Chapter 4: Joy
For a few moments when I woke, I felt happier than I had been in nearly four centuries. Without even opening my eyes, I could feel the warm embrace of another next to me. It was a wonderful feeling, and in the haze of early morning, my mind suggested that it must be Rainbow Dash, having slipped into bed with me after a long night of work, just like she used to.
What greeted me when I opened my eyes was far from that.
Instead of the smell of the sky, I smelled wildflowers. Instead of smaller wings attempting to overtake my larger bulk, I felt a massive feathery blanket wrapped over me. And instead of blue, I saw white.
The events of the previous day came back to me and I made sense of the older alicorn being at my side, and the fact that I wasn’t even in my room. Oddly though, instead of a stab of heartache that I expected to feel at realizing that my bedmate was not Rainbow Dash (an impossible thing), I felt something akin to relief...except that I knew that couldn’t logically be it. After all, why would I be relieved to see Celestia beside me instead of Rainbow Dash?
Okay, time for a mental analysis.
First of all, if I were to wake up, be fully aware, and see Rainbow Dash beside me, I would likely have a mental and emotional meltdown. Compiled with the sheer amount of disbelief would be anger, sorrow, and...well, more disbelief. Even if such a thing were to ever become real, I would simply never believe it was. This in turn would damage the heart and mind of a nonexistent Rainbow Dash, and make me feel like a horrible pony, as well as likely drive me insane. It would make sense then for me to feel relieved not to see my long-dead love.
On the side of Celestia...well, there were multiple reasons why I would be happy to see her. First and foremost was the fact that she was the very embodiment of warmth and safety in Equestria, and had been an important figure for nearly all of my life. She had helped raise me as a mare, and taught me more than I ever thought possible about magic, life, and so many other things. She was my first friend (not counting Smarty Pants) and had remained one of the most important ponies in my life. It probably helped that I had always had a little bit of a crush on her. While I had long ago written off my feelings for my mentor as a fantasy that would never be fulfilled, I still desired to be close to her. I had no doubt she would feel more than a little used and upset if she found out I essentially used her willingness to show affection as fulfillment of a selfish desire, so I kept that little tidbit to myself. After all, if she was allowed to keep things to herself, so was I. The bottom line was that I was perfectly okay waking up with Celestia at my side, and actually found it to be more than a little enjoyable.
Hmm, I guess I am relieved.
Celestia and Luna both had helped me to adjust to the life of an alicorn, comforting and encouraging me when needed. I knew for a fact that I had taken longer than strictly necessary to recover from losing Rainbow Dash, but neither princess faulted me for it. In fact, Luna had once commented that I couldn’t be expected to respond in the same way they would to such loss, as they both held much more experience coping with death than I did. While it was true that I initially felt much closer to Cadence than the others, that soon changed when I realized just how incredible the two Equestrian princesses were as simple ponies. While Cadence and I grew close because of our similarities, Luna and I bonded because of our differences. Celestia, of course, had always held a firm place within my heart, but it was a whole new experience to get to know her as a pony instead of a teacher or ruler.
My racing heart had calmed, and my mind had settled as I came to terms with this new (but not unwelcome) feeling. Comfort would be the best way to describe it, though I knew for a fact no small amount of it was because of my own guilt. Nonetheless, I relished the warm embrace of the solar princess as I gazed upon the pony that represented both beauty and power in Equestria. It was at that point that I realized the time of day, and began gently nudging the princess with my muzzle.
“Celestia,” I coaxed, much as one would a groggy foal, “wake up. Daybreak is coming soon.” Her response was to mumble incoherently while using her forelegs to hug me stomach-to-stomach against her barrel, causing a blush to rise to my cheeks at the rather intimate position of our bodies now. I squirmed for a moment before freeing one of my hooves, which I began to use to tickle the sun princess’ ribs.
Loud, melodic laughter began to fill the room as Celestia’s body shook and wriggled away fro me. In that moment, some long-slumbering part of me awakened, and I pounced upon the larger pony, continuing my assault with both hooves and wings. Celestia sputtered out broken pleads for me to stop, which only caused me to intensify my attack.
My victim flailed wildly in an attempt to fight me off, but to no avail as I proudly shouted, “Twilight Tickle shows no mercy!” With a shameless war-cry, I continued to tickle Celestia as a few stray tears squeezed out of her eyes from her belly-shaking laughter.
“O-oh-hokay! Okay!” she shouted out through her laughter, so I ceased my attack and let the princess catch her breath. After a few moments of deep breaths, Celestia rolled to meet my eyes as she held a bright and radiant smile on her face. “Well good morning, Twilight. I thought you’d forgotten all about our tickle-wars we used to have when you were just a filly.”
Hmm...I thought this situation seemed familiar.
I chuckled and shook my head. “Well if somepony would get up when she was supposed to, I wouldn’t have to do it.”
Celestia giggled softly and shook her head. “I never said it was a bad thing.” She pushed herself to a sitting position before stretching her wings, eliciting a few audible snaps and pops. “In fact, I might choose to sleep in more if I get to wake up like that. Besides, they say laughing is the key to youth. I feel centuries younger already.”
“You look as beautiful as you always do to me.” I replied softly without thinking. After realizing what I’d said, I corrected myself. “I-I mean you’re always beautiful, Celestia. Ponies have been saying that about you for as long as I can remember.”
If she had heard what I said initially, she didn’t respond to it negatively. She smiled back at me with a simple, “Thank you, Twilight. It does these old ears good to know I still have appeal in some way.”
As a simple unicorn protege, I would have been scrambling to compliment her further in an attempt to let her know just how important she was to me. In just over half a millennium though, I had come to recognize when she was attempting to draw just such a reaction out of me to sate her innate need for mischievousness. This was one of those times, so I thought I would have a little fun at her expense.
I theatrically inspected her as she stretched, causing her to raise her eyebrow. I slyly commented, “Well, age causes certain things to sag too. You’re looking a little...loose. Perhaps I should make you laugh for the next decade or so to even things up.”
I was answered by an indignant squawk, so I ran giggling out of the room, followed by a large white pony galloping after me.
The sun was giving warmth to the world of early morning, and the birds were singing their songs to bring about the joy of a new day for the ponies across Equestria. It truly was already shaping up to be a beautiful day, but at the moment, I didn’t really care about that.
“Come back here you little sneak!” threatened Celestia as she chased me through the royal gardens.
She had originally chased me from her bedroom all the way to the dining chamber (after raising the sun, of course), at which point we enjoyed a very nice breakfast together. However, Celestia’s tea decided it would rather spray in her face than stay in the cup.
I may have had something to do with it, but I admit nothing.
Even as I galloped at full-speed to escape the longer-legged alicorn that was giving chase, I couldn’t help but offhandedly think about just how playful I was being with a Princess of Equestria, and my mentor no less. What made me want to do such a thing, and why couldn’t I stop?
As Celestia tackled me to the ground with a boisterous laugh, I knew why.
It was so uncommon that I had actually heard Celestia laugh. I wasn’t speaking of her reserved, princess-ly giggles, as she did those all the time; I was speaking about the joyous, spleen-splitting guffaws that she couldn’t hide even if she tried. They were true laughs of joy from a simple pony momentarily freed of the weight of her crown. She needed to utter them as much as I wanted to hear them, and I vowed to myself then and there that I would make up for the words I had said and things I had done by bringing forth those laughs as often as possible.
I became the unwitting victim of a solar tickle assault of wings, hooves, and even magic. This caused me to squeal like a filly as I attempted to kick away my attacker in vain. Celestia was larger and stronger than me, which meant I was helpless to fight back.
“OHAHAHA-HOEEHEHEHE!” I exclaimed loudly, unable to form any words at first. Finally, I regained enough of my vocal faculties to sputter, “I-I GIVE! YOU WIN, YOU WIN!”
The hooves and wings left me, and the magic dissipated as Celestia merely stood over me, grinning like a madmare. She brought her nose up against mine before winking and whispering, “And don’t you forget it.”
And at that moment, with the close proximity of our faces and the endorphins flooding my brain, a very silly thought shot through my mind.
A blush immediately blossomed upon my face, and Celestia’s cheeks responded in kind, since she likely realized just what our positions would look like to an outside party. Slowly, almost reluctantly, she stepped away from me, letting me stand.
After a moment of silence Celestia smiled at me, wearing my smile ‒ the smile reserved for me only. “I missed this, Twilight.” All embarrassment forgotten, she stepped forward and wrapped her wing around me tightly. “After the loss of the other Elements, I worried that you were gone forever. It hurt to watch you change from such a radiant pony into one full of so much pain and misery.”
I sighed with a smile, nuzzling the underside of the large white wing that covered me. After a moment of affection, I replied, “I still get sad when I think about it sometimes, and I don’t think that’ll ever go away.” I then looked up at Celestia and smiled gently. “But I realized yesterday that I enjoy seeing you happy, and if all it takes is me being happy for you to find joy, well, that’s something I’m more than willing to pursue.” I again nuzzled the reassuring strength of Celestia. “Happiness is a choice, after all. You taught me that.” Beneath the pristine white coat, I could feel the lines of scars that marred the skin underneath the fur of Celestia, and realized it was likely she had known more misery than I could imagine. Not for the first time, I again wondered just how she had survived such hardship.
“It’s not always easy, you know.” she stated softly, remembrance clear in her tone. “Sometimes, it would truly be easier to simply wallow in the misery presented, and just...cease to be.”
“But the best things in life are never easy.” I finished with a reassuring smile, though she was not currently looking at me. “You taught me that too.”
Celestia chuckled and nodded. “It seems I taught you more than I could have imagined, Twilight.” Her smile seemed to fade a bit as she said, “I only hope I could have spared you so much pain and hardship.”
“True victory is borne from strife, Celestia.” I commented, extending my own wing to lie across her lower back as we continued to sit together, staring at the midday sun. “Lessons are never easy to learn, nor can they all be taught by another. Some, I had to learn on my own.”
I listened to the silence that surrounded us for a few moments, until it was broken by a question.
“Did you ever see them again?” Celestia asked, her voice wavering only slightly as she did so. She finally turned her head to look down at me with concern evident on her face. “Your parents, I mean.”
I thought back to centuries past, and slowly nodded. “Yes...once. I met with my father after mother died, out of respect for her.” Even after so long, feelings of sadness began to well up within me as I thought of my passed parents. “Father...he said he was sorry for what he said to me and Dash. He said that he was scared for me, and only wanted what was best for his daughter.” I sighed sadly, remembering the amount of pain that was in his eyes that day. “He died a week after we spoke. It was like he knew he was going to be joining mother soon, and wanted to make sure his only daughter didn’t hate him before he went.” I shook my head as a few tears unwittingly found their way onto my cheeks. “I wanted to hate him for a long time after he was gone, and by the stars, I tried to. But,” I choked back a sob, “I couldn’t. I realized that he was just afraid of what he didn’t understand, just like so many other ponies are. He only wanted to protect me, even if that meant me hating him.”
Celestia nodded, her embrace tightening ever so slightly. “You fought with Spike, after that.”
I nodded. “I did, and I regret all of what I said to him. I was still mourning the loss of Rainbow Dash, and then my parents died. I was hurting more than I ever have before, and he tried to speak to me in my pain.” I shook my head ruefully, shame threatening to overcome me. “I lashed out at one of the only ones who would remain after all others in my life had gone.” I looked up at Celestia with a hopeful expression. “How is he?”
“He’s the current head of the Crystalhide Clan.” Celestia answered automatically.
I shrugged. “Alright, so I know he makes a good dragon, but…” I swallowed thickly, “how much has he changed? Is he anything like he used to be?”
Celestia was silent for a moment before sighing. “Time and age changes many things, Twilight.” She then looked down at me again and said, “But if you truly wish to mend what you had, you will need to get to know him again. I know that deep down, he still cares for you quite a bit. It is why what you said to him hurt so much.”
I chuckled mirthlessly, shaking my head. “I can’t even remember what I even said to him, or even why I was upset when he came to me. That just makes me feel worse about it though.”
Celestia dropped her head to rest on top of mine, and said, “I will be leaving to meet with the Crystalhide Clan again in three month’s time. If you wish, you can accompany me.”
I smiled happily and nodded, careful not to impale the elder alicorn on my horn. “That sounds nice, Celestia. I would appreciate the chance to apologize to him in person.” I nestled myself deeper into the embrace of Celestia and hummed happily. “I missed this too, you know. I’m just sorry it took me so long to take my head out of my plot.”
I felt Celestia shake her head atop mine as she replied, “Time teaches patience, Twilight. I would wait as long as it took for you to come around.”
I grimaced. “But you shouldn’t have to, Celestia. So rarely do I actually find you wanting something for yourself that I worry you don’t even know how to be selfish anymore. Regardless of what ponies say, selfishness from time to time isn’t a bad thing. It shows you care about yourself, and allows you to keep your sanity.”
Celestia seemed to bristle a bit at my implied question, and she was silent for a long few moments before saying, “Equestria is what I give everything to. So long as it lives on and prospers, I am happy.”
“Are you?” I questioned skeptically. I pulled away to look her in the eye as I prepared to confront her on something I had noticed all of my life. “You seem to be content ‒ I’m not going to argue that ‒ but sometimes you just don’t seem happy. Like now, for example; I get the feeling there’s more you want out of life than you are telling me, or that you’ll even admit to yourself.”
Silence reigned for a long minute, Celestia opening and closing her mouth a few times in an attempt to compose words for an answer. Finally, she replied, “If I falter, Equestria may fall. I have worked too hard for too long for my own selfish desires to endanger this land. I cannot afford to want for anything, Twilight. ‘Tis my curse.”
I turned to fully face my mentor, eyeing her with concern. “It doesn’t have to be, Celestia. There’s three of us now; it’s not just you anymore. When you have times of weakness, Luna and I are more than willing to take up the slack. You told me yourself that the princesses of Equestria have to work together and trust each other. Don’t you trust us?”
“Of course I do,” she said without hesitation, “but you must realize how hard it is for me to just ‘let go’ like you seem to want me to do. I have ruled and maintained Equestria for so long that it is a part of who I am. Equestria is part of who I am. I live and breath as it does, and should I fall, so shall it.”
I rolled my eyes and playfully pushed her with my hoof. “Now you’re just being dramatic. Equestria won’t fall apart if one day you feel like taking a day at the beach, or the mountains. Even princesses are allowed to play sometimes.” I placed the hoof on my chin and grinned as an idea began to form. “In fact, that’s what we’re going to do. You’re coming to the beach with me tomorrow.”
She sighed, turning her eyes away from me. “Twilight, I can’t just-”
“Ah ah! No buts!” I interrupted with a grin. “You need this, and I know Luna can handle things for a day. In return for her help, I’ll cover her duties while she gets her own day off to do as she pleases.” I pursed my lips, tapping my chin again. “Although knowing her, she’ll probably just watch movies in a robe while scoffing ice cream, but that’s her problem. Maybe I’ll join her...”
“Twilight, I appreciate what you’re trying to do. Truly.” Celestia said to me with a frown. “However, I cannot simply abandon the country on a whim.”
I rolled my eyes again. “You’re not ‘abandoning’ Equestria, Celestia. It’s one day, and Luna can handle things.” I then pulled my trump card, widening my eyes and looking pitiful as I gazed up at her. “P-please?”
After a moment of staring sternly at me, Celestia looks away with a sigh of defeat. “That’s not fair, Twilight.” Her gaze gravitated back to me for a moment before her resolve completely crumbled and she slumped just a bit. “Alright fine, we’ll go to the beach.”
I couldn’t help it, and I began hopping excitedly around her as I chanted, “Yesyesyesyesyesyes!” It took a few moments (and a giggle from Celestia) for me to realize just what I was doing, and I stopped with an embarrassed flutter of my wings, blushing in embarrassment. I cleared my throat and uttered an apology.
Celestia again embraced me with her wing before nuzzling the top of my head affectionately. “I am glad that some things about you will never change, my dear.”
I again guiltily relished the embrace of the solar princess, fantasizing about it meaning more than just a comforting hug by my mentor. The moment passed, and I pulled away with a slightly forced smile on my face for a few reasons. On one side, I felt a little dirty about the fact that I was even thinking about such things after Rainbow Dash, but another side that didn’t care about that simply felt a little sad that such a thing would never be.
Simply by the small frown that had now taken place upon her face, I had a feeling Celestia could see through my fake smile. Still, I kept it in place as I said, “Well, pack some things to bring with you and prepare for tomorrow. I’ll tell Luna what we’re doing, and I’ll fetch you bright and early tomorrow morning.” I then darted my eyes away. “And...thank you for being so understanding and forgiving me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you not taking it personally.”
When I brought my eyes back to Celestia, she simply nodded slowly and cracked a small smile. “It is just as well, Twilight. I should have been more honest with you. I will see you tomorrow morning, then.”
I nodded before turning away and trotting back to the palace, leaving a confused sun princess in my wake, and a roiling heart to follow me.
My trot had graduated to a canter, and then a full-fledged gallop as I made my way through the palace. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I arrived at Luna’s door, entering the room and slamming the door in two very surprised guards’ faces.
“Twilight?” Luna questioned blearily, rousing from her sleep and sitting up while rubbing her eyes. “Wh-what is going on? Are you alright?”
I processed the words she was saying and recognized that she was concerned, but this did not stop my pacing or frustrated muttering as I imposed upon the night princess. The fact of the matter was, I had come across a very frightening discovery as I walked the halls of the palace, and decided I needed to speak with somepony who would not judge. Usually that would be Cadence, but since she was obviously unavailable, that left Luna. Not to say that Luna was not useful in that capacity, but she could be rather...rigid.
“Twilight, I am always glad to see you,” Luna explained before letting loose a loud yawn, “but if you do not tell me why you are here in the next ten seconds, I will be forced to incapacitate you, lest you wear a trench in my floor.”
I looked down at my hooves as I stopped pacing, and loosed a long-suffering sigh. “I’m sorry, Luna. I just panicked and…well, you know me.”
Luna nodded understandingly before patting the space next to her on her bed. “I understand, Twilight. Come, sit and talk with me.”
I obediently complied, climbing onto the oversized bed and taking a seat next to Luna. She casually used her hooves to extend one of my wings and began preening my ruffled feathers. The action always calmed me, and it was always easier to have another do it.
After straightening a few of my primaries, Luna said, “So talk to me, Twilight. What has you in such a state?”
As she continued to straighten and pluck out a damaged feather or two, I relaxed into her ministrations and lay down in front of her. “I invited Celestia to the beach tomorrow, so I hope you don’t mind covering for us for the day.”
Luna shook her head as she tugged out another damaged feather. “Of course not, but I know for a fact that isn’t the only reason you seem so stressed suddenly. Come now Twilight, I thought we were past this bush-beating you tend to do.”
I giggled and shook my head. “That’s ‘beating around the bush’, Luna.”
Finishing with my right wing, Luna moved so that she had access to my left, and gently spread it out in her hooves. “Whatever. The point is, you need to tell me why you are so upset, and none of this roundabout way either. Straight and to the point; just tell me what is bothering you.”
I took a moment to compose myself before beginning with, “You know how I told you I used to have a bit of a crush on your sister when I was younger?”
Luna’s response was to accidentally pull too hard on a healthy feather, which she murmured an apology for. “S-sorry. Yes, I recall you speaking about such a thing before.”
I nervously began to paw at the blanket with my hoof. “W-well…”
Luna stopped preening me and brought her head around to look me in the eye unbelievingly. “No.”
I nodded, squeaking out, “Yes…”
She continued staring at me for a moment before returning to my wing, asking, “When did you notice it happening again?”
I shrugged slightly, not entirely sure myself. “Maybe last night. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that we’ve officially made up after so long, and gotten everything out in the open again. I respect her and feel like a weight has been lifted off of me by apologizing, and with that, my heart decided it liked Celestia again.”
“Mmhmm.” Luna replied, straightening another few feathers as she began on my secondaries. “I suppose you aren’t going to tell her this time either, right?”
I gasped as an itchy bit on my wing that had been bothering me for over a week was suddenly relieved. “Wow, thank you for getting rid of that one. I could never reach it on my own.” Luna glared at me for attempting to change the subject, something I didn’t even realize I had tried to do. I nervously cleared my throat and nodded. “R-right, sorry. Um, probably not. Celestia has enough to worry about right now, and my plan is to relax her, not stress her.”
“And what makes you think finding out her long-time student desires her would cause undue stress?” Luna asked, finishing my left wing and laying down next to me as she listened.
I groaned, burying my face in my hooves. “The feelings alone make me hate myself a little. Somehow, it feels like I’m betraying Rainbow Dash. I know that’s far from the truth, but it still feels that way for some reason.” I then snorted as I lifted my head to meet Luna’s eyes. “Besides, I’m like a daughter to Celestia. She wouldn’t feel the same way about me, so I’m only hurting myself.”
Luna nodded unconvincingly at me. “I see. Are you so sure about that last part?”
I quirked an eyebrow at her question. “What do you mean? She helped to raise me. She bathed me for stars-sake as a filly, and comforted me when I got homesick. I don’t see how she could see me as anything but.”
Luna sighed and shook her head. “Twilight, I am sure you can admit by now that as alicorns, we see the world quite differently from other ponies. Cultural norms will blend together into one long line of change, but our morals will often remain the same.” She leveled her gaze with mine. “I can not speak for Celestia, but do not make the mistake of assuming things about my sister without speaking to her first. I believe that’s gotten you into trouble in the past.”
I cringed at some of the memories I had as a unicorn, and realized that Luna was right in some respects. Still…
“I can’t.” I stated in defeat. “Call it fear or whatever you wish, but...I just can’t ask her about it. There are some things in my life that she doesn’t need to know, a silly fillyhood crush being one of them.”
Luna regarded me cooly for a moment before stating, “I think you’re making a grievous mistake, but it is not for me to dictate your life. Just know that hiding your feelings from those closest to you can lead to pain for all involved.” She then set her jaw in remembrance of the past and added, “Just look at what happened to me.”
I knew she was speaking of Nightmare Moon of course, but that didn’t make her words carry any less power. Could something similar happen to me if I let unresolved issues fester? Thankfully for me, I had much more experience with hiding my emotions from those close to me than Luna thought, and also knew how to purge the frustration that would inevitably build within.
“I’ll be fine, Luna. It went away before when I ignored it, and it’ll do so again.” I answered with finality.
Luna’s soft hoof on my shoulder coaxed me to turn to look at her again, and in her eyes I could only see concern brewing within. “Twilight, don’t do this to yourself. It pains me to see you put yourself through such misery on purpose, rather than speak the truth.” She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Do you honestly believe anything you say or do could affect the way Celestia cares about you? She adores you, Twilight. I cannot say how much or in what way, but Tia cares for you like she has no other. You are unique to her, and she would not forsake you for any reason. I know that, and I also know that you know that as well.”
Luna was right...again.
I sighed and looked up at the falling sun. “Can I-”
“Yes Twilight,” Luna interrupted with a warm smile, “you can stay tonight. I will shepherd your dreams and give you the rest you need.”
I smiled gratefully at the night princess. “Thank you, Luna. I appreciate you putting up with me.”
Luna shook her head, still wearing a grin. “There is no ‘putting up’ with you, Twilight. You are as family to me, and I take care of my own.” She nudged me with her muzzle, causing me to fall onto my side. “Your wings are in order, so rest now. I will wake you before dawn arrives.” She then looked to me with a small sliver of worry in her eyes. “Just...take care of my sister, Twilight. She is more fragile than she appears, and will be out of sorts without any work to be done. Be patient and make her happy.”
I was a little surprised to find that my assumptions on Celestia being a bit of a workaholic were true, but only smiled and nodded to Luna. “I will. This is as much for me as it is for her, after all.”
Luna smiled at me before motioning to the pillow by my head. “Let us sleep. Night court is empty tonight, so I will stay with you until you fall asleep.”
I nodded and closed my eyes as I reached out and brought Luna against my chest. “Thank you, Luna…for everything.”
A soft muzzle brushed my cheek as she replied, “Anything for you, Twilight. Goodnight.”
I yawned once before letting myself slip away, not even realizing I was more tired than I initially thought. Within only a few minutes, the firm grip of sleep grasped me, pulling me into the world of dreams.