The Enchanted Kingdom

by Monochromatic


~ Act I ~ Chapter 2 ~ The New Ponyville ~



Though it was North Ridge who'd agreed to travel with her to Ponyville, Rarity was the one to list three conditions for their travels. First, they were to travel only during the night, when all ponies slept; second, he was not to speak of her to anypony without her explicit permission; and third, they would travel alone without exception.

With little hesitation, he agreed.

How could he not, knowing what he knew?


The sun shone over a normal Saturday morning in Ponyville.

Ponies trotted along the streets, heading out of their homes to greet the new day. Shopkeepers arranged the items on their shelves, their best wares displayed for all to see; fillies and colts played in the parks, free of homework and studies for the week; and cloaked princesses jumped in circles around unicorns, exhilarated because Rarity, I can touch the ground! Rarity, I can breathe! Rarity, I can—No, I can not calm down!

Standing in front of Carousel Boutique, Princess Twilight Sparkle stopped skipping around Rarity long enough for her to close her eyes and take a deep breath of air. Not because she had to, mind, but because she could.

It also helped that she could savor Rarity’s perfume. Speaking of which…

Her ears twitched at the sound of Rarity's giggles. A warm smile spread across her lips, and so she indulged herself by turning around and taking in one of the few sights that never failed to make her heart race.

Neither spoke at first, content with saying or doing nothing beyond looking at each other.  Rarity's mirthful smile had faded now, leaving her quite pensive as her ears lowered. However, though her eyes betrayed thousands of raging emotions Twilight couldn't quite figure out, even her own demons couldn’t deny that tenderness was still to be found in Rarity’s gaze.

"What are you thinking about?" Twilight inquired, as she often did when faced with the unfamiliar. She then smiled with more confidence that she thought she ought to, and added, "And you can't say me because you've already used that line before."

A fierce blush streaked Rarity's cheeks. "W-Well, well, well! Rather forward today, aren't we, Princess Twilight?"

Twilight made no effort to hide a cheeky smile. "So, you were thinking about me, then?"

Despite the flush on her face, Rarity flipped her mane indignantly. "I'll have you know I was simply thinking how unusual it is to see you without your regalia," she huffed for emphasis.

Though she initially planned to make another teasing remark, the princess’s thought processes screeched to a halt at the realization that she was, in fact, wearing neither her golden necklace nor her crown—also known as the Element of Magic.

Also known as The Mistake, but that was beside the point.

“W-Wait! Where’s my crown?!” she asked with alarm, already imagining the hundred and thirty seven different ways Discord might have already taken it, and would wreak hav—

“In my bag,” Rarity breezily interrupted, opening her bag with a wisp of magic and levitating the crown out. She smiled teasingly. “I do hope you think I’m smarter than to leave it lying around with Discord at large.”

With great relief and appreciation for her hopefully-still-significant other, Twilight took the crown in her magic and… and so did a sinking sensation overtake her, memories flooding her like tidal waves. The other elements must have been based off the remaining princesses, she’d said, and the visual representation of her mistake had been permanently affixed to her head for a thousand years as a result.

Her magic faltered as she closed her eyes and tried to repress a groan.

“Twilight?” Rarity asked, alarmed. “Twilight, what’s wrong?”

“Thoughts,” Twilight said. “Bad thoughts.”

She blinked several times, and though she offered Rarity a reassuring smile, she couldn’t bear to hold or see the crown for much longer. It felt like a cursed object, and in many ways, it was.

“Sorry! I’m fine now,” she said before Rarity could voice concern. “It was just… like nightmares in the middle of the day. But I’m fine. I’m fine.

Rarity looked as unconvinced as Twilight felt, but whatever reservations she held, she did not voice.

Twilight levitated the crown back towards Rarity, eager to move far away from the demons knocking at her door. “Here,” she said. “Can you…?”

Rarity took it in her grasp, and instead of putting it inside her bag, looked coyly at Twilight. Then, she placed it on her head and the sight was adorable enough that it was almost able to cleanse the crown of its past.

“Shall I be princess in your stead? Darling, I’m delighted you’re finally seeing me for what I truly deserve to be!”

“Good, because I don’t want to be one anymore,” Twilight replied with a smile, even if she wasn’t entirely joking.

Unfortunately, the sight of the crown, and even Rarity’s words, clawed at her, and she found she didn’t want to have to look at it any longer. So, for now, even though Rarity looked adorable in it…

Poof!

Twilight liked it better inside the bag.

“You’re being silly,” she noted.

Rarity harrumphed. “Nonsense! You’re simply jealous I wear it better!” she said, and privately, Twilight agreed. “But I suppose we should move on. Pinkie and the others have a surprise for you, and perhaps that might take my mind off my denied princesshood.”

"Oh! You’re right!” Twilight exclaimed, her stomach grumbling. Hadn’t Pinkie said something about food?

She cantered off into the street, urging Rarity to follow. Or, rather, urging her to follow until she realized she had no idea where she was going.

With her tail between her legs, she trotted back towards the amused unicorn and with eloquence befitting a princess said, "Uhm…"

“Hm.” Rarity lifted her hoof and tapped Twilight on the nose, fluttering her eyelashes. "Shall I lead the way, perhaps?"

"Perhaps."

However, before Rarity could do so, somepony else interrupted them.

“Oh! Rarity! Princess Booky!”

They turned around, and saw an earth pony mare trotting towards them. She was waving effusively at them, and the smile on her face was much broader than one Twilight expected to receive from a stranger. A little filly trotted behind her, doing a poor job at hiding behind the mare’s legs.

"I'm so glad we didn't miss you!" the mare said upon reaching them, the filly now clinging onto the mare's foreleg and looking up at Twilight with wide eyes. "After that show you put on yesterday, I'm surprised half the town isn't here!"

Twilight gave the mare an owlish stare, and then shot Rarity a helpless one; they had not discussed the protocol to follow in such a situation. It only just now occurred to Twilight that, well, there were other ponies beyond Rarity, the princesses, and her friends.

Rarity thankfully stepped forward, offering a hesitant smile at the new arrival. “Oh, Amber! How lovely to see you!” she said at length. “And little Ivory, too!”

“And you, Rarity! I thought you moved to Hollow Shades!” Amber replied, lifting her foreleg and stroking the filly's head, who now chose to awkwardly paw at the ground. "And Princess Booky! Hello, it’s nice to meet you!” she continued, giggling and winking. “I thought you were a fairytale, but here you are! Thank you for saving us from the terrible spirit yesterday! My daughter can’t stop talking about it, can you, Ivory?” She nudged the filly. “Say hello to Princess Booky, sweetie.”

The little filly looked at the ground. “H-Hi, Pr-Princess Booky.”

Twilight stared until a light jab at her side jolted her awake. “O-Oh, uh!” She cleared her throat and, though a baffled, lowered herself to be at Ivory’s height. “Hello, Ivory. I hope the Spirit didn’t scare you.”

Ivory shook her head. “I wasn’t scared! I knew you would stop him ‘cause you’re the best!”

“Ivy, didn’t you want to show Princess Booky your drawing?” Amber asked.

Twilight leaned back, watching as Amber took out a folded-out piece of paper from her saddlebag. She made a move to give it to Twilight, until the filly protested that she wanted to give the drawing to Princess Booky, Mommy!

After doing just that, Twilight carefully unfolded it, and so did her heart swell at the sight of a extremely inaccurate but no less heartwarming drawing of herself and Ivory inside what looked like a library with only two bookcases. Twilight was smiling brightly in the drawing, too, and she somberly thought that small fact was perhaps the most inaccurate detail of the piece.

“Awwwww,” Rarity said, peering at the drawing. "My, what skill! We have a very talented artist in our midst!"

“Do you like it, Princess?” Ivory asked, trying to stand up on the tips of her hooves. “I drew it for you!”

“I love it,” Twilight said, smiling at the filly, who let out a big sigh and then a grin. “Would it be all right if I keep it?”

Ivory nodded so effusively, Twilight was afraid she might hurt her neck. “Uh-huh, uh-huh!” She then rushed forwards and hugged Twilight’s leg. “Thank you for saving us!”

A terrible voice piped up in her mind, reminding the princess that it was only right for her to save them from something she herself caused.

Twilight leaned down and nuzzled her, tears stinging at her eyes.  Out of gratitude or remorse, she couldn’t rightly tell. She told herself it was gratitude. “Thank you for believing in me.” She stood up, and smiled at the mare. “And you too.”

When Amber and her daughter finally left, Twilight wiped away her tears and folded the drawing. That hadn’t been something she’d been expecting, but it was certainly something she needed.

However, when she turned to Rarity, the mare again seemed lost in thought, her brow furrowed and her eyes fixed on the alicorn.

“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked.

Rarity said nothing. She seemed to be doing that a lot, little silences that said everything without uttering a single word. She said nothing, did not share with Twilight the rushing thoughts in her head, but she did smile. Belatedly, but she did it.

“Darling, might I suggest you let me put the drawing away? Don’t want it to get dirty or wrinkle up, do we?” she suggested, and Twilight knew she was asking questions so as to avoid answering others.

“Onwards, then!” Rarity exclaimed once the drawing had been stashed away in her bag, after which Twilight followed her. Not after Rarity but beside her.

Why didn’t she want to answer? What was wrong?

As they walked, thoughts swirled around in her head, as they often did, all the time, unstoppable and immovable and more often than not terrible.

Terrible, terrible thoughts that spiralled and looped and pirouetted her into… into places she didn’t want to go to anymore, and so she would not.

She forced her mind out from its dark mazes and onto the bright streets of Ponyville and its happy citizens. The grass was soft under her hoof, and her ears swivelled towards the sounds of lives being lived around her, and of unicorns being silent beside her.

It was strange, really, to see this town that was so different from the Ponyville she'd known. Four houses, two dozen apple trees and a royal captain who’d uprooted his life and family to protect a princess who’d exiled herself. It certainly brought things into perspective, to see so vividly that life thrived without exception, went on with or without her.

Just as Rarity had for two years.

Rarity. Rarity. Rarity...

It was disconcerting to see Rarity keeping things from her, to see the tables turned. Rarity almost never kept anything from her before. She was admittedly ashamed to realize that not long ago, she’d kept centuries of secrets and thoughts hidden from the unicorn, and yet the idea that Rarity would be keeping something from her was nigh unthinkable.

And yet there they were.

She wanted to look at Rarity. Was she so quiet because she too was consumed with thoughts of Twilight? Was she too disarmed by the sudden unfamiliarity they were now confronted with regarding each other? She wanted to look at Rarity, but she did not. Instead, she turned to other ponies and with surprise found herself the center of attention of several passerbys. Stallions and mares seemed to frown at her, not with ill-intent, but trying to figure out where they knew her from, while fillies and colts gawked at her and whispered to each other.

They stared at her, young and old, and her cruel psyche reminded her of another time ponies stared at her, but decidedly less to figure out who she was and much more to shame her into giving a dragon in exchange for a mockery of peace. She swallowed, suddenly very hot under her cloak, and forced herself to stare at the ground and analyse the texture of dirt.

Stop it, Twilight, she chastised herself. Stop it.

And yet, she couldn’t stop feeling their stares. In fact, the only ones not staring at her were a couple that were too busy sharing besotted smiles to concern themselves with an anxiety-ridden princess. Who could blame them? She too could spend hours looking at her special somepony.

Speaking of which...

She really wanted to look at Rarity. In fact, she was oddly grateful towards the couple for allowing her to distract herself with Rarity, and yet she was equally irritated by just how distracting Rarity was. Her cheeks grew hot, and she became vividly aware of her hooves if only because she now increasingly wished she were able to hold Rarity’s.

Which she couldn't, but not because she physically couldn't, as was the case for a long time, but because it would be difficult to walk. Not impossible, no, but difficult and highly impractical and they would no doubt trip.

But she still wanted that affection, and that weighed on her all the more by a thousand years of lack of intimacy. Her wings twitched under the cloak, demanding to unfurl and pull the unicorn close, but instead she forced the desire away.

No.

Not yet, not now, because maybe Rarity didn't want that. Maybe she wanted to talk. Talking was still nice and pleasant and would pull her away from other very distracting ideas.

With that in mind, she turned around and Rarity’s name collided with her own when both spoke up at the same time. They stopped, surprised, and Rarity’s cheeks weren’t the only ones turning red.

"Oh, sorry!" they blurted out at the same time, the intensity of their blush only deepening at the fact.

"Oh, you go first!" they again blurted out in unison, resulting in both of them giving up altogether and looking away, trotting through the street in embarrassed silence.

Despite the flush on her cheeks, a victorious smile pushed itself onto Twilight’s lips. So, Rarity had been thinking of her! Except she might have been thinking bad thoughts, which would not warrant a victorious smile, but Twilight chose to believe they were good thoughts.

Hopefully.

They settled into silence, and yet the silence between them was anything but quiet. Rarity glanced at her every so often, sizing up the situation, and every now and then, the unicorn's tail would swish a bit too much, brushing the black cloak, and so would Rarity's blush increase and the tail swiftly return to a near-static state.

Now more than ever did Twilight hate the pesky cloak, her wings twitching and twitching below it.

"Twilight, I do hope you realize hiding your wings with a cloak becomes a fruitless endeavor if you keep trying to unfurl them beneath it," Rarity noted. "Do you want to fly to Pinkie Pie’s?"

"No," Twilight replied immediately, not wanting to disclose her wings’s true ambitions. She clamped them against her body and then cleared her throat. "What did you want to tell me earlier?"

"Oh, nothing important!" Rarity quickly said. "Don't mind me. What did you want to tell me?"

Finding herself under the heat of Rarity's curious gaze, Twilight looked towards the winding path, embarrassed to realize she hadn't actually thought of anything to say.

"Nothing important, either," she echoed.

Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times, as if about to press the issue, and though Twilight half-expected her to, she did not.

"If you say so," she said, drifting off. Silence settled again for a moment before she smiled. "I suppose we just simply enjoy saying each other's name, then."

Twilight grinned. "Well, actually, I was hoping to come up with something to tell you, but it didn't go as planned," she confessed.

Rarity hummed. "It didn't go as planned," she murmured, like a thought accidentally said aloud. "I know that feeling all too well."

Twilight was thrown off by the comment, unsure of how to reply. What was that supposed to mean? Staring at Rarity with a severely concerned expression might be rude, so instead she decided to shift her concern towards the buildings they were passing by.

What didn't go as planned? Was it Twilight? Her return? Was that what was wrong? Taking into account how she came back, there was no logical way her return could have been planned, but that didn't necessarily mean it was a bad thing, was it?

"Are you sure there isn't something you want to tell me?" Twilight asked.

A pause followed. A short pause, but long enough to be noticed.

"Oh, as I said, it was nothing terribly important. I will be sure to tell you all about it when I remember." Rarity waved her hoof dismissively. "Besides, we're quite out of time. I can see Sugarcube Corner now!"

Twilight squinted and saw the most eccentric building she'd ever been confronted with in her life. It looked like somepony took a gingerbread house, covered it in frosting, and cast a magnification spell on it. She honestly wasn’t sure what to make of it. How was that even structurally sound?

"What is that?" she asked.

"A confectionary store!" Rarity replied. "A frightfully good one, at that. I spoke with the owners and they graciously allowed Pinkie to use their kitchen for the morning. She wanted to bake a surprise for you."

Twilight's stomach growled in delight. "Bake me one? She baked me something? Why?"

"Why? What a silly question!" Rarity chastised, playfully rolling her eyes. "Because your first meal in a thousand years should be special, of course! Judging by the description, it might be the tastiest cake she's ever made."

"Ooooh! Let's hurry!"

Twilight doubled her pace, Rarity trotting behind her, and the closer she got to the building, the more her nose was enticed with the scents of dozens of tasty treats held inside. Hunger now controlled her body, and she ignored Rarity's calls to slow down in favor of rushing to the door and—

SLAM!

Twilight tumbled back onto the ground, a sad side-effect of getting intimately acquainted with a thoroughly solid object. After a moment's disorientation and a painful groan, she glared at the door with teary eyes, her hoof rubbing her aching muzzle.

Stupid physical body.

"Twilight! Are you alright?!" Rarity exclaimed, rushing to her and looking her over for injuries. "What in Equestria happened?! Why did you—" She paused. "Twilight." She failed to hide an amused smile. "Twilight Sparkle, darling, dearest, sweetheart. Did you just actually try going through the door?"

Twilight's face burned. "No, I was interested in the construction materials used in modern Equestrian doors."

Rarity giggled, offering a hoof to Twilight and helping her up. "Of course you were," she said, fluttering her eyelashes. "Of course you were."

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Stop laughing, smartypants," she scolded, opening the door for Rarity with her magic.

A dozen patrons were inside the shop, most of them already seated and enjoying their mouth-watering pastries. Just like in the streets, it seemed a few of them recognized her, particularly the foals.

"Oh dear," Rarity said, coming to a stop and gesturing to a stallion reading a newspaper. "That explains things."

A photograph of Twilight fighting Discord was plastered all over the front page, below the headline "Seeking Night Preparations Come Early!”.

"Come along, we better hurry," Rarity continued, walking further inside the shop. "We can deal with that in a moment."

Twilight followed behind her, curious about the newspaper but not wanting to stay behind. Upon reaching the counter, an older mare greeted Rarity and 'Princess Booky', allowing them to walk behind the counter and into the kitchen area. Inside, they were greeted not only by the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Pinkie Pie, but by Applejack as well.

"Princess!" Applejack exclaimed, moving over to hug Twilight. "Am I glad to see you. Thought you'd be sleepin' longer than Granny Smith in the winter, the way you hit the hay yesterday. Surprised you didn't wake up. Took us a good while to get you off Rarity."

"More like get Rarity off the Princess," Sweetie Belle giggled.

"Oh?" Twilight asked, glancing over to Rarity who in turn quite decidedly glared at her sister.

Rarity cleared her throat. "Moving on from this fascinating conversation. Ladies, will you do us the honors?"

Applejack grunted. “Better be a mighty honorable cake, Pinkie, or I’ll never forgive myself for letting you get your way.”

Pinkie giggled. “Oh, come oooooon, Applejack! Princess Twilight can have one of your apple pies later!”

“Yeah, yeah. Just get it over with, filly.”

Pinkie cleared her throat. "Princess Twilight Sparkle!" she exclaimed, loudly enough that Twilight stepped back. She moved to the center table, and only then did Twilight notice something on top of it covered with a large box. "Princess of Books and… and…"

"Ghosts!" Scootaloo whispered.

"Princess of Books and Ghosts! We have brought you here for a sacred ritual, passed down for years and years since this morning to join us in being alive, if!" She paused. Her voice fell to a whisper. "If..."

"...If?" Twilight prompted.

"If you can eat your...first meal in a thousand years!" she exclaimed, gesturing rather dramatically towards the box, after which...

Nothing happened.

Twilight looked back and forth between the box and Pinkie, who incidentally was still dramatically pointing towards the box. "Uh…?"

"Sweetie!" Scootaloo whispered urgently. "This was your turn!"

"O-Oh, sorry!" the filly exclaimed, her horn lighting up and shakily levitating the box into the air.

"FIRSTMEALINATHOUSANDYEARS!" Pinkie exclaimed, again dramatically gesturing towards the box.

In all of her tumultuous life, Twilight had never seen a cake quite like that one, and that was considering her former teacher really loved them. Though the monstrous seven tier pastry towered before her, nothing was quite as impressive as the rumble her stomach let out in reply to it. The entire thing was decorated with what smelled like lavender frosting, and caramel jewels, topped with an edible marzipan figurine of Twilight herself.

"And ya gotta eat it in one whole sittin'!" Apple Bloom exclaimed.

"She has to eat all of that in a single sitting?!" Rarity asked, shocked. "That's ridiculous! Nopony can do that!"

Twilight stepped forward, running her tongue across her lips. The smell was calling her, more intoxicating than almost anything she'd ever come across. Her wings twitched besides her, and a predatory smile twisted her lips.

"Good thing I'm an alicorn, then."


Pain.

Pain like no other, crippling her body and her thoughts, and leaving her with nothing to support her but the table she was half lying on. Agony rippled through her body, leaving fire in its wake and a tummy ache for the ages.

She would have been fascinated by being able to reexperience pain if only she didn't feel like throwing up.

"Sweetheart, I'm sorry to say this, but I honestly don't know what you were expecting," Rarity said, leafing through the large medical book Mrs Cake had provided. "Perhaps had you not devoured it in three seconds like some sort of famished savage, you'd have given your stomach enough time to tell you it was full."

Twilight looked up, groaning some semblance of an intelligible reply.

"Now, Rarity," Applejack said, patting the groaning alicorn's back. "Ain't she in enough misery already? Poor thing was just tryin' to make up for all them years of not eatin'."

"Sis? Are you sure she'll be okay?" Apple Bloom asked. "She don't look good."

"Is she gonna die again?!" Scootaloo asked, staring at Twilight as though she expected it to happen at any moment. "We just brought her back! Like, yesterday! Literally!"

"She'll be fiiiiiine," Pinkie said, washing the remains of cake off the platter. She turned off the faucet and turned to the princess. "Besides, she loved it! Didn't you, Princess Twi?"

Though her body currently made it difficult to say anything more elaborate than a pained groan, she still put in the effort and nodded because oh Princesses, that had been so good. So, so, so good she'd eat three more of those cakes were they put in front of her.

"Well, the spell should take effect shortly. Regardless, we should head out now. Fluttershy must already be waiting for us with Spike and Rainbow,” Rarity said, closing the spell book and turning to Twilight. “Are you quite sure you’ll manage the walk to the valley?”

“Yes,” Twilight croaked. “Maybe. No. I don’t know.”

A bolt of pain shot through her body. Oh, to think the day would ever come she’d miss being displaced in time.

Stupid delicious cake.

Rarity levitated a newspaper and placed it on the table. "For now, I do believe there are much more pressing matters to discuss. Namely, the fact that the entire town saw you and Discord fighting."

"We tried telling everyone that it was real, but nopony believes us!" Scootaloo exclaimed, sticking a fork inside her piece of cake.

"Seems like the story folks are fine with believing that this is some sort of Seekin' Night joke. I reckon convincing them otherwise won't be a piece of pie, too," Applejack said. She gestured to Twilight's wings. "I was at the market earlier, and two mares kept talking about how realistic the Princess's fake wings were. One of them even wanted to find her to ask what spell she used!"

"Well, the foals certainly believe she's the veritable Princess Booky, and frankly, I think this works to our advantage until we talk with Princess Cadance," Rarity replied. "I wager she's not quite ready to deal with Equestria panicking not only over the princesses being real, but Discord as well.''

Rarity got up, putting the newspaper away in her bag and brushing a hoof through Twilight’s mane.

“Come now, Miss Gourmande. We shouldn’t keep the others waiting,” she said, and stepped away when Twilight heaved herself off the table. “Are you certain you feel well enough to walk there?”

“Yes, I am,” Twilight lied through her teeth. Every inch of her body protested movement, but unlike most other ponies, she was a prodigy at magic, and her body couldn’t protest levitation, now could it?

No.

No, it couldn’t, thank you very much.

Except that it could, actually, protest it. Thankfully, though, the kind owner of the pastry shop had no qualms with helping clean up the contents of Twilight’s stomach from her shop’s entrance, but that was entirely besides the point, and had never happened, ever, period.

Thankfully, Rarity wasn’t averse to levitating ill alicorns towards Spike’s valley.

As it turned out, Spike had not left Ponyville in the two years Twilight had been gone, making a home for himself in the valley adjacent to the White Tail forest, and even going as far as befriending the town itself. No wonder nopony was terrified by the ‘strange’ dragon barging into town yesterday.

Another in the line of life-changing events Twilight had missed.

As she floated above Rarity, Pinkie and Applejack, she watched them talk amongst each other, laugh and exchange pleasantries, saw them basking in a familiarity Twilight did not share, and it was admittedly making her sick. Or that might still be the cake. But still, it was enough for her to try to look away, and instead distract herself with the modern town.

Great, she thought bitterly, who needs Discord when I’m torturing myself just fine?

She looked down again, and her heart swelled at the sight of Rarity laughing at something Pinkie said. She allowed the unicorn to fill her vision, and the sounds of her laughter to counteract the noise in her head because, if anything, she was grateful she had her back.

As if summoned by Twilight’s thoughts, Rarity looked back towards her and smiled brilliantly, her tail swishing.

“Is our pampered princess feeling better or must she still be levitated about?” she asked. “We’re nearly at Spike’s.”

“Well, I was enjoying the sights,” Twilight replied, which wasn’t a lie if one considered Rarity a sight. Which she was. Scientifically proven.

“Yes, I gathered as much from how intently you were staring at me.”

In her mind, Twilight replied with something witty and crisp that would show Rarity she could not hope to best Twilight at a game of comebacks. In reality, she let out an embarrassed noise of alarm that did little more than widen Rarity’s victorious smile.

Rarity giggled. “Do keep up, dearest.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “If you’re done turning the poor Princess redder than an apple, we oughta hurry up.”

They stepped into a large clearing, and from her vantage point, Twilight saw her dear draconian friend in the distance, lying on the grass and apparently fast asleep. Two familiar pegasi flew above him, the yellow one seeming distressed at the blue one standing on him and, well, acquainting his face with her hindhooves. Repeatedly.

“Rainbow!” Twilight exclaimed, horrified. “Why is she kicking him?!”

“She’s not kicking him, silly!” Pinkie exclaimed, standing back as Rarity levitated Twilight down to the ground. “She’s waking him up!”

“By kicking him in the face?!”

“Now, now, Twilight! Rainbow may have, shall we say, unorthodox methods, but they are tried and true.”

Nevertheless, tried and true as they were, Twilight flew up into the air and watched as Rainbow smacked a hoof against Spike’s face and then landed on the ground, next to what seemed to be dozens of saddlebags. Relieved, Twilight began her descent towards the ground until Rainbow Dash extracted a heavy-looking tome from inside a saddlebag and—

DON’T HIT HIM WITH THE BOOK!” she shrieked, beelining towards the pegasus and practically ripping the object away from Rainbow’s forehoof. “Rainbow!”

Rainbow grinned. “Oh! Princess Twi! You’re awake!”

“Rainbow, what were you thinking?!” Twilight demanded. “You could have damaged something!”

Rainbow snorted. “What? Pfff, Spike will be fine.”

“I meant the book!”

“Oh. Pffffft, that’ll be fine too,” Rainbow said, flying up and landing on the dragon’s head. She smacked a nearby scale. “Come ON, you lazy sack of gems!”

“Princess Twilight!” Fluttershy said, landing next to the Princess and trying hard to ignore Rainbow’s duel with Spike’s head. “How did you sleep?”

“Oh, I slept well!” Twilight replied. No nightmares, no bad thoughts, just blissful sleep. “I really needed it.”

“That’s wonderful, Princess!” Fluttershy exclaimed, relieved. “I was worried it would be difficult after not sleeping for so long…”

Pinkie giggled, elbowing Rarity. “‘Specially when somepony was holding onto Princess Twi like frosting to a cupcake.”

Rarity coughed. “Curious. I don’t recall that at all,” she said nonchalantly.

Applejack smiled. “Sure ya don’t, Rares. Sure ya don’t.”

“I do not!” Rarity protested, her apparent irritation melting away when Twilight giggled. “Regardless! Rather than discussing such trivial matters—” She turned towards Spike and cleared her throat. “Spikey-wikey! Wake up, darling!”

A second of silence followed before Spike’s eyes fluttered open, a yawn escaping his lips.

“Mmm?”

“Seriously?!” Rainbow exclaimed, the second book she picked up and threw at him missing its mark only because Twilight caught it in her magic. “You wake up for her?!”

“Of course he does!” Rarity replied, flipping her mane.

Twilight watched as the dragon’s lethargic gaze traveled the length of their friends, only widening and practically sparkling when it settled on her. She impulsively smiled at him, her wings twitching at her sides, and yet before she was even able to greet him, a massive claw took hold off her. She yelped in surprise, and suddenly found herself cuddled—or smushed, rather—against his face.

Twilight laughed. “Sp-Spike!”

Spike ignored her protests, simply sighing and then nuzzling his muzzle against her entire body.

“It doesn’t feel entirely real, does it?” Rarity asked.

Spike shook his head, drawing giggles out of the poor alicorn being tickled all over.

“Wh-What doesn’t feel real?” Twilight asked, pushing Spike away with a hoof so as to try to have some space to breathe.

“You, sugarcube,” Applejack replied, taking off her hat. “You bein’ with us.”

Oh.

A knot formed in Twilight’s throat. Though Spike remained silent besides her, his grip tightened around her body, as if afraid she might disappear.

“Well,” she said after she regained her composure. She nuzzled Spike in return, a gesture of affection she sorely missed, and her voice fell to a whisper, “I’m back now.”

“Yeah,” Spike finally said, and opened his eyes, treating her to the toothiest grin she’d ever seen. He put her down on the ground before sitting up on his hindlegs and stretching out. “That was a good nap, but being awake’s better.”

Rainbow harrumphed, flying up into the air and playfully rolling her eyes. “Pft. You’re never that excited to see me.”

Pinkie giggled. “Awww, are you jealous, Dashy?”

Rainbow snorted, crossing her forelegs. “Yeah, right!” she exclaimed, only to yelp when Spike pulled her in for a sudden hug.

“Awww, I love you too, Rainbow,” he cooed, grinning when Twilight and the others laughed at the pegasus’s indignant protests of not wanting any of his dumb hugs, Spike!

It was strange to see all her friends talking and joking amongst each other. And yet, in that moment, it wasn’t strange in a hurtful way. In fact, a sudden sweeping wave of affection engulfed Twilight, and she felt being able to partake in their familiarity.

“Uhm, Rainbow?” Fluttershy asked once Rainbow had been released back into the air. She fidgeted slightly. "Shouldn't you tell them about the trip…?"

"The trip? What trip?" Twilight asked, ears perking up.

Rainbow blinked. "The trip to… Oh! Yeah! Princess Twilight!” She flew up close to her, clapping her hooves. “Okay, so, listen, Spike and I decided we’re gonna go to Canterlot too, so we’re leaving tomorrow morning and—”

Rarity gasped. “You are?!”  She turned to look at the dragon. “Spike! Is this true?”

Spike crossed his arms, looking away. “Yeah, we are. I figure it’s been long enough and…”

He nodded towards Twilight.

Rarity stamped her hooves against the ground, her tail swishing behind her. “Darling! That’s tremendous news! Sensational, even!”

“Wait, what’s going on?” Twilight asked, wanting to share in the excitement. “Why wouldn’t you want to come in the first place, Spike?”

Spike grunted, still looking away. If Twilight didn’t know better, which she did, he looked just as he used to when she caught him misbehaving. “Long story, Twi. Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, I’d like to hear it anyway,” Twilight insisted, her curiosity melting into concern. Had something—Well, of course something must have happened in the thousand years she was gone, but what would drive Spike away from their true home? “This seems important.”

Rainbow landed in front of her. “It is! And you’ll hear all about it ‘cause it’ll take us like five days to get to Canterlot by hoof aaaaaand you’re coming with us!”

Twilight's ears perked up. “I am?”

Rarity frowned. “She is?”

Pinkie giggled. “Ooooooh, fun! Can I come too?!”

“No, no, no, wait!” Rarity interrupted. “Pardon me, darling, but she can’t go with you! If you’d taken the time to suggest this yesterday, then perhaps! But may I remind you I’ve already bought expensive train tickets for all of us?”

Rainbow waved her off. “Pshhhh, big deal, Rares. I’ll pay you back for the tickets, no biggie.”

“Rainbow, that’s not the point!” Rarity shot back.

Rainbow deadpanned her. “Rares. Trains are, like, total snooze-fests. Princess Twilight’s been stuck in a library for like a jillion years. The last thing she wants is to be stuck in a train for half a day! Besides, she definitely likes this idea better, right, Princess?”

Twilight faltered, chewing on her lip.

On one hoof, she badly wanted to see Cadance and be back home.

On the other hoof, she’d really missed Spike, and five days was barely enough—in fact, it was probably too little—time to catch up on whatever she needed to catch up on. Including his aversion towards Canterlot.

“Yes,” she finally said, determined.

“What? But, Twilight!” Rarity complained.

In return, Twilight smiled reassuringly. “It’s not a problem, Rarity. I’m sure Cadance can wait a few days so Spike can get there, and I’m sure we’ll have a good time, you’ll see.”

And to this, Rarity hesitated.

“We?” she asked, and so did Twilight’s heart drop.

Wait, what?

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Twilight asked at once, whatever excitement she’d held fading. “Yes, we. You’re coming with us! Aren’t you?” She turned to Rainbow. “Isn’t she?” Back to Rarity, who now looked away. “Rarity! But—!”

“I don’t know, Twilight,” she said, helplessly.

“What’d you mean you don’t know?” Rainbow asked. “Why wouldn’t you want to come?! I’m paying you back for your ticket, come on! It’ll be fun!”

“It’s not that!” Rarity whined with irritation, turning to the two mares. “I have commitments! I arranged to deliver a dress to a client in Canterlot tomorrow night, and it’s not as though I can deliver a letter rescheduling today! And, not only that, but it’s unfinished, and I was hoping to finish it on the train ride. I can’t do that if we’re traveling on hoof!”

“Psh, we can figure it out! Fluttershy has mad sewing skills!” Rainbow insisted. “And this is Twilight. I’m pretty sure your client will understand, and besides! All you have to do is pull one of your all-nighters again and finish it tonight, whatever. ”

“Rainbow, honestly, I barely slept last night! I’ll fall asleep halfway! And, once again, that’s not the point!”

Rainbow pouted. “Come ooooon! Stop making excuses!”

Rarity snapped.

“I’m not making excuses!” she said, a fire in her eyes that, admittedly, forced Twilight to step back. She stamped her hoof against the ground. “I can’t just drop things anymore for this! I have a business, and clients, and responsibilities to take care off! I can’t grind my plans and my life to a halt again!

And Rainbow didn’t reply.

In fact, no one else replied at first, and if they did, Twilight couldn’t hear them over the noise in her head. The noise drowning out everything but Rarity’s almost resentful words.

“Wow, Rarity,” Rainbow said, finally, stepping back. “Nopony said any of that. It’s just a trip. I… I just thought you’d like to come. Sorry…”

A wave of realization swept over Rarity, and now she stepped back as well, her eyes flitting between the almost shocked stares being directed at her. “I-I— I apologize, I didn’t—” She drifted off, frustrated.

“It’s fine.”

Twilight hadn’t processed the fact she’d spoken until everypony turned to her. But she’d said it. Because it was true. It was fine. Rarity didn’t want to spend time with her, or change her life for her, and it was fine, it was fine! It was fine.

It would be fine because Twilight would fix it.

Just like she’d fix everything else.

Rarity seemed taken aback. “Twilight?”

“It’s fine!” she repeated, forcing an almost manic smile. “I understand. You have your clients, and your life. You don’t have to come”—  For a split-second, the words ‘if you don’t want to’ waited on her tongue, but she changed them. She wasn’t brave enough for that.—“If you can’t.”

“Twi’s right,” Applejack said. “Rarity’s business is important, and everypony knows customers tell one friend about the good apple they ate, but tell the entire village ‘bout the rotten apple they tasted.”

“Exactly,” Rarity said, though the intensity in her voice was long gone. An array of emotions again warred in her eyes, and Twilight could plainly see that the unicorn was avoiding meeting her gaze.

“Well.” Spike cleared his throat and clapped his hands. “I guess that’s settled…? So!” He got up. “I need to go get gems for the trip. Anypony coming with me?”

“Ye-Yeah!” Pinkie said, eager to get away from any discussions. She jumped up onto his tail and sat down. “Off we go!”

Rainbow, similarly, moved towards Spike after one last awkward apology to Rarity. She flew up into the air and settled herself atop his head, talking about a good gem spot she’d found.

Twilight herself didn’t quite know what to do.

“Why don’t you go with them, Twilight?” Rarity asked. She smiled apologetically. “I think my exhaustion might be getting to me, hm?”

“I… Okay,” Twilight relented.

“I’ll go with ya, Rarity,” Applejack said. “Been puttin’ off my chores at the farm long enough.” She rubbed her brow and moved in to embrace Twilight. “I’ll be seein’ you tomorrow, Princess!” She then hugged Fluttershy. “Don’t be out too long, you two.”

Rarity said nothing more beyond asking Fluttershy to take Twilight home later, and then offering the alicorn her crown back should it be needed. Once that was done, she merely smiled and trotted off, leaving Twilight to stand there and watch her go.

“She’ll be all right.”

Twilight looked to her side and found Fluttershy smiling warmly at her.

“And you’ll be all right too, won’t you?”

Twilight smiled. “I will.”

Sooner or later, she would fix everything. Sooner or later.


Night had fallen by the time she returned to Rarity’s house.

And an old feeling returned with it. Or was it new now, considering how much time has passed since she’d last felt it? Whatever the correct definition, Twilight was now feeling tired, her body heavy from all the movement during the day.

The day had gone by eventfully, or at least eventfully enough to keep her thoughts away from Rarity’s outburst. Pinkie had taken her to dinner at a lovely restaurant with the others, and she’d managed to confirm that yes, indeed, the entire population of Ponyville was convinced she was that good of an illusionist.

It was strange. All her life she’d hated her wings and the royal status they’d thrust upon her; now she was a bit disappointed ponies saw her as a pony and not a princess.

After dinner, they spent more time with Spike and Rainbow, as well as the Themis and Elara’s family who’d finally emerged with the sunset, and then she’d finally been escorted home by Fluttershy.

Elara, Themis and their owlets elected to sleep outside, and so silence greeted her when she stepped into Carousel Boutique. She closed the door behind her, and was reminded of how much she hated silence. The library had always been silent.

“I’m back!” she called, stepping further into the room, eager to talk to Rarity. Was she doing better? Maybe she’d changed her mind about the trip?

Silence again.

She pursed her lips, and trotted into the kitchen, finding it empty. Rarity’s workroom turned out to be devoid of Rarity too, and so did worried thoughts filter into her mind. Had… Surely, Discord hadn’t...

“Rarity?” she called out. “Rarity, I’m ba—!”

“Princess Twilight! You’re back!”

She turned around and saw Sweetie Belle rushing into the room.

“Oh, Sweetie!” she exclaimed. That was a relief.

“How’d gem-hunting go?!” Sweetie asked. “Is it true you’re going with Spike and Rainbow on a trip?!” She pouted and sat down on the floor, crossing her forelegs. “Rarity said I couldn’t go…”

“It is a long trip, Sweetie. And dangerous, too. She’s just looking out for you,” Twilight said, sympathetically. “Speaking of which, where is Rar—?”

Crack!

“Ah, Twilight, you’re back.”

Twilight yelped in surprise, turning around and tumbling down at Rarity’s sudden appearance. Her chest heaved, like her heart was about to leap right out of her chest, and yet Rarity had exactly no remorse for what she’d done. Instead, she simply stood there, smiling devilishly.

Rarity! You scared me!Twilight reprimanded, getting up and frowning at the unicorn. “That wasn’t funny.”

Sweetie Belle giggled. “It was a little funny.”

“I agree,” Rarity said.

“Well, I’m glad you can still teleport, at least,” Twilight said, her own frown turning into a smile. “I didn’t think you’d actually keep practicing with me gone.”

Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “But of course! How else was I supposed to impress you with my progress once you returned, hm?”

Twilight blushed, leaning in. “Well, That’s ni—”

The sound of Sweetie clearing her throat interrupted her, and she quickly leaned back.

“Right!” Rarity exclaimed, clearly not blushing like Twilight. “It’s getting late, isn’t it?” She raised an eyebrow at Sweetie Belle. “And you should be in bed, young lady. Off you go!”

Once Sweetie begrudgingly left to get ready for the night, Rarity turned to Twilight. “And you too for that matter. At what time are you and the others supposed to be leaving for your little expedition?”

“Er... Seven in the morning."

“Seven? My stars, I barely slept! Do they want to kill me? Well, regardless, I talked with Applejack about it,” Rarity said. “She’s considering joining you all.”

“Really? That’s great!” Twilight said. If Applejack wanted to come, then maybe… “And you…?”

Rarity winced. “I… shan’t. I do have matters to attend to, darling, as I said earlier,” she said softly. “I do owe Rainbow an apology. I’m not sure what got over me. But...” She paused for a second, her brow creasing in thought.

“But…?”

“But it’s in the past now!” she said with finality. “And you need to get yourself to bed. Come along!”

Twilight followed Rarity upstairs, admittedly looking forward to sleeping again, but her path towards Rarity’s room was interrupted when Rarity stopped in front of Sweetie Belle’s room. With slight hesitation, Rarity peeked inside before turning to Twilight.

"I'm assuming you don't intend on sleeping in the library,” she said,  “...So you're free to sleep in Sweetie’s room for the night.”

"Sleep in Sweetie’s room?" Twilight asked, frowning a bit.

Rarity nodded. “I’ll tell Sweetie to sleep in mine with me.”

Twilight didn’t reply. She didn’t want Sweetie to sleep in Rarity’s room. She wanted the filly to be able to sleep in her own room, while Twilight herself slept in Rari…

Her cheeks heated up.

What was the protocol for situations like these? Twilight had slept in Rarity’s room the night before, so it wasn’t wholly unreasonable for her to sleep there again, especially when Rarity was her… Well, right now, she wasn’t entirely sure they were officially anything, and if they were, Rarity wouldn’t be offering Sweetie’s room, so that…

Ugh.

"All right," she said finally, even though it wasn't what she wanted at all. "Thank you."

As it turned out, Sweetie Belle herself didn’t want to sleep in Rarity’s room either, but for wholly different reasons. She wanted to sleep wherever Princess Twilight was, and Twilight found some happiness in the fact that at least somepony in the house was thrilled with the arrangements.

It’ll be so much fun, Princess, she’d said as she snuggled under the covers next to Twilight. Rarity’s gonna be so jealous, she’d assured. Why don’t you tell me a bedtime story? she’d begged.

Ten minutes into the story, Twilight privately admitted she was impressed—and a bit offended—at how quickly she'd put Sweetie to sleep.

In the dead of the night, submerged in darkness and uneven snores, she stared at the ceiling and thought. She did that all the time, and more often than not, as they had in the last year, her thoughts meandered towards her.

She laid out the day in her mind, the many moments Rarity had held back, pushed something away from the light, signs that pointed towards something terrible, culminating in… the outburst, if that was an apt name for it.

How painfully fascinating that she'd literally been kept away from Rarity, and yet she’d never felt more distant than standing next to her during the confrontation.

Did Rarity not want to have anything to do with her anymore?

Did she not want to help? Was Twilight imposing on her? Or worse, had she… had she really stopped loving her in those two years…?

She thought back to the library. To that awful day, to… She hadn’t been there since reuniting with Rarity, and if she was honest with herself, she didn’t want to go back. She was afraid of it; it made her stomach churn, just the thought of… of what she’d become… and… it had been his fault. Discord had caused this. It had been all him.

Hadn’t it?

But then, memories resurfaced.

Nightmares in broad daylight, unbidden and unrelenting and excruciating.

Memories of the library, and yet...

And yet they were new, she thought at first. Unfamiliar, yet familiar. Memories of herself in the library, walking, feeling angry and bitter and resentful towards… Rarity? Towards herself? Towards everything?

The memories continued, like flashes, one after another, and yet she still couldn’t place the time until she saw splattered ink and black hoofsteps on the floor, and then she knew.

And then, like a dam had broken, more and more memories flooded her mind, of two years that seemed had not been fully suppressed. Her head began to ache, and so did a groan escape her lips.

She opened her eyes, trying to dispel the images, push them away, and though she succeeded, she feared closing her eyes would only bring them back. She wished she were able to fall asleep, but she was more awake than ever, and with the pain in her head and the ache in her chest, she resigned herself to a single fact.

She didn't want to sleep.

In fact, she knew very well what she wanted to do.

After several moments of consideration, she rose from the bed, careful not to wake Sweetie Belle as she made her way out of the room. She opened and then closed the door behind her, and exhaled a breath of relief when she was out in the hallway.

To her relief, light shone out of the unicorn's room, prompting her to tiptoe over and peek inside, finding Rarity lying on her bed, squinting at her sketchpad from behind her glasses.

For a moment, Twilight was perfectly content with simply watching her.

She’d hardly loved Rarity from the very beginning, but she had been fascinated by her from the start. The one element in her life she did not fully understand, the hurricane who'd stormed into a quiet desert, only to settle down and turn it into an oasis.

"Far be it from me to tell you what to do, as I too quite enjoy my own appearance, but might I suggest you admire me from a more comfortable location? You were walking around all day, after all," Rarity said, still drawing away on her sketchpad. Her eyes flickered towards Twilight, and she smiled. "I gather the sleepover isn't going too well?"

Oops.

Twilight walked into the room, smiling awkwardly. "Sweetie Belle fell asleep halfway through the bedtime story I was telling her."

Rarity raised an eyebrow, levitating her glasses on top of her head. "Really? That's not like her. Whatever were you telling her about?" She smiled mischievously. "The inner mechanics of thaumaturgic kinetics?"

"No, though that's a very interesting topic!" Twilight replied, standing in front of the bed. "I was explaining the architectural differences between modern Ponyville and the houses the Cobbler family built."

Rarity grinned. "Ah, mystery solved, then.” She gestured to the other side of the bed. "But, personally, I think that sounds fascinating! If you can bear a few minutes while I finish my design, I'd love to hear all about it once I'm done."

Twilight stamped her hooves on the floor. "Really?! I wanted to write a small dissertation on it; you can help me outline it, and—" She cut herself off. "And you won't fall asleep?"

"Twilight! Perish the thought!" Rarity gasped. "When have I ever been so impolite?"

"You fell asleep halfway through the foreword of Feyn Mane's Treatise on Quantized Enchantments."

Rarity coughed. "Well! Can you blame me? Who wouldn't be lulled to sleep with a voice as melodious as yours, hmm?"

Twilight giggled. "Right," she said, climbing up on the bed and lying down near Rarity. Not as close as she'd like, but not too far away either.

Even though she'd been wide awake and terrified of closing her eyes not even ten minutes ago, a sudden drowsiness overtook Twilight. She was comfortable now, like she was right where she needed to be, and the soft sound of Rarity's pencil scratching against paper was proving to be a soothing lullaby protecting her from ill thoughts.

If Rarity allowed her to sleep there yesterday, then perhaps she'd allow it again? It was a large bed, after all, and both of them and Sweetie apparently fit in it.

And if she pretended to have fallen asleep…

Determined to put her plan into motion, she paced her breath and cuddled into the bed, simulating the act of sleeping. Except she hadn't done that in a while. Could she even fake sleep anymore? Would pacing her breath be too obvious? But if it was too irregular, it would signal activity and unrest, and she couldn't pass it off as a dream since ponies only dreamt during the REM cycle of sleeping, which itself didn't start until ninet—

"Voila!" Rarity's voice chimed, jolting Twilight into a static position.

She heard Rarity putting the drawing on her nightstand, and for a moment she hoped the unicorn wouldn't get too close, as her own rapid heartbeat would no doubt betray her.

"Twilight?" Rarity asked after a while, and Twilight bit down on her lip. A few more seconds passed before Rarity's lovely voice sounded off again, the unicorn's hooves rubbing against her back. It was a heavenly sensation, and she was tempted to break her deception if only to hum in delight.

"Twilight, sweetheart? Did you fall asleep?" Another moment of silence before Rarity continued. "Well! I wish I could be cured of my insomnia that quickly. I suppose I have no choice but to let her sleep here, then."

If Twilight hadn't been so busy delighting over the fact that her plan apparently worked, she might have realized that was a very odd statement to say aloud. Instead, she allowed a satisfied smile to curve her lips and let out a content giggle—which she immediately tried to play off as a snore.

"Goodness," Rarity continued, tracing circles on Twilight's back, "that must have been the oddest snore I've ever heard! If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn Twilight just giggled! How truly fascinating."

Cursing herself, Twilight bit down on her lip even more, a desperate attempt to swallow down more of the giggles that wanted to come out. To her immediate horror, Rarity adjusted herself so as to brush back Twilight's mane and reveal her face.

"And look at this!" Rarity exclaimed. "She even blushes and smiles like a filly when she's asleep! This is absolutely remarkable!"

"All right, all right!" Twilight exclaimed, sitting up and puffing her cheeks out. So much for that plan.

Rarity, however, giggled with delight. "Awwww, is our silly princess pouting?" she said, imitating Twilight's expression, her ears lowering. "Might I venture she take acting classes elsewhere than with the Heart’s Haven changelings?"

"I don't need acting classes!" Twilight protested. "And I am not silly."

"Oh?" Rarity asked, lifting Twilight's chin with her hoof. "Now, now, you must admit you're a teensy bit silly, at the very least."

Twilight smiled. "Maybe a little."

A warm smile swept across Rarity's lips, and for a moment, like earlier that day, Twilight wanted to lean in to kiss her. However, before she could, Rarity looked away towards her desk.

"I..." She levitated a worn-out paper from her nightstand and then took it in her hooves, pressing the paper against her chest. "If it makes you feel any better, I have something very silly to show you. The little filly from this morning inspired me to look for it," she said, a blush creeping up her cheeks.

"What is it?" Twilight asked, ears perking up. This had her attention.

Rarity seemed hesitant. "You must promise you shan't laugh!"

Twilight shook her head. "I won't laugh, I promise."

Biting down on her lip, Rarity finally detached the paper from her chest and hoofed it over. Twilight turned it around and admired a very old drawing entitled 'The Princess and I', depicting an indigo maned filly having a costumed tea party with an ancient—and also extremely inaccurate—alicorn princess.

Even when the drawing inspired many emotions within her, Twilight didn’t initially know what to say.

"Do you like it?" Rarity hesitantly asked, and for a moment she reminded Twilight of the little filly from earlier, seeking approval from the one she so admired.

Twilight licked her lips and frowned. "I have some thoughts about it."

Rarity sat up straight, disconcerted. "...And those are?"

"There's at least fifteen things I can think of that are very wrong with having me wear a dress made out of book pages."

"Twilight! I was a filly! And what do you expect when you're called Princess Booky!" Rarity protested with a huff. "An 'oh, it's the most fabulous thing I've ever seen, Rarity,' would have sufficed."

Twilight laughed. "I think it's wonderful," she said, looking over the drawing with delight. When she put it down on the bed, she turned to Rarity and raised an eyebrow. "I guess meeting the real Princess Booky isn't something little Rarity was expecting."

Rarity hummed. "Oh? Dearest, you underestimate me."

"Do I?" Twilight asked, inching a bit closer to Rarity. "Maybe a little."

"Just a little," Rarity replied, and the way she smiled, soft and loving and playful, was enough to hitch Twilight's breath. "You honestly believe that I didn't plan all of this? That I didn't intend as a filly to grow up into the most beautiful mare in Equestria—"

"The most beautiful mare in Equestria. Right,” Twilight said with an insolent smile as she inched closer still.

Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. "The most, yes. I'm delighted you agree," she whispered, and she was so close now, all Twilight had to do was move just a bit more and lean in. "Grow up into the most beautiful mare in Equestria who would clearly meet and win the heart of the fabled princess."

"Clearly," Twilight replied, heart hammering in her chest as she moved closer one last time.

Bad thoughts rose in her mind, reminding her of Rarity's earlier unsettling actions, and yet...

And yet, at the same time, Rarity's mere presence acted as a barrier against them, kept Twilight safe from her own demons if only because their physical proximity forced other more heady thoughts into her mind.

"So…" Twilight said.

"So…?" Rarity replied, and for once, she leaned in slightly, so close their lips would touch if either one dared.

“So... you're responsible for all of this, huh?"

And then Rarity froze, her eyes widening.

And then she pulled back.

She pulled back, as if Twilight had struck her, and when she caught herself, she laughed nervously. "We-well, be that as it may," she stammered, her ears clamped against her head. "Be that as it may,” she repeated, looking around for the drawing and then levitating it back on the desk, "it is quite late, and you have to wake up early for your expedition!” She faltered. Briefly, but she did. “You should probably go back to your room."

To this, Twilight didn't know what to say.

She was sure that in ten minutes, her brain would torment her over it. She was sure that sleep would be hard to find that night, asking herself over and over what she did wrong, what was her mistake now, but in that moment, she did nothing but acquiesce.

"Yes, I probably should," she repeated without much emotion.

Without another word, but with a heavy heart, she got off the bed, and now did the questions burn her. Had she been too forward? Maybe Rarity didn't love her anymore? There it was again, plainly stated, the question she feared. She'd yet to say it, hadn’t she? Not once since they'd been reunited had Rarity uttered the three words, and perhaps now the unicorn had realized she didn't love Twilight anymore.

But, even so, Twilight couldn't help what she felt, and even at a cost, she didn't want to hide it either—not anymore.

She stopped, looked back, and spoke up.

"I love you.”

I love you, she’d said, and though this was and had always been very much true, even back when she didn’t realize it yet, it still hurt when Rarity hesitated in her reply, if she’d even planned one.

Finding she was too afraid to wait and see if Rarity was ever going to reply, Twilight spoke up again. "We-Well, good night. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Sitting on her bed, ears still lowered, Rarity's smile was much less bright than before.

"I would hope so.”

Twilight nodded, turning around to leave, and she wanted to, but…

But something was wrong. Something was wrong with Rarity, something Twilight didn't know about, and it would eat her alive. It would eat her alive because she couldn't fix a problem when she didn't know what the problem was.

Even if it scared her.

Even if there were a million other solutions she'd want to try rather than the most effective and terrifying one.

"Rarity?" she asked carefully, turning around to face the unicorn. "Is something wrong?"

Rarity sat up straight, pawing at the sheets. "Wh-Whatever do you mean?"

"Is it me?" Twilight asked, her voice steady. “Is it because I’m back?”

"No! No, no, no! Twilight, dearest, never, absolutely not!" Rarity said immediately, horrified. "Don't even think that!"

"Then what's wrong?" Twilight asked again, finding little relief in not being at fault.

"I..." Like a foal caught in her lies, Rarity looked down, away from the seeking stare. "I don't know."

I don't know.

Who knew these three little words could be akin to daggers?

Tears stung at Twilight's eyes, and she looked away. "You don't know," she repeated, slowly and painfully. "I can't fix this if I don't know what's wrong, Rarity."

Rarity's disposition changed. "Oh, sweetheart… Come here." She lifted her hoof, a beckoning gesture, and what could Twilight do but walk back to the bed and climb up right into Rarity's waiting embrace. Rarity nuzzled and held her close, her voice falling to a whisper. "Oh, my darling, you have nothing to fix, you silly pony."

"I am not a silly pony," Twilight half-heartedly mumbled against Rarity's coat.

Rarity chuckled sadly, stroking Twilight's mane. "No, you are not. I think I might be the silly one," she confessed.

When Twilight pulled back, a pained smile decorated Rarity's lips. She lifted her hoof and pressed it against Twilight's necklace, her eyes focused on the pendant.

"I think I need time," she murmured with finality. She looked up and wiped away Twilight's tears, letting her hoof rest on the alicorn's cheek. "Time to gather my thoughts and sort myself out. That forsaken magic made us wait two years, didn't it? So what's a little bit more waiting?"

"And then you'll tell me what's wrong?" Twilight asked.

Rarity nodded, looking solemn. "Yes. In fact, I shall make you an entire diagram explaining 'what's wrong', and afterwards, we shall sit together and write a dissertation on it to be entitled 'The Art of What's Wrong'. How does that sound, hmm?"

Twilight giggled at the stark contrast of emotion in Rarity’s voice and absurd content of her words. "Depends. How big are we planning on making it? I have a sixty page minimum."

Rarity grimaced. "Oh dear, I'm regretting my words."

"That's what I thought," Twilight replied, giggling and leaning in to nuzzle her again. When she pulled back, she licked her lips, happy that at least some of the weight on her heart was gone.

Rarity sighed. "Would you like to know why I didn't sleep at all? I kept waking up, expecting to be back in Hollow Shades and find out that this was all just a cruelly vivid dream." A sincere smile bloomed on her lips. "I'm surprised you didn't wake up considering how many times I kept tapping your shoulder to make sure you were actually there."

Twilight looked at her for a moment. "I… Can I stay here again tonight?"

Rarity didn't hesitate. "You are most welcome to do so."

Some time later, after the lights dimmed and two tired ponies lay under the covers, Twilight felt rather lonely until she took the plunge and scooted closer to Rarity, enveloping her in a timid hug. She feared Rarity would react aversely, push her away, but when the unicorn seemed to ease into her embrace, Twilight allowed herself a breath of relief.

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and the wonderful scent of Rarity's perfume. For a moment, she was scared she would never be able to let go. And as soon as the thought arose, so did the familiar insecurity, the guilt that plagued her for as long as she remembered.

I don't know, she'd said.

"Twilight?" Rarity asked, turning around to face Twilight.

Twilight's thoughts came to a screeching halt, but only for a moment before they came back at full-force. Her mind begged for her to do anything but to open her eyes. It begged to keep pretending to be in a wonderful illusion, to avoid what was certainly coming which was Rarity asking her to please move away, to please let go, to go back to Sweetie's room.

She willed her eyes open.

"Yes?" she asked, and when she did so, Rarity hesitated before leaning in, her forehoof resting on Twilight’s chest as she pressed their lips together in a gentle kiss.

Twilight’s heart leapt in her chest. It wasn’t a passionate kiss, yet this did not make it any less emotional. It was gentle, tender, and Twilight was endlessly content with following whatever pace Rarity wanted to take.

It was simple, and for now, that was enough.

When it broke off, their lips brushed together for a moment, shaky breaths intermingling before Rarity nuzzled Twilight's neck, allowing Twilight to wrap a wing and foreleg around her.

"I don't know what's wrong," she said, "but I do know that I love you, and… and I rather think that's a good place to start."

A wave of affection overwhelmed Twilight. She thought back to what Rarity said earlier. They'd waited two years, torn apart by internal and external forces, and in the end, the unicorn was right. What was waiting a little more compared to two years?

Twilight waited a thousand to be free of the library.

For Rarity, she’d wait a million.