotional situation. I’m an outside observer. It’s easier for me to see the big picture when I’m farther away. It’s simple pony nature, nothing to be ashamed of.”
Rarity sighed. “I suppose…believe me, I know Twilight. She has a lot of pride in her intelligence, but very little in her worth as a friend, regardless of how great of one she is. When we first met, she’d overreact to any little thing she thought might make us think less of her. I have no doubt she’s tearing herself up over this, and putting on a brave face for us.”
Her date nodded in understanding. “Well, then that’s something else to discuss tomorrow. That’s the best you can do, correct?”
The mare sighed. “I suppose…”
“Tell me, are you worried about the future of your group of friends? Are you afraid that maybe you’ll never recover from this?”
“Not in the slightest,” Rarity assured, with enough confidence that it left no doubt in her date’s mind. “We’re all very close, and we’ve had our falling outs. This isn’t the first time our friendship has been tested, and Celestia knows it won’t be the last, but we’ve always recovered splendidly. We will make it through this.”
Fancypants gave a warm smile. “That is something of which I have no doubt.”
She smiled at the compliment. Then she blushed. “I’m terribly sorry, this is inappropriate conversation for an event like this.”
“Quite alright,” the stallion assured. “As I’ve said, the least I can do is give you a chance to get a few things off your chest.”
“Well, I do feel better talking to a third party,” she admitted. “Still, let’s not dwell on this any longer. How have you been these last few months?”
“Just fine. My stocks are still up, and my last charity fundraiser managed to get some good money raised for better treatment of the donkeys and mules that live in Equestria. How about you? How is Carousel Boutique doing?”
“Just fabulous! Oh, those referrals I received from your party guests really gave my business a boost! And Hoity Toity even ordered another dozen items for his next fall line. And with me designing all the dresses for this wedding, I’m bound to get more business than ever.”
The philanthropist pony grinned. This was exactly the opening he was looking for. “Actually, I was hoping to discuss that with you.”
Rarity blinked in surprise. “You want to commission me for an outfit?” she asked hopefully.
“Six, actually. I’m holding a charity auction to try and raise bits to help support the children in Zebrica. Dreadful conditions there, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” the mare assured. “A zebra lives on the outskirts of Ponyville. She has told us of the conditions of her country.”
“Really?” Fancypants asked, generally surprised. “Such an unusual occurrence for Equestria. Zebras hardly leave their homeland.”
Rarity nodded. “I know what you mean. We all assumed she was a pony who painted stripes on herself until Twilight informed us otherwise.”
“Yes, many of the more rural areas of Equestria have never even heard of zebras.” It wasn’t condescending, just a statement of fact. “Anyway, dresses designed by the designer of the latest royal wedding would be big ticket items. I was hoping to commission half a dozen from you. How quick can you have them ready?”
“I managed to make six dresses for my friends and myself in less than a week, I can manage an important order in the same amount of time.”
“Splendid! Then I will drop by Ponyville in about ten days to pick up my purchase. And I would very much like to meet this zebra. What’s her name?”
“Zecora. She was a doctor by trade in Zebrica, and she still handles some of the more unusual cases in town.”
“Well, ask her if she’d care to contribute anything to the auction. It is for her homeland, after all.”
Rarity tilted her head at this. “Would anypony in the upper class care for a genuine Zebrican object?”
“They would if I said it was worth having,” he replied simply. This time he did speak in a condescending tone, not towards Rarity, however, but to the mindless conformity that constantly surrounded him.
“I suppose that’s true. Anywho, assuming nothing unexpected happens, your order should be ready by the time you arrive. I’ll be ready for you. Will Fleur be coming with you?”
“Oh yes, she is interested in seeing Ponyville. It would help remind her of her hometown.”
Rarity blinked. “Wait, you mean...Fleur is a country pony?”
“Oh yes, she comes from a small town, very much like you. I first met her when she came to Canterlot for some formal education. You see, she has always detested the way the upper class tends to, in a majority, look down on other classes. She got her cutie mark when she realized she wanted to learn social and cultural studies in order to bring the classes together. So she came from her hometown to here. Even without a big city makeover, she was just as lovely then as she is now.” The stallion sighed, smiling at the mere memory of the first meeting with his wife.
“Oh my,” Rarity said, giggling at the thought. “That sounds so romantic.”
“Indeed,” he sighed, still looking through his memories. “The first mare I ever met who wasn’t interested in me for my bits. We fell in love so fast...”
Fancypants looked dreamily into space for a few moments before remembering where he was. Blushing slightly, he readjusted his monocle. “Forgive me, I tend to drift off when thinking of that...”
“That’s quite alright,” Rarity assured, “after you listened to me ramble on about my situation with Twilight, I feel it’s the least I can do.”
The rich stallion smiled appreciatively. “Anywho, we’ll be there in about ten days, if you need any more time message me by fire and we’ll reschedule. Do you have a fireplace capable of doing that?”
“I do not, but Twilight’s assistant Spike can send and receive messages the same way, so it won’t be a problem.”
“Excellent. Now, let me tell you a little about what I want in the order...”
The two unicorns talked for the next hour over some specifics that would be appreciated in Rarity’s designs. All throughout, however, the issue of Twilight lingered in the back of her mind, a nagging voice that wouldn’t be drowned out, even by a prospect as exciting as getting a major a client as Fancypants.
When she first got the invitation to put on the wedding, she was convinced it would be a night that would never end. Now, she wanted nothing more than for it to be over, for it to be the next morning, so that she could get a chance to talk to her friend again, and for them to be back in Ponyville, to get some assurance that things were back to normal between them.
The reception had moved surprisingly fast for Applejack, given her distaste for such events. As “frou-frou” as events like this got, having Pinkie be the party planner did wonders, as did seeing all her friends having such a good time.
She was hoping to have some time with Twilight to begin rebuilding their damaged friendship, but as soon as she got off the microphone the unicorn went to talk with her brother and sister-in-law, as well as her parents. She couldn’t join them, Twilight had every right to be with her relatives after today.
So she spent the early parts of the evening taking her shift at the buffet table. With every pony that came for a slice of apple pie, or a mug of fermented cider, she’d make sure to add “Courtesy of Sweet Apple Acres, located in little old Ponyville.” Unlike the Gala, this seemed to be drumming up business. Especially since those partaking in the feast included a high-ranking Wonderbolt and Fancypants himself.
Yes, big business coming in. There were plenty of new customers for the farm, less scrimping and saving this year. She wouldn’t have to entirely rely on the profits from the cider and the Zap Apple Jam for the lean months. There were plenty of reasons to smile, to be happy.
Just don’t think about it.
It was three songs after Vinyl had kicked Octavia off the stage that Cadence had come up to her personally. “Twilight tells me you’re good on the fiddle. How about playing a little for us?”
The earth pony was stunned. “Well shucks, your highness, I play pretty good. But I don’t know any songs that would be appropriate for a royal wedding.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I hate the usual royal junk. Besides, Twilight’s my sister now, and she told me she’s an Honorary Apple Family Member. I want to learn more about her other family.”
It took all of Applejack’s willpower not to show the pain in her heart. She remembered Twilight complaining that the false Cadence didn’t recognize her, that she didn’t remember all the good times they had had together. She and the others had brushed it off as nostalgia she was trying too hard to relive.
But during the preparations with the real thing, she saw the two of them laughing, giggling like schoolfillies half their ages, remembering amusing incidents from their youth, but giving only bits and pieces of it in their excited babbling so no outsider could tell what they meant. Every laugh sent a knife through Applejack’s heart, reminding her of the warning she had ignored.
Just don’t think about it.
So she brought out her fiddle. Vinyl wasn’t happy having to give up the stage again, but eventually the unicorn begrudgingly did so, muttering something about wanting a drink anyway. And Applejack got her chance to play.
Contrary to what some of the more elitist unicorns thought, earth ponies and pegasi could, indeed, learn to play several intricate instruments without the aid of magic. It was difficult, but not impossible, Octavia’s success as a musician was a testament to that. And that night, Applejack proved it true once more.
The few Apple Family members lucky enough to merit invitations to the event danced along with her. Many of the elite turned up their noses until the bride and groom started dancing, at which point they all fell in line.
She focused on her music, on the ponies dancing. The snobs all following the music of some backwater country hick. The entire party was dancing and having a good time. Twilight was smiling and laughing, happy to be free from the day’s heartbreaking and stressful events. Everything was fine.
Just don’t think about it.
Five songs later, a new interruption came up, which started with Vinyl throwing an apple tart at Octavia. Forgetting her high class training, the grey mare responded by lobbing one right back. Unfortunately, her target ducked, causing the pastry to hit Prince Blueblood instead.
What followed was a large assortment of ponies temporarily regressing to schoolyard behavior and tossing food at whomever they happened to be carrying a grudge at. The Royal Guards quickly stepped in, though not Luna, who was off to the side with Pinkie, musing on the fact that her sister couldn’t be here to see this. The two musical mares were seen running off, two guards chasing after them.
Once her laughter had subsided, Twilight came over to relieve Applejack of her duties.
“Aw shucks, Twi, you don’t hafta help me none. I’d be happy to keep playing until the guards find those two hotheads.”
“I insist. Besides, your family’s in charge of food, so I think you better go check on the supply that’s missing now.”
Applejack suddenly realized that point. A detail she had missed that Twilight’s keen mind had caught. She stepped in and helped her, no questions asked.
Just don’t think about it.
She bowed to Twilight’s logic and walked to the buffet table, leaving the unicorn in charge of the microphone once more. The table was still standing upright, thank goodness, and Apple Fritter was looking over the damage.
“We got lucky, cuz,” she said, her accent even thicker than Applejack’s. “Them crazy varmints only got through a single plate of th’ tarts. Ah reckon we still have enough that ya’ll be eating the leftovers for a week.”
“Well that’s a relief,” the orange earth pony muttered. “With the hit we took in our orchards thanks to Flim n’ Flam, we could use some extra eats.”
“Speakin’ o’ which, y’all be happy to know them varmints actually tried to pitch their machine in Appaloosa. Braeburn weren’t too happy once he realized who they were. Ran them right outta town...and right inna Chief Thunderhooves’ camp, and them buffalo weren’t too happy to find their friends were bullied either.”
“Whoo doggy, I’ll bet those two snakes ain’t gonna be recovering from that any time soon.”
“You bet. The sheriff actually had to rescue ‘em, though their fancy gadget got trashed. Had to put ‘em on a train to Canterlot, ‘cause that’s th’ only place they could get medical care without half th’ town trying to trample ‘em.”
Applejack blinked. “You mean there here n’ Canterlot?” she asked.
“Nah, not any more. Them varmints heard you’re friends with Celestia, so they skipped town as soon as they’s good enough to walk. Last I heard, they’s headin’ towards Fillydelphia. Celestia weren’t too happy to find she missed ‘em. Wanted to give ‘em a good talkin’ to about their actions. Had her madder than a rattlesnake in a sleeping bag.”
“Yeah, they weren’t the only ones she got sore at,” Applejack sighed. “When th’ Princess found out about th’ whole fiasco, she actually flew down to Ponyville. Was real steamed Granny bet th’ farm she had given her. She gave us all a long lecture about not lettin’ ponies use your pride to goad you into doin’ things. Even made me rewrite the letter I sent her.”
“Ooh,” Fritter winced. “Not fun havin’ th’ Princess mad at ya, Ah suppose.”
“It ain’t. But all she usually does is give a lecture, and she stops bein’ mad quick. Really, Twi usually overreacts when she thinks Celestia’s gonna be mad at her.”
But Celestia’s approval means the world to Twilight. Just look at what her cold reaction did to her.
What you did to her.
Just don’t think about it.
“Ahh, Twi. She’s a good filly, ain’t she? Why, Ah remember when you sent that telegram sayin’ you wasn’t comin’ back to Ponyville after th’ rodeo. First thang she did was round up all of your friends n’ hopped th’ first train there lookin’ for ya.”
A knife went through Applejack’s heart. “Just like that, huh?”
“Darn tootin. Real dependable like. Ah can see why ya’ll made her an honorary Apple. She’s like family.”
Another knife. “Yeah. Like a sister to me. To all of us.”
“Well, you couldn’ta picked a better one. Bit too much a’ egghead fer my tastes, but Ah reckon those brains a hers come in might handy.”
A third knife. “Yeah, she’s th’ one who figured out the loophole that let them compete in Flim n’ Flam’s contest, then she got them all organized to the point where we were beatin’ that fancy contraption of their’s.”
“Can’t complain with those results,” Fritter nodded. “She seems right friendly, too.”
“No doubt. Why, when Princess Luna visited Ponyville for th’ first time since gettin’ free of Nightmare Moon, she was th’ first to go up to her ‘an...”
She trailed off as realization hit her. She had been the first one to look past Luna’s past as Nightmare Moon and treat her kindly, and this was after their last encounter had largely been spent with the Alicorn trying to kill her. And then memories of her seeing Zecora for the first time came to her as well. How she had seen past her strange outer appearance, only thinking Zecora was evil when all the evidence pointed to her.
She was always so friendly towards others until she had reason to be confrontational. Her hostility to Cadence was unusual.
That should have been your first sign something was wrong, you dumb hick.
A fourth knife.
“AJ? You alright?”
It was at that point that Applejack realized she had stopped speaking. Apple Fritter looked at her with suspicion. “I’m fine, Frits.”
“Don’t lie ta me, AJ. You’re awful quiet for such a big celebration.”
“I ain’t lying,” she snapped defensively. “It’s just been a long day, is all. I’d like to see you be all full o’ energy after you fight off a horde of changelings.”
Apple Fritter raised her eyebrow suspiciously. “Ain’t you ‘posta be th’ Element a’ Honesty?”
Applejack opened her mouth to protest, and then sadly sighed. “I reckon I am,” she grumbled. “But th’ truth ain’t exactly easy to face right now.”
“It weren’t easy ta face when you was hidin’ at Dodge Junction, but when ya finally did fess up, things got better.”
The orange earth pony couldn’t help but chuckle. “I guess you’re right. You’d figure I’d learn mah lesson the first time. Well, I’m willin’ to bet the others are all gonna pour their hearts out to anypony who’d listen, so I guess it’s my turn.”
So, once again, a bearer of the Elements of Harmony found herself telling the day’s events to an outside observer. Fritter nodded in understanding throughout, not interrupting until the story was finished.
“So how’d that bug fool you? Don’t th’ Element a’ Honesty give ya some sorta freaky truth seeing powers?”
“It don’t work like that,” Applejack muttered, rolling her eyes. It was clear to Fritter that this wasn’t the first time she had explained this to another. “Princess Celestia told us that we just make the Elements work. The powers in them fancy necklaces, we just have the right traits to use them.”
“Well alright, so what’s th’ problem? She ain’t holdin’ no grudge ‘ginst you.”
“But I’m holdin’ one against myself,” she said sadly. “We all are. No matter how much it mighta made sense for us to think Twilight was just bein’ possessive of her brother, each and ev’ry one ah us felt like mud when we found out th’ truth. And then we felt even worse when she forgave us so durn easily. It might make no sense for us to keep bein’ down on ourselves, but there ya go.”
Fritter kicked the ground a bit in nervousness, wondering what the best way to put this. “Well, Ah mean...it sounds like she was actin’ like a brat, but...Ah mean, what were you thinkin’ of when you stopped talkin’ like that?”
“Well, when Princess Luna showed up in Ponyville on Nightmare Night, we were all jumpin’ like jackrabbits ‘cause we were so scared-a her. I guess her entrance and attitude just shook us up a bit, and we forgot how she was after she stopped bein’ Nightmare Moon. Then I was thinkin’ on somepony else in Ponyville named Zecora. We were all afraid of her ‘cause she looked weird and creepy. Twilight set us strait on both of them, she never judged them for a second. Well, okay, she did think Zecora was evil for a while, but there was extenuating circumstances there. I just...I shoulda known better than to think Twilight would accuse somepony like that without good reason.”
Her cousin nodded. “So you thought-a somin’ else that you shoulda believed Twi for?”
“I keep thinkin’ of ‘em,” she said sadly. “I keep goin’ back and forth on this. Half th’ time I convince myself Twilight’s right, she sounded half-crazed and we were right to think she was just bein’ jealous. But every time I do, I remember what a great pal she’s been, and all the reasons we should have at least looked into what she was sayin’. I can’t make up my mind on who was wrong.”
“Ain’t it obvious?” Fritter said with a stern expression.
Applejack blinked. “What?” she asked, sure she wasn’t going to like the answer.
“You both were.”
It took the apple farmer a few moments to process the information. Before she could speak, Fritter continued. “Y’all both made mistakes today. Nopony blames you for ‘em, but y’all did. Nopony blames Twilight for flippin’ out when she saw her brother bein’ brainwashed. Nopony blames the rest of ya for thinkin’ she was just makin’ a foal of herself givin’ how she went about things. But they were still mistakes. Y’all messed up.”
“Well, yeah,” Applejack said simply. “I knew that. But which one ‘a us was more wrong?”
“It don’t matter,” she said simply. “Yer tryin’ to makes things simpler by pickin’ one side to be mad at, but that ain’t nuttin’ to fret about. What ya should be focusin’ on is what ya learned from all this. That’s the only thing that’s gonna make all that guilt an’ anger you're feelin’ go away.”
Once again, Fritter let her cousin process what she had just said. Finally, the orange earth pony smiled. “Well shoot, you always were th’ wise one in the family.”
“Darn tootin’,” Fritter nodded proudly. “Ya feel better?”
“A little. Ya got any other advice for me?”
“Yeah, talk to Twilight again in the mornin’ an’ make sure she doesn’t go taking th’ full blame fer this on ‘erself. She needs ta understand y’all’re at fault too, or else she’s gonna beat herself up over it.”
“Good call, cousin. I promise, we’ll all talk to Twilight again on the way home tomorrow. Or maybe even tonight, if I can get her after the bride and groom leave. Believe me, I’ve been wantin’ this whole shindig to be over with so I can talk to Twi again.”
Fritter nodded understandingly. “That sounds like the best thing fer ya. Just bein’ around yer friend’ll make things better, Ah promise.”
She grinned, looking over at where Twilight was singing onstage. To the casual observer she seemed to be a perfectly happy pony. Applejack couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her friend’s mind. Was she truly happy, completely relieved over the fact that her friends, family, and mentor were no longer angry with her? Was she harboring guilt over her outburst at the rehearsal, still convinced that the near destruction of Canterlot had been her fault? Was some part of her still harboring some anger at her friends for dismissing her, regardless of what she had told them?
She had to know, she had to talk to her. But she couldn’t now.
She sighed. The Gala, and now this. Why did all these frou-frou parties have to be so horrible?
Fluttershy politely listened to Twilight’s opening song, feeling that she owed her friend far more than that. As Pinkie took the stage, she quietly sulked out of the reception and into the empty sections of the royal gardens. She hated large crowds, even in the best of times, and with the day’s events she didn’t particularly feel like being around a big crowd. Had she not seen fit to see the bride and groom off, she would have slinked right off to her suite and gone to bed.
She hadn’t been paying the greatest attention to where she was going, so she didn’t notice the statue she was walking toward until she was right in front of it. It was Discord, still frozen in stone, his face still stuck in the same horrified expression.
She looked at the statue, shivers running down her spine. She had suffered the least from Discord’s games, she had been brainwashed rather than broken after all, but any amount of time around the draconequus was enough to drive anypony mad. The thought of all that cruelty, that sadism, twisting and corrupting her mind...it still caused her stomach to lurch.
She had lost track of how long she had stared at the statue before a voice called behind her. “Fluttershy?”
The yellow pegasus gave a small cry and whirled around. However, her panic quickly subsided when she saw who it was.
Iron Will stood before her, looking the same as he did when she had last seen her a few months ago. However, at the same time, for reasons Fluttershy couldn’t quite grasp, he looked different. He had the same blue coat, the same horns, and, she assumed, the same muscular build underneath his tuxedo.
Then it hit her: it was his attitude. His shoulders were slumped, bags were now under his eyes, and his face wore the expression of a minotaur with a lot on his mind.
“Iron Will,” she remembered to return the greeting. “Um, it’s nice to see you again.”
“Likewise,” he responded, in a calmer tone than Fluttershy had ever remembered him speaking in. “I’m glad you’re here, I was hoping for a chance to talk to you again.”
She blinked. He was speaking using pronouns. That was just another difference in his demeanor now. It was like an entirely new minotaur was standing in front of her. “Well, okay, but can we talk somewhere else? I really don’t want to be around...him,” she motioned to Discord.
“I can’t blame you for that,” he admitted. “Come on, let’s take a walk.”
Fluttershy followed the suggestion, all too eager to leave the area. The pair walked in silence for a while, until they finally came upon the royal hedge maze. Though this was the location where they had first met Discord in the flesh, it was a better alternative than being in front of Discord himself, so she didn’t complain as they entered.
They didn’t speak at first, opting instead to simply navigate the twists and turns of the labyrinth in silence. Finally, after a few turns Iron Will spoke. “Fluttershy, I wanted to apologize.”
She turned her head, tilting it at a confused angle. “Huh? You mean, for everything that happened a few months ago?”
“Yes,” he said, as softly as his deep voice would allow. “My seminar made you that way...you nearly lost your friends because of me. I...I caused you a lot of grief.”
Fluttershy was stunned. She had seen signs of this new attitude the last time she had spoken with the minotaur. After accepting that she wasn’t satisfied, he had left without a fight, only to return moments later, having thought to inquire why she wasn’t happy. She gave her reasons, gently but firmly, and once again he left without any fuss. This time, he had not come back. During that time, she could see the shock on his face, which seemed to be quickly replaced by worry and concern. She had felt bad, but assumed a creature with as much pride as him would be back to his old self quickly. But seeing him like this, months later, worried her.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” she assured. “You were only trying to help me, I just took it the wrong way. You can’t blame yourself for the things I did.”
“If it were only you, I’d believe that,” he sighed. “But after you refused to pay, I decided to go through my records and check on my other alumni. I wasn’t...pleased with the results.”
His companion couldn’t help but shiver. “Oh my, you mean others were acting the way I was?”
Iron Will didn’t answer in words, but simply hung his head and turned away. It told Fluttershy everything she needed to know.
“Do you know why I started my seminars on being assertive?”
The pegasus shook her head.
“Well, you might not believe this, but as a child I was bullied.”
Her eyes widened in shock. She didn’t believe it. “You? But you’re so big and strong!”
“I am now,” he told her simply, though there was a hint of pride in his voice at the compliment. “But as a child, I was small for my age. Every calf that was bigger than me would grind me into the ground. And if they weren’t doing that, they were calling me names, mocking me...” he trailed off.
Fluttershy lifted herself off the ground, putting a comforting hoof on his shoulder. “Believe me, I know how that feels,” she said. She tried not to think about it, but the cruel chant often sung to her in flight school still hurt to remember.
“Then, I just sprung up overnight. Went from being the smallest calf in my class to the biggest. Now every bully was inviting me to hurt the ones who hadn’t grown yet, but I had a better idea.”
“You decided to protect them instead,” the pegasus said sagely.
“Yes. I remembered how it felt to be treated that way. I did whatever I could to protect the ones that couldn’t protect themselves.”
Fluttershy flew up and patted him on the shoulder. “I have a friend named Rainbow Dash. She protected me from all kinds of bullies back in flight school. I don’t think I would have made it without her. Believe me, you did a lot of good doing that.”
Iron Will smiled, somewhat proudly. For a moment he seemed to regain some of his old attitude. “I eventually started my seminars because I wanted to help others who were in the same situation I was in as a calf. But I didn’t get enough business back home. Minotaur society is heavily based on combat anyway, so there weren’t many who needed my help.”
“So you came to Equestria,” she guessed.
“Exactly. I figured I was more needed in a more...peaceful area.” It was obvious he had to search for a term that was non-offensive. “I immediately set up shop and went to work. Everypony I helped was satisfied. I was beginning to become known. Then I met you.”
Fluttershy nodded to show she understood. He continued. “I found out...I was making ponies into the very thing I was trying to teach them to stand up to. I was only making things worse.” He slumped his back, looking more dejected. “I...think your friend was right to call me a monster.”
“No she wasn’t,” Fluttershy assured. “She was just upset. You’re not a monster.”
“I like your optimism,” Iron Will started, “but...”
“No buts,” she said firmly. “A monster would have been happy to cause all that trouble. A monster would have blamed something or somepony else for their mistake. You’re not doing either of those things. You just made a mistake, and it’s a mistake a lot of ponies make.”
Iron Will arched an eyebrow. “And what’s that?”
“Assuming the worse out of others,” she answered simply. “Ponies expect the worst out of others, and they act their worst in return. It teaches others to expect the worst too. That’s where so many problems come from. Everypony makes that mistake. I made it today.”
At this, her companion gave a surprised look. “You?”
Now Fluttershy was hanging her head in shame. “My friend Twilight saw through the Changeling Queen’s disguise. She tried to warn us. We assumed she was just being jealous that her brother was getting married. We hurt her very badly because of it.”
She was beginning to tear up. Iron Will tried putting a comforting hand on her, but it was awkward. He clearly wasn’t used to more intimate interaction.
She continued. “Then we did it again. When we went to apologize to her, we were all expecting her to be angry with us and to insult us, but she didn’t. She was very understanding, and I felt bad for thinking so little of her.”
“Um...there, there,” Iron Will said nervously, his inexperience showing.
At that point, Fluttershy realized she was bearing her soul to someone who had come to her for comfort. She quickly bit back her tears, trying to concentrate on helping Iron Will. “So you shouldn’t feel so bad. I made the same mistake today that you did. It doesn’t make me a bad pony.”
He scratched his chin a moment, thinking. “Wait, didn’t you make a mistake by not assuming the worst of the fake princess?”
The pegasus bowed her head, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Um, well, I guess I kind of did,” she muttered. Despite her desires, she started crying again. “It may seem strange after what I just said, but Twilight’s my friend, and she’s proven herself several times to be reliable, smart, and kind. I should have expected the best from her before I expected the best in a stranger.”
Iron Will rubbed the back of his head uncertainly, not sure what to say. “So that philosophy isn’t completely perfect.”
She shook her head slowly, trying in vain to keep her tears in. “If there ever was something that could perfectly tell somepony how to live, everypony would be completely happy. No, I tried assuming the best of a stranger, and I ended up hurting a friend because of it. And, you know, trying to see the best in everyone is why I see the worst in myself.”
The minotaur nodded. “You don’t stand up for yourself because you’re afraid to be the bad guy if you do.”
Fluttershy looked at him, tilting her head in mild surprise.
“They may have been flawed, but I did enough of those seminars to know how ponies think.”
She nodded in understanding. “You’re right. I was so worried about hurting others that I let them hurt me. When I used what you taught me, it felt so good...I started using it all the time, whether it was needed or not, and I hurt ponies because of it.” She was sobbing again.
“And that’s my fault,” Iron Will sighed. “I made you like that.”
“No,” Fluttershy said firmly, putting on her best stern expression, despite her tears. “I acted that way. I’m responsible for my own behavior. You cannot hold yourself accountable for my actions.”
“Fluttershy, I drove you to that. I may not be entirely to blame, but it’s still my fault anyway. We both made mistakes.”
Fluttershy widened her eyes in shock. Then she closed them and looked away. “Twilight said something like that,” she said. Her tears were flowing freely now. Pain was in her heart. “She said the way she tried to tell us, we had every right to think she was being jealous.”
Iron Will rubbed the back of his neck. “Well...do you think she has a point?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But I still feel bad. We all do. I suppose we’re all trying to figure out who was right in all this.”
The minotaur sighed, shaking his head. “I don’t think morality can be figured out just like that. Applying logic to it doesn’t always work. My logic was when someone acts like a jerk, be a jerk right back, and it didn’t do too well. Your logic told you to assume the best from a stranger, and it hurt your friend in the process.”
The pegasus began to cry more, and Iron Will realized he worded his last sentence badly “But you shouldn’t be feeling so bad about it. From the sound of things, the only one to blame is the Changeling Queen.”
“She said something like that too,” Fluttershy sniffed, and Iron Will slapped his forehead in frustration.
“Well, um…” Iron Will racked his brain. Thinking wasn’t his strong suit. “You just made a mistake, like you told me, right? Everypony makes them. You shouldn’t be feeling so bad about making them.”
Fluttershy hung her head, though her tears slowed. “You know, before I met Twilight, I thought I knew everything there was about being kind. That everypony had good in them, and if you were kind long enough you would bring it out. Even Nightmare Moon turned out to be a good pony underneath it all. But I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve met creatures like Discord who don’t seem to have any good in them at all, and I’ve realized there are ponies that you need to stand up to and be firm with. I realized that I still had growing to do. And today, I saw Princess Celestia make the same mistake I did. She’s lived for more than a thousand years, and she still has something to learn.”
At that point the pair turned a corner, and immediately stopped. The turn led to a dead end, but that wasn’t what caused them to halt.
Octavia and Vinyl Scratch were in one of the corners, still covered in the Apple Family’s cooking, their forelegs around each other, and their muzzles touching.
“Mmm...you’re beautiful when you’re covered in pastry,” the deejay swooned.
“That was stupid, it made no sense and…Sweet Celestia I’m so attracted to you right now!”
They returned to their kiss while, unseen to them, Fluttershy and Iron Will slowly backed away, around the corner. They made an about face and started walking in the opposite direction. After a moment, the minotaur spoke.
“Did you see...”
“Me neither,” he agreed.
The pair walked in silence for a moment. Finally, Fluttershy spoke again.
“Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that maybe there’s a lesson we both need to learn. You’re not a monster any more than I am. You made a bad decision, that’s all. Everypony makes them, from the time they’re in the crib. You’re only bad if you don’t acknowledge them, and grow from them. No matter how old you get, you’ll still have something to learn.”
Iron Will was silent for a moment. Then, he grinned. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I mean, I did track down every pony I taught and at least tried to reeducate them.”
“There you go, you tried to fix your mistakes. And I’m sure your seminars are better than ever now.”
The minotaur grinned. “They caught the attention of Princess Celestia herself. That’s how I got an invitation to this wedding.”
“Well there you go. You’re not a monster, and you never were. You just had some growing to do. We all do.”
Iron Will smiled. “I guess you’re right. There’s no point in worrying about a mistake you made when you learn from it.”
“And do your best to fix it,” she added.
He nodded. “Still…it’s hard not to dwell on it.”
“It is,” Fluttershy sighed. “I’m going to feel awful for a long time for not believing Twilight, no matter how much she might try to tell me everything’s okay.”
“So, what will you do about it?” he asked.
“The only thing I can do: spend time with her, and let the guilt pass,” she answered sagely.
By now, they were back outside the maze, passing Discord’s statue again. She looked at the draconequus, another shiver running down her side. “We faced Discord together, and I don’t think any of us fully recovered. But we have gotten better, because we stuck together. This has hurt us too, but we will get through it.”
Iron Will smiled. Not a proud smile like he usually gave when congratulating himself, but a warm one, one that seemed so out of place on him. “I don’t doubt that.”
“Please start talking using your name again. You hardly sound like yourself without it.”
The minotaur grinned. “Well, Iron Will is not one to deny a lady a request,” he responded, giving a playful bow. Fluttershy giggled, blushing a little at her companion’s chivalric attitude.
At that point Twilight’s singing started up again. Fluttershy perked up, glancing in the direction of her friend’s voice. Seeing this, Iron Will offered his hand. “Would you like to dance?”
The pegasus faces him, her face turning red. She raised her hoof. “I…I’d like that.”
Pinkie Pie cried tears of happiness as Princess Cadence and Shining Armor danced happily together, looking so serene, so peaceful. She turned to her friends, who all wore similar expressions. Her gaze stopped at Twilight, whose tears were coming out at a noticeably faster rate.
Pinkie’s normally cheerful expression diminished somewhat. A smile was still there, but it was accompanied by sad eyes. She remembered the pain, the heartbreak on Twilight’s face as those that were dear to her walked out on her, leaving her alone. It pained her just to think about it even now, after the unicorn had assured them that everything had been forgiven.
Twilight smiled and nodded to her, prompting the pink earth pony to dash over to the turntables, and pull Vinyl Scratch from where she had just finished plugging in the last wire in.
“Let’s get this party started!”
With that, she threw the microphone to Twilight, who caught it with her magic and began singing. Soon, the entire garden was dancing, lost in the music, as if the day’s events had been perfectly peaceful.
As soon as Twilight was finished singing, she offered it to Pinkie, who took it with gusto and sang a rendition of “Equestria Girls”. She then passed the microphone back to Twilight, and then trotted out onto the dance floor. Over the next song she danced happily, and then once Octavia took the stage she happily bounced off to the buffet table.
She took a plate of cake and ate a piece in three whole bites. Not the best etiquette by any means, but eating neatly was difficult for any pony who wasn’t a unicorn, so it went unnoticed.
By her fifteenth slice she was laying on the ground, shoveling the sweets into her mouth while a crowd gathered around her, each making bets on how many slices she could eat. Not the most high-class activity to be sure, but the happy couple had already instructed most formalities to be dispersed with.
Luna watched the scene with some amusement before walking over and magically lifting her into the air. “Dear Pinkie, might I have a word with you?”
“Sure thing, Princess,” she answered, though it came out muffled due to the last mouthful of cake. She swallowed as the Princess of the Night brought her to the side, setting her down in front of her.
“I could not help but notice you were enjoying those delicacies at an alarming rate,” the Princess began.
“Well of course, silly! I always love sweets!”
Luna nodded. “So I’ve heard. Twilight Sparkle has spoken of your desire for sugary confections. She, however, has never mentioned a time when you laid on the floor, stuffing them into your mouth at a rate swine would fine disgusting. Tell me...”
However, at that point Pinkie felt an itch in her left front hoof. “I’m sorry to interrupt, your highness, but could you excuse me for just one moment?”
“Very well,” Luna sighed.
With that, Pinkie jumped into a nearby bush. She traveled through the branches until they became a rack of high class engagement clothes. She then popped out of a wardrobe in a suite in the castle, right in front of three Cutie Mark Crusaders making a Pinkie Promise to a certain purple dragon.
“Never!” she yelled dramatically. Then she slowly backed into the wardrobe, leaving behind four very confused youths.
The clothes became branches again, and Pinkie jumped out in front of Luna, who was just as confused as the children had been. “You were saying?”
“Um...” Luna said in surprise before regaining her composure. “Your over-consumption of fair Applejack’s cooking wouldn’t have anything to do with your feelings of guilt, would it?”
Pinkie’s eyes went wide at the question. She then gave the biggest smile she could muster. “Guilty? Why would I feel that?”
The alicorn gave her a stern look. “I flew by Twilight Sparkle’s suite on my early evening patrol. I overheard you apologizing to her for dismissing her earlier.”
“So why would I still feel guilty? She forgave us, so there’s no more need to feel bad.”
Luna tilted her head in a way that made it clear she wasn’t fooled. “Perhaps there is no more need for guilt, but that was not my question. Are you still feeling guilty?”
Pinkie’s smile faded, and then she looked at the ground. “Maybe a little...”
Luna actually smiled. “Excellent, we are making progress. I have kept an eye on Twilight Sparkle’s friendship reports. They speak of a time where you thought your friends had abandoned you, and you ended up hosting a party with a pile of rocks and a ball of lint among the guests.”
Pinkie blushed, a rarity for her. “Yes, I learned not to assume the worst of my friends.”
“And that is indeed a good lesson to learn, dear Pinkie. I’m just not sure that was the best lesson you could have learned.”
“What do you mean?”
Luna sighed. “Pinkie, what do you do when you feel sad and depressed?
Pinkie just grinned. “I smile, I laugh, and soon I feel better.”
“I see. And do you ever discuss the things that depress you with the other Bearers?”
“Of course not,” the earth pony answered, as if it was incredibly obvious. “I’m all about making ponies smile. I don’t talk about sad stuff.
The alicorn sighed. “Then...we have a problem.”
Pinkie was stunned. “What do you mean?”
“Dear Pinkie,” she began, trying to think of how her sister would phrase her intended message. “You cannot simply deny the things that depress you. Doing such things isn’t healthy.”
“But...I’m happy this way! Aren’t you supposed to look on the bright side of life?”
“That is indeed a good philosophy,” Luna stated plainly. “But I have learned from my own experiences that denying the existence of negative feelings can be just as harmful as focusing on them exclusively.”
Luna sighed. “Long ago, when I first began to feel jealousy over the love ponies gave to my sister, I tried to deny these feelings. I told myself that I cared not who loved my night; that I simply enjoyed it, and that was enough.”
“Well that sounds like a pretty good attitude,” Pinkie said.
“I haven't finished,” Luna said sternly, prompting Pinkie to fearfully silence herself.
“You were correct, that was a wise philosophy, but that did not rid me of my negative feelings. I tried burying them deep within me, denying their existence. As a result, they grew. For decades I deluded myself into believing I wasn’t feeling jealousy for my sister, and all it accomplished was allowing those feelings to grow unchecked. Eventually, I couldn’t simply lie to myself any longer, so I perused some...outer help.”
Pinkie tilted her head quizzically. Hearing the unspoken question, Luna sighed, looking away from her subject. “The reason alcohol was banned in Equestria for five hundred years was because on my hundredth birthday party, I lost control...”
Contrary to popular belief, Pinkie had willpower, and she was currently exercising every bit of it to stop from giggling.
Such effort became moot moments later when a pastry fight broke out at the buffet table. As the guards rushed to stop it, Pinkie just laughed, while her superior grinned in amusement, especially after seeing Vinyl and Octavia running past them, pursued by two pegasi guards.
The Princess of the Night gave a brief chuckle. Then her expression returned to a stern one as she remembered what she had been doing. She turned back to Pinkie and continued. “When I finally started to be honest of my feelings, I was too far gone. Celestia merely told me everything was okay, that I shouldn’t worry. Had I heard those reassurances early on, they might have helped soothe me, but they did no such good now. I opened my heart to my rage and jealousy, allowing Nightmare Moon to taint it.”
Luna kept her composure, but her grief over the incident was still apparent in her voice. Pinkie saw this and trotted over to her, nuzzling her on the chest. The Princess accepted this gesture, though she ended it quickly. They were in a public setting, after all.
“The point I am trying to make is this, dear Pinkie: you are making the same mistake I made. You cannot simply deny your negative feelings. Already it has taken its toll on you.”
“What do you mean?” Pinkie asked, confused.
“I refer you to the earlier incident involving a party with your imaginary friends. You became so distressed that your mind went immediately into a deluded state. That is not the sign of a healthy pony.”
Pinkie just looked at the ground. “I thought my friends didn’t like me anymore...”
“And while that would devastate anypony, that is not the normal response,” Luna said sternly. “You’ve been repressing your negative feelings far too long. Now, I may be the wrong pony to press you like this, but I must ask: how do you usually handle sadness? Do you ever discuss such feelings with your friends?”
Pinkie shook her head. “No, never. Anything that bothers me is temporary. I just remember that I have plenty to be happy about, and it cheers me right up.”
The Princess nodded in understanding. “And I assume you are happy with your life right now?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? I have five super-awesome friends, and Mr. and Mrs. Cake have been like parents to me, and I just got two baby siblings to boot.”
“I see. Tell me, your battle with Discord, have you discussed it with the others?”
“I had to. Princess Celestia made us all go see this fancy doctor after that. He told us to talk about it with each other. And since the Princess told us to listen to him, I did it.”
Luna knew Pinkie was telling the truth. She, like the other Bearers, had proven time and again their loyalty to her sister. “Well then, I must leave you with a final thought. I am worried about you, dear Pinkie. I fear you might have had a painful experience in your life; something you haven’t discussed with your comrades. It is not my place to find out. However, I would recommend talking with the other Bearers about it.”
Luna achieved what many ponies thought was impossible: rendering Pinkie Pie completely silent. She nervously ground her hoof into the ground while looking away from the princess. Luna, feeling her message got across, began to turn away, but at that moment her subject spoke to her in a low voice. “...I have been keeping something from the others…I’ve even been keeping it from Mr. and Mrs. Cake.”
“Have you now?”
Pinkie was quiet for a moment. “When I left my home on the rock farm, where I grew up...my family was really mad at me. I left...in a way that made them mad...I’m not sorry I left, but...”
Luna held up her hoof to stop her. “Worry not about sharing it with me if it bothers you. My goal here was to get you to let your feelings be known. I know I am not the best at comforting others, but I saw your plight, and knew you needed help. If I have convinced you to discuss it with the other Bearers, then I have done well.”
“I will Princess, I Pinkie Promise.”
Luna arched an eyebrow, looking puzzled. “Pinkie Promise?”
“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!” the earth pony went through the ritual. It was juvenile, but the Princess smiled at it anyway.
“Then I must ask you to make another Pinkie Promise.”
Pinkie brought a hoof up to her brow and saluted. “Yes, your highness!”
“You must talk with Twilight Sparkle come tomorrow and ensure she does not feel angry towards you.”
Pinkie blinked in confusion. “She isn’t, silly! We already talked to her, and she says she forgives us. She understands we had every reason not to believe her…”
“Just as you understand there’s little point in dwelling on a mistake she’s forgiven you for?”
The pink pony’s eyes went wide as the validity of the statement washed over her. “But…Twilight said she wasn’t mad.”
“You said you weren’t feeling guilt. Logic and emotions are rarely bedfellows. Twilight Sparkle likely feels anger at you and the others at the moment, and she likely feels anger towards herself for feeling that way. You cannot allow this. Tomorrow, tell the others what I have told you, and talk with her. Don’t let her damage herself with such thoughts.”
“I won’t, your highness, I promise.”
The pink earth pony went through the appropriate motions. “Pinkie Promise.”
“Most excellent. Well, now that we’ve concluded our exchange, I must be off. I must find where our entertainment has run off to.”
With that, Luna took off for the sky, leaving Pinkie alone, thinking about what Luna had said.
Spike was grateful he didn’t have any other duties beyond carrying the rings. He had nothing to do during the three hours when the real wedding was being put together. That meant he didn’t have to be in contact with Twilight. He couldn’t bear to be.
The second ceremony went off without a hitch, leaving the loving couple happily married. As Twilight returned to her suite momentarily, the others followed her to give their apologies. He hid. They called out for him a few times, but decided not to let their window of opportunity slip.
He dashed outside, into the garden. He remained off to the side, hopefully unnoticed. He didn’t want Twilight to see him. He didn’t want Celestia or any of the others to ask what was wrong. He just wanted to be left alone.
The others came out, all gathering to watch the dancing couple, waiting for Vinyl to finish hooking up the sound system. Spike watched, wishing he was willing to join them, to join Twilight.
The dragon gave a small jump and turned around. Sweetie Belle was standing there, looking at him with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said with such quickness and defensiveness that she instantly knew it was a lie.
“You’re lying. You’re acting the same way you did after,” she paused and looked around, knowing Spike wouldn’t want this overheard, “after your birthday. Come on, tell me!”
Spike cringed at the memory. After it was over, he’d locked himself in the library and refused to leave for weeks, even to welcome Applejack home from the Canterlot Rodeo. Only when the group left for Canterlot to perform in the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant did he accompany them, feeling he could be safe away from what he was sure to be judgmental eyes, even though Twilight had assured him that many were kept in the dark about the rampaging dragon’s true identity.
Over those weeks his friends had tried everything to cheer him up, to little avail. Sweetie had overheard Twilight tell Rarity that the dragon had slept with her the first three nights after out of sheer need to be comforted. When the adults failed, Applejack hit upon the idea of asking the Cutie Mark Crusaders to spend time with him, in hopes that ponies his own age would bring him out of his shell. While he still refused to leave his home, he eventually relented to a few games of cards and checkers, if only to mollify Twilight’s worried state.
“I said it was nothing,” he said sharply. He wanted to yell at her, but that would attract unwanted attention, namely Twilight’s.
“You’re lying. What’s wrong?”
“Just go away,” he snapped, beginning to walk away.
By that point, Twilight had started singing. Thinking quickly, Sweetie spoke. “So you wanna dance?”
Spike stopped, looking at the unicorn with a bit of confusion. “What?”
She blushed. “I mean, you’re upset, maybe dancing will help you get your mind off of it.”
The dragon thought for a moment. He felt no attraction toward Sweetie, all thought of romance were reserved for her older sister. Still, maybe it would be good to be distracted for a bit, even though he didn’t think it was possible. At least he could convince the others he was okay.
“Sure, why not?”
So they took to the dance floor and began dancing. They followed no particular dance, though they both knew some. Being raised in Canterlot, Spike had experience with upper class behavior, and Sweetie naturally picked certain things up from Rarity, but they both preferred to simply move in time with the music with whatever they improvised.
Eventually Octavia took the stage with some songs for slow dancing, and while neither dance partner subscribed to the idea that the opposite sex carried “cooties”, it still became rather awkward. After just a single dance they decided not to carry on. So they excused themselves from the dance floor and headed off to the side.
“Do you feel better?” Sweetie asked.
“...a little,” he admitted. “Thanks.”
“So what’s wrong?”
“I told you, nothing,” he said, getting defensive again.
“Then how could you be ‘feeling better’?” she smirked.
Spike winced, realizing his slip-up. Still, he persisted. “Mind your own business, Sweetie. Or are you going to write another article about me?”
Sweetie winced at the memory, and he instantly regretted his words. “I...I’m sorry Sweetie. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s okay,” she said quietly. I...well, all three of us just don’t like to remember it too much. We really hurt everypony.”
“To be honest, I think most of them were too hard on you guys,” he said. “Everypony loved your article before they were getting gossiped about.”
“It was still wrong,” she said sadly. “I mean, you and Twilight were pretty mad. And we never even wrote an article about you.”
Spike rubbed the back of his head. “Well, Twilight’s had some bad experiences with gossip.” Wisely, he didn’t go into detail. The last thing she needed right now was a full-on guilt trip. “I was mad enough that you wrote an article on Twilight, but you also said I said those things.”
“I’m real sorry.”
“We already forgave you, remember?”
“Is Twilight why you’re upset?” Sweetie pressed again. “Rarity told me they were all going to go apologize to her for not listening about the fake princess, I thought you were going with them.”
“I...I can’t,” Spike stuttered.
“Why not? You didn’t do anything worse than my sister or any of the others.”
“Yes I did!” he snapped. “I...” he stopped, out of frustration or an unwillingness to say what was troubling him.
Sweetie sighed, placing a hoof on his shoulder. “Rarity says it’s best to talk about your problems,” she said. “You can tell me...”
“Sweetie!” Apple Bloom’s voice called out. The pair turned to see the remaining two members of the Cutie Mark Crusaders coming toward them. The young farm pony was about to say something when Sweetie cut her off.
“AB, whatever it is, we have something more important now.” She turned back to Spike who, as she predicted, wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of sharing what was on his mind with two more fillies.
“You’re not going to leave me alone until I tell you, are you?” the dragon sighed.
Sweetie nodded as Scootaloo asked, “Tell her what?”
Spike placed his head in his hand. “Fine. But can we talk somewhere more private? I...I don’t want Twilight to accidentally overhear.”
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo gave each other quizzical looks, but Sweetie just nodded. “Come on, we’ll go to our room in the castle.”
The three underage fillies were all sharing a suite at their insistence, wanting a chance to crusade every evening. They were extremely grateful for that now, since it meant less of a chance to be interrupted.
“All right Spike, spill the beans. What’s wrong?” Sweetie demanded.
“Before I tell you, I want a Pinkie Promise that you won’t tell Twilight.”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Spike, come on...”
“No! I can’t let her find out. You can never break this promise.”
At that point, the nearby wardrobe burst open, and a certain pink earth pony flashed a dramatic pose.
“Never!” Pinkie said dramatically before backing into the rack of clothes.
Befuddled, Apple Bloom trotted over to the wardrobe and climbed in, finding only some clothes and a hardwood back. “How does she...”
“I wouldn’t recommend trying to find out,” Spike sighed, though there was a bit of a grin on his face. “Twilight drove herself crazy trying to figure her out.” He chucked in remembrance, and then his face returned to its solemn expression. “Anyway, I want a Pinkie Promise, or I’m not talking.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders gave signs of exasperation, but performed the actions nonetheless. “There, now will you tell us?”
The dragon sighed, slumping his shoulder and hanging his head. “It’s...well...I let Twilight down today.”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “So has everypony else. Rainbow Dash was all mopey and stuff before the reception...”
“It’s different for me!” he snapped, causing the three fillies to flinch in response. Spike sighed. “It’s not the same as the others.”
“Why?” Apple Bloom dared ask. “’Cause you’ve been her friend longer than they have? Or ‘cause you live with her or somethin’?”
“...Kind of,” he admitted sadly. “I mean...I kind of messed things up.”
Sweetie shook her head. “Spike, you’re just overreacting. The others were all expecting Twilight to yell at them and be angry, but when they came back down Rarity told me she forgave them easy. I’m sure it’ll be the same for you...”
“I told you, it’s different for me...”
“How?” Sweetie demanded. “You’re just as much her friend as any of the others..”
“That’s the problem,” Spike shouted exasperated. “I don’t...I don’t want to be friends with her.”
That statement effectively silenced the three fillies. Wide eyes were their only answer for a few moments.
“Spike, what the hay are you talkin’ about?” Apple Bloom demanded.
Then Scootaloo gasped, bringing her hooves up to her mouth. “Spike...are you in love with Twilight?”
Now Spike looked shocked. His purple scales turned green as he placed a hand over his mouth. Obviously, the pegasus’ theory was incorrect.
“Ew! No! I mean...that’s just too weird to think about,” he shook his head in disgust.
“Then what is it?” Scootaloo demanded.
Spike shot her a glare, then sighed. “You guys know I went to join the Dragon Migration a few months ago, right?”
The all nodded. “Rarity told me you went because you were feeling lonely without any other dragons around,” Sweetie spoke.
“I was, but after I got back I didn’t. I decided I was perfectly happy being with ponies instead.”
“Then what’s wrong?” Scootaloo asked impatiently.
“Well...I started thinking about how I grew up. Twilight hatched my egg the day she became Celestia’s student, and ever since then she’s raised me.”
“Wait a minute,” Scootaloo interrupted. “Twilight told us this story, and she was our age when it happened. They let Twilight raise you that young?”
“Yeah. I mean, Celestia was there to help her, but she let Twilight do everything. She wanted her to learn responsibility since she had all that magic in her.
“Anyway, Twilight raised me from the day I hatched. She fed me, and taught me to talk and write, and took care of me. And no matter how busy she was with studying, she always took time to play with me.”
Spike sighed as he thought back to his days in Canterlot. “I didn’t have many friends growing up. I mean, I think I’m the only civilized dragon in Equestria. A lot of the upper class didn’t want their kids around me...they thought I was an animal...”
When he trailed off, the three Crusaders looked at each other with worry. “Spike...you okay?” Apple Bloom said weakly.
“I think it’s pretty clear I’m not,” he snapped. “You remember me growing giant after my birthday, right? Well Twilight took me to the doctor about it. You know what he said? ‘Try a vet.’ A vet! I...I’m not a dog!”
His audience looked uneasy. They guessed this was one more reason that day was so painful for him.
Spike shook his head. “Anyway, even with all that, Twilight was always there. When ponies made fun of me for being a dragon, she cheered me up. She told me she didn’t care when ponies bullied her. I could tell she was lying, and she was only being strong for me, but I still felt better with her supporting me.
“And after we moved to Ponyville? Well, when I tried running away from home, she followed after me, even going right into a dragon’s cave to get me back. And this was after I had been a jerk the day before. She helped me get through how I felt after my birthday. She followed me right into an area filled with dragons to make sure I was safe on the Migration. She...she’s always taking care of me.”
At that point, Sweetie’s eyes widened in realization. “I think I get it,” she said slowly. “You don’t love Twilight as a friend or a special somepony...you love her as a mother.”
There was a pause from Spike. Then, he lowered his head and nodded. “Yes...I realized how I felt after the Migration. I...I wanted to tell her that. But...I really messed that up today.”
Apple Bloom walked up to him, hoping she looked as comforting as Applejack did whenever she talked to her. “Spike, Twilight forgave mah sister an’ everypony else for not believin’ her today, I’m sure she’ll forgive you to.”
“I told you, it’s different for me!” Spike snapped, exasperated that they weren’t seeing what he was seeing. “Twilight has gone up against dragons for me, but I couldn’t even stand by her when regular ponies were against her.” He stopped talking for a moment, a lump appearing in his throat. His eyes were misting over as tears started to prick his eyes. “She’s saved my life twice, and I couldn’t even believe that something she was saying was worth believing. She might still forgive me as a friend, but...she’d never want me as a son now.”
“Spike, I think you’re overreacting...”
“Don’t tell me that!” he yelled. He actually sounded angry rather than just irritated this time. His voice raised quite a few decibels as he continued. “Family’s supposed to stand by each other, aren’t they? But I didn’t! The moment it looked bad for her, I just didn’t bother! After she stood by me for everything, I couldn’t stand by her!
“You don’t know what it’s like! All three of you have families! You have parents, or older brothers and sisters, or both to go to. I don’t have anything except Twilight, and I threw her aside today! I don’t have a family! And now I never will!”
“Spike, c-calm down…”
“No! I…I…” he couldn’t get the words out in his anger. He turned around and punched the wardrobe. It split where he struck, the bottom hinge coming halfway undone. The three fillies jumped at this, their eyes wide with both fear and concern. The dragon looked at the damage he’d done, clenching his teeth and fists in anger. Then he looked to the floor, and the tears poured out freely.
“I go on a rampage and destroy half of Ponyville…she still stood by me. But…but when she…when she had one outburst…I turned my back on her. Even if she would want to be my mother, I…I don’t think I deserve it.”
With that, the last semblance of control left him. He fell to his knees, lowered his head, and sobbed, letting his heart succumb to its depression.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked at each other, unsure of what to do. Sweetie was the first to act. She trotted over to the weeping dragon and wrapped her forelegs around him. It had little in the way of visible effects, but it was all the young unicorn could think to do. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo soon followed, hugging their friend while feeling awkward that they couldn’t do more.
How long they stayed like that, they eventually lost track of. But eventually the sobs began to quiet, and the group broke their hug. It was Sweetie who spoke first. “Spike, I really think you should go talk to Twilight about this…”
“I can’t.” He no longer sounded angry, but strained, as if he was having trouble putting his thoughts together. “I told you, whether she’ll accept me or not, I…I can’t do it now.”
“But Spike…” Apple Bloom began, but she was stopped. Not by the dragon she was trying to comfort, as she was half expecting, but by Sweetie, who held up a hoof to silence her friend.
“Spike, look,” she said, trying to think of how to phrase her point. “During the last Sisterhooves Social, me and Rarity got into a huge fight. She yelled at me and told me she wished she didn’t have a sister. I was so mad at her I decided I’d rather be part of Apple Bloom’s family. We...both ended up saying hurtful things. But we both made up, and now we’re better sisters than ever.
“My point is that family isn’t always perfect like you’re saying. I’ve let down Rarity and my parents, Apple Bloom has let down Applejack and Big Macintosh, and Scootaloo’s let down her parents.”
The two other fillies winced at this, a clear indicator their friend was being truthful. “You let down Twilight today, but it’s not as bad as you think. You haven’t done anything we haven’t done, and we still have families.”
“Have any of your mistakes ever left somepony you care about at the mercy of something like the Changeling Queen? Or nearly gotten Equestria taken over and everypony enslaved?”
“Then you haven’t messed up like me,” he said simply.
Sweetie sighed. “I don’t think we can convince you tonight,” she said with some disappointment. “So if you want to keep quiet on this, we will. But I want you to think about something. When my sister and everypony else went up to apologize to Twilight, they were expecting her to be angry at them, but she wasn’t. They were all convinced they were bad friends because of it, but they weren’t. I’m sure it’s the same thing with you. Just…think about it, okay?”
Spike looked at her wearily. “Fine,” he said, his voice betraying his exhaustion. “But remember, you can’t tell Twilight.”
“We won’t tell Twilight,” Scootaloo assured.
“Or anypony else,” he added quickly and angrily. The orange filly stomped her hoof. It was clear she had been thinking of that loophole.
“Fine,” she said angrily. “We won’t tell anypony about this, we promise.”
Spike rose to his feet. It was an effort, but he managed. “When we get back to Ponyville, I have something I want to give you guys.”
The trio looked at him with quizzical glances, and he picked up on the unspoken question. “It’s something I made for Twilight. I was going to give it to her for...for Mother’s Day. But that’s not happening now.”
“Well what are we supposed to do with it?” Scootaloo demanded.
“I don’t know, one of you give it to your mother...or Granny Smith,” he added to Apple Bloom.
“But...you made it for Twilight,” the youngest member of the Apple Family began. “It wouldn’t be the same if we...”
“Then throw it out, find some use for it, whatever! I just don’t want it anymore!”
“Spike...” Sweetie began, but she was cut off by Apple Bloom.
“Fine, we’ll take it.”
Spike seemed suspicious by the filly’s insistence, but he didn’t press the issue. “I think we better get back to the party,” he said, his voice having dipped to a completely neutral tone. “Twilight’s probably already suspicious that I’ve disappeared.”
The three fillies sighed. He was going to great lengths to avoid the one pony that could help him. Still, they said nothing as he walked out the door, trying his best to look normal, though his stance still gave him away.
“Why’d you stop me?” Sweetie demanded of her friend after she was sure the dragon was out of earshot. “I was going to convince him to try and hold onto it, in case he changes his mind.”
“’Cause I already know he’s gonna change his mind. But as long as he has that present, he might throw it out. So we’re just gonna keep hold of it until he stops bein’ dumb and goes and talks to Twilight.”
“That makes sense,” Scootaloo agreed. “You think we should do anything else about it?”
“Maybe we should start visiting Spike again, like we did back during...that last incident,” Sweetie suggested. “Something that’s going to pull him out of this faster.”
“I say we tell Twilight anyway,” Scootaloo said bluntly.
“No way!” Apple Bloom protested. “I made a promise, an’ the Apple Family always stays true to their word.
“Spike’s being an idiot, I don’t think we should have to listen to him.”
The red maned pony sighed and turned to Sweetie. “What do you think?”
“I think we should save telling anypony for last,” Sweetie said. “Let’s just try and talk Spike out of being this way first. If that doesn’t work...I think we may have to break our promise.”
Both of her companions looked annoyed by this, for what were obviously entirely different reasons. However, they both sighed. “I guess that makes sense,” Scootaloo conceded. “But I still say we’re wasting time.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Apple Bloom sighed. “Let’s just get back to the party. We can worry about it tomorrow.”
“I guess,” the pegasus muttered as they left.
The rest of the party passed uneventfully for the group. Spike stayed off to the side until it was time to see the newlyweds off. He cracked a joke, all of them laughed. All of them thought everything was normal. Just what he wanted.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders mingled for a while, but it was clear that this was an adult party they had little interest in. Still, Pinkie and Cadence took enough interest to keep them entertained, at least for a short while.
Twilight didn’t return to her suite last night. Whatever Luna had wanted to discuss with her, it had taken all night. That suited Spike just fine, as he curled up in the secondary bed. He didn’t want to deal with Twilight’s probing questions. He didn’t want her to notice his emotional state. He just wanted to sleep.
Shining Armor trotted out of the castle’s hospital feeling like the lowest pony in Equestria. The headache he now had was much worse than any he had felt over the last few days, but that was nothing compared to the blow to his ego. The doctors had taken nearly an hour to purge the brainwashing toxins the Changeling Queen has pumped into him, even with what his fiancée had done to reverse the process. Each and every one of them were surprised he could even stand, let alone walk.
For the first time in days he could think clearly. He remembered all the times he had disagreed with the false Cadence, only to agree when he got hit with what he thought was a spell to cure headaches. A spell that was often cast on him without warning, he now realized, and one which only seemed to make headaches worse. And the pains they were supposedly curing could have easily been prevented if he had had the other guards contribute their magic to help him with the spell.
It seemed so obvious now, like he was blind before but now could see. Earlier he couldn’t think about those things. Every time he tried focusing on them, the headaches would worsen until his mind drifted elsewhere. He found nothing odd about the fact that his bride-to-be was acting nothing like herself, or that she was blind to their history. Then again, he had been, too. Even trying to remember how he and Cadence met caused him great pain.
But he remembered now. He remembered proposing to her in the castle garden the day after she had gotten back from an important visit to Zebrica for a goodwill mission. She remembered her, or as she told him while in the hospital, the false her, had come to him the next day saying that the last of her men had reported back to her a great threat mounting against Canterlot, and how a shield spell was needed to protect the city. He remembered her early insistence that she allow her to cast anti-headache spells on him, a precautionary measure that seemed to do nothing. He remembered her apologizing for not doing the spell right, and how she insisted on casting it again and again until she performed it correctly, which he now understood meant when he stopped registering that every spell was making him feel worse, not better.
And he remembered his faith and pride in his little sister. Even while he was angry with her, there was a small voice, calling through the pain, begging him to have himself checked out before dismissing Twilight. He wondered how loud the voice would have been had he not been under the faux bride’s influence. Would he have listened? He wanted, so badly, to believe he would have, but it was impossible to say.
He slowed to a near stop as he thought of his sister. She had been right to worry about them drifting apart. In their younger days, she had practically been his shadow at times, following him into all manner of things and idolizing him. He had been protective of her, perhaps too much so. Once she had moved into the castle, she didn’t quite know how to defend herself from the bullies there.
And how long distance had their relationship become? Being Captain of the Guards required him to travel a bit, but he never realized just how much until a year ago. She moved to Ponyville without his input. He hadn’t been there to congratulate her on awakening the Element of Magic. Celestia had intentionally sent him far away from Canterlot and Ponyville, knowing he would have kept Twilight under lock and key during Nightmare Moon’s reign. He hadn’t been there to celebrate her knighthood after defeating Discord, having been out of the country. The previous Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant and her last birthday, he had been out of the country both times and missed her. The other Bearers, friends with whom she shared a deep bond, hadn’t even known he existed. She hadn’t written many letters, nor ever came for a visit whenever she had been in town.
Of course, he was not blameless for leaving her out of major life decisions. He had begun dating Cadence just six months ago. The feelings he had been too shy to tell her about came out, and he confessed his love. She reciprocated, and they fell deep in love so very fast. He never wrote to tell Twilight of his relationship when it started, or when he decided to propose.
Nightmare Moon. Discord. Dragons and an ursa minor. Twilight had faced them all, all threats he should have been stopping but didn’t, he doubted if he even could have. Even his victory over the Changeling Queen had been made possible through her heroics. For someone who ran Equestria’s army he seemed to do remarkably little in the way of dealing threats to Celestia’s subjects. He had to scoff at the irony. Since he was a foal he had dreamed about saving Equestria from terrible creatures, and it had been his sister doing it instead.
As soon as the changelings had been expelled from Canterlot, Twilight immediately began directing orders to the others to get the wedding back up and running in three hours. The others were incredulous that it could be done, but followed without hesitation regardless. No one wanted to doubt her now.
He had desperately wanted to talk to her then, but Celestia hadn’t given him the chance. She moved both him and his future wife to the hospital wing. Cadence hadn’t anything but a slight case of malnutrition and a dirty coat, and after a quick bath was released to the kitchen to sample the Apple Family’s cooking.
Now, finally free of the doctor’s scrutiny, he sought out his sister. To his relief, he found her in the ballroom with Cadence and Pinkie Pie, going over the reception plans. Carefully, so the two mares dancing at the other end of the room couldn’t see him, he got Twilight’s attention.
“Shiny! You’re finally out! Are you okay?”
He smiled half-heartedly. “I can think better than I could have the last five days.”
“Great! I’ll tell Cadence you’re better, she’ll be thrilled that...”
“No, Twilight,” he said quickly, “I...really need to talk to you, now. Before we do anything else.”
The lavender unicorn’s mood changed from happy to nervous quickly. “Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
“Not here, let’s go to my quarters.”
They walked in silence, though they walked quickly, as Twilight was adamant about not getting too far behind schedule.
They entered Shining Armor’s living space, the elder unicorn shutting the door behind them and locking it.
“Alright, what’s wrong?” Twilight asked, looking at her brother with concern.
“Twilight, I...I want to call off the wedding.”
For the following five seconds, the room became so quiet that the Captain of the Guard could swear he heard the sound of his sister’s eyes stretching to twice their normal size.
“What?” the younger sibling shouted incredulously, not believing what she was hearing. “Wh...how...How can you do this now?”
“Twilight...how can I marry her now? I let that monster imposter act as her for five days! That entire time she was starving in those caves, and I was up here, completely oblivious to her suffering. According to her, she was kidnapped right after I proposed to her. I let it happen right under my nose! I’m not even married to her yet and I already let her down!”
“Then I let that fake her waltz in and tell me her sources knew of a potential threat against Canterlot! The details were so vague but I still let her talk me into casting that shield around the city, and to let her zap me with those spells to brainwash me! I just gave that disgusting bug everything she needed to keep me weak and distracted while she fed off of me!
“And you! I let you down! I verbally backhoofed you in front of your friends and the princess without even checking what you were saying! I got everypony you care about to walk out on you without a second thought! All those years I promised to protect you and keep you safe, and today I hurt you worse than any of the changelings did!”
“So let’s review: I failed as a husband, a brother, and as Captain of the Guards, all in one fell swoop. The three things I’m supposed to be good at and I couldn’t do any of them. I’m… I’m a fraud. I think… no, I know Cadence can do better than me.”
He dared to look at his sister. She was looking wide eyed in shock, completely flabbergasted by her brother’s choice of words. He sighed. “Look, I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to try and talk me out of this, but I’ve made up my…”
As it turned out, he didn’t know what Twilight was going to do. He clearly had not expected to find himself on the floor with an aching jaw and his sister’s hoof print on the side of his face.
“Aw, jeez, Twilight…”
“You were being an idiot,” she said, coldly and sternly. “You needed that. Now get up and get ready to get married.”
“What? No, Twilight, I can’t do that to Cadence!”
“No, you can’t do this to Cadence! This is the that that you can’t do to Cadence!”
Twilight gave an exasperated sigh. “You can’t back out on this now, you’ll break Cadence’s heart!”
“No! You’re not going to ignore me this time! You’re going to listen!”
Shining Armor quieted himself. Bringing up his dismissal of his sister earlier had been quite an effective tactic, even if it did make her feel dirty for doing it.
Twilight sighed as her expression and her tone softened. “You saw how she looked when she came out of that cave, like she hadn’t eaten or slept in days. But when I made her a way out, she went running for the surface…running to you. I heard her cry and sob, praying to Celestia that you were okay. Even after going through Tartarus the past five days, you were on her mind.
“I knew…I knew, seeing that, that she was the mare for you. She loves you, more deeply than anything. I can’t let you get cold hooves now, not after all she suffered through to be with you. She wants you, Shiny. To her, there is no pony better.”
“But,” he began to protest, but she gently put her hoof on his mouth to silence him.
“The changeling’s fooled everypony. If anything, you should be feeling the least guilty here. You spent the last few days brainwashed. You weren’t yourself. I’m willing to bet that if you hadn’t been, you would have seen right through that bug’s disguise, I wouldn’t have had to do anything. And I’m sure the only reason you let her zap you in the first place was because you trusted Cadence enough to let her do that.
“You’re not unworthy of her. She doesn’t think so, and that’s really all that matters. She suffered through a lot this week. If you call off the wedding now, it will kill her. You can’t do that to her.”
Shining Armor looked at his sister, stunned. “Wh… Are you sure?”
Twilight smiled sadly. “Haven’t you learned…” she began, but stopped midway. Her remark wasn’t the best thing right now. “I’m sure. Completely. The Changeling Queen fooled everypony. Even if you hadn’t been brainwashed…” her tone saddened. “Well, I still wouldn’t have blamed you if you hadn’t believed me.”
He was taken aback. She continued.
“My friends...well, they had good reason not to believe me. I made it clear to them I didn’t like that imposter. After listening to my whine about it so much, they had every reason to think I was just jealous. Plus… yeah, I guess I have a tendency to overreact. You see, there was one incident, right after we defeated Discord…”
“You don’t have to tell me,” he assured her. “I… know what happened.”
Twilight blinked. “You do?”
Shining Armor sighed. “Celestia told me. I… asked her to keep me up to speed on anything that happened to you while I was away. It… it made me feel guilty.”
His sister, once again, was shocked. “W-what? How?”
“Twilight...you were right to worry about us drifting apart. I missed you getting the Element of Magic. I missed you defeating Nightmare Moon and bringing Princess Luna home. I missed you defeating Discord...and then I wasn’t there for you to help you through everything afterward. I mean, the Princess told me you weren’t healed by the Elements like everypony else, and if half the things I’ve heard about Discord are true, it must have been horrible.”
“It was...” she said softly, looking away. “I just… I never wanted anything to be out of place again, I just…”
Her older brother sighed, nuzzling the younger pony with sympathies. “I’m a soldier, Twilight. I’ve seen what war can do to a pony. No one blames you for losing your head afterward. But… I blame myself for not being there for you. I should have taken a leave, come to see you…”
“Shiny, no,” she said. “Nothing that happened was your fault. You need to quit apologizing for being flawed like every other pony.”
“I can’t help it. Remember when we were foals? We talked with each other about everything. Every night we talked about how much closer we were getting to our goals. I told you how much stronger I was getting, how much better I was getting at my drills. You told me what you read about that day, how everything worked… it was kind of embarrassing not being able to keep up with a six-year-old on magical theory,” he admitted with a blush. Twilight couldn’t help but smile.
“You remember how mad I got when I couldn’t be there for your entrance exam? I begged Mom and Dad to let me take off school so I could see you get in, but they said no. And I missed you getting your cutie mark…”
“You wouldn’t talk to our parents for a month after that…” she remembered fondly.
“Even after you went to live in the castle, we still visited once a week. We still stayed so close. Then I actually enlisted and had to go away for basic training. That’s when it all started, isn’t it? We saw each other less and less. I was surprised when you just up and moved to Ponyville without even telling me…”
Twilight cringed. “So, I guess I’m to blame for us drifting apart, huh?”
“We both are,” he sighed. “I never even told you I was dating Cadence. It never even occurred to me you would be upset by it.”
Twilight looked away from her brother for a moment. “I’m sorry. I… I guess I really had no right to be that mad at not being told about the wedding directly from you.”
“Maybe not,” he said. “But I don’t blame you. I could never be mad at you for too long.”
There was a long silence. Eventually, she looked at him again. Tears were forming in his eyes. “Look at you.”
She blinked. “What?”
“All this time I’ve been thinking of you as my little sister, that filly who always followed me around, looking up to me with those wide eyes. But look… you grew up. You’ve done more in the last year than most ponies do in a lifetime, and it looks like this is only the beginning of it. I’ve got to say… I’ve never been more proud to be your brother.”
Now Twilight was crying. “Stop…”
“No, you deserve to hear this…”
“No, I don’t!” she yelled.
Shining Armor stopped. She wasn’t crying out of happiness, he realized, but self-loathing.
“I was an idiot. I didn’t even think it was a bad idea to just barge in during the rehearsal and accuse her. I could have just gone to Celestia and told her what I saw like a full grown mare, but no, I had to act like a foal! I… I’m so embarrassed,” he put her hoof to her head, her cheeks flushing.
“Twiley, no, look…”
“No, don’t try to justify me! I acted like an idiot. Everypony had good reason not to believe me… they probably thought I was relapsing again.”
“It… sounds like it’s bothering you,” he noted, feeling like an idiot for not being able to come up with anything more comforting than stating the obvious. “You want to talk about it?”
“It’s… I’m scared. What if I had been wrong?” she sighed. “I… I would have lost everything. You, Cadence, my friends… and Princess Celestia. Everything I worked so hard for would have been gone.” She groaned, sitting down and clutching her stomach. “Just thinking about it makes me sick. Am I really just one mistake away from losing everything?”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” he tried to assure her, sitting as well. “I mean… I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had been in my right mind. I probably would have been mad… but I would have forgiven you.” He paused, wondering what to say next. “Are you mad at your friends?”
“…A little,” she admitted, sounding guilty. “I know I shouldn’t be, but…” her tears increased. “They hurt me. I… I don’t know. I mean, they sometimes get on me about overreacting, but…a-am I really… do they really have that little faith in me? Am I that bad?”
Shining Armor sighed. “I really don’t know. That’s a side-effect of us drifting apart, I really don’t know. But here’s what I do know, Princess Celestia trusts you, and she’s very proud of you. I always hear her bragging to visiting emissaries about you, and nearly all of them think you’re her daughter until she corrects them. And today, you proved yourself right. You saved me and Cadence, and the entire kingdom. If that doesn’t earn you some trust, I don’t know what will.”
“If I had been wrong… would they have forgiven me?”
Shining Armor just smiled. “I know they would have. I’ve… I’ve been reading your friendship reports. I know about everything you and your friends have been through together. Believe me, they would have… I would have.”
Twilight looked at the floor. “Are you sure?”
“Are you doubting me?” he said playfully, poking her in the ribs. She giggled, having always been ticklish there. “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you talk to your friends about it? I’m sure that would help.”
“I was planning to tomorrow, when everything’s cooled down. We still have a wedding to plan… you are getting married, right?” she asked, giving him a completely serious look.
“I guess… that depends on one thing.”
“And what’s that?”
“If you’ll be my Best Mare again.”
Twilight smiled, but she gave a sigh that sounded like she was trying to make it exasperated. “Shiny… why are you asking a question you already know the answer to?”
“Because I’d like to hear it out loud,” he said simply.
“Well,” be began, with faux indecisiveness. “I guess I will be. If…”
“If?” Shining Armor asked, genuinely confused that she’d have a hook for such a thing.
“When I get married… you have to be the one to give me away. Deal?”
He gave a smile, faint tears beginning to form. “Now you’re asking questions you know the answer to.” He nuzzled his sister again. “As soon as the honeymoon’s over, I’m coming to visit you in Ponyville.”
“You don’t have to…” she began.
“Yes I do. I’m not making this mistake again. I want to meet your friends, see your life in Ponyville.”
She smiled. “I’ll be sure to set out an extra bed for you and Cadence.”
As it turned out, Twilight didn’t talk to her friends at the earliest possible opportunity. She had been caught off guard by the fact that they felt such guilt, she focused on them. She decided to wait a few more hours before having that talk, though part of her said that was a bad idea. Besides, there really was no time, the reception was starting, and she wasn’t going to miss her chance to sing.
By the end of the night, she was so exhausted she wanted to crawl back to her suite and go to sleep, but Luna had appeared before her with one final task for the evening. The night ended with her curled up next to her mentor, feeling quite relieved that things were back to normal between them.
Shining Armor sat in the carriage as it left the outskirts of Canterlot, his wife curled up at his side, asleep. This was the day he had broken his sister’s heart, the day a large army had swarmed into the capital of Equestria on his watch, the day he had realized he’d allowed the mare he loved to suffer for nearly a week, and the day he had gotten talked down to by his little sister.
Cadence stirred at his side, nuzzling deeper into her husband’s chest. He smiled. Whatever horrors the day may have brought on him, he couldn’t be happier right now.
Celestia drifted into consciousness feeling rested and relaxed, a far cry from her mood the night before. Twilight lay by her side, still quietly slumbering. Having her here, still by her side and loyal, made all the difference.
She glanced at her clock, only to find a note hanging just underneath it.
Do not be alarmed at the time. I have risen the sun for you this morning, and will be taking over your duties for the day. After such an ordeal, you deserve a day of peace.
P.S.: The ones known as Octavia and Vinyl Scratch are now invited to play at all major Canterlot events due to their skill, but they are forever forbidden from entering the royal labyrinth.
Looking up at the clock, Celestia was surprised to see that the sun had indeed been scheduled to rise an hour ago. For a few moments she pondered not letting her younger sister take on the day’s duties, but decided against it. She was being offered a day off after over a thousand years, she could take advantage of it.
She looked over at her sleeping student, still nuzzled at her side. At that moment, Celestia almost forgot she was a full grown mare, seeing the little filly she used to teach and train all those years ago.
At that moment, said unicorn began to stir, and her eyes fluttered open. She slowly lifted her head, taking in her surroundings.
“Good morning, my little pony.”
Stifling a yawn, Twilight looked her mentor. “Good morning, Princess. Are you feeling better?”
Celestia gave a smile. “Much. Thank you.”
“I should be thanking you,” Twilight said simply. “I really needed this, too. I just needed some assurance that we were...back to normal.”
“Of course, Twilight. Why would I be mad at you now?”
Twilight looked at the ground in response. “Can I ask you something?”
Celestia tilted her head at a worried angle. “Of course, anything.”
“If I had been wrong...you know, about the fake Cadence… would you have forgiven me?”
Much to Twilight’s surprise, Celestia spoke her next sentence in an amused tone. “Twilight, I forgave my sister for trying to bring on the Eternal Night, and that would have destroyed life in Equestria. I think I could forgive you for a single temper tantrum.”
The unicorn looked at her mentor with wide eyes. Then, she hung her head and laid it back on her pillow.
“Twilight?” Celestia asked worriedly. She leaned down and nuzzled her side. “What’s bothering you?”
“It’s...there I go again,” she said quietly. “Worrying about something I shouldn’t be worrying about. That’s why nopony believed me, isn’t it?”
Celestia sighed. “Twilight, I’m not going to lie. Yes, you do have a tendency to overreact to things, and maybe it did contribute to us not listening to you. But you really must have more faith in yourself than that. We were just as much to blame for not listening to you.”
“For all your faults you are a good pony, and a great friend. Your attitude towards Cadence caught me by surprise, and should have aroused my suspicions. We were on high alert, remember? That was a time any accusation from a trusted source needed to be checked on. It would have taken me only a moment to examine your brother’s head for any effects of brainwashing. I made a mistake. An understandable one, maybe, but not an acceptable one. Not from me.”
“Princess, please. After the Smartypants incident...”
“You weren’t in your right mind then. Had I thought you were, you would not have been excused so lightly.”
“Well...even so, I still don’t blame you for not believing me,” she said sadly. “Given my track record. But...Princess, I’m sorry...I have to know. How much faith do you have in me?”
Celestia gave her a warm smile. “Plenty. Despite all your overreactions, I still have great pride in your reasoning. You deduced the return of Nightmare Moon long after I had successfully relegated it to a myth in the eyes of the mortals. You’ve skillfully led the other Bearers on every mission I’ve sent them on. You pulled yourself out of Discord’s taint with a mere reminder of the good times you and your friends had.”
She looked at her student and saw something that made her pause. She was crying.
“You have faith in me...but I don’t have faith in you. I’m always worried you’re going to punish me for the most trivial things. I’m sorry for that, I just...”
Celestia responded by draping a wing over her charge and pulling her in close. “Yes, you do that sometimes. And it breaks my heart every time. I don’t want you to fear me, I don’t want anypony to fear me. I want to be loved, and while my subjects do revere me, it’s as a ruler, not a friend. I only have my sister...and you.”
“What about my friends? Don’t you have them?”
“I suppose we’re getting there, but they still see me more as an authority figure than a friend. And Spike is with me as well. I want my subjects to see me as an ordinary pony sometimes, especially you. I love you, Twilight. Never forget that."
Still crying, the smaller pony rubbed her head against her mentor’s neck. “I’m sorry.”
Celestia nuzzled her back, her own tears forming. “I think we both grew a little yesterday. And I want you to know, for all the mistakes you made, I’m proud of you. Even though I broke your heart, you remained loyal to me. You rushed to my side when I had fallen. That took great character.”
“Princess, I...I am a little angry with everypony. I mean, I know it makes no sense to be, but...”
“Twilight, that’s perfectly natural to be upset with us, but you haven’t let your anger with us taint your heart. That’s more than a lot of ponies can say. Don’t be ashamed of feeling that way.”
They stayed together for a few minutes, each enjoying the other’s company. Finally, Twilight spoke. “Princess? I was wondering...why do you keep the Elements in that vault anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to wear them at all times?”
Celestia paused for a moment, in internal debate with herself. Finally, she spoke. “What I’m about to tell you remains between us. You may tell your friends, but do even that with caution.”
The unicorn’s ears picked up, but she nodded.
“It’s possible for the Elements of Harmony to be corrupted. Not permanently, of course, they will always triumph over evil in the end, but said corruption could last nearly a century. If that were that to happen, I shudder to think of the consequences. It would be Discord’s reign all over again.”
“Why didn’t Discord corrupt them then?”
“I’m not sure he’s aware,” the Princess answered, shaking his head. “He’s not as clever as he likes to think he is. If he knew, he likely considered it amusing to keep them whole, if for no other reason than to mock you.”
“So there’s no other way?”
“There is a spell I knew far back when my sister and I wielded them that would have allowed you to absorb them into your bodies until they are needed. Sadly, I lost track of that spell some six hundred years ago. I have some of my best magicians working on rediscovering it.”
Now Twilight looked hurt. “I thought I was one of your best...”
“You are. But you had just made friends, finally after all those years. Friends which, I needn’t remind you, you needed to stay close to in order for the Elements to work. I wasn’t going to give you any task that could detract from allowing your friendship to grow.”
“I...guess that makes sense,” Twilight conceded.
Smiling, Celestia leaned down and kissed Twilight’s head. “You needn’t worry about it. We’ll find it before too long. In the meantime, perhaps it’s best you have another talk with your friends. I’m sure they’ve done some thinking of their own.
Applejack trotted down the hallway, her head still pounding from the night before. She was grateful that Pinkie and Fluttershy had volunteered to watch the Cutie Mark Crusaders while she packed, she didn’t think she could take their latest plans to be Cutie Mark Crusader Baggage Packers or whatever in her current state.
However, her gratefulness for loud noises being absent disappeared when Rarity came bounding down the halls. “Applejack!”
The farm pony cringed. “What is it Rare? You chip a hoof or somin?”
“Twilight is missing! She’s not in her room!” she gasped.
The earth pony rolled her eyes. “She prob’ly just got up real early an’...
“No, Spike says she never came to her room last night!”
That set off some warning bells.
“What if the changelings came back and got her? What if she’s stuck back in those horrible caves? Or in an ice block somewhere up north? Or in that icky bog outside of Ponyville where it’s so muddy and the humidity gives a pony as many split ends as you have!”
Applejack arched an annoyed eyebrow. “Uh...I’m pretty sure it ain’t as bad as all that,” she deadpanned.
“You are correct,” Luna’s voice confirmed. Both mares turned to see the Princess of the Night walk calmly down the hallway.
“Princess...you’re still up?” Applejack asked, confused.
“Yes, I felt my sister would need her rest after yesterday’s trials, so I’m taking her shift today. As for Twilight Sparkle, I sent her to comfort my sister last night, and she ended up falling asleep at her side. She is perfectly unharmed, I assure you.”
“So, even Celestia was feelin’ bad about not listening to Twi, huh?”
“Indeed,” Luna sighed. “I believe these feelings will linger for quite a while.”
“We were all going to speak with her again on the train ride home,” Rarity explained. “We all had time to think last night, and we’ve decided we all have more to say.”
“And I’m sure Twilight Sparkle has more to say to you,” the alicorn nodded. “I overheard your apology last night while on patrol. I’m pleased to hear reconciliation came so easy.”
The two mortal ponies looked at each other for a moment before turning back to their superior. “Your highness, we must ask...” Rarity began.
“If I would have believed Twilight Sparkle?” The stunned unicorn nodded. “I shall tell you what I told my sister. I do not know if I would have believed her, since I was not there and she has now been proven correct. However, I would like to think I would have, since after her treatment of me on Nightmare Night, it would likely have aroused my suspicions if she got confrontational with anypony.”
Applejack sighed. “Yeah, I thought of that last night too.”
“Well, do not blame yourself. If everypony had the same view as they did in hindsight, there would be no need to me and my sister to govern you.”
“I figure...I just wanna get the talk over and done with,” the earth pony sighed.
“Indeed,” Rarity concurred. “Well then, we better get packed and on the train. The sooner we take off, the sooner we can settle this.”
As it turned out, Spike had managed to get to the guards shouting frantic cries that Twilight was missing before Rarity could inform him otherwise, leading to a very tedious interrogation sequence where the other Bearer’s had to recount several details of their lives to ensure they were not changelings. Fortunately, Luna stepped in after her amusement over the whole incident faded.
The train left that afternoon. Twilight had spent most of the time before with her mentor, simply drinking some tea and chatting on a casual level, something they had not been able to do for quite some time.
Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders took another car, with the three young fillies trying to keep their friend distracted by playing cards. It didn’t seem to be working.
The six Bearers shared another car, with luxurious accommodations for the trip back. After all, Twilight was a member of the Royal Family now. As the train lurched forward, Rarity nodded to Applejack, who turned to look at her friend. “Twilight...I know we already did this, but...we want to talk.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I wanted to talk with you all too. I just...”
“Did a lot of thinkin’ last night? Us too.”
They all sat on the floor of the car in a circle, getting comfortable for what was sure to be a long talk. Twilight spoke first. “Alright, I want to hear what you all have to say first.”
“Twi, what we wanted to talk to you about is how you feel about this whole thing.”
Twilight was a bit caught off guard by this, but immediately realized that she shouldn’t be.
“What do you mean?”
Rarity spoke. “Twilight, yesterday you listened to us tell you about how we feel. What we should have been doing is asking how you feel. Is everything alright?”
Twilight shifted a bit, unsure of how to voice her concerns without upsetting them. “Not really,” she said at least. “I mean…I guess everything that happened…”
“Well, tell us,” Rarity insisted.
“I’m not sure how to say this,” the unicorn admitted. “Because…well, it might upset you all to…”
“Twilight, we’ve put you through a lot this week,” Rainbow Dash said bluntly. “I think we can take a little thrown our way.”
“As crudely as she put it, I agree,” Rarity said simply, “Dear, are you angry with us at all?”
She looked away from them. “…Yes,” she said finally. “I know I shouldn’t be, but…”
At that moment, Applejack rose to her hooves and walked over to her friend, sitting back down at her side. “You’ve told us we shouldn’t be feelin’ guilty, but we do,” she said simply. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with being sore at us right now.”
Pinkie took the space to her other side, giving her friend two walls of support. “We let you down,” she said, unusually serious. “Whatever you say, we were still mean to you.”
Twilight spoke with a strained voice. “Maybe, but you were right to think I was just jealous. Do you guys remember Gilda?”
“Of course,” Rainbow Dash noted, her voice becoming heavy. “My closest friend before you guys turns out to be a complete jerk.”
“Well then, do you remember how you reacted to her acting that way?”
The pegasus nodded. “I told her I wouldn’t let her treat you guys that way. Then she blew up at me and flew off.”
“Exactly. You wouldn’t let her be that way, so I shouldn’t have expected you to...to let me act that way,” Twilight finished sadly.
“But we should’a known better than to think you’d be actin’ like that.”
“Yeah, you should have,” Twilight snapped. But she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I..I just...”
“Don’t you dare stop,” Applejack said, both she and Pinkie pressing closer to her. “If you keep this bottled up, it’s just gonna get worse. We’re givin’ you a chance to say anything you want. Just say it.”
The unicorn remained silent for a moment. Then, she gritted her teeth. “Yes, I’m mad at you, okay? You completely dismissed me for somepony you just met. And somepony who had been mean to you this whole time! I...it hurt, okay?” She glared daggers at her friends across from her, with Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Rarity leaning back a little. “I…I…” she stuttered through her anger.
After a moment, however, she sighed and leaned against Applejack, burying her face in her neck. “But more than angry...I’m scared.”
This caused her companions to blink in surprised. “Whatever of, darling?” Rarity asked.
“Guys...I know I flip out over things a lot. But I still thought...” she paused for a moment. “I already asked Celestia this question, and I need an answer from all of you too. Do you have faith in me?”
“Of course, dear,” Rarity assured. “I know what you’re talking about, and yes, that can grate on us sometimes. But as I’m sure Celestia told you, we still shouldn’t have used that as grounds to dismiss you. Whenever you...’flip out’ as you put it, it’s hardly on that level. The worst you ever got was the Smartypants incident, and we try not to hold that against you.”
This did a little to alleviate Twilight. “Well...I still get pretty crazy. And...well, a lot of that happens because I was worried about losing you guys. It only got worse after Discord. But this time, you all really left me. No brainwashing or anything. What if...what if this just makes me worse? What if I slip into ‘Smartypants Mode’ again?”
“Then we’ll help you get through it,” Applejack assured. “This wouldn’t be the first time we helped a friend through something.”
“Our own flaws have caused us to seriously hurt each other,” Rarity said. “My vanity and fussiness has caused problems, so has Applejack’s stubborn pride. Pinkie has hurt ponies due to lack of control, Rainbow Dash can have too much of an ego and be too hotheaded, and Fluttershy has the reverse problem. You see, we all have our own flaws to overcome, and we do it together.”
Twilight stayed nuzzled into her friends for a few seconds. She lifted her head up and looked at her friends again. “...You guys...” she said weakly. “Ever since I uncovered the changeling’s plot, you all have been telling me how wrong you all were to ignore me. And every time you do...it makes me feel sick.”
Five sets of jaws nearly hit the floor. “W-what do you mean?” Rainbow Dash demanded.
“Every time you do, it reminds me what great friends you are. And then I think...dear Celestia, what if I had been wrong? I...I would have lost all of you. Uh, this must be what Spike feels like when he’s about to throw up,” she moaned.
Applejack nuzzled her friend again. “Easy, Sugarcube,” she said gently. “It ain’t all that bad.”
“Yes it is! What if my next freakout ends up doing something to get you all really mad at me?”
To Twilight’s surprise, Pinkie giggled. “Isn’t it obvious, silly?”
Twilight looked at her like she had sprouted an extra head. “Wh...what?”
Rarity smiled. “Darling, I think we need to remind you of a few things.”
And so they did. First of the conflict that broke out, how Twilight’s five newly acquired friends argued over who got her extra ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala, how she eventually broke into a frustrated rant about how she wanted to please them all but couldn’t. They realized their mistake and each relinquished their claim, and Twilight decided she didn’t want to go if she couldn’t take them all, sending her tickets back.
Then of Applejack’s stubborn pride during Applebuck Season, where she worked herself into a deluded exhaustion, causing many ponies to get hurt or sick around the town. Finally, Twilight pushed far enough that she broke down and accepted help, deflating her ego but inflating her knowledge.
Twilight’s first slumber party, where Applejack and Rarity’s agreement to get along fell apart through their constant bickering, breaking Twilight’s heart. Then a tree fell into the library, and they worked together to fix it. The night ended with them giggling and laughing, for the first time as friends, not simply ponies with a mutual friend.
The Winter Wrap Up, where Twilight’s poorly thought out use of magic ruined others’ hard work, and Applejack’s publicly chewed her out, sending her running off crying. The two reconciled later, the cowpony apologizing for snapping at her, the bookworm apologizing for breaking the rules. They both lay in the grass awhile, enjoying the newly come spring.
The Young Fliers Competition, where Rarity let her temporary wings go to her head and entered, worsening Rainbow Dash’s already serious stage fright. The end result was Rarity needing to be saved, and her humbly apologizing to her friend. For the first time since the group was formed, the two really felt close.
Twilight getting Owloysius as a second assistant, with Spike getting irrationally jealous, fearing it was taking his place in Twilight’s heart. She dismissed these worries as something that would pass in time. Things boiled over, and Spike ran away. When she caught up, they both apologized, with Twilight assuring him that she would always love him.
Twilight’s post-Discord breakdown, where all her friends laughed at her worries, as justified as they were in believing them trivial. After the resulting disaster, they all rushed to her defense, blaming themselves for being such poor friends.
Rainbow Dash’s ego getting out of control, prompting the creation of the Mysterious Mare-Do-Well to try and teach her humility. She learned her lesson, and the others later apologized as well, acknowledging that perhaps they didn’t go about it the right way.
Fluttershy taking Iron Will’s assertive seminar, which worked too well, turned her into a bully, sending Pinkie and Rarity off crying. She was instantly horrified at herself, locking herself in her home. The three of them reconciled, with Fluttershy coming out a stronger and wiser mare.
The train ride to the Dessert Competition, where Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity ruined months of hard work by giving into temptation. Pinkie was quick to forgive them, perhaps too quick, but they were more careful in how they treated her in the future.
As they finished off their stories, Twilight couldn’t help but smile. “Well, alright, but what was the point of all that?”
“Twilight, all those incidents ended with good memories, but they only came after bad ones,” Rarity reminded her.
“Yeah, and that’s the point we’re tryin’ to make,” Applejack finished. “We’ve all hurt each other, acted stubborn and stupid. But we’ve all forgiven each other, even if we had to knock the other one down a bit to do it. That’s just part of havin’ friends, Twi. It can...no, it will be painful. We are all going to hurt each other even more over the years. But every time we do, we’re just going to be all the stronger for it.”
“We were all going to talk to you after the reception,” Fluttershy promised. “We weren’t just going to abandon you after everything we’ve been through together.”
Pinkie chuckled. “We were only mad, silly. We didn’t forget how much we love you.”
Twilight was crying again, though not out of sadness. “You guys...”
Applejack nuzzled her again. “Twi, before you came along...well, we were just ordinary country ponies.”
“Speak for yourself,” Rainbow Dash teased playfully. The others couldn’t help but crack a grin.
“But thanks to you, we got the Elements of Harmony. We’ve done more since than most ponies ever even dream of, and it looks like there’s going to be much more. And if it weren’t for you, we probably wouldn’t be as we are. You’ve made us worthwhile, Twi. Never forget that.”
Twilight smiled...and then shook her head. “You’re wrong.”
All of them reared back and stared at their friend, their mouths hanging open. She went on.
“I’ve learned so much from all of you ever since we met. Growing up, I learned a lot from Shining Armor and Cadence...and Princess Celestia. And I even learned a lot from Spike while I raised him. Everything that I’ve ever done worth bragging about is because I’ve had one of you at my side, keeping me strong. It isn’t me that makes all of you worthwhile...it’s the other way around. I don’t want you to ever forget that.”
Almost instantly the unicorn found herself in the embrace of her five best friends, each one crying at her words. She just smiled and allowed herself to enjoy the attention.
Finally, they split apart. It was Pinkie who spoke first.
“Ooh! How about a slumber party tonight! We could play Truth or Dare and Twenty Questions, and make s’mores, and then Rainbow Dash can pull a prank that causes us to all gang up on her during the pillow fight, and...
“That sounds fun,” Twilight said. “But...”
They all stopped, turning to Twilight again, looking a bit alarmed. “Is something else wrong?” Rarity asked.
“Not with me, don’t worry,” she assured. “It’s Spike. Haven’t you noticed something’s wrong?”
Rainbow rubbed her chin. “Come to think of it, he wasn’t around when we all went up to apologize last night.”
“And he was avoiding me at the reception,” Twilight said worriedly. “I know he’s feeling guilty about not believing me. I need to talk to him and let him know everything’s okay. That’s my top priority.”
“I suppose,” Rarity agreed. “But let’s all go get breakfast tomorrow. I would truly appreciate spending some time together.”
“That sounds nice,” Twilight agreed, and the others nodded in agreement.
After a moment, Rainbow Dash spoke up. “Uh...Applejack? Rarity?”
Her friends looked at her. “What’s wrong, sugar?” Applejack asked
“Have you guys noticed anything...unusual about Scootaloo?”
The unicorn and earth pony looked at each other, then looked back at their friend. “Whatever do you mean?” Rarity asked.
The pegasus quickly told her friends about what had happened last night with her number one fan. When she finished, it was Applejack who spoke up.
“You know, this could just be one of those things fillies get themselves in a twist about.”
“We assumed Twilight’s freak out was just jealousy, and look what happened,” Rainbow Dash reminded. “I’m not taking any chances.”
“Well, Scootaloo seemed just fine every time I saw her,” Rarity said. “She never seemed like anything was troubling her.”
“I ain’t seen nothin’ either,” Applejack said. But then she thought a bit. “Well...”
“What?” Rainbow Dash asked, getting alarmed.
“The one time I met her parents, it was when they came by the farm to take her home. She seemed mighty antsy then. At the time, I was just thinkin’ she didn’t wanna leave her friends, but...”
“Oh my,” Fluttershy said. “You don’t think they’re being mean to her, do you?”
“If you do, make sure you do the accusation better than I did,” Twilight said bitterly.
“Maybe. But...I just don’t know how to talk to her about this,” the pegasus sighed, rubbing her head with her front hoof.
“Why not just ask her?” Pinkie suggested, stating the simple solution as always.
“Darling, if she was unwilling to speak last night she won’t be willing to speak now,” Rarity reminded her. “You need to just spend time with her, Rainbow. Be her friend. You can get her to open up is you show her you’ll be there for her.”
“I guess that’s a start,” the pegasus sighed.
“After I talk to Spike, I’ll take a look at a few law books to find out what to do if her parents really are the problem,” Twilight promised. “Hopefully it won’t come to that, but best be prepared.”
“And me an’ Rarity’ll make sure our sisters are busy one day when you’re ready, to give you a chance to talk with her alone,” Applejack chimed in.
“Can you make it tomorrow? I’ve still got off the Weather Patrol then,” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Ain’t no problem. I’ll just give Apple Bloom some extra chores,” the cowpony assured.
“And I’ll ask Sweetie to help me around the Boutique after breakfast,” Rarity assured. “She always jumps at the chance to help me.”
Rainbow Dash sighed. “Thanks. Hopefully, this is just nothing, but I’m feeling nervous after this weekend.”
“No one’s blaming you there,” Twilight assured. “Well, does anypony have any happy news? Come on, I’m getting sick of all this gloomy talk.”
“Why yes, Fancypants commissioned me for six new dresses for a charity auction he’s holding! Which reminds me, the next time you see Zecora...”
Normally one to revel in good news, Pinkie’s mind drifted. She remembered her talk with Princess Luna the previous night, of the Pinkie Promise she had made. She debated telling her friends now. But no, the Cakes deserved to know first. She would tell them, then her friends, whenever she worked up the courage.
By the time the train entered Ponyville, Celestia’s sun was setting on the horizon, allowing Luna’s stars to shine through. As they left the train, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie’s minds raced with their problems.
Whatever problems the wedding had brought up, they were only getting started.
TO BE CONTINUED