The night began to turn into one big blur for Twilight after the maze. The group made their way from one attraction to the next, partook in some festival snacks, and eventually settled down to watch the final round of Rarity’s costume contest at the end of the night. Spike was particularly invested, Luna was fascinated, and Rainbow was, well, Rainbow about it.
But Twilight? As much as she tried to pay attention and participate in the group interactions, she just couldn’t bring herself to put her best hoof forward. The tumultuous mess that was her own thoughts made it quite impossible, leaving her in a quiet state for most of the rest of the night.
It didn’t take long for Rainbow to take note of her lessened spirits, and she made more than a few efforts to lift them. One and all, they ended in failure. Eventually, the night began to wind down, the population of Ponyville returning to their homes so the foals could enjoy their hauls of candy and share spooky stories before turning in for the night. And so, with nothing else for it, the group decided to call the night there.
The journey back to the Golden Oaks was made more or less in quiet, although Spike and Luna were enthusiastically speaking to one another in hushed voices. They were probably talking about the costume contest they had both so enjoyed, Twilight figured, but she didn’t have the willpower to listen in long enough to be sure.
“Besides,” she thought with a dejected frown. “Luna probably doesn’t want me listening in anyways.”
Rainbow walked by her side, periodically giving her concerned glances. Twilight did her best to not worry about the look, but every so often she would meet Rainbow’s gaze and then force herself to look away. When this happened for what felt like the hundredth time, Rainbow had had enough. She sidled close to Twilight’s side and spoke in a low whisper. “Twilight… are you okay?”
Twilight went to nod but stopped herself short. She wasn’t really okay at the moment, was she? No, the potent mixture of shame and guilt that she was feeling made her quite the opposite. So, instead, she elected to shake her head in the negative. “I’ll… be okay,” she tried to assure, though even she couldn’t help but doubt the honesty of that statement.
Rainbow’s brow furrowed, her lips drawing into a thin line. “...If you don’t wanna talk about it, I won’t force you,” she whispered before looking ahead as they rounded a corner. The library came into view just ahead, the sight easing some of the tension in the air. “But I’m here to listen if you need me to. You know that, right?”
Twilight was quiet for a moment, rolling it over in her head. “...When we’re inside and alone,” she decided.
Rainbow’s frown deepened at that, but she did not pry any further. She respectfully nodded her head before breaking away from the somber alicorn to rejoin her aunt. Twilight could make out her raspy voice joining Luna’s and Spike’s, interrupting their discussion. She didn’t listen in on that and instead focused entirely on getting to the library. Her pace picked up involuntarily, leading to her steadily putting more and more distance between herself and her companions.
Without a word, she stepped into the library and flung herself onto the couch. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to be swallowed by the relaxing embrace of home. The tension in her muscles melted away, the weight on her shoulders was reduced, and the storm of her thoughts quieted down to something far more manageable.
She wasn’t sure how long she spent laying there with the muffled voices of Rainbow, Spike, and Luna continuing outside. It may have been a few seconds or several minutes. Either way, the result was the same. She heard a few muffled farewells being uttered before the door opened and closed again.
“Huh. Twilight?” Spike’s voice called out from the doorway, prompting the alicorn to look up at them. Rainbow and Spike were standing there, though Luna was nowhere in sight. The dragon took a few steps forward, his head tilting to one side. “You okay? You look kinda… out of it.”
Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but no words came. Her ears drooped, and her eyes pitifully flicked over to Rainbow Dash in a silent request.
Rainbow leaned back for a second, looking taken aback. But then, with a slow nod, she craned her neck down to nudge Spike in the side with her hoof. “Why don’t you go and make some dinner, eh? You were so busy running around with us you totally forgot to get candy,” she suggested, although the tone of her voice made it perfectly clear that this was not a matter for debate.
Spike, thankfully, got the point. The mares needed to talk. He gave a nod and wordlessly made his way for the kitchen, leaving Rainbow and Twilight to their own devices.
A few seconds of silence came and went before the pegasus shed what little was left of her costume and pulled the band out of her mane, letting hor ponytail come undone. Then, with a worried look, she gingerly approached Twilight. “So… what’s wrong?” she asked as she drew closer.
Twilight sat upright on the couch, making room for Rainbow, who was quick to claim the spot next to the alicorn and get comfy. Once they were situated, Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Rainbow, I… I need to know why Luna feels the way she does about me. If I did something bad to her…” she finally began, opening her eyes.
“Oh… right,” Rainbow looked away, her ears drooping. She was quiet for a moment before leaning back and staring up at the ceiling. “Where do I begin…?”
Twilight frowned. “Is it really that bad?”
“It’s a long story,” Rainbow corrected in a stern voice, flashing her a disapproving glance. That was enough to cow Twilight back into silence, and the pegasus eventually managed to find her words and launch into the story. “Okay… so, a ways back, we left Ponyville and went to Manehattan to, er, well… we were spying on Starlight Glimmer. We’ve talked about her before, right?”
Twilight nodded her head, recalling the discussion she had with Rainbow on their bedroom balcony the night before they went to meet her parents. “Yeah, I remember her. She was the other mage who helped us protect the Crystal Empire, right?”
Rainbow nodded her head. “One and the same. Well, we suspected she might have been planning to leap into the past and change something again. Or, well,” she frowned and scoffed at herself. “I suspected that. The rest of you just saw me spiraling into anxiety, fear, and depression over a very big ‘what if.’ But you all came with me to keep me grounded and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid.”
As interesting as this story was, Twilight found herself growing a tad impatient. “What does this have to do with Luna?” she asked, leaning forward and looking at Rainbow quizzically.
“I’m getting to that, just hold on!” Rainbow shot back, her eyes narrowing.
Twilight flinched, her ears falling flat when she saw just how intense the look in Rainbow’s eyes was. If she had to liken that intensity to anything, it would be either a raging blizzard or an all-consuming tornado of fire.
After a second, Rainbow took a deep breath and relaxed, the ferocity in her gaze dimming back to normal, for the most part. “Sorry… Like I said, it’s a long story. Just… lemme tell it, okay?” she said reluctantly, her face falling in apology.
“...Alright,” Twilight finally relented, leaning back and listening with rapt attention.
Rainbow took that as her cue and went back into the tale. “Alright… So, things went well enough, and you eventually determined that Starlight wasn’t a threat. She was just an ordinary mare going about her life,” she explained, a small smile on her face. “I felt so relieved… I hadn’t felt that relaxed in a long while. I know you must have been over the moon to see me smiling again after so much moping…”
Rainbow’s expression went distant, a look that Twilight had grown only all too familiar with. The pegasus was remembering something, some event that as of yet still eluded Twilight’s mind. After a few seconds of silence and fond remembrance, Rainbow’s expression began to turn sour. “But… me, being the giant idiot that I am, decided to take the first thing I heard from somepony else about it and blew it so far out of proportion that it wasn’t even funny. I was in a frenzy and chased Starlight onto a train. You all came with me, keeping me grounded and calm… Then Starlight walked by our seat, and…”
Twilight’s eyes widened when she saw Rainbow close her eyes entirely, her ears drooping with shame. “...And I made the biggest mistake of my life. I just… all I could see was red. I was so angry so suddenly, there was nothing I could to stop myself… I attacked her, Twilight…” she explained, a shudder working its way through her.
Twilight’s jaw dropped in shock, her mind scrambling to imagine the scene Rainbow was depicting. But, try as she might, she couldn’t bring herself to imagine Rainbow Dash, her loyal and caring friend, attacking somepony else like she was describing. “...What?”
Rainbow sucked in a breath through clenched teeth and opened her eyes. “It was a stupid mistake, but we learned later that there was a spell on me that made me feel nothing but hatred any time I saw Starlight. But no matter what emotions it put in me, it was still up to me what I did with it. And… I attacked her. You tried to stop me, and in all of the chaos, I…” her gaze wandered to Twilight’s muzzle, her expression wilting even more with shame. “...I hurt you.”
The pegasus looked ahead and continued before Twilight could utter another word. “Starlight got away, in the end, and I got a broken wing for my troubles. When I came to, I…” she lowered her gaze to her hooves and shuddered. “I realized what I had done when I saw the bruise on your face. It… it hurt. I’d made a big mistake and I knew it. That on its own was bad enough. But…” she shuddered again, her voice starting to tremble just slightly. “...Everypony else was angry with me, too. Including you. And… that hurt the most.
“You went off on me more than once, and while I think it was entirely justified, it… it still hurt, Twi. And…” she lifted her head and let out a shaky exhale. “And I think all of that stress and pain… It broke me. I was guilty because I’d attacked Starlight, I was guilty because I let all of my friends down, and I was especially guilty because I hurt you, and you weren’t letting me forget it.”
Twilight’s hoof slowly drifted up to her chest to hover over her beating heart. “Oh my gosh… I’m so sorry, Rainbow Dash,” she whispered, barely able to form the words. In her mind's eye, she could see her own face, twisted with a bitter and resentful scowl, bearing down on a curled up and quivering Rainbow Dash.
The pegasus shook her head slowly. “Well… that whole incident is what has Luna so doubtful about you. She believes that, while you and everypony else had every right to be upset with me, that you took it too far. She thinks you did more harm than good with how mad you were at me. You weren’t there for me when I needed you most, according to her.”
Twilight blinked, the image in her mind changing. Her own face was replaced with Luna’s, and Rainbow was replaced with herself. She shook her head and sat more upright, her brow furrowing. “It is? But… I don’t even remember doing it…”
Rainbow nodded. “She knows… and that’s the point,” she explained before shifting to look at Twilight directly. “See, you learned your lesson when all was said and done. You may not have been there for me then, but every time I needed you after that, you didn’t even hesitate…” her ears lowered again, her eyes going distant. “But you have amnesia, now. And because of that, Luna’s worried that when I need you again, you won’t be there.”
Twilight looked down and shifted uncomfortably on her haunches, her mind briefly wandering back to the falling snake. Her fears were confirmed, then, and Luna had been right.
But then, Rainbow reached out and lifted Twilight’s chin to look into her eyes. They were quiet for a few seconds before Rainbow offered an encouraging smile. “Now… as much as I can understand her reasons, I can’t say I agree with them. When I really need you, I know that you’ll be there,” she spoke softly before drawing back and nodding her head as if to confirm her own statement.
Twilight, however, had her doubts. “...But she was right,” she said without hesitation as she sagged back into the backrest.
Rainbow blinked, a look of abject bewilderment crossing her features. “Huh? Twi, what are you going on about?” she asked, tilting her head.
Twilight closed her eyes and shuddered. “The Grootslang thing. It fell on us, and I just hurled myself to one side without even thinking about you. If Luna hadn’t shown up, it would have crushed you!” she spoke, her voice growing in volume.
Rainbow frowned in severe disapproval. She reached out and took hold of Twilight’s shoulders in a firm grip. “Hey, stop that. You did fine, and I didn’t need you right then, did I?”
Twilight shook her head and brushed Rainbow’s hooves away. “That’s not the point! If Luna weren’t there, then I would have left you to trip and die under a giant snake statue!”
“You were saving yourself first,” Rainbow countered immediately with a firm shake of her head. “Which is exactly what I’d want you to do.”
“But that’s not what I would want to do, is it?!” Twilight suddenly snapped, her ears folding back entirely.
Rainbow recoiled as if she had been struck, her eyes going wide with shock. “Twilight?”
The alicorn didn’t acknowledge the concern in Rainbow’s voice. She hopped down from the couch and spun around to face her, the dam broken. “You said it yourself! Every time you needed me after that, I was there! Of course, you’d know a lot better than I would, anyway!”
Rainbow lifted her hooves in a calming gesture. “Twi, hey, calm down-”
“There are still so many things about myself I don’t know, Rainbow Dash!” Twilight went on, her eyes starting to burn with fresh tears while her face trembled. “Things you do know! So you tell me, Rainbow! Would I save myself first, or would I save you?!”
All at once, Rainbow’s entire demeanor changed. Her hooves dropped limply in front of her, and her eyes flew into a wide thousand-yard stare. She took in a slow breath and tried to speak. Sadly, all that came out was a broken line of barely uttered syllables. “Wha… T-Twi, I… you…”
The frustration that had been boiling in Twilight’s veins not even a second ago cooled to ice, her heart twisting with guilt. She took a step back, her ears drooping and her posture shifting into something far more timid. “I… R-Rainbow, I… I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to shout at you,” she stammered out, berating herself mentally for being such an idiot.
Rainbow’s eyes focused on her after a few seconds, though they retained their hollow look. “N-no, it’s… it’s fine, you’re fine… you’re okay,” she mumbled, the words quiet but strangely emphatic. It was as if the pegasus was trying to remind herself of something.
Twilight lowered her head in shame despite Rainbow’s assurances. “...I’m sorry,” she mumbled again before turning and dragging herself back for the stairs. A profound sense of tiredness was coming over her, and all she wanted now was to lay down and get some sleep.
But as she made the ascent, her mind wandered back to Rainbow’s lack of a clear answer. She had tried to speak, but the words hadn’t come. Why was that? Twilight pondered the reason as she slid into the loft and closed the door behind her. Whatever the reasons were, one thing was very clear in Twilight’s mind.
There was still so much about herself she didn’t know… and clearly, not all of it was good.