The Bright Side of the Moon

by Crescent Minor

3. Talking

Luna entered the dining room. Customarily, a dish of fruit and bread was waiting at her seat on the table, prepared and left by her servants before she’d even lowered the moon. It had not been so before Luna’s imprisonment, but it had since become the common practice that a servant pony was most professional when they were not only unheard, but largely unseen as well. Perhaps it was a mark of their respect, but she found she missed seeing those who worked for her. Celestia sat across from Luna’s place with its untouched meal, eating alone. She noticed Luna in the doorway, and brightened.
“Oh. Good morning, sister!”
“Good morning.” Luna returned Tia’s smile, despite the seriousness of a few minutes ago. She sat across from her, without eating.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“Mm … no, not particularly. I may ask to have this set aside for breakfast later.” Luna hesitated, then admitted “I should not have walked out on you earlier. That was wrong.”
Celestia gave an unbothered tilt of her head.
“And I spoke rather hastily.”
At this, she looked up from her food. “Have you changed your mind? Would you like to talk?”
The true answer was that no, she did not want to talk tonight. She couldn’t imagine that she would want to talk for all the foreseeable future. And therefore, she said “Yes, I suppose we should.”
Her sister smiled. “Thank you.”
Luna could not match her enthusiasm; she merely nodded.
After the sun princess had had a moment to finish her meal, she rose from the little table. Luna went with her to their usual spot in a nearby room. It was a small, snug place, which lately they’d used just for these private conversations. Celestia jokingly called it the one parlour that guests were banned from. Servants also knew not to hover, nor enter except in emergency. The two of them sat by the fireplace, a well-used pad of paper on the floor nearby.
“So,” Celestia began, “why the change of heart? Something on your mind?”
“Well, I regretted the way I left things, but I still wasn’t going to come to you. Until, just after sunrise, I needed to reread your letter.”
Celestia nodded.
“No problem in particular, I just got to thinking all the wrong things again. A pony’s memory or perspective can be revised to justify anything they want, but written words can’t be so creatively edited; they’re always the same, always the truth. This is all to say, the letter helped.”
“Good for you.”
“Good for me?”
“You recognized a difficult moment, and you dealt with it. So yes, good for you.”
Luna scoffed lightly. “You always spin my failures into positives.”
“That’s because they aren’t failures. For you, that’s much improvement.”
“Oh, thank you(!)” Luna grumbled sarcastically, then winced. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped.”
Celestia tilted her head again. “It’s alright. I don’t mind.”
“I don’t mean to be unpleasant, but I feel so worn out. The other night was stressful.”
“Quite far from the point of our dates. I could tell you weren’t enjoying yourself much. What was the problem?”
Ah. She should have known that’s where this would end up, but she still found herself at a loss for how to convey her meaning. Luna half-began a word, stopped, tried again, and met another false start. Sighing, she admitted, “Well, I’d like to tell you. It would be very nice if I could. However … this is one feeling I’ve never been able to put into words.”
“Oh. I see …”
“I … I suppose that …” Luna struggled for a minute more, then resolved to spit out the first words that came to mind. “I suppose that I was bitter about – about how at ease you were. I felt I wasn’t nearly so natural. You can somehow, ah, ‘blend in’ with other ponies, be as one with them. I couldn’t. I was keeping to myself and being closed off …” Luna stopped talking; that had gone in entirely the wrong direction.
“Ah. You know, Luna, as I’ve said it before, you’re too hard on yourself. Blending into a new culture takes more time than one year. You’ve done remarkably in the time you’ve been back already.”
Luna shook her head, fumbling to correct herself. “No, that wasn’t what I meant. That’s more of a … a side effect of a larger issue. It’s like I … I don’t connect with them because I’m not sure … I’m not sure who I am. So even when I’m pretending to be some fictitious character, I cannot be fully invested in my pretense. I am never happy with it … not even when I’m ostensibly being myself. I’m not entirely certain that I’m … me.”
Celestia paused uncertainly, and Luna’s head hit the floor. “I knew I couldn’t articulate it properly. Perhaps we simply forget I said anything?”
“No no, we’ve barely begun on this. Don’t give up yet. Hmm … when you feel this way, is there something that comforts you?”
Luna lifted her head a little to shoot her sister a quizzical look.
“I’m trying to narrow your meaning down. Maybe this will help.”
Luna rested her head back to the floor, thinking it was worth a try. “Hmn – well …there is something.” Luna set her jaw a little, apprehensive of her next words. “This may sound … wrong to you, but try to keep an open mind.”
“Of course.” Celestia said, slightly concerned.
“I sometimes pretend I don’t exist.”
There was a beat of silence, while Celestia worked to quell her automatic dismay. Luna hurried to clarify, hoping to sound less depressing. “It’s not a new thing, I’ve been doing this for a long time, even since we were foals. You see, it’s more like a … meditative thought.”
“How do you mean?” her sister asked, managing to keep an even tone.
Luna settled into a more comfortable position, staring into one corner of the room, before answering. “I lie perfectly still for a few minutes, until it seems I could not move if I tried. I breathe more slowly, softly enough that I can’t hear it. And then, it’s a sort of reverse body awareness. I block each physical sensation until I feel nothing. Then … it’s very easy to imagine that my body has simply vanished. And perhaps I can still think and feel, but even so, I’m nopony.”
“And … this is a soothing idea?”
“Yes. If I’m nopony, then … I don’t have any name or face or anything I’m expected to call my own. Sky knows that none of them have ever been right.”
Luna paused, wondering if they were actually getting somewhere. “Sometimes I have to say my name to myself over and over, just to see if it might sound like it belongs to me after twenty times, fifty times. Last night, I was staring at the mirror for a full hour after we parted ways, thinking the same thing: maybe if I just look at my reflection hard enough, that will be me.” Luna straightened up and turned to Celestia, confidence somewhat restored. “I know rationally what my name is, I know what I look like. But I can’t believe it.”
“You know in your head, not in your heart.”
“Is that the saying now? Yes, that suits. I really have no idea why I disassociate like this … or how long ago it began …” She sighed. “It’s sort of pointless to discuss, I think.”
Celestia shook her head. “Not at all, Lulu. I can already think of one possible explanation; you can likely guess what I’m about to say.”
“Do tell.”
“Your appearance, name, and every aspect of you was once suddenly altered against your will,” she pointed out. “After being unexpectedly transformed into somepony else, I imagine you may distrust your identity, or find it somehow unreliable.”
Luna’s gaze dropped to the carpet, frowning. “That seems logical. We could blame Nightmare Moon.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“No, it doesn’t seem right. I could swear I remember feeling like this even earlier than that, but … hmm.”
“When did you last feel like yourself?”
“Honestly, sister … though I’m loathe to even say something so reminiscent of my adolescent poetry … I don’t think I’ve ever felt like myself. Or if I did, the feeling must have faded quickly.” Luna shrugged and scoffed. “But why should we take my intuition seriously? I just admitted I don’t believe in my own name. It’s clearly broken.”
Luna met Celestia’s pensive expression and asked “Do you know what I’m describing? Was there ever anything you knew to be true that you simply couldn’t believe?”
Celestia’s eyebrows raised in surprise, then tilted. “I … y-yes, there was. When you were gone, I … Every day, I’d have to tell myself, it had really happened, you were truly away from me. It took over a hundred years to believe it for even a day.”
Luna shivered, and felt compelled to stretch her wing over Celestia’s withers.
“After that, I would still go through times when it stopped seeming possible. Centuries alone, and I still somehow thought that you’d never been exiled. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to believe it, though I certainly didn’t. It was that it felt like the laws of nature forbade such a thing. We could not be apart any more than water could be dry. It couldn’t be.”
Celestia hooked one foreleg around Luna and pressed them close together. Luna allowed it, leaning into their hug. “I know exactly what you mean.” she whispered.
They stayed like that for several minutes, until they weren’t gripping so tightly and simply relaxed in their entwined position. Celestia broke the silence gently.
“Sometimes I’d have a royal proclamation to make, or a young student would need consoling, and I’d think ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I should go get Luna. She’s the one who handles these things.”
Luna thought about that for a moment, until something occurred to her. “How did you handle the stars while I was gone? I never asked.”
Celestia laughed, though it was more than a little self-deprecating. “Well … for the first several years, until I found your star charts and had them professionally interpreted into a map … I just sort of put them anywhere.”
Luna sucked her next breath through her teeth. “Oh, Tia, no. The nautical confusion that must have caused …”
“Everypony really took my ‘compass’ idea more seriously the moment you left.”
“Well, they didn’t have a choice, did they? Great aurora … I’m glad I’ve got my night sky back.”
“ … Hm.” Celestia leaned back enough to look at Luna’s face. “Now that you mention that, I have another question.”
“You said the other day … last week I believe, let me check …” Celestia’s golden glow wrapped around the pad of paper by the fireplace and flipped back through their log of these talks kept inside. “Last week, I asked if you ever resented being the night princess. And you said …”
“Not the smallest bit. No … not even when I was at my worst. On the brink of becoming Nightmare Moon, the plan still centered around my domain being, ah, ‘superior’ to yours.” Luna had to glace away at that last line, although Celestia didn’t seem bothered.
“Mm-hmm. I just wanted to clarify that, though you love being the guardian of the night … you can’t identify with the name ‘Princess Luna’?”
“That’s exactly – ludicrously – correct.” There was an edge of frustration in her voice, exasperation directed entirely at herself. “I love everything about my purpose. I love holding the moon. I love the way Equestria looks in the evening light. I love crafting the constellations and lighting up the darkened sky. I love to dream-dive and help the foals understand where their fears come from. There’s not a single thing about being myself I hate. Just … actually being myself, evidently.”
With a disgusted sound, Luna’s head was back on the floor. “This is no use at all. I’m … very sorry to have wasted your time with my foolishness.”
Celestia shook her head, smiling wanly. “You’re being much more coherent than you give yourself credit for, Luna.”
“It’s making sense to you? A good job, then, because it isn’t making sense to me.” Luna remarked “Sometimes our talks make me feel like every problem has a solution and it’s all very simple. But, other times doing this makes me feel like Discord invited himself into my mind and turned it into a funhouse.”
“I presume we’re in a ‘funhouse’ moment?”
“With warped mirrors, and chocolate rain.”
Celestia laughed, even getting the worn-out night princess to smile. “At least you keep your sense of humor about it.” she said.
“It’s funny you mention Discord.”
Luna shrugged with her wings, head still on the floor. “I feel chaotic. Listen to me, saying I adore everything my cutie mark implies, and yet somehow I also don’t feel like Princess Luna. I don’t make sense. Only he could make less sense.”
“Try not to exaggerate, Luna.” Celestia admonished her. “And I don’t think you’re ‘Discordant’. I think you’re just stuck in some patterns. Every time you’ve tried to explain how you feel during this session, you’ve shut down your line of questioning. You lament its absurdity, and give up. Unless I’m mistaken, I think you do this even when alone. You try to think about how you feel and where it might be coming from, but before you get anywhere you call yourself insane and give up. Does this seem right to you?”
Luna went still. “Yes.” she mumbled.
Celestia set her paper pad down. “You look like you need your sleep, so I think we should call it a night here. So to speak.”
Luna shoved herself upward, forcing her clumsy, weak limbs to support her. “Oh …” The rush of blood to her head was worse than she’d expected, blacking out her sight for a moment. She blinked. “Yes, I’m more tired than I thought.”
“In the meantime, try not to dismiss yourself that way. Even feelings you don’t understand deserve to be considered seriously. If you keep condemning them as ridiculous, you won’t get anywhere.”
Luna, swaying where she stood, cracked a smile. “Yes, that way lies … lunacy.”
Celestia was silent for a moment, shaking her head, and said “Oh stars, Lulu, go to bed.
Still smirking, Luna poured her intent into her horn; she doubted her ability to walk back to her room and instead teleported herself directly into her bed with a flash of blue light. She sank into the bedclothes, finally relaxing. Already half-asleep, she wondered, could she do what Celestia suggested? She’d never seriously entertained those thoughts, or examined that particular sadness. In the main, she’d only ever tried to ignore them, frustrated that they were there. It might take a long time to learn anything with habits that deeply imbedded.
Oh. But there was a shortcut, she realized. Luna’s slowly closing eyes opened wide.
She could simply dreamdive into her own mind and examine it directly. It wouldn’t be much different from what she did every night, just for herself. All she would have to do was go inside and look around.
Maybe it was just the fatigue, Luna acknowledged that was a real possibility … but this seemed like a brilliant idea.
“We’ll sleep on it …” she mumbled. “Decide this evening.”
Sleep finally took her.