With the Running of the Leaves being the talk of the town, Spike constantly running off with Rarity, because of some important business the two were conducting and her own thoughts entwining themselves into a maddening spiral, Twilight had found a sudden craving for strawberry cheesecake. A craving she had fulfilled by getting together with Fluttershy at Sugarcube Corner, where they could simply talk about stuff. It was a nice get together, Twilight had to admit, although her main occupation since sitting down had been to get the napkin properly folded.
“Are you doing well?”, she heard Fluttershy ask, getting her out of her paper-related trance.
“I-I’m doing fine,” she stuttered. Twilight hated it to have her concentration broken just like that. “Although I heard you had some trouble with Angel?”
“Oh. . . that,” Fluttershy said, her eyes drifting away, “he was faking an illness so that he wouldn’t need to do the chores he was assigned to in the house. It’s okay though,” she quickly added. “I have a lot of free time on my hooves anyway and I like caring for the animals, too, so it’s all really okay. . . ” Her voice was only growing smaller and she tried to avoid Twilight’s frowning gaze as good as she could.
“Have you ever thought about taking lessons in assertiveness? I mean, it could only help,” the purple unicorn offered.
“Oh, I couldn’t. . . I mean, I’m quite happy with things as they are and despite, who knows where assertiveness could end. I’ve seen enough bullies and meanies, not that they turned out all that bad – I’m enjoying a penmanship with one from my days in flight school and he’s nice.”
There was a pause.
“Was that sentence going anywhere?”, Twilight asked.
Twilight sighed, “Forget it, wasn’t important anyhow.”
Her yellow friend’s eyes went down once more, watching as Twilight shuffled the paper around. There was yet another quiet moment between the two. The pegasus used the chance to munch on her own cake while Twilight used these moments of perfecting the layout of the kitchenware to think about Fluttershy’s stance, or rather Angel Bunny’s, since that was the one she hardly ever contemplated. The little rabbit had to be about the moodiest critter Twilight knew about. Yet he seemed to stay completely faithful to his yellow caretaker, even if it was in his own twisted way.
Caretaker. There was a word and the thoughts of swings came back with it. The ones that had haunted her for quite a while now.
“How did you spend your time as a filly?”, she found herself asking and immediately wanted to hit herself over the head for it.
Fluttershy just stared at her for a moment, the expression blank. “What do you mean?” The question carried more curiosity than anything. Something Twilight had to share, because she didn’t even know why she had suddenly asked that.
She had to think, and she had to think fast. “Well, it’s just that,” COME ON!, “I’ve spent my entire life in the same way. You know, with books. My parents even got me a foalsitter just so I would go out – At least that was part the reason. Until I met you ponies I never even thought about socializing, playing and all that other stuff. I mean, I just-” She grumbled at her own awkwardness. “I spent my fillyhood reading things and never bothered much with anything else, so I’m simply interested in the ways others had fun.” She felt inclined to believe that explanation herself.
Fluttershy’s look said it all, growing from wondering to bemused to, was it pitying? Probably, but Twilight had already expected a reaction like this, so she carried it with the same grace as Princess Celestia would. Meaning that she tried to fold her napkin as perfectly and regally as possible.
“Well,” Fluttershy started, “I used to live in Cloudsdale so I guess that most of my life I spent close to the clouds. I don’t just mean walking on them though, but more like,” she thought for a moment, before a soft smile appeared on her face. “It was like a snowy day that never ended and could get really warm without the snow dispersing. I remember that shaping clouds was our equivalent of building snowponies. Most of the clouds shaped like actual things, flowers, animals and ponies, they’re done by pegasus fillies. I remember making quite a few of them, although Rainbow Dash took a strange delight in flying through them. She always loved the feeling of flying through clouds.”
Twilight couldn’t help but giggle, both at the thought of a tiny Rainbow Dash and the way Fluttershy sounded like a really old mare, reminiscing about the good old days.
“Aside from that, well. . . The others used to play Wonderbolts – not me though, since I was somewhat bad at flying. Now that I think about it, most of the time I didn’t even really do much with anypony besides Rainbow Dash. I actually remember when we tried out her mother’s makeup set. . . Oh,” she suddenly yelled out, “I wasn’t supposed to say that. Oh, could you forget I said anything, just, if it isn’t too much trouble.”
Twilight laughed by then, although unintentional, she had learned something new about Rainbow Dash. It took quite the effort to regain her composure, but she did so as quickly as possible. “It’s fine, Fluttershy. Everypony has some stories like that." Probably even I, she added in thought, but left it there. She finally got the piece of paper right napkin the way she wanted it and was finally able to relax. Finally, she could eat her cake.
Fluttershy gave her but a worried look, "Are you really fine?"
For a moment Twilight looked at her, then at the napkin, then back to Fluttershy again. "You mean because of this?" The pegasus responded with a hesitant nod. "Don't worry about it, Fluttershy. It's not really bad."
"Oh, but, you see, the thing is. . . When we entered you, kinda, you know. . . Left and re-entered again. . . thrice."
"I needed to get it perfect," Twilight said defensively.
"Twilight, I'm sorry, but you're getting worse. I don't think that you trying to do everything perfect is healthy. I mean, not to intrude or anything. . ."
The purple unicorn smiled at that wording and wanted to reply for a second, her eyes moving over the piece of paper again. A few weeks had gone by since she had had her talk with Applejack and her decision to put down something on paper in the hopes that it would help her to let go.
"I've always been neat about everything," she then said decidedly and went on cutting perfect little slices from her cake and putting them into her mouth in the most perfect way she could find, sometimes hesitating and fixing the angle from which she moved the fork in. Fluttershy just ate her own and the silence between them almost drowned out the sound around them. Other ponies were chatting about but all the yellow pony could do was focus on her friend, her purple friend with dark rings beneath her eyes and a mane that told that it hadn't been properly washed in quite a while. She knew how Twilight was about scheduling everything, that something she had always done. Only, over the past few months the unicorn hadn't always been able to keep up with her own plans and things she had deemed low in priority had gotten less and less attention. It wasn't like she had completely abandoned proper hygiene. However, she seemed to have abandoned almost all the healthy aspects of her life.
The silence almost killed her and the way Twilight tried to measure the remaining cake so she could get the right percentage of it on her fork was actually really annoying, too. She felt half-inclined to just take the fork and shove some of the sweet stuff in Twilight's mouth, but that would never have been healthy for their relationship.
"Have you ever tried to not think about things?", Fluttershy asked after a while.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, how often do you just lean back? How often do you just relax and do nothing?"
Twilight frowned, going through her memories. "I doubt I ever did that. Don't get me wrong, I still get enough sleep so that I don't fall dead but otherwise I spend my time purposefully."
With 'purposefully' she meant 'working', Fluttershy knew. "Have you never even tried?", she asked, although she tried to make the question sound as small as possible, "I mean, if me asking isn't a bother."
Twilight smiled. "You're not a bother, really. And. . . maybe, well, yes. It wasn't for me though. I tried just sitting on my couch once, it didn't feel satisfying until I got myself the local copy of 'The Thousand Stars' by Cometlight, which is a wonderful book by the way. I think I also made my scheduling on my bed once." Twilight was still busy measuring her cake, but once she finished talking she cut herself another piece and almost made a show out of getting said piece into her mouth.
Another pause came, before Twilight's eyes lightened up. "Ah, yes. . . There was that one time when I was at the dig-site in Maneville," Now Fluttershy was just expecting another rant about the wonders of history, but still nodded understandingly. "The train was kinda late and, so I went to the town's playground and tried the swings out."
Fluttershy hadn't expected it to go in that direction, although it wasn't too unusual. At least for her. Twilight was uncomfortable talking about it, the thoughts she had that day still lingering in the back of her head.
"AJ told me to just let go, I don't know how to do that but. . . I spent almost two hours on that thing," the unicorn admitted.
Fluttershy didn't know what to say, she wasn't the best pony to give moral support, she knew, but still, she could try. "If you never got to try to play with these I can see how that could attract your attention."
Twilight didn't really react, again using her fork as a measuring tape and Fluttershy did her best to hide her annoyance at that, even though that got harder by the moment. A few more seconds passed before suddenly, the magic that held the lavender unicorn's fork up in the air waned and the cutlery fell down on the plate. Fluttershy immediately looked up and saw something in Twilight's eyes. Those big, tired purple eyes seemed to glisten as the revelation sunk deeper and deeper into the purple pony's being. Then she jumped up, slamming her hooves down on the table. "That's it!"
The sudden shout startled Fluttershy and only a moment later Twilight's gaze shifted to look around, seeing how everypony else stared at her in bewilderment. Twilight slowly retreated back into a seated position, making herself as small as possible, her face reddening. Still, she gave a Fluttershy a curious smile. "Thank you," she then said in a most enchanted voice; and the yellow pegasus had no idea why.
As Twilight found herself back in the library Spike wasn't there yet. She was curious, of course, but figured he was with Rarity again. Maybe that was for the better. Or maybe not, considering how he might've given her valuable input into the matter she wanted to research. Well, if that wasn't available, then she had at least something else.
The library of ponyville was, if not anything, full of surprises. Like anything in this town one would always be surprised by what could be found with a bit of studying. There were magical tomes casually stored in here – books that one wouldn't even dream of finding in the royal library in Canterlot, and Twilight was sure that there was a book for almost any occasion in here, at least she had yet to be let down by her hoard.
Where to begin, though? She stood before one shelf, looking over the books and before she knew it she was already juggling three tomes about the profound knowledge of raising 'the little ponies', as they were gracefully called.
Fluttershy hadn't ended the senseless cavity that her mind had created, a hole absorbing most of her time and thoughts but instead given her some much needed direction that would hopefully lead out of it all. As she hovered one book into an optimal position to read, she started only skimming the lines, not really knowing what to look for and not really finding what she wanted to know. What did she want to know anyway?
Twilight must've spent hours like that, going over pages, reading only so little, trying to figure something out. When she was done with some books she would put them to the side as neatly as possible, before she tried to get some new ones. For the first time, her library disappointed her.
However, Twilight Sparkle wasn't a pony to give up after some small defeat and instead made use of an acquaintance in Canterlot, the chief librarian and wrote a letter, which took her well into the night and even then she wasn't half finished. Instead, she wrote and wrote and the letters just never wanted to take the shape she wanted. The pony grew more and more adamant with each failure though, and it all ended with her tearing the used scroll apart in a fit of rage.
That was, when Spike opened the door and cheered, "Hey, Twilight. You would've never guessed-". He broke up the moment he saw her in front of her desk, books around her, still tearing the paper into neat little squares. "What's going on?", he asked completely deadpan.
Twilight turned around to him, tears in her eyes and a bitter smile on her face. The smile turned into a laugh, a sad, harsh laughter that rang through the library. "I'm getting worse," she then said, her voice small.
Spike himself was covered in dirt all over, but whatever had happened to him on this day had been forgotten the moment he saw Twilight's face. "You know, if you need to write something all you need to do is wait for me, Twilight. Your handwriting always makes everypony cringe anyways, so," he walked towards her and simply took the quill that still floated in the air, lifted up with a spell, "you may dictate."
Twilight, behind her tears, found a genuine smile and then started to do just that. Spike had become more and more useful as she drowned in her perfectionism, even though she had to correct quite a lot of the things the dragon did, like cleaning every spot in a room, or sorting out books. Still, he got things done with a timing she could only dream of nowadays and was probably the main reason why she hadn't collapsed until now. Best of all, he didn't even batted an eye about the letter. Well, maybe he did, but Twilight wasn't really looking at him this time, instead gazing at the remnants of her self-written letter.
The stars were hidden mostly by clouds this night and only rays of moonlight managed to pierce through some holes. Not that it mattered, since once the letter was finished they'd soon go to sleep anyway. Spike decided to take a shower, then so did Twilight, while he prepared their supper. He always did that nowadays, because she had so much other stuff to do.
They sat at the small round table in the kitchen, he with a bowl full of gems while she had a sandwich with flowers and hay on her plate, with juice and three bowls of different salads on the table. It wasn't so common that they had supper together. Twilight liked her late-night reading too much for it and around this time Spike was already fast asleep. Not today, as he grabbed a spoonful of gems, only to let them fall back in the bowl again.
"So. . . ", they both started, but each stopped immediately, knowing full well that this was an easy courtesy, letting the other start first.
"So," Spike started a second later and a smile formed on Twilight's face. So much for courtesy, she thought. "Apparently there's a whole diamond dog city nearby," the dragon said, a sly grin on his face. Twilight's puzzled look only helped his mood. "Yeah, me and Rarity have been on their tails for quite a while. There's a lot of gem deposits disappearing around Ponyville and so she decided to take me and investigate. We had an encounter with them and totally wiped the floor with them."
"Uh-huh," was the only answer Twilight could bring up to that explanation, not quite believing it. "Only one problem Spike: diamond dogs live in close knitted tribes. They don't have cities," she said, recalling all the books she read on the subject matter.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, these ones apparently have one," he said but immediately changed the topic thereafter: "Anyway, what's it with you and raising kids?"
"You know, the books? I don't think you need to worry about me, I'm almost an adult now," he said, before finally deciding to dig in, grabbing a clawful of gems and stuffing them in his mouth.
Normally, she would've used that action to argue, but she didn't feel like arguing right now. "I've just been thinking. AJ told me that I should 'let go' and I think I might have a clue as to how to do it."
Twilight blinked. "What? No! Celestia, no! Why would you even think that?"
Spike shrugged, "Spur of the moment."
The pony sighed, taking a bite of her sandwich, again, as neatly as possible. "I don't know what I'm looking for. I think that, maybe," she didn't quite know what to say, "I think the one time I let go of everything was in Maneville, with the swings I told you about."
"Yeah, that sounded neat, swings, rain. I remember Celestia yelling at me for doing that in Canterlot," Spike remembered.
"That was a thunderstorm, Spike and a lightning flash just hit you."
"It was still fun."
She rolled her eyes.
"Anyway, what's that got to do with children?"
"I don't know. Really, I'm not even sure what I'm looking for in these books. Aside from the fact that most of the stuff children seem to care about are things I never indulged in."
Spike looked at her curiously, "You mean playing? Yeah, you're right on that. I never got how Cadance put up with you."
She frowned, or tried to. She appreciated his bluntness sometimes, this time particularly. "I feel inclined to agree."
"Yeah, that doesn't undo all the boredom I had to go through thanks to you," he answered wryly.
Twilight sighed and playfully said: "I'm sorry Spike, because I never played with you, you might never hit your growth spurt now."
He grumbled. "It'll come soon enough."
Hopefully not too soon, she added in thoughts, memories of the grown dragons they had encountered resurfacing.
She took another bite, careful as to not go beyond the 5%. Spike looked at her. "If you feel like getting into childish stuff, how about you start small," he said, putting the gems to the side.
"Start small? What do you mean with that?"
The pulled a salad bowl closer to him. "Well, you know, some chaos would be nice. Maybe that would be just the thing to get you off and since I'm here."
"What are you talking abou-"
The shout came suddenly and a split-second later salad landed in Twilight's face, the dressing leaving a sour smell in her nose. "Spike, I don't," she began but another clawful flew straight across the room and hit her. She wanted to start scolding but suddenly she had some pieces of cucumbers and carrots in her mane.
It wasn't the most creative battlecry, but Twilight had known worse. So she levitated the last bowl towards her and started throwing salad herself, Spike playfully dodging one salvo, just to get hit with another. What followed then was utter chaos, as the two tried to evade each other's attacks, leaving the kitchen an utter mess, with them laughing and trying to corner each other. So they managed to go on for a minute, before they somehow ended up sitting by each others side, leaning against the kitchen wall and examining the aftermath. Dressing was dripping off the drawers, while leaves were scattered across the floor, much like the gems. Spike had managed to avoid them in his maneuvering, but Twilight hadn't.
The mare looked at it with a tired smile. "I didn't even want to do a food fight."
It was a smile Spike replied. "Yeah, but sadly for you, I know how to get you to do stuff you think you don't want to, but deep down you do."
"How does that work?"
"The dark side is full of mysteries," he answered, grinning, "Nah, just kidding. Cadence told me how much work it was to get you to play a game."
"Well. . . this game cost us the kitchen."
"No problem, considering how you lost you have to clean it."
"Nu-uh. I definitely didn't lose. It was a tie."
"Can't you stop being reasonable for once?" he asked, looking at her almost accusing. A second later he gagged and a pour of green flame escaped his mouth and into the air, a huge book plopping up and falling into the claws he immediately stretched out so it wouldn't fall onto his face.
"I didn't know they had those on speedmail," Spike said, looking at it. "Although it's probably not the kind of book you were looking for."
Twilight had only roughly looked at him, still focused on the small battle she and Spike had just had. She was a bit tired but she knew this had been fun. Somehow, though the cleaning wouldn't be. She turned her head and looked at the book.
"How to take care of your foal," she read the title out loud. "Why do I feel like the librarian mistook the letter's meaning for something else entirely?"
Spike laughed at that but still, Twilight levitated the book out of his tiny claws and opened it on a random page.
"Chapter 3: Feeding, how to do it right," she read again.
"Probably not the way we did it," Spike mused and they looked at the kitchen again.
Then they broke out in laughter, a lively laughter Twilight hadn't known for weeks, if not months. Spike could manage to bring out parts in her she didn't even know existed. That was a good thing, though, as she found herself turning the pages. Once more, the gears in her head started to turn.
After a few seconds of silence Spike said, "Don't tell me you found something interesting in there?"
"Well, Fluttershy said that I might develop an interest in things I never had," she stated matter of factly and Spike looked at the page she was on now, showing a variety of baby bottles.
"You never had bottles?", he asked in disbelief.
Twilight leaned back, her head hitting the wall. "That's not what I meant Spike. Look." She turned the pages back to the very first page, which she showed to him.
It showed a foal, dressed and diapered and she pointed at it. Spike was vaguely guessing what she meant. Vaguely.
"I'm game, what's this about?"
The next morning, the first thing Twilight Sparkle would do was take a cold shower and slam her head against the wall so often that she got a headache so bad that she needed to retreat to bed immediately. Spike would tell her that it was fine, they were tired and they wouldn't need to do it. Twilight, despite herself, insisted. She was scared of a tomorrow where she couldn't stop fixing things that didn't need to be fixed, a world where she couldn't go through a door without making a mistake. She would gladly jump into these waters to get a clear head and write this Nightbook. If only to show herself that there was a way out of all this.
This night however she smiled an easy smile, knowing that she had a little brother who'd go with whatever crazy scheme she'd come up with and maybe even up the ante if needed. For this, that was better than the dutiful big brother or the kind foal sitter.
"I want to dress up like that," she said that night and was yet unaware what trouble that one sentence would bring.