Twilight Sparkle was not freaking out. She had spent most of the day confirming, reconfirming, and re-reconfirming every possible detail to make sure she had everything under control. She was as cool as a reasonable number of cucumbers, to be precisely determined at some future, less time-sensitive point, when she could afford adequate investigation of their surface-to-area ratio and rate of heat transfer.
Sure, she was having to make some difficult choices on the fly. A glance up at the clocktower of Ponyville Town Hall revealed that it was already a little past six. She would have to pick up the pace, and possibly cut some non-essential tasks from her mental checklist. Perhaps the one to create a backup physical checklist, though she hoped to Celestia it wouldn’t come to such dire straits.
It was okay. Twilight Sparkle had a plan.
She shifted from a canter to a slower trot as she made it to the market square. Many of the merchants were already packing up their carts and preparing to head out for the evening. Applejack was nowhere to be seen, though it wasn’t strange for her to leave early with how quickly her apples tended to sell out. That was probably for the best – Twilight didn’t have time for a friendly conversation, or even worse, curious questions. She was looking for a different mare, one who hopefully still had plenty of stock.
“Roseluck!” Twilight exclaimed happily, finding her target in the middle of closing up her stall.
“Sorry, we’re closed for the day. You’ll have to come back—” Upon turning to see that Twilight was the one who had called out, Roseluck gasped and immediately leaned forward in a deep bow, her nose practically pressed into the dirt. “P-Princess Sparkle! I didn’t realize it was you!”
Ugh. Twilight sighed. “Roseluck, it’s just me. Twilight Sparkle. I distinctly remember the parasprites, what, a year ago? My spell backfired and your entire cart got eaten, and you were so angry at me you wouldn’t even talk to me for a month! You don’t have to bow, really.”
Roseluck’s face had turned pale. “Oh no. I am so so so sorry! Please don’t send me to the moon! Or the sun! Or...” She peeked up from her deep bow with a small frown. “Or whatever it is you’re the Princess of.”
“Science,” Twilight corrected.
Roseluck blinked. “Are you sure? That doesn’t seem like a real—” Twilight had started to grind her teeth together, and Roseluck cut off that line of inquiry with a nervous “Eep!”, hiding behind her hooves.
“I just need some flowers,” Twilight said. She trotted forward to peruse the selection, frowning at the stall already having been picked clean. She dredged up an old text from her memory – different flowers meant different things, right? She’d want something that Minuette would like, something that conveyed the proper message. Something iconic.
Roseluck timidly looked over Twilight’s shoulder. “I have some lovely white lilies,” she said.
Twilight shook her head. “Too funereal.” She pushed aside an oversized sunflower – “Too bright” – and peered at a bouquet of tiny colorful blossoms. “Too scattered.” She growled in frustration. “I need something that’s romantic.”
Roseluck shifted from demurely gazing at the ground to peer at Twilight intently. “...Romantic?”
“Mhm,” Twilight said, still sifting through a bundle of posies. “What would you suggest, Rose?” She gasped. “Wait, roses! Perfect!”
Roseluck bit her lip and moved forward to look through her wares. “We normally sell out of roses before any other flower. I don’t know if I have any left.”
Twilight tried to hold back a surge of panic. The date hadn’t even started yet, and it was already about to be ruined – you couldn’t go on a date and not bring flowers! That’s not how it worked! Minuette would laugh in her face and then probably deliberately break time somehow and everything would be sucked into a black hole with nothing left but an eternally disappointed Princess Celestia and it would all be Twilight’s fault! It would—
“Oh. No, here we go!” Roseluck gently proffered a single red rose with a bashful yet proud smile. It was flawless, the thorns snipped off the stem leaving only a few green leaves that framed beautifully curled petals. “Roses are my specialty after all.”
Twilight caught her breath as she took the flower. A single red rose? That was perfect! Well, it was somewhat forward, as red was for passionate love and a single rose declared a certain intensity of focus, but that’s what she needed. Aggressive confidence!
“I’ll take it!” Twilight began rummaging in her saddlebags for her money pouch. “How many bits?”
“Oh, no! No no no no! Always free to a Princess!” Roseluck had already dropped down into another exaggerated bow.
“Please, Rose, let me pay.”
“And be known as the merchant who charged royalty?” Roseluck shook her head in horror. “I’d be run out of the market square!”
Twilight’s head drooped. “Okay. Well... thank you.”
“Of course!” Roseluck offered a nervous smile that was all teeth, content to wait in that uncomfortable posture until Twilight left.
Twilight sighed again as she walked away.
She was doing that a lot these days. Being a Princess really wasn’t all sunshine and moonbeams – particularly when you didn’t have personal control over a sun or moon. Twilight was certainly treated like royalty, but she was sick of it. All the bowing and scraping, the awed praise in front of her and whispers behind her back, it made her feel like an outsider. Like everypony in Ponyville only thought of her as some sort of icon or deity, not as a person.
At least she still had her friends, but she saw them less and less. She made it a point to see the girls as often as possible, but it had always been obvious that they’d eventually have to drift apart. They each had their own lives, their own responsibilities, and while they would always be friends... Twilight felt like she was missing something. Maybe even somepony.
Twilight winced. The point was: she was lonely. She just wanted to be treated like a normal pony. Instead, she was stuck having to figure out this ridiculous date with a crazy unicorn, all to save the fabric of space-time. How had it even come to this?
She sighed, louder than before. She still had an errand to run, but maybe it was worth bumping up a certain phase of her plan. Maybe she could have at least one normal interaction today before the date, when things would inevitably be weird.
Except switching her plans around meant things were already about to get really weird, really quickly.
Twilight paced back and forth in the alleyway behind Sugarcube Corner, forcing herself to take deep breaths. This was it, she couldn’t turn back now. She had read through the spell a dozen times, and she was perfectly confident in her ability to cast it. It was just... unnerving.
The overarching problem was that Twilight Sparkle did not exactly have any stallion friends. Sure, given her position she technically could have commanded some guardspony to follow her orders, but that would be a pretty awful abuse of authority. Princess Celestia would not be happy when she inevitably found out. That option having been ruled out, Twilight naturally turned to the one classic solution that she had relied on for so many other problems:
If she couldn’t find a stallion, well, she would make one.
Twilight took another deep breath. She would need to be calm and focused. It was a complex and draining spell, a meaningfully extended duration only possible due to the large innate energy reserves of alicorns. On top of its inherent difficulty, she was planning on implementing a couple of minor tweaks – not enough to destabilize the spell, only to refine it.
Taking one last look to make sure both ends of the alley were clear of any peeking ponies, she closed her eyes and planted her hooves firmly. As soon as she touched the first strand of magical energy, she felt the world around her light up with colors and feelings that she could sense even without her eyes.
It was always like this when she worked with a complex spell. An awestruck smile involuntarily spread across her face. This was her talent, and every time she worked with real magic, weaving the strands of power together to accomplish tremendous feats, she felt a tremendous joy.
She had to reach deep, deep within herself, to extract that strand of vibrant magenta and funnel it up through her horn. From there it took the utmost of concentration to take the glowing stream and join it with corresponding threads of silver from the air and copper from the ground. Delicately intertwining, they locked together into a carefully planned web, vibrating rapidly until it suddenly tipped into place to collapse the entire structure into one solid beam.
A beam that twisted in the air to strike right at Twilight Sparkle, enveloping her in white light.
Twilight coughed and coughed, her sense of the world’s natural magic abruptly severed. A cloud of white smoke slowly started to dissipate, revealing that she had collapsed in the dirt, the plain alleyway still around her.
Had it worked?
Twilight slowly got to her hooves, shaking a kink out of her neck. The first thing she noticed was the alley had grown smaller. Only very slightly, but it was unmistakable. But she still felt normal. Had it worked?
With a flash of light she summoned up the mirror that was normally sitting in her bedroom. One look confirmed it: It had worked!
She was a stallion!
Sure, her – wait! – his coat was the same color, and his mane had that characteristic streak of violet and pink, but it was unmistakable. His muzzle was blockier and more well defined, his body broad and strong where it had once been svelte and girlish. Even his horn was more prominent, and the cut of his mane shorter and more tousled. He no longer had wings, due to a skillful tweak to the spell’s composition, but he had spent the majority of his life without them. One evening wouldn’t be bad.
Twilight reared up, trying out different poses in delight at the success of his spell. He wouldn’t be winning any Iron Pony competitions, but bulging muscles were overrated. His physique was still unmistakably masculine, but the lavender color scheme gave the impression of a sensitive intellectual. Exactly the kind of pony that any filly would fall head-over-heels for.
Twilight tried out a look of smouldering passion, inclining his head and using his magic to generate a breeze to blow back his mane. “Hey there, beautiful,” he said in a suggestive half-growl, his voice coming out much deeper than before.
Twilight was expecting the spell to work. He wasn’t expecting to be this hot.
His seductive expression melted away into pure glee, as he hopped lightly up and down. Minuette wouldn’t know what hit her! He just needed to take care of a few niggling details.
With a flash, his cutie mark shimmered and twisted into a trio of smaller pink stars. No spell could actually change a pony’s cutie mark, of course, but a minor illusion layered on top could be kept up with minimal attention, hiding his true identity.
But something still wasn’t quite right. Twilight looked into the mirror and frowned. Perhaps he was being too paranoid, but his disguise was missing something. Something important. He thought back through years of study and careful memorization of every possible spell he could get his hooves on. There had to be something...
And then inspiration struck. Grinning like a loon, Twilight Sparkle cast a simple spell, one he had long since disregarded as practically pointless.
On his muzzle a fantastically lush moustache blossomed.
Twilight trotted into Sugarcube Corner, noticing that even his gait was different. More aggressive and deliberate, less swaying and feminine. He had to consciously keep from smiling at each new discovery that confirmed the spell’s success. It was surprisingly hard work maintaining an aloof aura of cool detachment, but it was a good opportunity to practice.
Inside, the bakery was bustling. A few ponies enjoyed milkshakes at the scattered tables as usual, but Twilight’s eyes were drawn to the line of ponies waiting at the uncharacteristically vacant counter. He noticed the pegasus mare in front tapping her hoof impatiently while he slid to take a place at the back of the queue.
No one spared him a second glance. Twilight allowed himself a gleeful grin of triumph. For the first time in ages, he was waiting in a line.
It was glorious.
No ponies hurriedly deferring to him, no special treatment! Just a normal wait for a normal pony. Sure, he didn’t have all the time in the world to get to his date on time, and that caused a little worry to gnaw at the back of his head, but that was a normal pony problem. After having to deal with Ponyville’s surprisingly frequent natural catastrophes, monster problems, and bureaucratic bugaboos, a normal pony problem was a relief.
He was just beginning to wonder about the lack of movement of the line when Mrs. Cake stuck her head out from the door behind the counter, allowing the clatter of pans and baking to escape out. “Sorry everypony! We’re backed up right now with a big order. We appreciate your patience!” Craning her head towards the ceiling, she shouted in a louder tone, “Pinkie! We could use some help down here!”
Twilight shuffled his hooves nervously as he heard clomping coming from above. The sounds drew closer and closer until the pink pony herself appeared at the top of the staircase in the main room, bounding down to take the final few steps in a flying leap.
“I’m on it!” Pinkie triumphantly called out, and blew past the line and over the counter in a blur. She moved with confidence and speed, darting from one place to another to load up several baskets of baked goods.
Twilight relaxed. Pinkie had gone right past him without a word. This new form really worked!
“Hey Blossomforth!” Pinkie chirped. “One batch of blueberry scones, sorry for the wait!”
The pegasus smiled and slid some bits across the counter. “Thanks, Pinkie!” She gripped the basket in her teeth and cheerfully trotted out.
“Snowflake! Lookin’ mighty muscle-y as always!” She hoofed over a basket of odd-looking muffins. “One peck of protein powder puffs! You planning on squeezing in another workout today?”
“YEAH!” he shouted.
“And next, for the always optimistic Bon-Bon!”
The pony in front of Twilight froze. She was wearing a red kerchief and a pair of oversized sunglasses, but several curly strands of blue and pink hair escaped from beneath the covering.
“One bunch of our new mallow-mint cookies, on the house. You’re not going to figure out our secret recipe though, so don’t bother trying!” Pinkie leaned forward and punctuated her words with a conspiratorial wink.
Bon-Bon removed her glasses and glared fiercely at Pinkie Pie. “What gave me away?” she said.
“It wasn’t much of a disguise, silly! You didn’t even have a moustache. Next time you should ask Twilight for advice – the whole being-a-stallion thing is waaay trickier.” With one hoof she pointed directly at Twilight, grinning innocently.
Everypony in Sugarcube Corner stopped talking and turned to stare at once. One final crash sounded from the kitchen and it too fell silent, as Mr. and Mrs. Cake both popped their heads through the door, Mr. Cake covered in flour with a pie tin upside down on his head.
Mrs. Cake was the first to recover. “Princess!” She frowned as she peered at Twilight’s new form. “Er... Prince?” she corrected, allowing an awkward silence to fall while she tried to determine if that was proper.
“Your Majesty!” Mr. Cake suddenly interjected.
“Yes!” Mrs. Cake said, relieved. “Your Majesty! Why didn’t you say you were coming? We’re terribly sorry to have kept you waiting.” She trotted over to the counter and nudged Pinkie out of the way. “What can I get for you? If we don’t have it, we can probably whip it up for you in a jiffy.”
Twilight’s face was suffused with a red-hot blush. “Oh! I’m not Twilight Sparkle! I’m, uh, Starshine. Her brother! Not Shining Armor though. Another brother that she never told you about.”
Pinkie rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “She does do that...”
Mrs. Cake’s eyes narrowed. “Uh-huuuh.” She tilted her head for a moment, then smiled. “Well, a brother to a Princess counts as royalty in our book! What are you in the mood for? On the house, of course.”
Twilight winced. He looked around the room to see everypony staring at her. “Um. Some chocolates please?” His voice grew smaller and smaller. “In a heart-shaped box?”
His blush intensified under the barely-hidden smiles of all the watching ponies until it felt like he had eaten one of Pinkie’s chili cupcakes. Mrs. Cake shared a meaningful look with her husband, and he trotted to retrieve something from a locked glass case.
“Our very best chocolates, then! Sure to win the heart of whatever lovely mare you have your eye set on.”
Twilight thought about denying it, but nopony would believe him, and explaining the situation would keep him there all night. “Thanks,” he said in a barely audible voice. He walked up to the counter and Mr. Cake hoofed over a large red box tied with pink ribbons and bows. He placed it safely in his saddlebag with care, next to the rose.
His bits were right there too, and he considered for a moment insisting on paying, but couldn’t muster the courage. Everyone still seemed to be watching him. Somehow this was even worse than when he was just a Princess. Surely everyone had bought his cunningly crafted cover identity, but now he was a new pony to Ponyville, and visitors garnered their own share of curious attention.
Twilight looked up and plastered a smile on his face as he backed out of the room, a dozen pairs of eyes locked on him the whole way.
So much for going undercover early.
As soon as he stepped outside into the cool evening, he heaved a sigh of relief.
“I know, right? Some ponies are so rude!” Pinkie said, as she peered at his flank from a distance of about an inch.
“Aaah!” Twilight jumped a foot straight up. “Pinkie, don’t do that!”
“Twi, you’ve got to tell me how you did this,” she chirped, unfazed. “Got to got to got to!”
“I’m not Twilight. I’m Starshine.”
Pinkie rolled her eyes. “Oh please! You think you can sneak one past the Pink Prankster? Was it a spell? Because if so I just got an idea for the very best way to mess with Dashie!”
Twilight looked back and forth to make sure no ponies were eavesdropping. “Y-yes, okay? But you have to be quiet about this.”
“I Pinkie Promise I won’t tell anypony! Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!” She kept going with a complicated series of pantomime movements, but found herself abruptly suspended in Twilight’s magic.
“Sorry Pinkie, but I don’t have time! I’m going to be late.”
Pinkie giggled and rolled over on her back, spinning in the air. “You mean you’re actually going on a date?”
“Yes,” Twilight muttered, blushing slightly. He gently sat Pinkie down again. “Remember, you can’t tell anyone.”
“Wait, though.” Pinkie frowned as she peered at Twilight. The pink pony had an extremely strange expression on her face. For once, she was... serious. “Twilight. I think you have to lose the moustache.”
“For a date? Nope. It makes you look like the sort of pony that gives candy to impressionable young foals out of the back of a van.”
Twilight blinked. “Pinkie, I saw you giving lollipops to the children at the schoolhouse literally this morning.”
“Yes, but I’m a professional!” Pinkie closed her eyes and stood tall. “If there are strange mustachioed ponies riding around in vans giving candy to foals, it plays havoc with their dietary schedule.” She leaned in until they were almost nose-to-nose, her eyes back to unnaturally wide open. “Candy is a sometimes food, Twilight! Obesity is a national epidemic!”
Twilight shook his head, trying to keep up. “But... but... I don’t even know what a van is!”
Pinkie nodded grimly. “Exactly.”
With a deep sigh, Twilight’s head drooped and the moustache withered away in a flash of magic. He was going to miss it.
Pinkie patted him gently on the back. “Now go get ‘em, ‘Starshine’! You’re going to make some lucky mare awfully happy.”
Twilight swallowed, but managed a weak smile.
“I sure hope so.”
Twilight slowed his pace slightly as he looked up at the clocktower one last time. 6:58. Reaching into his saddlebag, he pulled out the rose and gently held it in his teeth. It was just a short walk to the restaurant where he would be meeting Minuette – in fact, the same restaurant where he had originally tracked the chronological disturbances and caught the unicorn traveling backwards in time.
He would have to figure out how she had managed that. Temporal magic wasn’t easy – Twilight knew first-hoof that it was difficult to manage stability for more than a minute before being bounced back to your original timeline.
For the time being though, he needed to stick to his plan. He had read enough romance novels and dating advice handbooks to get the basics, and the advantage of being a mare less than an hour ago meant all he had to do was treat Minuette how he would like to be treated. Since he had diagrams and flowcharts explaining his dating preferences in specific terms in case his eventual special somepony needed guided assistance, transitioning to implementing those plans came easily.
He rounded the last corner in front of the restaurant and stopped dead in his tracks. Right in front of him, Minuette had turned the opposite corner at the same time. As soon as she saw him, rose at the ready, her steps faltered to a halt and the two faced each other.
Twilight swallowed nervously. Here was the big test – everypony knew first impressions were absolutely vital for a lasting romance, and he needed to nail love at first sight. He anxiously sized up the mare in front of him, brain racing through trying to analyze her reactions and his own reactions to her reactions.
She looked considerably more prepared than she had this morning, mane brushed and styled in a loose, flowing wave accentuated by its complementary shades of blue. It was simple and natural, but suited her well. Just like the fact that she had not bothered with jewelry or fancy dress – she didn’t need any of it, she was perfectly beautiful on her own.
At the moment though, Twilight was drawn to her expression, trying to use all of his studies on body language to determine the impression he was making. He quickly ran through the specifics: body fairly rigid and forward momentum stopped, eyes wider than normal, forehead wrinkling with disbelief, hoof raised to hide an open-mouthed smile on her face. There was only one conclusion.
Oh, yes. She was absolutely head over hoof for him.
Twilight trotted over to present the rose, bowing deeply. “Twilight Sparkle told me of your beauty, but I fear even her impressively extensive vocabulary did not do you justice.”
Minuette’s mouth moved wordlessly for a moment, still stuck in a half-amazed grin. She finally got out some words. “You... are...?”
Reaching forward to take Minuette’s hoof, Twilight lightly kissed it. Old-fashioned, yes, but any mare with a hint of romance in her heart would swoon over the gesture. “Starshine Twinkle, her brother. Shall we?”
“You can’t honestly believe—” Minuette broke off her words at the sound of the bells chiming. She looked up across town at the clocktower as it rang seven times. As she turned back to Twilight, her expression shifted through a variety of emotions, eventually settling on surprised disbelief. “You’re on time,” she said, her tone betraying a hint of suspicion.
Twilight blinked. Uh oh. Should he have shown up earlier? Or... was Minuette after the bad colt type who’d leave a lady waiting to demonstrate their own sense of self-assured cool? That would require an entirely different set of plans! He wasn’t equipped to handle those sort of expectations!
Twilight took a deep breath. No, he had to keep his composure and proceed as planned for now. He smiled reassuringly. “Well, yes. We have a reservation, do we not? Let’s not keep them waiting.”
Minuette stared at him for another long moment, head turned slightly. Finally she shook her head softly, her mouth forming a knowing smirk. “Sure, Starlight. This should be an interesting night!”
“Starshine,” Twilight said.
"Right." Minuette brushed past him, headed to the restaurant's entrance.
Twilight hesitated for a moment, lost in his thoughts. She hadn't even been able to remember his name? Had he overestimated his introduction? What did that mean for—
"Are you coming?" Minuette's voice rang out as she held the door, expectantly glaring at Twilight.
Oh no! That was step four of his perfect date plan: Chivalrously open the door for your mare. Hurrying to minimize the damage, he dashed forward, his horn alight to support the door himself. Giving a half bow, he insisted, "After you," and forced a smile onto his face, but inside he knew:
The date could not possibly be going any worse.
The date could not possibly be going any better.
Twilight knew it – an interested mare gave certain clear signs, like physical contact or flirtatious laughter. And Minuette had been giggling along with him all night – even when he had gone into his fabricated family history, which admittedly was a little bit long and dry, but which excellently shored up his credentials as being Twilight’s definitely real and not fake brother. She had laughed at those stories and they weren’t even jokes, so she had to be crazy about him!
Twilight looked up from the light salad he had ordered to see Minuette still looking at him. Here was an opportunity – he needed to get past simple flirting, try to build something more meaningful. He mentally scanned through his well-memorized checklist.
Step twenty-six: maintain eye contact.
Twilight stared into Minuette’s eyes, and it was like falling into two deep limpid pools. Wait, ‘limpid’ had a certain unfortunate connotation – it always made him think of lichen and swamps for some reason. They were... glittering sapphire orbs? That captured the unique blue color that oh-so-strikingly complemented the other shades of her mane and coat, but calling eyes ‘orbs’ made it sound like he intended to pluck them out to keep. And that was creepy, even metaphorically.
No, no. They were like twin portals into the limitless expanse of the night sky, encompassing the entire cosmos of twinkling stars in their nocturnal beauty. That was it. That was why it became harder and harder to look away, why he felt as if he could just remain still and gazing into those dark, expressive eyes for endless ages.
It was while still looking deep within her eyes that he was struck with a surprising realization: Minuette was very attractive. Not just in objective aesthetic terms – though, when it came to it Twilight immediately noted eleven distinct characteristics that mapped well to traditional pony standards of beauty. The truth was something undefinable. Minuette was attractive, attractive to Twilight himself on a personal level. That feeling in his stomach wasn’t the salad that he had barely touched.
It was a strange thought. He felt a rush of excitement at being the pony to have her attention, clearly the envy of every other stallion around. But along with it came an accompanying nervousness that he would screw things up somehow.
It was... wrong. It was not part of the plan! He was supposed to be the one approaching this logically, cleverly utilizing known romantic principles to influence Minuette, not the other way around. Was this some sort of result of the spell? Had it tampered with his romantic preferences along with the other changes?
...Did he have romantic preferences? It was a question Twilight hadn’t really stopped to consider in depth before. Back as a mare he was woefully inexperienced, but he had always assumed he liked stallions, as that was more or less normal – probably less normal, given the abundance of filly couples he had seen in Ponyville.
Most of the romances he had read had always been between a mare and a stallion, though that was primarily due to being introduced to the genre by Fluttershy, who had been furtively requesting books from the library via an assumed identity for a while now. Twilight hadn’t had the heart to confront her about it, and thus he couldn’t dare to go to the pegasus for any sort of advice, even though with all that reading she probably knew more about relationships than even Rarity. He had settled for reading the books himself once Fluttershy had returned them, all in pristine condition but smelling faintly of animals.
Maybe it wasn’t so odd, then, as he was a stallion – at least for the moment – and here he had the company of a mare. Maybe his body was just filling in the gaps by naturally responding to the pony in front of him. The beautiful mare with the soft, deep eyes, and flowing mane, and exotically prominent horn.
Yes. That was it. Natural urges brought on by the physical changes of the spell. Nothing to be concerned about, he would just have to take careful note to analyze and discount those feelings as he—
“Starshine?” Minuette said again, and Twilight realized he had been lost in thought for a while. “I was just asking, what is it that you do?”
Twilight shook his head slightly to clear it. “I’m Princess Celestia’s personal student.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he froze.
He wasn’t supposed to say that! He had a cover story as a businesspony in Fillydelphia! Now how was he going to plan for her inevitably probing questions? The key to spinning an unbreakable web of lies was to ensure that each and every thread was cleverly accounted for. The slightest flaw and the whole story would come crashing down! He shivered as a broad smile formed on Minuette’s face. She must have seen the opportunity, and Twilight somehow knew that what she was about to say would cut through his falsehoods and bring an untimely end to the night. He just knew...
“No way! How’s Sunnybutt doing these days?”
Twilight’s mouth fell open. That was not the dreaded response. W-w-what kind of question even was that? “Wha— Buh— You shouldn’t talk about the Princess like that!” he exclaimed.
Minuette shrugged. “She never seemed to mind.”
“Y-you called her that to her face?” Twilight raised a hoof to his mouth in horror.
“Yep,” Minuette said. “She seemed to think it was pretty funny! Of course at the time she was quite... socially lubricated.”
Twilight stared at her.
“Four sheets to the wind. A mug of cider short of a liquor cabinet.”
Twilight kept staring.
She paused and rolled her eyes at Twilight. “She was drunk. Is that shocked silence or just general stupidity?”
“Princess Celestia doesn’t get drunk!” Twilight exclaimed.
Minuette stifled a laugh. “Okay, sure. But ‘Sunny Skies’ has been known to get good and sloshed on the weekends. We used to hit the bars pretty often back when I lived in Canterlot. I never did figure out if she still got hangovers like a normal pony or if crazy alicorn biology somehow intervenes.”
“I don’t believe you,” Twilight said firmly. “Why would the Princess even want to do something like that?”
“Being the famous and powerful ruler over all of Equestria has got to wear on you after a while.” Minuette rubbed the back of her head with one hoof. “I think she just liked being able to cut loose like a normal pony for once? Without being judged for it or treated differently. I don’t know if a pony like you would understand.”
Twilight bit his lip. Actually, yeah. He understood that all too well.
He hadn’t ever stopped to think about Princess Celestia, who he still held on a pedestal. Even while he was only her student, the Princess had told him several times to call her Celestia, but he just couldn’t make himself do it. Not even after becoming an alicorn himself. It just sounded disrespectful, but... what if she had wanted a friend? Had he just been keeping his distance out of a selfish desire for proper respectability, leaving Celestia as isolated and alone as always?
He felt a soft pat on his hoof and looked up in surprise to see Minuette smiling gently. “Hey, I mean, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude or make you question your teacher or anything. Just... she’s still a pony too, y’know?”
Twilight sighed. “Yeah. Maybe I needed to hear that. Thanks, I guess.”
Minuette nodded but didn’t remove her hoof from his. “No problem.”
“But I’m curious... how did you know the Pr—” Twilight stopped himself. “How did you know Celestia?”
Minuette waved her other hoof in the air dismissively. “Y’know, work thing. It’s boring.”
“Work...?” Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Wait, what do you actually do?”
“I’m a dentist!” Minuette chirped, her smile bright.
“You are a dentist,” Twilight repeated dubiously. “You were Princess Celestia’s Royal Dentist.”
Minuette nodded eagerly. “Sure. That silly Princess, always with the eating cake and getting cavities!”
Twilight frowned. “Uh huh.” Something wasn’t adding up. “Actually, you know, I read a medical dissertation recently.”
Minuette raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh?”
“On the regenerative properties of alicorn skeletal structure.”
“Oh,” Minuette said. “Of course I’ve read that, since I am a dentist. The previous Royal Dentist. But, uh, the teeth still have to be carefully monitored so the bones don’t regenerate too much.”
“Aha! Got you!” Twilight grinned with triumph, resisting the urge to point dramatically.
Minuette flinched. “What, a fake study?”
“No, of course not. C’mon, what kind of pony would lie about science?” Twilight’s eyes sparkled. “No, you made a much more rudimentary error: Teeth aren’t bones.”
“Wait, what?” Minuette frowned. “Of course they are.”
“Nope!” Twilight’s voice took on a lecturing tone. “They lack marrow, and despite the presence of calcium they are instead formed by a combination of tissues including dentin, enam—”
“I didn’t say I was a good dentist,” Minuette cut in. “Maybe there’s a reason I’m not in Canterlot anymore. And what makes you such an expert on teeth?”
“I read Neigh’s Anatomy cover-to-cover last summer. It’s a rather good work, I have an extra copy if you want to borrow it.” It only took one look at Minuette’s expression for Twilight to give up on that idea. He sighed. “Anyways, that has to be one of the first things you learn as a dentist. What do you really do?”
Minuette leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. “Well, you have to keep this absolutely secret, but in actuality I am the captain of Princess Celestia’s extensive spy network.”
Twilight rolled his eyes. “Nope. I’ve met him, and he wears an eyepatch.”
“Ugh.” Minuette frowned. “Okay, I’m the official ambassador from the Changeling nation, sent here to observe your culture. Or the personification of the metaphorical concept of time. Or Princess Celestia’s illegitimate daughter, driven from Canterlot in shame to protect her reputation. Or—”
“Wait,” Twilight said. “Back up.”
“Illegitimate daughter?” Minuette said hopefully.
“No, before that.”
“Oh, Changeling representative! That one is fun. Yes, I am here on a mission of peace and understanding, trying to bridge the cultural divide. And for what it’s worth, it is no wonder Chryssy went with the all-out invasion plan after seeing how hard it is to get any love from—”
Twilight shook his head. “No, no, no. The time one.”
“That’s the one you believe?” Minuette exhaled in frustration. “Fine. I guess it doesn’t matter, does it? Yeah, I’m the physical embodiment of time. Big whoop.”
“That... how does that even work?” For some reason, he did believe her. Twilight knew better than to discount something just because it seemed far-fetched – it wasn’t too long ago that a certain pink pony had convincingly demonstrated the folly of allowing old assumptions to override new data. Science was built on testing hypotheses and reshaping them when they didn’t fit. The prospect of new knowledge was just too tempting for him to resist.
Minuette waved a hoof. “It just does. I dunno. It’s complicated probably, but comes pretty naturally, and has the perks of being able to play with things a little bit. Y’know, rewind, fast forward, that sort of thing.”
She looked down at a piece of lettuce on the plate in front of her and frowned at it. Without even a hint of magic flaring around her horn, the leaf turned brown and crumpled up, quickly shriveling away into dust.
Twilight’s eyes had grown alarmingly large at the display. He could sense the manipulation of the temporal fabric, but it did indeed seem like something completely different than unicorn magic. “Y-you must have profound insights into the nature of time!”
Minuette looked skeptical, but softened at Twilight’s hopeful expression. She put her hoof to her chin, musing. “Okay, um... Time is like... like...”
“A wheel?” Twilight offered. “A tapestry? A big ball of—”
“No, no, no.” Minuette sighed. “Time is like a kumquat.”
“A kumquat,” Twilight said, flatly.
“Yeah,” Minuette said. “It’s sort of fuzzy when you look at it from the outside, not to mention brown-ish. No one really understands how the thing works, but it’s fun to talk about. You really only stop to consider it in detail when you hit an unexpected piece in your salad – you know, metaphorically when it surprises you for either good or bad. Also, it tastes like citrus.”
Twilight’s mouth fell open at the explanation.
He took a deep breath. “Okay, first kumquats aren’t brown and fuzzy. That’s a kiwi. Second, what do you mean no one understands how they work? They’re a perfectly normal fruit, grown on small trees in warm climates that have an appropriate amount of annual moisture. Third...” Twilight blinked. “Third, that doesn’t explain anything at all!”
Minuette shrugged nonchalantly. “Whatever. Like I said, it comes naturally. Screw something up? Zzzip, rewind and take another stab at it.”
“That’s horrible!” Twilight exclaimed. “You— You’re missing out on... on life! If you can just take back any of your choices at any time, that removes all weight from them. Part of being a pony is making tough decisions and having to live with the consequences!”
“Hey, it’s always worked for me.”
Twilight narrowed his eyes and assumed a serious frown. “I want you to promise me something. No take-backs tonight. We let things fall however they may, and I’ll prove that’s a better way of doing things.”
“Really?” Minuette smirked. “So no rewinding, no matter what happens?”
Twilight nodded solemnly.
“Okay, no problem!” A devilish grin crept across Minuette’s face as she looked at Twilight, sending a shiver down his spine. After a moment, she rubbed her hooves together. “You’re done with your salad, right?”
Twilight looked down and back up. “Sure,” he said, slightly suspicious of her motives.
“Oh, waiter?” Minuette called out, batting her eyelashes. The requested pony instantly trotted up. “I think we’ll have a bottle of wine.” Her voice took on a sing-song quality. “I was thinking... that.”
With one hoof she pointed across the room and behind the bar on the other side, where one shelf held a single dusty bottle in an engraved display case.
The waiter’s head swiveled between her hoof, the bottle, and an alarmed Twilight. “Madam, t-that is our most expensive wine, a commemorative bottle from the five-hundredth anniversary of the banishment of Nightmare Moon.”
Minuette smiled sweetly. “Of course. Nothing but the best for us. Hurry along, please!”
As soon as the waiter had haltingly turned away, Twilight leaned over the table to whisper fiercely. “What are you doing? I don’t have that many bits.”
Minuette’s smile grew larger. “I didn’t say we were going to pay for it, did I?”
The waiter returned immediately, gingerly carrying the bottle. He presented it to both ponies, receiving an appraising nod from Minuette and a glance of terror from Twilight. “I’ll just need to see some form of—”
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no!” Minuette exclaimed. “These glasses won’t do at all. They’re much too large for a wine of this pedigree. Be a dear and fetch us some more appropriate crystal?”
The waiter bit his lip. “I think these are the only wine glasses we have.”
“I’m sure you have something back in the kitchen,” Minuette said with confidence. “You know, for special occasions.”
“I’ll... check.” The waiter trotted off again.
Wasting no time, Minuette floated the bottle up in her magic and stood up. “We don’t have much time, c’mon.”
“That’s stealing!” Twilight’s head jerked from side to side in an emphatic no. “We could be arrested! They’ll track us down!”
Minuette rolled her eyes. “Whatever, they wouldn't even recognize you because you’re... from out of town.” She smiled as Twilight refused to budge. “Either one of us going to jail would make this a pretty bad date, you know? And I’m leaving with the bottle whether you are or not. No rewinds! Part of being a pony is yada yada something consequences!”
Without another word she spun and started trotting out at as fast a pace as she could manage without arousing suspicion.
Twilight was stuck in momentary indecision. How had it come to this? This was outside all of his plans! If he went with Minuette, he’d become a known accessory to... oenological defraudation? It probably wasn’t technically theft – he was already thinking of ways to justify the bits as a research expense and return to pay in full tomorrow. But if he stayed he’d still have to answer plenty of questions, plus it’d be a disastrous end to the date he had been trying so hard to have go perfectly. Most importantly, Minuette would be gone, and that would be... would be...
It wasn’t until he heard the shout from the returning waiter that Twilight took action. Hurriedly he jumped from his seat and galloped after Minuette, both of them running at full speed past the surprised maitre d’ and out into the darkening street, loud hoofsteps telling them the waiter was fast on their heels.
Twilight ran and ran, the ground underneath flying by. He barely managed to keep up with Minuette as she turned down one street, then another, until the shouts of their pursuer faded off into the distance.
They kept running, putting even more distance between them and the restaurant until Minuette suddenly slowed down, gasping for breath. She leaned against the wall of a building, the bottle of wine drifting down to sit on the ground.
Twilight was equally winded from the chase. “I...” He took a deep breath. “I think the wine got shaken up a bit. I-is that bad for it?”
Minuette looked up at him and abruptly burst into laughter, hoof to her mouth in a vain attempt to hold it back. “I— I can’t believe you actually— Ahahahah!”
Twilight’s mouth twisted as he tried to keep from grinning, but Minuette showed no signs of stopping. It wasn’t more than a moment before sight of her giggling set him off as well. Despite his best efforts, he broke into laughter of his own. “You—” He was so overcome between his sudden laughter and already being out of breath that he sunk down to sit on the ground against the wall. “It’s your fault!”
For a long moment, they both laughed together, their voices ringing across the empty street as the sun crept behind the horizon. When Twilight had regained his composure, he looked up to see Minuette standing in front of him, framed against the brilliant orange of the sunset. The smile on her face was the most open and honest he had seen it all night, completely free of its normal cynicism.
She offered him a hoof. “C’mon, Mr. Sparkle. The night is still young, and this date doesn’t end until I say it does.”
Twilight’s heart skipped a beat as he took her hoof.
Twilight focused all of his intellectual might into a tiny point of intense focus. This would be it. This would determine his success or failure, and it would take all of his concentration, not to mention expert control over every minute physical reflex, in order to come through. He only had this one last opportunity, but he had studied the problem from every conceivable angle, calculating the probabilities and adjusting for all possible adverse factors. Even unexpected eventualities had been carefully determined and factored in. He had to make this count.
Feeling the wind brush his ear and then die down, he knew his chance had come. Twisting his neck, he gracefully swung his whole upper body, teeth gripped firmly on the metal rod.
“Eight!” Minuette yelled cheerfully, causing him to flinch halfway through the motion.
With a resounding thwack, he hit the bright green golf ball way harder than he expected, sending it rocketing off. It bounced off one of the upper blades of the windmill structure and flew in a high arc through the air, right towards... oh no.
The ball fell right into a small pond, with a wet plop.
Minuette laughed uproariously, stopping abruptly only to take another swig from the bottle she had cradled in the crook of one foreleg.
“You’re supposed to yell ‘Fore’,” Twilight grumbled. “No, wait, I’m supposed to yell ‘Fore’.”
Minuette smirked. “Starsy, you passed four a loooong time ago.”
“That’s not wh—”
“My turn! Me me me me me!” Minuette happily skipped over to Twilight, brushing close enough to him to cause his next words to fly out of his head. The next thing he knew, he was holding the bottle of wine and had been nudged off to a safe distance.
He sighed, and gazed towards Minuette, who had taken her golf club in a loose grip in her mouth. She planted her hooves next to her golf ball and stared at it intently, wiggling her hindquarters as she prepared for a swing. That particular motion made his mouth suddenly go dry, and he took a quick drink from the bottle. The flavor was as strong and tangy as always, causing his muzzle to involuntarily wrinkle, but it was really good.
“Hoooole. In. One!” Minuette casually swung the club, spinning around in a full circle before catching herself. The ball arced forward, rolling right into the small hole at the windmill’s base. Twilight trotted over to look at the green further down just in time to see it roll out, bouncing off one wall, then another before coming to rest right in the marked hole.
He looked back at Minuette, mouth open.
She grinned broadly, able to tell from his expression that she had gotten another hole in one. Her third, in fact. “Now let’s see... what does that make the score, again?”
Twilight raised one hoof to his forehead. “Ugh. Are you sure you’re not rewinding time when I’m not looking?”
“Oh, hush,” Minuette said. “Besides, aren’t you supposed to let the filly win?”
“Well, yeah,” Twilight mumbled. “But an emphasis on let. This is just embarrassing.”
Minuette trotted up, throwing one foreleg across Twilight’s withers, as she negotiated the bottle of wine out of his grasp. “It’s okay, Starsy. You’re cute when you’re frustrated.”
The close contact and her words caused his cheeks to flush an alarming red. “R-r-right.” Thankfully, Minuette seemed to be too preoccupied with taking another drink to pay much attention.
A moment later, she disentangled herself and Twilight took the opportunity to float his ball up from the depths of the pond. When he looked back, Minuette was poking around the nearby bench. “Heeey, where’d the scorecard go? I was just about to put down another 9 for you.”
Twilight grimaced, horn glowing as he nudged a slip of paper deeper into the bushes at the side of the green. “Must have lost it. Go figure.” Minuette turned with a frown, and Twilight cast about for a suitable change of subject as he started to walk to the next hole. “Hey, um. So. If you’re the embodiment of time, why aren’t you an alicorn, like Princess Celestia or Princess Luna?”
Minuette looked at him curiously and shrugged. “I think it’s different. Princess Celestia isn’t really the sun. I mean, the sun is a thing, right? It can’t be up in the sky and also a pony walking around. They just... control it.”
“That... sort of makes sense,” Twilight mused. “But why are you a unicorn, then?”
Minuette tilted her head to the side. “I dunno! I just am. I guess Time is unicorn-y. I mean, you’ve met Discord, right? He’s the embodiment of Chaos, and is all sorts of animals together, very chaos-y. It’s the same with others too, like Lady Luck, or Death.”
Twilight narrowed his eyes. “Wait, wait, wait. You are saying there is a literal Grim Reaper, Ferrypony for the River Styx, The Death of Ponies?”
“More like The Death of Parties,” Minuette scoffed. “Seriously, every time he shows up, he claims he’s just there to unwind and have a mug of cider or two, and then next thing you know there’s a body floating in the punch bowl.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “Nothing ruins the mood quite like an unexpected corpse.”
Twilight nodded, deep in thought. “What about m—” He caught himself in time. “My sister?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s not like ‘science’ is a real thing you can be a Princess of.” Minuette smirked, watching him closely.
It took a supreme effort to keep from reacting, but Twilight managed it somehow, causing Minuette to look briefly disappointed. “Okay then, how about Princess Cadance? She’s an alicorn, but her powers all relate to love, which is a... philosophical concept, I guess?”
“Hmm...” Minuette took a drink from the bottle and swished it around in her mouth as she thought. “Well. Maybe love is just embodied by that particular form? Actually, yeah!” She smiled wickedly. “See, ‘cause love gives you wings, right? ...But it also makes you horny!” She nudged Twilight in the side. “Eh? Eh?”
Twilight’s face was absolutely blank.
Minuette pouted. “Oh, come on, that was fantastic.”
Unable to hold it for too much longer, Twilight snickered. “Yeah, okay. You’re just cute when you’re surprised.”
She froze up, a slight blush on her face at his unexpected words. That confirmed his hypothesis all too well – she was awfully cute when flustered, and it was nice to be the one doing the teasing for once. He smiled to himself as he quickly walked on, causing her to hurry after him.
Only to find himself at the last hole, confronted with the leering face of an ancient and dreadful enemy.
The last hole ended in the giant head of a pony, painted in white, with its nose capped off by a huge red sphere. It was a good deal taller than Twilight, and powered by some sort of interior mechanism that caused its baleful eyes to roll around wildly, each in a different direction and speed. Its mouth stretched open wide with only darkness within, but a solid wooden wall painted as teeth moved up and down erratically, providing one final hazard to making the very last putt.
In short, it was horrifying. More so than even a normal clown.
Twilight grimaced, but stepped up to drop his ball in front of the terrible apparition. Why did it always have to be clowns? At least it was a short distance, and straight. The only thing to avoid was that single moving barrier, and he’d be done.
He tried to both relax and concentrate at the same time, blocking out Minuette, who was presently preoccupied with sniggering at the giant clown. He could do this.
With a gentle, fluid swing, he knocked the ball forward, sending it rolling straight and true...
Right as the teeth came down, blocking the hole. It bounced off and rolled back to him.
“Haw haw haw haw!”
He started to glare at Minuette but since she had chosen that moment to reacquaint herself what was left of the bottle of wine, he realized the tinny laughter hadn’t come from her. Oh, so the clown had sound effects too. Lovely.
Growling, he lifted the ball with magic to return it to its starting location. One straight shot.
The ball crisply rolled down the green again, heading straight for the mouth... where it ricocheted off the wall that had chosen that moment to jerk downwards again.
“Haw haw haw haw!”
His third try was the teensiest bit less calm and controlled than before. The ball got considerably more air, and when it slammed into the clown’s treacherous dentition it left a noticeable dent.
“Haw haw haw haw!”
Twilight felt his vision turning ever so slightly red, and he realized he was grinding his teeth. He was just about to take an even harder swing at it when Minuette spoke up.
“Oh, don’t get so angry, Starsy. I mean, it’s a clown! It’s s’posed to be unpredictable. Ask anypony, it’s just being charmingly mischievous. How can you not love that?”
Twilight frowned. “You want to give it a try, then?”
“Thought you’d never ask!” Minuette grinned as she trotted up, dropping her bright blue ball and planting her hooves firmly. Tossing her head slightly to get a feel for the club, she paused for only a moment before swinging away.
The ball rolled right down the green, mirroring Twilight’s previous attempts. Unfortunately, it also mirrored slamming into the clown’s teeth and bouncing right back out.
“Haw haw haw haw!”
Minuette frowned. Without another word, she grabbed the ball in her magic and firmly placed it in front of her again, wasting no time in taking a second swing.
“Haw haw haw haw!”
Minuette blinked, then her eyes narrowed to slits, as she took position for another try, this time actually concentrating on her timing. She stood motionless, watching the movement of the mouth for a long moment before readying herself.
“Haw haw haw haw!”
Minuette turned to Twilight. “This thing is horrible and I hate it. Do something.”
“Huh?” Twilight shook his head. “W-what am I supposed to do?”
Minuette glared fiercely at the disembodied head. “I don’t know! It’s laughing at me! Can’t you... uh. Beat it up or something?”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Let me try one more time. I’ve been observing the pattern of its movements, and while at first I thought it to be wholly random, it appears to be on a cycle of approximately seven—”
“Fine,” Minuette said, waving a hoof. “Just get it to shut up.”
Twilight switched places with her and retrieved his ball. From his observations, the clown had a particular opening where the mouth remained totally clear for a period of two whole seconds, after a very distinctive set of jerky movements. He would just have to wait for that particular opportune moment.
He looked over to Minuette as he mentally prepared himself. She had set down the bottle of wine, and was leaning forward to watch him intently. He swallowed. This would be a good opportunity to turn around this whole minigolf thing and regain a little bit of coolness in her eyes. He couldn’t blow it.
He faced the clown and stared deep into its rolling mechanical eyes. It didn’t scare him. Anything he could analyze, he could defeat. He took a deep breath as he watched the mouth, waiting for just the right moment.
There, those movements meant the narrow window of opportunity was coming.
Twilight’s club hit the ball dead center, and as soon as it began skipping down the green his spirits soared. That was perfect. He knew it. The mouth would open right now and—
Just as the ball was to pass through the opening, the teeth slammed down, trapping it beneath them. For a second the ball stopped entirely, the teeth above squeezing down, pressing it into the ground. Then, with a popping sound, the ball shot out. Backwards. Towards Twilight Sparkle.
“Haw haw ha—”
Twilight’s mane seemed to burst into flames as he shot a tremendous blast of magical energy from his horn. The beam struck the clown dead center with a thunderclap that echoed throughout the whole minigolf course. If not the whole town.
When the smoke cleared, the clown was missing most of the lower half of its face.
Calmly, Twilight knocked his ball to roll through the gaping hole where a mouth had once been.
He turned to Minuette. Her eyes were as wide as saucers, but she was grinning from ear to ear.
“Right. So... We should probably be going.”
Her eyes flickered to where a few ponies dressed in polo shirts were angrily heading in their direction. “Probably.” The smile on her face never faltered. “And probably fast.”
For the second time that night, Minuette and Twilight Sparkle found themselves running through the streets of Ponyville.
Twilight couldn’t help but laugh as he ran, and the matching giggling from the mare at his side sounded like music to his ears.
“And that’s Canis Major,” Twilight said, hoof reaching up towards the sky. “The bright star right there? That’s Sirius.” He felt his cheeks redden as Minuette’s face pressed next to his, trying to match the same view.
“Hm,” Minuette said softly. “It sure doesn’t look like any dog I’ve ever seen.”
Twilight shifted slightly. “Well, a lot of the constellations require some imagination. They were established an awful long time ago, after all, and had certain mythological significance. In fact, Ptolwhinny himself...”
He paused and then sighed. “You probably don’t care about stars though, huh?”
“Nope!” Minuette said.
This was stupid after all. Twilight had been the one to suggest heading to his favorite star-gazing spot atop a hill on the outskirts of Ponyville, and he hadn’t even taken Minuette into consideration. She must be bored out of her mind. He was ruining everything, he was ruining the date, and that made him feel as if he had a lead weight in the pit of his stomach. He felt a desperate need to do something to salvage the night. It couldn’t just end like this, that would—
Twilight’s runaway thoughts halted as he felt the sudden warmth of Minuette resting her head against his neck. He heard a soft sigh from her, and then quiet words. “But you do care. I can tell from the passion in your voice when you get going. And I could listen to that all night.”
He was glad she was unable to see that the blush on his face had only increased in magnitude. He opened and closed his mouth as he looked up to the sky once more, thoughts of stars suddenly having slipped from his grasp.
After a moment of silence to collect his thoughts, he remembered something. Not wanting to get up from the cool grass – and more importantly, the warmth of the mare lying right next to him – he used his magic to open the flap of his saddlebags from where he had sat them down earlier, and a heart-shaped box floated towards the pair of ponies.
“Oh, um, I got you some chocolates,” he stammered. “I meant to give them to you earlier, but—”
A blue hoof pressed itself to his lips, stopping his words once more. “You do know the way to a mare’s heart,” Minuette said lightly, seizing the box in her own magic to deftly unwrap it and float the assortment of chocolates closer to them.
Twilight frowned at the sight of rows of uniquely decorated treats. “There should be a sheet somewhere that says which ones are what kinds.”
Minuette giggled. “And ruin the surprise?” A swirled truffle floated up to Twilight’s lips in a cyan aura. Before he knew it, the chocolate was melting in his mouth, dark and light chocolates intertwined.
His smile as he tasted the chocolate extended far beyond just appreciation of sugar. Here, under the stars, with Minuette at his side, he felt happy, in a way that he had not truly experienced in a long, long time.
“Gah!” Shaken from his enjoyment, he looked down in alarm to see Minuette with a wry look on her face. “Coconut,” she said, sticking out her tongue before grimacing as she swallowed. “Are you sure we can’t rewind, even for liiiittle things?”
Twilight smiled. “Positive.”
Minuette exhaled, face contorting in a pout, but the twinkle in her eyes signified that her complaints were mostly for show. “What if... hm. What if it wasn’t a matter of avoiding something bad, but missing something good?” She tilted her head to the side as she looked up at him. “Say... if I saw a beautiful shooting star, but you missed it.”
Twilight raised one eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t I have seen it?”
“You were looking at something else,” Minuette said, as she waved a hoof dismissively.
“What else would I be looking at? The sky’s the only other thing up here.” A thought surfaced from some corner of his mind. “Except for you.”
Minuette blinked, and the faintest hint of color showed in her cheeks. “Starsy, don’t be so literal. But, okay, sure. Say that I just saw the most amazing, perfectest star shooting across the night sky, but at the moment you happened to be looking in my direction instead.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Twilight said, the words coming out plain and sure. “There’s nothing up there that’s even half as beautiful as you.”
As soon as the statement had left his lips, Twilight realized his mistake. That hadn’t been flirting, or a cunning utilization of romantic thoughts. He meant it. He really meant it. As he looked at the stunned expression on Minuette’s face, he knew that she must have realized it as well. His mouth was suddenly dry as panic bloomed anew.
Then, Minuette’s mouth curled upwards in a shy smile, and her eyes closed. Twilight realized their faces had been nearing, a movement that had seemingly happened entirely on its own. As her muzzle turned upwards to his, his heart pounded in his chest.
Their lips were less than an inch away, and he could feel her soft breath.
They were going to...
Twilight clumsily backed away, scrambling to get back on his hooves. This was all wrong.
“Starsy?” Minuette asked.
He whirled around and galloped down the hill, picking up speed as he ran down the incline. He suddenly found it harder and harder to see, his eyes filling with tears.
“Starshine!” Minuette cried after him.
He couldn’t bear to look back, but he heard her hooves following him. He just had to get away. How could he have been so stupid? Why did he have to lie to her?
Minuette's voice took on a pained urgency. “Twilight Sparkle!”
He had to lie because if Minuette knew the truth, she would never have agreed to go out with him in the first place. They never would have had dinner, or laughed together over golf, or shared a moment under the stars. He never would have... never would have had these feelings that were currently tearing him up inside.
With swirls of magenta flowing through the air, Twilight dispelled the enchantments on himself. Herself. She felt a pang at that, but kept running, her wings stretching out and beating to propel herself forward even faster. She couldn’t think of anything other than to run away, as if with enough distance she could leave the terrible ache in her chest behind.
Suddenly, Twilight felt an overwhelming strangeness, the air around her crackling with powerful but invisible magic. She was running at full gallop, but the scenery around her slowed to a crawl.
It didn’t take long to discover the cause, as Minuette appeared at her side, breathing heavily. Twilight’s legs and wings were still moving, but terribly, terribly slowly, and Minuette was barely having to trot to keep up.
“Nooooooooooo fffaaaaaaiiiiiiiirrrrrr,” Twilight said.
Minuette frowned sternly. “You started it with the wings. Now hold it right there, I’m not leaving until we talk.”
It was the last thing Twilight wanted to do, but she morosely nodded her head, the motion taking a good ten seconds to complete.
With a sudden lurch, Twilight returned to full speed, flailing her hooves to come to a stop. Minuette immediately appeared right in front of her, staring with an unreadable expression.
“Why did you leave?” she asked, plainly.
Twilight’s face twisted in a bitter grin, but it belied the hollowness she felt inside. “Isn’t it obvious? I lied to you. I’m not the stallion you thought I was. I’m... I’m...”
“Twilight Sparkle,” Minuette said. “Yes, I know. I’ve known the whole time. Just how stupid do you think I am?”
Twilight’s eyes grew large. “What? How did you— No, wait. Why did you... why did you still go through with it?”
A flash of uneasiness momentarily darkened Minuette’s face. “Because at first I figured it’d be amusing to watch you make a fool of yourself.”
The statement cut Twilight right to the heart. She felt tears begin to well up in her eyes again and fought to suppress them.
Just as Minuette began to open her mouth again, Twilight spoke up, not even wanting to hear what the other mare was about to say. “Well, mission succeeded. Congratulations.” She blinked rapidly. She shouldn’t care. She shouldn’t cry.
Minuette looked pained, and even trying to hate her, Twilight only felt even worse that something she had done had caused the mare pain. “Just...” Twilight took a breath and tried to regain her composure. “Just rewind already. Undo this night. I don’t want to have to feel this way!”
“What way?” Minuette said, her voice suddenly quiet.
Twilight gazed at Minuette for a long moment, confirming what she had already known. It wasn’t just the spell messing with her hormones or orientation or any other rational explanation. Just looking at the other mare made her heart beat faster, and that in turn only intensified the pain she felt. She liked Minuette. She liked her teasing, and occasional sarcasm, and general aura of mystery. And she knew that it was a hopeless, stupid love that she could never expect to be requited.
Twilight screwed her eyes shut. “Just do it. Rewind.”
She waited, tensed and prepared for the magic to fling her back, praying that it would rip the thoughts from her head and the feelings from her heart.
“No,” Minuette said.
Twilight cracked one eye to see Minuette still standing in front of her.
“I made a promise,” Minuette said, her expression serious and unreadable. “To somepony important. No rewinding while on the date. And the date is not over until I say it is. And I say that the date’s not over until I get a goodnight kiss.”
Twilight’s eyes flew wide open. She stared as Minuette slowly walked closer, until they were practically face to face.
For a long moment they both stood, unmoving.
Then, as Twilight opened her mouth to protest, Minuette darted in, and Twilight felt a pair of warm lips press against her own.
Time stopped. Twilight knew that no temporal magic had been used, but as Minuette kissed her, it seemed as if everything else in the universe had ground to a standstill. As far as she cared, none of it mattered, nothing at all existed but the surprisingly soft lips joined to hers. It was the longest few seconds Twilight had ever experienced, in the most wonderful way. Then she felt a tongue slip between her still-parted lips, playfully swirling around hers before quickly retreating, leaving behind an intriguing flavor of... citrus?
Minuette pulled back, and Twilight involuntarily leaned forward, not wanting the moment to end. But Minuette took a step away, then another, eyes studying Twilight’s face.
Suddenly she whirled around, facing away from Twilight and hiding her expression. Twilight couldn’t even think to say or do anything. Her mind was still busy with trying to process the kiss and all the confusing emotions it brought up.
After a long pause, Minuette spoke up. “B-minus.”
The words jarred Twilight back to reality. “W-w-what?”
“B-minus,” Minuette repeated. “Solid dating fundamentals, and lucky for you, I’m going to count aggressive vandalism in your favor as ‘protecting my honor’. But you get points off for trying to run away. And... and for making me... kiss a mare.”
Twilight’s mouth opened and closed as she tried to figure out what to say. Eventually, years of pride as a student overruled the swirling emotions in her heart. “I’ve never gotten below an A! On anything. Ever!”
“Too bad,” Minuette said. “It’s still a B-minus.” Suddenly her head turned as she gazed back at Twilight.
Her eyes were smoky, and her mouth was back to an incorrigible smirk. “Guess you’ll have to try harder next time. I’m free on Tuesday. Seven o’clock?”
A whole new feeling surged in Twilight, as she somehow managed to nod mechanically. Her lips curved upwards in a smile that was still tinged with disbelief.
Twilight stood dumbfounded, staring as Minuette walked away into the night.
Of course, it helped that the other mare was deliberately swaying her hips in a remarkably flirtatious fashion.