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Princess Celestia paused, momentarily, as the guards outside her study began shouting.
They were guards; shouting is more or less what they were for, when all was said and done.
The truth, painful as it was to admit, was that she was old—although she preferred, on the overall, to say that she had been around for a long time—and over the centuries she'd gotten quite good at telling one sort of shouting from another. There was, for example, the brief bark of alarm at a toy underhoof in the night or, in contrast, the long, drawn-out wail of an ongoing peril, like going over a waterfall or being chased by a gigantic, out-of-control chicken.
Life in Equestria was strange and exciting, and there was a lot to notice. Every day, it seemed, she was struck with something new to observe and catalogue in the vast repository of her memory.
This shouting, however, was familiar and, to be perfectly honest, not entirely unwelcome. The guards were shouting, but in the strange, half-hearted way that suggests they were doing so more in the hopes that they wouldn't be suspected of being unwilling to do so later than because they thought it would have any effect whatsoever.
There was no anger or reckless defiance in their voices, as you might hear if they were, say, standing proud before an overpowering foe—no, these were the shouts of guards who weren't entirely sure they knew what they were supposed to do.
The princess had given orders she wasn't to be disturbed this evening, but on the other hoof...
On the other hoof, there was nothing like Twilight Sparkle stomping at them to get the guards nervous. It was bad enough that they saluted her brother every time he walked past, but heavens alone knew what was going on to get her angry enough to demand an audience with the princess.
Celestia resumed reading the somewhat tedious report on gryphon court politics and waited for her doors to slam open. Only when they did—and after Celestia took a little private moment of pride in the tremendous surge of power she felt from her most faithful student—did she look up.
“Good evening, Twilight,” she said, with every appearance of pleasure. “You seem to have dislodged my paintings.”
Twilight stood in the doorway, panting furiously. Behind her, two guards gave Celestia sheepish grins of apology, and indeed, the paintings on the wall now hung crooked on their hangers.
“Oh, don't good evening me!” Twilight roared, but her horn lit and the paintings behind her righted themselves. She stomped forward, the doors slamming shut behind her. “It's been a terrible evening!”
“I'm sorry to hear that, of course,” Celestia said, pushing the scroll from her agent at the Eyrie aside and patting the ground next to her before the fireplace. She raised an eyebrow when Twilight stood her ground, but continued. “I know you were looking forward to this evening's little get-together. You get to see your family so rarely—”
“That's just it!” Twilight moaned.
Celestia's heart froze, but long practice kept her face as pleasant as it had been when Twilight had entered. “What's just it, Twilight?”
Twilight's eyes blazed with indignant rage. “They're not my family!”
Celestia opened her mouth to speak...
Please...Someday she'll need to learn the truth, but...only when she's ready.
...and closed it again, sighing heavily.
“Ah,” she said. “You found out, then.”
Twilight recoiled. “You knew? You knew I was adopted?”
Celestia closed her eyes, knowing very well that what she was about to say would be just about as bitter a pill as there was to swallow. “Of course I did, Twilight. I talked to your parents about it when—”
“They are not my parents!” Twilight raged, but she quickly mastered herself, closing her eyes and mouth tight, giving off a strained, angry sound of stifled words she knew better than to say. After a moment she sighed and turned away from Celestia. “They...I...”
“I am glad you have the presence of mind to not say too many foolish and impulsive things to me,” Celestia said, not entirely pleasantly. “But since I'll have to replace at least one hinge on my doors, I suspect I am getting the tail end of your reaction to the news.”
Twilight was silent for awhile, staring the princess down as best she could—which was to say, not at all. She was deflated, a little bit, now that her fury had broken on the sea wall of Celestia's calm.
Celestia patted the ground next to her again and gave Twilight a very small smile. The unicorn trotted up next to her mentor and snuggled up against the warm white bulk, as if it were two decades earlier and she was a filly again; there were some things that would humble even somepony as proud and mature as Twilight generally was, after all.
The princess hummed at the touch, and draped a wing over Twilight gently. “How did you find out, Twilight?” she whispered.
“Shining Armor got drunk,” Twilight sulked. She laid her head down and began scraping a hoof back and forth across the rich carpeting in front of the fireplace, apparently fascinated by the way the fine woven patterns moved when she did so. “Cadence told us she was pregnant, and he was laughing with my dad, you know, like: 'Oh, yeah, you know, I had such a good example from you, Dad, although I mean, you adopted Twilee when I was five,' or something like that...” Twilight huffed. “I suppose you knew about Cadence already, too.”
“Well, to be perfectly honest, I was the one who told her she was pregnant, so...yes, I did,” Celestia said, chuckling. Twilight huffed out something that might have been a bitter laugh, but otherwise didn't react. “I...well, you know how it is, Twilight. She was visiting Luna, and I happened to sense the life growing in her, and asked if she'd been to the doctor lately...”
“A grandfoal for my par—for them. A real grandfoal,” Twilight said, bitterly. “Not that I'm in much place to have foals anyways. Spike will lay an egg himself before I find somepony to settle down with, I swear...”
Celestia shrugged. “Stranger things have happened. Giant chickens, for example—”
“I know when somepony's trying to humor me, princess. Not...not now, okay?” Twilight grumbled. She ran her hooves through the fine carpeting a couple more times, huffing.
The princess cocked her head slightly. "What did they say to you?"
Twilight raised her head, having the grace to appear a little guilty. "I...didn't give them a lot of time to say much. They confirmed it was true...and then I started shouting." She turned to Celestia, her face a portrait of misery. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“It wasn't my place to—”
“Oh, don't give me that,” Twilight snarled, rising to her hooves, shrugging off the gentle embrace of Celestia's wing. She began pacing back and forth before the fireplace. “Of anypony, I could have taken this from you. I could have...I...”
Celestia said nothing. Twilight prowled back and forth, muttering half-sentences and expletives under her breath.
“At least from you, it would have been...removed from things,” Twilight said, eventually.
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “I'm not sure I'm happy to know that you would want to hear unpleasant news from me. It suggests an unfortunate trend; I've put enough hardship on you as it is, in the years we've worked together.”
Twilight gave the princess a sour look over a shoulder. “That's not what I said.”
“No, it's what I'm saying, Twilight,” Celestia replied, waving a hoof irritably. “I care about you, very much. You've always been my friend, as well as my student, you know that. But ever since you went to Ponyville, our relationship has been...strained. I can't just pull you away from your studies for a meal alone together now and again, or bring tea to the tower, unannounced. Sometimes, I worry that all that's been left to us has been the work, and the huge responsibilities I've trusted you with. I don't want my voice to become the taskmistress', Twilight, I really don't.”
“I'm sorry,” Twilight whispered, staring out a window.
“Thank you for saying so,” Celestia said, a little more gently. “I did not like keeping this secret from you, but I respected that your parents had a right to tell you when they thought the time was right.”
Twilight turned, a harsh rebuttal on her tongue, but Celestia cut her off with a severe frown.
“If you even dream of saying something foolish like they're not really my parents, Twilight, I will be extremely disappointed with you.”
“But...they're not,” Twilight said. She was trying not to whine, Celestia could tell, but the painful moan of denial leaked in along the seams of her self-control, sweat from every pore that little statement had.
Celestia sighed, but a productive thought occurred to her. “Twilight...breathe with me.”
“What?” Twilight turned, her expression disbelieving. “What—like when I was a fil—”
“Precisely. Now, lie here...there you are.” Celestia gave Twilight's reluctant frown a bright smile, just as she had that very first lesson, out on the veranda. “Close your eyes. With me: in...and out...”
In, and out.
In, and out.
Celestia opened her eyes and looked over Twilight's features. It seemed her teacher voice still had some sway; Twilight was dutifully focusing on the exercise, and the lines of stress that had made her poor student look careworn and hurt were nowhere to be seen.
A tear fell, though.
Instinct prodded Celestia, and for once she didn't even consider resisting. As her hoof ran along Twilight's cheek, wiping away the tear, the unicorn whined in the back of her throat and sniffled.
“I'm so sorry. You weren't ready to hear this yet.”
“Certainly not from my stupid br—from Shining Armor when he's drunk.” Twilight sniffled again. “I...I just...I love them so much. They've always...been...they were my parents! But...but...”
Celestia consciously let the silence after Twilight trailed off linger for awhile, since doing so would make her point without the necessity of actually speaking.
“It just hurts to think that I'm not really their little filly,” Twilight finished lamely. She looked away from Celestia, who smiled in a not-very-amused sort of way. “That I'm not really their—”
“Not to be rude, Twilight,” Celestia said, putting a hoof on one of Twilight's, “but that is not what is bothering you at all. You know better than that.”
Celestia sighed, but her expression quickly recovered into a slightly mischievous grin. “I hope so. If you really think—and forgive me this, please—if you really think the measure of who is truly your family has to do with which mare had the privilege of squeezing you out between her thighs—”
The princess laughed as Twilight's face screwed up in alarm. “Ew! Agh, what?!”
“You see? That's my point,” Celestia said, raising a hoof to her mouth to stifle her giggles. “We are more than the simple realities of biology, Twilight. Ponies are social creatures—we welcome others into our families by choice all the time. For example...Cadence is part of your family now, isn't she?”
Twilight just nodded.
“But the truth, and please forgive my presumption, is that marrying Shining Armor just made it legal. She was already part of your family—yours, Twilight Sparkle's, specifically. She was your big sister, before she was ever your sister-in-law, just like Rarity is Sweetie Belle's. That you are not yourself also Luna's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter is irrelevant to the reality of the love you two share. That's my understanding, anyways...”
“More or less,” Twilight murmured. “Not that I'd say that to her face. That's a one-way trip Awkward City.”
Celestia smiled. “I appreciate that it's a little difficult to phrase well, yes. But as you are aware, Twilight, it was once much more common to say that sort of thing, between friends. When I was young—your age, relatively speaking—I was adopted into one of the great unicorn clans of the time, and so was Luna. We're not actually sisters, of course, since we weren't born in the conventional sense—but we are clan-sisters. I had hundreds of clan-siblings, most of whom were totally unrelated to one another by blood; that's how things were then. And we were all one big group, you see, one big family.”
Twilight frowned. “I've read about that. I guess...I didn't think that's what you and Luna meant by sis—”
“No, Twilight, Luna is my sister. She has been my friend, and yes, my clan-sister, for centuries. We have walked many roads together, and many paths apart, only to come together again; so we are sisters. By choice. That she and I do not share at least a parent is irrelevant. What I was getting at is that customs about what your family is and is not change over time; and more importantly, are ultimately decided by you, personally. I have been...fortunate to experience this phenomenon for myself over my life.”
“Look, I see where you're going with this,” Twilight said. She rolled her eyes and put a sarcastic sing-song tone in her voice. “Twilight Twinkle and Night Light—and Shining Armor—have always loved me, and in fact, chose to love me as if I were their own daughter, I should be grateful, they're actually my real family, and I'm not acknowledging their sacrifices for somepony they needn't have...”
“Well, I planned to stop there, certainly, but only on the way to somewhere else.” Celestia gave her favorite student a very wry look. “As you so elegantly expressed, it's not very satisfying to you, and would be more than a little condescending of me to just say. Say at you, I think, since I doubt you care to hear it.”
Twilight huffed through a grin. “You might say that, yeah.”
“But that's what I'm getting at, Twilight. You don't actually feel disconnected from them at all, now, even though you feel like you ought to.” Celestia reached out and pressed her hoof against Twilight's chest, smiling as the unicorn clutched it gratefully. “It's the betrayal. The sudden knowledge that tempts you to re-evaluate everything even though there's really nothing that requires it. You know they love you and you love them; that's all that matters. It is a hurt. It changes some things, yes. But not the underlying truth.”
Twilight stared at her, peering deep into the princess' eyes, as if hoping to read some secret message in their depths, searching for some hint that Celestia wasn't being completely straightforward with her. It occurred to Celestia that Twilight might have learned this little game from the princess herself, and that it might work on a random somepony pulled off a street; but the plain truth of it was that Twilight would have to get up pretty early in the morning to get one over on Celestia. She might as well not go to sleep in the first place.
This was Celestia's game. She owned the board, the pieces, and the rules. Twilight saw only a gentle, loving smile. A genuine one, but still, that's all there was. A thousand years of composure shows you only what it wants you to see.
Celestia passed the time reflecting on how Twilight's eyes were so like her own; something she'd always found...pleasant.
Finally Twilight sighed. “What happened to the days when you would just hold me in your wings, let me scream and yell and be angry and...and then...I dunno, solve everything with a neat phrase?”
The princess pursed her lips. “You turned thirteen?”
To her relief, this got a laugh out of Twilight; a little bitter, yes, but a real laugh of genuine amusement. “Yeah, I guess.”
“If you want me to lie to you and say that this is a simple thing that will just go away after a week or so, like the time your preordered copy of Daring Do and the Lost Canyon was claimed by somepony who had stolen your reservation slip...well, I won't do it,” Celestia chuckled, and reached out with the hoof on Twilight's chest, gently tugging on Twilight so that the unicorn scooted forward into a loving embrace. “I don't...Twilight, I know this will be hard for you. It will change the rest of your life—obviously, I hope only insofar as you know this fact and accept that it changes very little, but even that is something.”
“I was going to say...I know the things you said are probably right, but...they're not what I want to hear,” Twilight said, nuzzling Celestia's neck. It was a very foal-like thing to do, but Twilight was very hurt, after all, and Celestia admired the unicorn's courage in displaying this hurt so openly—and further, felt a little thrill of pride burn in her chest at the trust it implied.
Celestia bent down and gently kissed Twilight's forehead. “If this had happened when you were younger I would have been a little less confrontational. But you're a grown mare, and you know very well that the hurt will stop when the wound is treated, not by being told that it looks like it hurts a lot.”
Twilight reached up with her forehooves, sniffling, and clutched herself tightly to Celestia. “Thanks.”
“Take...take you and I, for example...” Celestia said. “Am I your friend? Your mentor? And what are you to me? Merely a friend? Merely a student? Are you my—”
“I cannot keep her.”
Night Light frowns. “Oh...what? Why not?”
But he doesn't really understand what I just said. Not completely.
His wife does. The mare who, in a happier world, would have been my precious daughter's aunt, her now-dead father's sister, understands my intent. It is something communicated in glances, or their absence; in the way I arrived in the dead of night, accompanied by nopony.
Twilight Twinkle stares at me, and I can tell that somewhere deep down, even her greatheartedness is unwilling to forgive me for what I'm doing. She is a traditional mare, in her way, and she has old-fashioned ideas, even to my mind. Impractical ideas. Ideas that, for all their pretense towards nobility and gentility, are inconvenient and will cause more hurt in the end than she realizes.
That's fine. I have endured the hatred of beings she cannot even comprehend...
And yet, that my old friend feels me pathetic grates more than the raw, bloodthirsty rage of Discord at his worst, or the imperious, dreadful malice of Nightmare Moon. It is not a blow to be deflected; it is a sting, a rash, an irritant; a reminder that for all my power, tonight she finds me weak and small.
I can see it in her eyes: a mother, pressed by circumstance, may be right to give her foal into the care of those more able.
But no mare should try to exile a foal from her life, as if she never existed.
But I am doing it for her.
I loved her father; perhaps only young Shining Armor loved his uncle as much as I. I have known many loves over my long life, but this one was tainted by inevitable tragedy. I should have shut my heart to him; but he was so kind, so gentle, so giving, even in his last days...a true paragon.
I knew—we all knew—that his illness was going to take a good pony from the world well before his just time, and I could not bear to think he would go into the fields beyond the waking eye without leaving something of himself for me to hold and love.
And so, I broke my ancient vow, made in the hopes of preventing more arguments about bloodlines and unicorn aristocracy than there already were...and allowed myself to become pregnant.
I was so foolish. I let myself hope, and hope is the first step on the path to disappointment.
When I made the decision, I thought: things will be alright. Yes, my foal will lose her father early on, but she'll know him long enough to know he was good, and strong, and noble, and loved her...she'll have many years with him. A decade, at least...
So long as my daughter lives I will curse the winter. I will curse the bitter northern wind and the sickness it blew into my beloved's vulnerable lungs, snuffing out those last few precious years, stealing him from us as his daughter still grew within me.
Our beautiful daughter...Twilight Sparkle.
I turn to Night Light, trying to convey with a half-hearted smile a reluctance I do not feel. “I am the Princess of the Sun, monarch of Equestria. I...I cannot provide for Twilight the way she deserves. I cannot be the mother she needs—”
“You have been absolutely ridiculous about this whole affair, Celestia,” Twinkle snarls.
I pause, shocked. It is the first time she has spoken to me since her brother died, six months ago.
Hate is never something I ever thought I'd hear on the tongue of Twilight Twinkle, and certainly not directed at me.
Not anger, not peevishness or anxiety—hate. Deep and abiding, permanent. A grudge, nursed over years, unspoken. Like wine, it had grown rich and intoxicating over years of being hidden away.
She waves her hoof irritably. “Hiding your pregnancy. Hiding your relationship with my brother—I can't imagine you don't know he wanted to marry you, so very badly. Because he loved you!”
“I do,” I snap. “I know very well. And—”
I hesitate. Should I tell her? Will it serve any purpose but to hurt everypony—myself not least among them?
But I am spared the decision.
“You didn't,” Twinkle snarls. “Tell me that even you would not be so...so...foolish, so vain, as to marry a pony lying on his deathbed.”
I say nothing, but that is itself a response.
Twinkle leans over the table, glaring at me as if I am the most worthless, pathetic creature she has ever seen. “You disgust me. It is only for the sake of that poor foal in the next room that I don't throw you out of my house this instant.”
Humiliation. I'm being talked down by...by a mere thirty-year-old...
It must be something about the family. He could always render me speechless, too. I wonder if Twilight will—
But no, of course she won't. That's the point.
I sigh. “What should I have done, Twilight Twinkle? As your brother lay there dying—should I have denied him this last little token of my love?”
“You should have married him years ago!” Twinkle roars, slamming a hoof on the table. “I regret, so much, introducing him to you...”
“He saved our lives that first night. Both of us, you and I—”
“And lost his own, in the end. Lost it mooning after a dream, where the two of you are happy together, openly. And the worst, for me, is that even that was a dream for you, Celestia. He thought you were lonely on your throne, and all he wanted was to make you feel loved.” She narrows her eyes and sneers. "Idiot colt, he always was. But you're worse, for taking advantage of somepony who didn't let himself see that you were just humoring him."
I cannot help myself. I lose my temper for the first time in a century and a half.
“How dare you say that to me, you ungrateful little filly. I loved your brother! I was protecting him, keeping him away from the wretched aristocrats I have to tolerate all the time! Do you truly believe I enjoyed disappointing him? I should—”
“Mom? Auntie 'Lestia? What's...going on?”
We freeze, and as one pony turn towards the tiny little colt's voice. I don't know yet how strong and proud he'll grow to be in time—his uncle all over again, blessing Equestria with a quiet, humble nobility that is all too rare in this sleeping age. For now, he is still a gangly little creature, awkward on his hooves at five.
Twinkle spares me one last look of pure disgust before turning a bright smile on her son. “We'll...see about the Auntie, Shining. Now, off to bed...mommy and daddy have a lot they need to talk to the princess about.”
Shining Armor's little brow furrows. “Don't yell. It's...it's not nice!” he declares. With that, he turns and marches back to his room, proud as a prince.
I cannot help but laugh—but it dies quickly under the baleful gaze of Twilight Twinkle.
Night Light clears his throat nervously. “I...I'm still not sure I understand, Princess. Surely you have more than enough—”
“What I don't have enough of...is time,” I say, pointedly ignoring his wife's loathing stare. “You've met my...ugh, my relatives. That colt, Blueblood...” I shake my head. “I love my daughter. I don't want her to grow up pampered, waited upon, a society...creature—”
“Then you shouldn't have had her,” Twinkle sniffs.
I literally bite my tongue. I taste blood in my mouth.
“That filly, Cadence—she seems good enough,” Night Light says thoughtfully. “Shining was playing with her all afternoon the other day.”
“Mi Amore Cadenza is not...typical. For more than the immediately obvious reasons.”
“Still, I think you'd be a fine m—”
I try to smile at Night Light, who is nervously glancing at his wife. “Any association with me, any attachment, makes Twilight Sparkle a target for ponies who will try to exploit her. Who will try to use her to get to me, or take advantage of her. Now, I don't mean this to be rude, but—”
“Who's going to try to take advantage of a bookseller's daughter?” Night Light asked, grinning. “I think I see now.”
“Thank you,” I say. I almost mean it.
In the next room, Twilight Sparkle starts crying.
I immediately regret not getting to my hooves instantly. I should have. I want to.
So why don't I?
Twilight Twinkle does. She rises from the table and begins to walk into the next room—and pauses on the threshold.
“Ask me,” she says, simply, over the wails of the foal.
“Twinkle, honey, we really should talk this over with Shining—”
“Light, I love you, but you need to shut up. Now.” She turns, glaring at me. “Say it.”
I feel myself swallow.
Why, why, why is this...so...
“Twilight Twinkle. Night Light,” I say, looking to each of them in turn. Twinkle stares me down; Night Light looks worried. “Please...please raise my daughter, your niece...as...as your own foal. I cannot—”
“Spare me your damned speeches. Of course we'll take her,” Twinkle says, snarling. “I wouldn't let you walk out of here with my brother's daughter if it killed me. Now get out of my house, and don't you dare darken my doorway again. I curse the day I met you. I regret ever calling you my friend. Get out.”
I rise, stiffly, breathing in and out carefully to calm myself.
Night Light accompanies me to the door. We walk silently, but he steps out with me onto the street, closing the door behind him.
“She's taking his death, uh, pretty hard,” he says. He's trying to be nice, play peacemaker; but he lacks the capacity for deep understanding necessary to play that role between two proud matrons. “We...we all are.”
“Forgive me for disturbing the peace of your household, Night Light.” I mutter the old politeness reflexively—three hundred years out of date. It confuses the young stallion—dumb as a box of hammers, Twinkle used to say, but at least he's good-looking. But that's her way sometimes, being a bit unkind in her sarcasm; at worst, he's oblivious and can't read the mood, which are forgivable flaws. Innocent flaws.
But it's astounding how badly I wish he didn't have them right now.
“Oh, it's...always a pleasure,” he says, trying to be polite.
I give him a hollow smile and turn, wings spreading—
“She'll be happy here. I promise.”
“What should we tell her? I mean, I know it will be awhile, but—”
“Tell her what I hope you will come to consider the truth, Night Light. Tell her she's yours,” I say. The words flow out of my mouth, easy as water over smooth stone. “Tell her nothing of who her fath—uncle was involved with. Make sure Shining understands what's expected of him. I'm glad I can trust you'll keep her happy, but...”
But what, you immense, cowardly, disgusting, vile traitor of a mare?
“Remember, I'm doing this for her,” I lie, and know it. “Keep her safe.”
Night Light is silent for a very long time.
Inside, Twilight Sparkle's cries have ceased. My mind tortures itself with memories of her happy coos, which she now makes in the forehooves of the pony who hates me the most in all Equestria, save perhaps the poor, lost creature, sealed in the moon for the last nine hundred-odd years.
I turn to Night Light. He's lost in thought, possibly for the first time in his life.
He's a gentle soul, at heart. A good soul. Reliable. Dependable. Not the sharpest knife in any drawer, but...
“If she takes after her mother, at all—”
“I don't think that's how it works,” I begin, but he laughs.
“No, no, not that. Not the wings. Uh...if she's like her mother, or her father, for that matter...she'll wonder. Something will slip out, and she'll notice. She'll be magical as the stars themselves, I have no doubt, and there's ways magic can whisper truths to you...”
I am suddenly very, very desperate.
I turn to him, pleading undoubtedly naked on my face.
“Please. Someday she'll need to learn the truth...but only when she's ready.”
And in that moment, I hope she is never ready. That I will never have to look my daughter in the face and watch as the truth dawns in her eyes, as the betrayal is lain naked before her.
I try to compose myself. “Until that time...keep your promise.”
Keep her happy.
Happy ponies don't wonder.
And with that, I fly away, intending never to hear about Twilight Sparkle in anything but retrospect.
I do not know that in a few short years, I will look out into a crowd and see my own eyes looking back up at me.
I have not yet had the long argument with Twilight Twinkle, where a proud mother tells a reluctant monarch that there'll be much more suspicion if her daughter—"My daughter, Celestia, don't you dare forget it!"—is denied entry to the Academy than is risked by allowing her in. "At least let her try. You owe her, and her father, much, much more than that."
I do not know the circumstances in which I will hold my beautiful, perfect daughter in my hooves for the first time since she was a newborn.
I do not know that in that moment, I will be unable to resist the need to reclaim what should have always been my entire life, even if only as my personal protege. Let Twinkle rage at me; I know her well enough to know that deep down, in that moment she will want this, too. She may hate me, but she loves Twilight Sparkle enough that she is unwilling to keep her away from me. I, who can give Twilight the world, teach her to build castles in the sky...even if I do so as her teacher, rather than her mother.
I do not know the sublime joy I'm going to feel, being the one to draw my daughter's attention to her brand-new cutie mark, an experience every parent hopes just to be present for.
I do not know how she will instantly steal my heart, be more intelligent and dutiful and devoted than I could have ever hoped or wished...my most faithful student.
I do not know that I will make her a hero such that my beloved Equestria will never again know a time when the effects of her life won't be felt.
But in that moment I know for the very first time the shame and humiliation that will hammer me every time I read the words, “Dear Princess Celestia,” knowing that in a better, happier, all-too-easy-to-imagine world, they read simply:
“Am I your what?” Twilight asked, brow furrowing.
Celestia blinked. “Hmm? Oh,” she said, shaking her head. “Well, there you are, Twilight. Are you my...what? They're all just words. Friend. Teacher. I've been both to you, sometimes more one than the other. Just words...getting in the way of the truth. That we love each other.”
Twilight just smiled and cuddled into the welcoming embrace of the princess. Celestia squeezed her gently.
Teacher. Student. Mentor. Protege.
“Just words,” Celestia murmured.