Zew was up past her bedtime yet again.
It wasn’t that she wanted to stay up; she honestly didn’t. The allure of her comfortable bed with its satiny sheets and feathery soft pillows was always strong. Most of the time, all it took was flopping into it to fall asleep within minutes. She didn’t even have to drift off into dreamland alone; her twin sister was always next to her, making her feel safer and more loved. Her bedtime of 9:00pm, while somewhat early, was at a good enough time that she was usually tired enough to sleep.
But sometimes...it just wasn’t enough.
Sometimes the soft sheets began to feel like sandpaper. Sometimes the pillows began to feel like rocks. Sometimes her sister’s gentle breathing began to sound like a freight train. Sometimes, no matter how tired she was, her eyes just wouldn’t stay closed. Sometimes, her brain began running wild with worries, ponderances, and on particularly unfortunate nights, she couldn’t sleep until she’d pondered all of the ponderings to completion.
This was one of those sometimes nights.
Zew had learned long ago that staying in bed on these nights only led to more misery. Getting up, walking around, and just thinking things out was the only real remedy. She knew if she stayed in bed too long, she’d slowly come to associate just getting in bed with the uncomfortable nights that sometimes happened, and it would all feed into itself in a destructive feedback loop.
So she didn’t stay.
Tonight she’d chosen to step outside and get some air. She was, at least partially, glad she did. The cool breeze did wonders to open up her mind, slow her heart rate, and just make everything a little less big and scary. The constellations of Equus loomed high above as they usually did, sparkling with a beauty that sometimes she thought only she saw. Perhaps it was a little unfair to think that when she was someone who had a cutie mark dedicated to her love of the infinite expanse of the cosmos...but perhaps it was reasonable in its own way. The way in which the stygian darkness was pierced by pinpricks of radiant light, small from her view but big in their own right...it was humbling, but beautiful nonetheless.
Still, it just didn’t seem to be quite enough. She was missing something...but what?
Zew jumped at the sudden intrusion. She spun around, having to swipe her long, flowing, purple-and-red-streaked mane out of her eyes before she could see what had disturbed her. Her muscles untensed and she let out a deep sigh as she saw no immediate threat. What she saw was a gray unicorn filly, her neon purple and green mane dimly lit by a gentle yellow glow from her horn. A pair of pink eyes stared at her, outlined by baggy lids and sleep-heavy eyebrows. The whole of these features made up the form of her twin sister.
“Oh, Zippi…” Zew mumbled, only more aware of her own tiredness now that she saw somepony else who was. “What are you doing up…?”
“That’s what –“ Zippi paused to yawn deeply, and Zew got a good look at how disheveled and frayed Zippi’s mane was before the conversation finally resumed. “– I was gonna ask. What’s up, Zewsie?”
“I...don’t really know,” Zew admitted. “I just...couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh, again?” Zew shivered slightly as Zippi stepped forward, bringing her portable little magic light with her. “Do you need to talk about any stuff?”
“I…” She did, of course, and she knew it. But where to start? So much was on her mind. School, friends, books, constellations, stuff for their little hobby magic shows they sometimes did, and…
“Well...us.” Zew weakly finished as she finally found what had been weighing on her more than anything else.
“What about us?” Zippi asked as she trudged closer, gently placing a hoof on her sister’s shoulder. “Did I do something stupid yesterday? ‘Cuz if I did, I’m –“
“No, you didn’t. It’s just…” Zew sighed, before lowering herself onto the cold stone surface that was their home’s porch. Zippi followed suit, placing a hoof around her shoulders as she leaned in closer. Zew savored the moment for a short while, and all the things that were positive: the comforting heat of Zippi’s fur, her gentle breathing, that odd little raspberry scent her mane always had…
But then it was time to dive into the negatives of what she was feeling in the moment.
“Remember Bundles of Joy? The...adopting place?”
There was a brief, cold silence. Not just in the sense that the ambient breeze was cold, though it was too; but more in the sense that Zew could feel her sister stiffen ever so slightly when she said that name. Neither of them ever really mentioned it, and for good reason. It was from a time so different and dreary that neither liked to revisit it any more than was necessary. Not the place itself – which had, at best, an unfortunate misnomer, and at worst, intentional naming irony at the expense of its atmosphere – nor the events that led them there.
“...yeah, I do,” Zippi answered eventually, though Zew noticed that she still seemed to be tense.
“Well...you remember when Zeta adopted us from there?”
“Oh...yeah.” Zippi finally relaxed. This was at least one of the few positive memories they both shared of the adoption agency; the day they met their new adoptive mother. They still remembered seeing her for the first time; orange coat, yellow mane, dull red sash, and a smile that could thaw anypony’s heart. But as nice as it’d been going to a real home one day, hoof in hoof with somepony who was ready to love them as her own, and who they quickly learned to love in return…it wasn’t what was on Zew’s mind. In fact…
“Well...sometimes I wonder,” Zew began, staring out into the twinkling depths above them. “What if...we never met her? What if we just...stayed there, and had to grow up just with each other and those...weird staff ponies?”
It wasn’t as if they were grown up in that moment, but Zippi still seemed to understand. “I mean...I’unno. I just...kinda don’t think about that stuff ‘cuz it’s...sad, I guess?”
The two sisters sat in silence for a few moments before Zippi turned to look Zew straight in the eyes. Zew saw a familiar little twinkle form in Zippi’s eyes, even despite the fact that they were drooping with the weight of sleep.
“Well, hey,” Zippi said, yawning lightly before leaning in to press their noses together. Zew scrunched her muzzle up slightly at the unexpected gesture of affection, but otherwise said nothing as Zippi continued on in a voice almost as soft as a whisper. “Either way, I’d still love the heck outta’ you, ‘kay?”
“I mean it.” Zippi gently poked Zew in the stomach as she withdrew slightly, keeping their muzzles apart but still taking up the majority of Zew’s vision with her face. “Can’t have you losing sleep thinking that’d ever change, alright? We’re TSBFFs.”
“Twin Sister Best Friends Forever,” Zippi explained with a light giggle. “And ‘sides, why think about what’d happen if we didn’t have mom? We do. That’s all that matters, right?”
“I know.” Zew stared down at the ground as she said this. She almost felt guilty; she knew she had it good, and it wasn’t helpful to linger in the past. “It’s just...I dunno. My brain just...does this stuff sometimes. You know how you’ll sometimes think up something gymnasticky in the middle of like, a test?”
“Heh, yeah.” Zippi grinned a little as she leaned away slightly, her cheeks turning a bit red. Zew very well knew that her sister loved gymnastics; she had boundless energy when it wasn’t bedtime, great flexibility, and most obviously, her cutie mark was even a pommel horse. But this gave her point a way to drive in deeper as she explained the situation the only way she knew how.
“Well...I think of this stuff the same way, but different, kinda like in astronomy ways. Like each big thing that happens is a star, and the time between is a line. There’s so many constellations in the sky already, but...think about the ones that could be there if some stars were somewhere else, or weren’t there at all. You know? So many points and lines that can shift around. It’s...I don’t always like what comes up, but I still feel like I have to imagine it.”
Zippi nodded. “I can’t say I’ll ever understand what you see up there,” she said, gesturing to the twinkling, slowly-rotating starscape looming above them. “Or what you think you could see. Or why you wanna see it. It’s just a bunch of dots to me.”
That much was obvious. She’d tried to share her love of astronomy before, but every attempt usually ended up with Zippi being bored or confused enough to want to scamper off and do something else. That was fine; her own attempts to join Zippi in gymnastics was limited to stretching, and even then she still sometimes pulled something wrong. They had their own special interests, and while they each supported each other the best they could...they were in two entirely different worlds.
“But,” Zippi continued, bringing her hoof back down, and taking one of Zew’s into it, before covering it with her other. “No matter what the dots say or you think they could say...I’ll always be here to help you enjoy the stuff we actually have. ‘Kay?”
With that, the two fillies brought each other into a tight, warm hug. Zew still felt like her mind was still unsettled, piecing together potential futures, alternate presents, and even alternate pasts. But she knew Zippi was right; what she had been missing wasn’t anything she could provide herself. She was missing somepony who would hold her no matter what tangents her mind went on, and how much the scenarios upset her. Changing her way of thinking would be hard, if not impossible...but was it really necessary when she had a TSBFF who would be with her no matter what to pick her up when she made herself fall down?
Perhaps. After all, she didn't like being kept up at night, even if the end result would sometimes be getting a nice, warm hug at the end of everything. But all she knew as they finally unhugged was that she needed sleep. Her eyebrows were drooping almost as much as her sister’s were. Her running mind was satisfied, at least for tonight. With that knowledge, she was more than happy to stand up and slowly stumble back inside with Zippi, all the way back to their bed, and flop on top of it.
She was asleep before she could finish wriggling under the covers.