by Jackelope

A cozy hug from a glowing mare

Luster hid her face in the soft feathery embrace of her pillow. One might expect a young filly's cause for doing so to be the result of a tantrum. Maybe ice cream was denied, or a bully was particularly grating that day. However, anyone who knew the filly would also know that either of these things was impossible. Firstly, the young unicorn was one of the most popular students at her school, a social butterfly, who not only fostered friendships with fillies and colts her own age but also those much older than her - even some of the faculty considered her as such. Secondly, she was one of the most well behaved and virtuous examples of a foal in the entire year, with a perfect record and more than enough commendations from a wide number of teachers...

But that was the problem.

Her head wasn't submerged into her pillow out of selfish entitlement or the cruelties of another foal, no. It was for those reasons, her superb behaviour and aptitude for making friends, to blame for her current state. The filly was experiencing something that was typically far out of mind for fillies her age: stress. She was an exemplar of both her skill with magic - having already mastered levitation and the ability to teleport - whilst also being relatively unmatched in her kind and caring candour. Her tendency to console the lonely and afraid with comfort and warmth didn't go unnoticed by the grown-ups, who themselves received a pep talk by the young filly on occasion. Similarly, she was approached that afternoon by the beaming countenance of the Deputy-Headmistress. Luster, even though she had no right being worried, still felt some anxiety as she was led to elder mare's office. Was she in trouble? Did she do something wrong? These thoughts plagued her.

Little did the young, rosy coloured filly know…

Luster had no idea how to react when she was faced with the gentle visage of Princess Twilight Sparkle. The filly was trapped someplace between flapping her jaw uselessly or bowing her head so low that her horn scraped the floor. Fortunately, rather than offend, the display of confused prostration brought a blush to her face and a giggle from her throat. Luster was then sat before Twilight as her school record was read aloud by her, who made her fondness for categorisation and organisation known by the almost wild look in her eyes. Luster recoiled as she presented the immensely thick file, which was dropped with a heavy thud onto the Deputy-Headmistress’ desk. She empathised with the creaking piece of furniture, not quite sure herself how to deal with the tremendous weight that had landed on her withers. Her bright eyes never left the violet alicorn thereafter, her mouth permanently ajar in her presence. Yet, despite how glued she was to Twilight, she couldn't help but flinch with every turned page as she gave reasons for her case. The case for what? Well, it wasn’t until well after leaving the school that the full realisation hit Luster. The resounding weight of the decision made for her, the strike of which hitting her with the full weight of a speeding freight train.

“I’m going to become Princess Twilight’s student.”

She reiterated that to herself. Once after leaving school, and once again but to her parents. Her dad’s reaction was predictable but welcome. He was an explosion of joy and excitement, congratulating the young filly with the full majesty of a father’s exuberance. He expressed disbelief that his daughter could be so talented with magic considering his own lacklustre skill but that only swelled his pride for Luster even further. His enthusiasm was enviable but he offered only praise, no assurance. Was she truly deserving? She looked to her mother, whose face was expectantly blank at the news. She offered no words, having to look to her father just to know that the news was meant to elicit happiness. Luster knew that her mother was… different, yet she still hoped for something, anything, a kernel of wisdom or assurance. But her mother suffered from an overly flat candour, one which Luster had grown used to, but the grounding of that fact failed to assuage her worries.

Her parents' reactions did not provoke her to cry or hurry away. but her sudden leave from the dining table was noticeably abrupt. With a pounding heart she fled to her room, arriving at her sanctuary only a few moments prior in a bid to calm herself. It was there and then she pushed her face into her pillow, just hoping that her anxiety would fade away...

She hadn’t known how much time had passed but eventually, she heard a soft knock on her door. Soon after, she also heard the accompanying creak as it was opened by a wary hoof.

“Dad?” she probed weakly, somewhat drowsy, head rising.

“No,” came the voice of her mother delivered softly through the crack of the door.

That surprised her. A cursory glance to the door confirmed the owner of the voice. An older mare with a pale pink coat and light arctic curls for a mane. Luster could never discern the emotion her mother was exhibiting. The older mare’s scarlet eyes were closed off, even to the avid perception of a socialite. Ironic. Just as her mother was largely incapable of reading other ponies as were ponies incapable of reading her. When the older mare closed the door behind her, Luster rolled onto her side before sitting, meeting her mother’s unreadable gaze.

"Are you okay, Luster?" she asked, brows meeting in a practised expression fo worry.

"I'm fine, Mom," Luster answered, forcing a slight grin under her mother’s scrutinising eye.

The pink mare stood, still as a rock, speaking again after a few more moments. "I think you're lying."

Luster allowed her false simper to fall. “You’re getting better at that.”

Her mother moved closer, her face skewing to one side, attempting to discern her daughter's expression with all her focus. “I don’t have to try hard. You’re my daughter. I don’t want you to be upset.”

A trace of a sincere smile came to Luster’s muzzle. Even though she rarely showed her affections like her father, Luster knew her mother cared for her, despite the difficulties she had in showing such emotion. She sat up on her sun-patterned cover, making room for her mother to join her on the bed before continuing. “I’m sorry. I’m just… it’s... have you ever felt you didn’t deserve something? Even when everypony says that you earned it?”

Her mother tightened her lips in ponderance before hopping up onto the bed. She wobbled for a moment before sitting beside the smaller filly, thinking hard on what to say next, “Well, there was one time. When I was young, a filly around your age, I… I wasn’t very nice to other ponies. Not like you are. I didn’t understand the true value of friendship, or kindness… when I was punished, I felt angry, like I didn’t deserve it. Then when I was given a chance to make amends for everything wrong I did, I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to do what they wanted me to, I didn’t want to be… nice.

“Why?” Luster asked, her brows furrowing as a slight frown came to her face as she shimmied herself closer to the older mare.

Her mother softly exhaled from her nose, her gaze downcast before she settled her eyes back on the filly, readying herself to speak of her past to her daughter. “I was cruel, Luster. I never treated anything kindly and I didn’t ask for it. But then, something strange happened. Something I didn’t expect. Everyone I had ever hurt, they… they forgave me, showed me the kindness I had never shown them. I... I also thought I didn’t deserve that either,” she revealed, voice barely emotive. Although her face betrayed… something, tensing and screwed in places at certain points.

Luster listened closely. She had never heard her mother speak so candidly about her past before, in fact, she was new to this sort of openness entirely. Apparently, her mother was quite the chatterbox when she was younger. However, Luster knew very little about her mother as a filly. Both her father and mother were suspiciously vague about her past. She was more familiar with the soft-spoken and reserved side of the older mare, whose natural charisma didn’t appeal all that much to the young filly. Still, despite her curiosity pleading to ask her mother a thousand questions, only one truly stuck out, only because she had never observed it in her mother before. “You were angry? I’ve never seen you angry.”

“I try not to be, not without a proper reason anyway. When I was a filly it was the only emotion I could properly convey, along with jealousy and arrogance. All the rest were just pretended on my part. I knew how to smile without feeling truly happy, or what to say to make ponies trust me without really meaning it. And when I was given a second chance at life, I wanted to stop pretending. I needed to know what happiness actually felt like. I needed to experience it when a grin came to your face without it having to force it. I also wanted to cry, to frown…”

“I don’t know anypony that wants to feel bad. Why would you want to be unhappy?” Luster inquired, ears open.

“Empathy. I had to know how I made others feel to truly understand how bad of a pony I was. When I apologised, I wanted to mean it," she answered. “And you can’t truly become friends with someone unless you understand them, to be able to feel what they feel… Twilight taught me that.”

Luster’s jaw fell, mostly at the reveal she had been acquainted with the alicorn but secondly at the fact her mother so casually used her name. “Yo-you k-knew-”

“Yes,” she interrupted, the slightest of tugs on her cheek accompanying, “Twilight Sparkle had me under her wing.”

“Were you her student?” Luster asked, a giddy grin breaking out on her snout.

She shook her head. “No, no, nothing like that. I was technically learning, true, but only because she had faith in me, and at a time when I thought no one else did.”

Luster tilted her head, bemused. “So you had to… an entrance exam to qualify as a good pony?”

“Yes… I suppose you can think of it like that”

“So how did you study for the, uh, ‘exam’?”

The elder mare sighed, clearly exasperated at some years-old memory. “A lot. She was relentless. But only because she didn’t give up on me. I learned that too. When somepony believes in you strongly, they’ll try their best to squeeze every drop of potential out of you, even if you don’t see said potential yourself.”

“So...?” Luster encouraged, shimmying closer. “Can I get some examples?”

She quietly chuckled, looking up towards the ceiling in thought. “Let’s see… I apologised to each and every student in the friendship academy… then every resident of Ponyville… then I had to read every single letter she had written to Celestia, of which there were hundreds… I didn’t think it was working. At a point, I didn’t think it was possible to change, even when I wanted to… then I met your father.”

“You’ve known Dad for that long?” Luster quietly giggled.

“I’m not that old, young filly… but yes, since I was a little filly myself, I knew him. He was the first true friend I had,” she elaborated, looking down at Luster, a sentimental smile beginning to burgeon on her lips. “He wasn’t afraid of me, not like everyone else. It’s probably why he approached me to begin with.”

“It must have been special,” Luster remarked, quiet, noticing the trace of happiness on the mare’s face.

“It was. All he did was ask me my name and I was at a loss for words, stunned even, that anypony would want to know my name. He was doing something few others had: he gave me a chance... ‘Cozy. Cozy Glow’, is what I told him… he said it was pretty...” Cozy simpered to herself, deep and warm, before looking at the captivated face of her child. “We were inseparable after that.”

“Wow…” Luster muttered quietly. She had seen her mom smile before but never this large, and without looking at somepony else. “Princess Twilight must have given you a passing grade on that one.”

“Maybe… if I had told her,” Cozy revealed.

“B-but, you made a friend? You should have passed, right?” the unicorn queried. The idea of somepony refusing to hoof in their ‘work’ was an idea on the precipice of blasphemy.

“As I said, I didn’t think I deserved the kindness of Twilight, or anypony else. Not until I was sure of myself. Making a friend, it wasn’t enough, not to me… but I did pass, eventually,” Cozy ended, her smile enduring.

“You made a second friend?” Luster asked, and raised her brow.

Cozy’s small smile grew larger as it was imbued with humour. “No. It was when I displayed compassion. There were two others. They were bad influences on me but after all the time we spent together I didn’t want to see them… well, I don’t think they deserved what was going to happen to them, no matter their crimes. I was living proof that nopony was beyond redemption, not even those two,” she explained.

“And did they listen to you?” Luster asked, invested.

“A young filly, known for manipulation and cruelty, who could possibly still be lying despite everything?” Cozy posed the question, looking at the young unicorn incredulously.

Luster frowned. “They punished them.”

“Yes… but also no,” Cozy replied, tactfully cryptic. “They listened to me, to an extent. They were freed from the stone... -ny walls of detention. But...” Cozy trailed off into silence, her lips pursing before she spoke again, saddened. “We weren’t alike as I once thought...”

Luster noticed the dip in her mother’s tone. her instinct to comfort flaring. “What happened to them?”

Cozy looked at the small unicorn with a half-smile. “They got put back into detention…”

“Oh…” Luster chewed the inside of her cheek, looking up at her mother, hopeful. “But you definitely got a passing grade from Princess Twilight after that, right?”

“Yes… but also no,” Cozy answered, surprisingly playful considering her usual candour.

“Huh?” the filly tilted her head, her mother’s non-answer making her brain fizzle.

“Twilight considered me reformed. I was given a place in the academy and was finally put into a family that could love and care for me despite my particular… ‘quirks.’ But it was that which I wanted to learn, which I couldn’t truly consider myself reformed until I did,” she elaborated. Luster’s confused expression only deepened over the course of her explanation. “Love, Luster. I wanted to understand it, to truly feel it for another.”

“I see…” Luster replied, trying her best to understand. “But wait, what about Dad? You love Dad, don't you?”

“Of course I do,” she assured promptly, quickly wiping the corners of the small filly’s eyes. “The love I feel for your dad is very different from the love I feel for you. The love for your father was cultivated. From the seedling of friendship, it grew into a beautiful blossom. It’s a precious feeling, one I clutch onto tightly. But the love I wanted to experience... it was the love I felt for you the first time I held you in my hooves. The love that made me laugh, cry and smile. I never wanted to let you go… I had never been so happy as I was at that moment.”

“Mom…” Luster’s voice quiet, uncontrollably smiling as a glow came to her mother’s face.

“You weren’t just my little filly. You were so much more than that. You were proof that I had changed, that I was capable of loving someone selflessly… you were the first day of the rest of my life,” Cozy continued, love pouring from her scarlet eyes as she looked down at the filly beside her. “You were so soft, and warm. The light of a new day... Luster Dawn,” she confirmed, a sniffle following right after.

“That’s where my name came from...” Luster commented, her face glowing at the realisation.

Luster’s brows met, her mom’s eyes beginning to glaze with a thin wet sheen. “Mom, are you o-okay--?”

Before Luster realised what was happening, she was suddenly beset on all sides. The feathery clutches of her mother’s wings reached out to enshroud her from behind whilst her hooves lurched forwards. The end result of this was Luster’s sudden entrapment in the warmest, most secure embrace she ever had the fortune to take part in. She felt her mother’s affection on her cheek, and soon felt the underside of the mare’s chin on the top of her head. Luster’s initial shock wore off quickly enough for her to reciprocate in full, stretching her hooves around Cozy’s back to pull off the difficult task of making the hug even deeper than it was.

“I love you so much,” Cozy mumbled into Luster’s mane, squeezing her daughter. “You deserve this. I have never, not for a single moment, stopped believing in you. If ever there comes a day when you lose faith in yourself, or think yourself undeserving, remember that I am here, always…”

Luster didn’t reply. She didn’t need to, lest she shatter the moment. The tremendous weight of responsibility and self-doubt was a foregone memory in her mother’s hooves, the warmth burning away the creeping fear of responsibility and self-consciousness. She loved her mother, and her mother loved her. No matter what she was afraid of, be it a challenge or just life in general, she would never need to feel fear, so long as she could find sanctity in the warmth of her mother’s embrace.